Arrangements of Irish Traditional Songs

Keening in Cathedral Quarter (2020)

In Samhain 2020, I composed arrangements of two traditional songs for HIVE Choir, for a socially-distanced reunion in the Cathedral Quarter of Belfast. We had been thinking about the plans (currently on hold) to redevelop this part of our city into something called ‘Tribeca’. The idea of coming out of the pandemic and finding loved places like Writers’ Square and North Street under questionable reconstruction made us sad enough to keen.

Keening is a traditional Irish vocal lamentation. We tried a keening of the HIVE variety, using a line from the folk tune ‘Lament of an Irish Mother‘ as a starting point. Here’s a song in hope for big wild joyful gatherings in CQ and all over Belfast in the future. That will be keen…

“My hot tears are falling, in agony o’er you”, from ‘Lament of an Irish Mother’.

“The flames leapt high, reached to the sky”, from ‘Dark Horse on the Wind’, Liam Weldon.

HIVE Choir: Méabh Meir, Andrew Kenny, Aisling McCormick, Emily DeDakis, John D’Arcy, Elen Flügge. Camera: Samuel Robinson, Cian Flanagan. Recorded 31 October 2020 in Writer’s Square and North Street, Belfast.

Wait Til I Tell Ye

In May 2022 I was commissioned by National Museums Northern Ireland to produce Wait Till I Tell Ye, a series of pop-up performances by HIVE Choir at Ulster Folk Museum. Wait Till I Tell Ye explored the Tape Recorded Survey of Hiberno English (Irish English) conducted in 1972. HIVE performed a musical survey of the original questionnaire to interact with visitors and explore their accents.

For the performance, I composed arrangements of Irish folk songs related to topics, objects and animals addressed in the TRS. These included Paddy Shinnahan’s Cow, Nancy Hogan’s Goose, The Bandy Legged Mule, The Spinning Wheel, and two songs based on the tune The Blind Man Can See (‘Tis Miles I have Rambled, and Marrow Bones).

HIVEsplaining the Sea – Songs of Migration

It Being in Springtime (Craigie Hill for multiple windows)

During the initial COVID lockdowns of 2020 I composed an arrangement of traditional Irish song ‘Craigie Hill’. The arrangement invited the singers of HIVE Choir looked through their windows to the outside and sing a verse of ‘Craigie Hill’. Together (apart) they recorded their views of the morning, their voices and the sounds around them. They each sang at our own pace, unaware of each other, before being brought together into a single frame. Some wild chords blossomed. I composed the video below as a montage of the isolated videos, bringing multiple windows together into one.

Voices and windows by Aisling McCormick, Andrew Kenny, Elen Flügge, Eleni Kolliopoulou, Emily DeDakis, John D’Arcy, Méabh Meir, Nollaig Molloy, Una Lee.

If you want to try your own, here’s the lyrics:

It being in the springtime and the small birds were singing.
Down by a shady arbour I carelessly did stray.
The thrushes they were warbling, the violets were charming.
To view two lovers talking, a while I did delay

(if you’re learning the tune try the Dolores Keane version)

Roonivoolin Unnamed Road

In 2022, Northern Ireland Mental Health Arts Festival invited HIVE Choir and a group of other artists to create a series of performances on Rathlin Island. I composed arrangements of traditional songs Herring the King and Lowlands Away for performance by HIVE Choir.

Herring the King (10m56s), Lowlands Away (11m57s)

Herring the King

In March 2022, I composed an arrangement of traditional Irish sea shanty Herring the King for HIVE Choir to perform at the closing celebration of the MAC’s exhibition of Alfred Wallis paintings. This arrangement incorporated layered canons of the original melody and audience participation.