100 Days – Day 3

Polyphonic Rigor > Rigor Mortis*

In other words, polyphony means that even if your own line is boring, it’s ok, because you’re serving the satisfaction of another part, and the whole is superb.

Musical examples to follow.

* Dominica Williams, 10.5.19

100 Days – Day 2

Today I set 6 more lines of the movement I’ve been working on for upper voices, which in a way seems like I tripled my output from yesterday, but in reality means that tomorrow I probably won’t set any new text. What I’ve written is very skeletal and sketchy, and I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to figure out the best way to convey the aleatoric elements of the piece, before realising just now on the luas home that my first instinct, which I’d forgotten about in the heat of the work, was not only the best idea but also the convention. Good news – this means that I don’t have to do any more tinkering with notation and can instead spend all that time tinkering with sibelius… Once I’ve figured out how it should all look, I might post a picture.

I also haven’t actually written any of the string or harp parts for those 6 lines – just the vocal parts, so tomorrow I’ll probably focus on filling out what I wrote today. The vocal lines all snake chromatically upwards, to convey a sense of rising tension in the mourning, but also to reflect the words Féach an spéir, which I’ve chosen for the sopranos and altos to repeat ad lib under the next 4 lines, sung by a soprano soloist. I think that the consonants “F”, “ch” and “sp” will be very interesting to listen to in an aleatoric texture. Underneath all of this, I think the strings can build up a chord (pictured below) that occurs at several structurally significant points throughout the work as a whole, but always glissando downwards before too long. The combination of the voices moving upwards while the strings are moving downwards should help convey a sense of dizziness or something. Ask me again when I hear it performed by real instruments.

This evening I did what I’ve been putting of for a number of years and finally got new headshots! I’ve only had the lovely one on the home-page of this site that we had done for the 10th anniversary of the Irish Composers Collective for the longest time, but the brilliant Miriam Kaczor was saying she had some studio times available so I pounced. Watch this space for updates!

The “structurally significant” chord.

The “structurally significant” chord.

100 Days – Day 1

With my PhD due date looming on the horizon, a little under 4 months away, I’ve decided to try to keep myself honest (and come up with a new way of procrastinating) by blogging about how I’m doing.

Buoyed by the lovely review of my Oxen of the Sun in this month’s Choir and Organ*, today I set about tackling the only movement of my large PhD piece (Amra Choluim Chille, henceforth known as ACC) that I had yet to start. It’s the 6th of 7 movements, and I had decided several months ago for this movement to be for upper voices, strings and harp only – no tenors or basses. This is because the text relates to the grief of the Uí Néill clan upon hearing of the death of St Columba. I have some vague idea in my head that traditionally, in Ireland, only the women were involved in keening over the dead body – often in chorus, lead by a professional bean chaointe.

While at the end of today I have only set the first 2 of 13 lines in this movement, I have planned more or less the whole structure, based on an octatonic ascending texture that I developed for my commission for New Dublin Voices entitled Comrades. In that piece it is quick, regular and energised, to convey the words “free through the world your spirit goes.” Here, however, it is going to be much slower to develop, and I will probably use aleatoric techniques, so that there is something more chaotic and mournful about how the texture builds, to give meaning to the words Is deimhin: ní och aon-tí, ní och aon-téite,/ Is trom an tuath anois i ngreim an scéil.**

I am bringing back a motif from the very beginning of the piece, which I think of as the “Cross” motif, because the way I’ve laid out the strings, it forms the image of a cross. Here, that motif is used on the words Mac na Croiche a ainm;***. For some reason, whenever I think about the beginning of the piece, the words “Hold thou the cross before my closing eyes” come into my mind – I have this image of the dying St Columba looking at the sky and seeing a shining cross formed out of light and clouds and rain and so on.

Don’t ask me why.

*“quite beautiful... is Eoghan Desmond’s extraordinary Oxen of the Sun, with its Joycean brio and deceptive subtlety.” 

** Truly: not the grieving of one household, nor the sighing of one harp string, sad are all the people at the wounding word.

***Son of the Cross his name.

Page 1 of  Amra Choluim Chille (in progress)

Page 1 of Amra Choluim Chille (in progress)

The Green Man – A Parody

The Green Man

The hill rose green above the lake.
On it, as I looked, there sat
Upon its crest, holding a rake
A green-clad man, both short and fat.

The green beneath was neat at last.
The man atop smoked "green" in green.
A moment, ere the man had passed
It was a most relaxing scene.


This little piece of silly verse is a parody of Mary Coleridge's poem "The Bluebird", immortalised by Charles Villiers Stanford in his incredible musical setting. To hear it sung by the Swingle Singers, click here. 

* * * ALT NOTES FOR HEADSTUFF * * *

Greetings from sunny Berlin! I'm currently here singing with Tenso Europe Chamber Choir, and enjoying the sun, the famous Berlin falafel and boating on the river Spree!

I'm also delighted to be featured on headstuff.com's series "Alt Notes". Shell Dooley fired a few questions my way and I answered them as coherently and unpretentiously as I could manage. Let me know what you think. 

Link to the blog here.

Thanks for having me on your series, Shell. :)