The inaugural TradTalk conference, a new discussion forum for traditional artists, took place last weekend (16 November). Toner Quinn reflects on some of the issues raised.
Two years before he died, Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin recalled to me in an interview the surprise he felt in the 1970s when Irish traditional music became so popular across the world, and how surprised he was again when, in each subsequent decade, its popularity seemed to grow even more.
Traditional music once comforted us and reassured us, writes Toner Quinn, but not Lankum.
The music writer Barra Ó Séaghdha once observed a connection between the success of the Irish economy and a decline in slow-air playing. Bustling commerce took the traditional musicians with it, he suggested, speeding up and layering their sound, meeting a demand for entertainment created by ‘societal amnesia’ and market forces. Although the slow air did make a return with the economic crash, the essay, titled ‘The Price of Happiness?’, reminds us that there is a significance to the music created at critical times.
The Irish Memory Orchestra and 26 musicians with sight loss gave the world premiere of Dave Flynn’s Vision Symphony last weekend. Toner Quinn reviews.
On the same night as the Philip Glass Ensemble was performing at the NCH in Dublin last weekend, a very different interpretation of Glass’ music, and a contrasting ensemble, could be heard in Glór in Ennis (26 Oct.).
Last weekend (12 Oct.), Irish National Opera gave the first ever Irish performance of an opera by Vivaldi – the story of a formidable woman subjected to ridicule and abuse. Toner Quinn reviews.
The first piece of set design you notice in Irish National Opera’s production of Griselda (Town Hall Theatre, Galway, 12 Oct.) are the eight screens stacked on top of a guard booth to the right of the stage. A laptop and additional screens sit inside the booth; it is clearly a centre of acute observation. Centre stage is a two-floor setting; above is smart, even salubrious, with white walls, a long table, glasses and bottled water; below is functional: a plywood structure, an emergency exit sign and scaffolding. It’s a tale of two worlds: privilege and power, vulnerability and abuse.
Just as the Galway Jazz Festival was beginning last week, a surprising discussion took place on RTÉ Radio 1. The subject was Seán Ó Riada and his legacy on the forty-eighth anniversary of the composer’s death. Forty-eight years is a long time and one would expect that we would have a clear understanding of his work at this stage, but the discussion fell back on familiar notions: how he ‘changed traditional Irish music’ (he did not but he did popularise it) and how he never managed to resolve the ‘artistic tensions’ in his music between the ‘native’ and ‘European art music’ (he absolutely did with his Nomos works). So there were not many new insights in the discussion, and we have to ask for how much longer Ireland will be in the dark about its own music if we can’t even have a decent discussion about one of its well-known figures. If we can’t get that right, how can we understand what has happened since?
In Tom Goodwin’s 2018 book Digital Darwinism, he asks the most difficult question of media executives: If you were to start your company today, what would it look like and what would it do? Such is the changed environment for broadcasters and publishers that there are no easy answers, but the starting place, Goodwin argues, is to consider what ‘role’ your company has. Where does it fit into your audience’s busy digital lives? How do they use your services? Are you essential to their routine? Having a ‘role’ in your audience’s lives is a valuable first step, a basis upon which to grow.
for the Journal of Music
28 August 2019
The Journal of Music is an online music magazine based in Ireland and read worldwide. Founded by musician Toner Quinn in 2000, it began as a bimonthly print publication and subsequently won the Utne Independent Press Award for Arts Coverage in Washington DC. In 2010, the Journal moved fully online and now has over two hundred thousand readers worldwide. The magazine covers a wide range of genres, particularly classical, contemporary, traditional, folk, indie, opera, jazz, improvised and alternative popular music. The Journal has been supported by the Arts Council since its inception. Continue reading
Cherry Smyth’s ‘Famished’ – a collection of poems focused on the famine – was performed at Kilkenny Arts Festival last week, with singer Lauren Kinsella and composer Ed Bennett. Toner Quinn reviews.
Famished, a recent collection of poetry by Cherry Smyth, is a deep road into the Irish famine. Her poems may begin with the 1840s but they travel right up to contemporary politics. Alongside her own writing, she quotes from political commentators down the decades. The poem ‘The Cassock, Each and Every Townland’ is accompanied by a quote from the Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle writing around the time of the famine: ‘Ireland is like a half-starved rat that crosses the path of an elephant. What must the elephant do? Squelch it – by heavens – squelch it.’
Kilkenny Arts Festival presented the Irish premiere of Ed Bennett’s ‘Song of the Books’ last week, performed by Kate Ellis and Crash Ensemble. Toner Quinn reviews.
Composer Ed Bennett’s new work Song of the Books, which was given its Irish premiere at the Kilkenny Arts festival in Rothe House (16 August), has its origins in a request from the cellist Kate Ellis for a solo piece. That didn’t happen, but she is at the centre of this twenty-minute work for cello, ensemble and electronics, performed with Crash Ensemble.
The achievements of Ireland’s composers abroad are not getting enough attention at home.
You would not know it from the vibrant music scene that we have today, but Ireland’s relationship with certain types of music has often been complicated, tormented even.