All posts by Jay

Musician, aesthete, lover of concord.

Sigur Rós for Impact Romania concert

St Andrew’s church on Westland Row was a splendid venue for this concert of some of the music of Icelandic band Sigur Rós. The huge interior of the church and its beautiful resonant acoustic meant that the string quintet (3 vln, vla, c.), piano, electric bass and percussion could support Aisling Dexter’s impressive vocals with little or no amplification; the building suited the expansive, minmalist music very well, lending a quiet austerity. A highlight was a song from another Icelandic phenomenon, Björk’s Joga from her Homogenic album, Miss Dexter obviously relishing the more expressive vocal line.

Pianist, Brian Denvir, had done an excellent job of transcribing and arranging the parts for the group, all of whom are members of the Dublin University Orchestral Society.

Sigur Rós concert by DU Orchestral Society

sing six songs and make friends

New Dublin Voices made the annual pilgrimage to Cork this weekend for the International Choral Festival. Although we didn’t have any luck impressing the judges this time, it was a really fun weekend. We sang four pieces in the big competition:

  • Nicolette – Ravel
  • nine(birds)here – Ian Wilson
  • Unser leben währet siebnzig jahr – Schein
  • Iuppiter – Michael Ostrzyga

The choir that won, Consono from Köln in Germany, were the choir that Iuppiter was written for and, in a flurry of slight inebriation and giddy exuberence, we aurally assaulted the innocent bystanders at the festival club on Sunday evening by singing the piece all together. Great fun, although in retrospect perhaps a little out of place amongst the piano-keys neckties and close-harmony jazz sounds of the festival club…! Down in the bar earlier we had great fun singing The King’s Singers’ Humpty Dumpty (a piece we performed at last year’s festival) with Molto cantabile from Switzerland, who sang it this year with some great choreography.

We also performed, as all the international competition choirs did, in the gala concert. By this stage we knew that we hadn’t won anything and so, with a kind of joyous indignation, we put our all into the two pieces:

  • Wade in de water – Allen Koepke
  • Drive my car – Lennon & McCartney, arr. Simon Lesley

We haven’t got any pictures from the weekend yet (and hopefully there’ll be some video footage made available, too) but here’s a recording that was made of us last year singing a piece called Rotaļa by Juris Karlsons:

Moon River, Blue Monk and Blue Bossa

It’s been quite a musical weekend. Last night I sang an acapella arrangement of ‘Moon River’ at a friend’s ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’-themed birthday party with four other New Dublin Voices people (Tristan, Dave, Clíona and Edel). Then, today, I played piano for my double-bass-playing friend Barry’s audition for the Jazz Performance degree course at Newpark Music School. We played Thelonius Monk’s ‘Blue Monk’ and Kenny Dorham’s ‘Blue Bossa’. It was a lovely afternoon for a bossa – sun shining through the big windows – and I enjoyed playing the tunes on the nice grand piano they had in the room. Nerve-wracking experience, and I wasn’t even the one doing the audition!

gig with James McMorrow last night

James did another show in Whelan’s new upstairs room last night with me on piano, Peter Ryan on bass and Cion O’Callaghan coming in for the gig on drums. Support was provided by the wonderful Stace Gill (currently putting the finishing touches to her first EP) and, new to me, Rhob Cunningham. I was really taken with Rhob’s songs and easy-going demeanour. Here’s one of the songs he played last night, ‘A good or bad thing’, recorded for Channel 6’s ‘The Airfield Sessions’ last year…

The set with James was similar to the last night we played there. James opened with a couple of tunes on his own (including the hypnotic ‘Down the burning road’) and then we joined him.

  • Fairytales – good opener; I get to play out a good bit on this one with a solo and everything!
  • Breaking hearts – Peter and I stepped up the mics and supplied some backing vocals to the ‘itchy feet’ chorus of this song.
  • Jacob
  • I watched the world
  • Please tell me there’s a spark
  • If my heart should somehow stop – I love the eruption into the middle eight of this song.
  • We don’t eat until your father’s at the table – this is such a fun song to play: it’s got a lovely, lazy gospel feel.
  • I’m free – we fairly ripped through this one. Exhilarating song, even at the right tempo!
  • I am hopeful

This last song is a new one and James wanted to try something a bit different so he sang while I played. We agreed that this was one of the highlights of the night and the crowd certainly enjoyed it and bayed for an encore, James obliging with a cover version of Sam Sparro’s ‘Black and Gold’, which he combined with the haunting, sparse accompaniment for ‘Down the burning road’ to great effect. This is a real ‘you-had-to-be-there’ story, because it’s impossible to make the leap from the club anthem portrayed in Sparro’s video to the hushed room that hung on James’s every word last night. Magic.

Scoil Angela

The 5th class girls from Scoil Angela, Thurles

Here are my fellow songwriters and rappers, who we worked with last week in Thurles. The final performance – for their parents and the rest of the school – went really well. Aingeala conducted the half-hour concert which began with all the girls simulating the rhythm of a heart beat and moved through different sections. They did some improvisation over some grooves that we’d been working on during the week. Each girl had a percussion instrument and another instrument – between them they had tin whistles, flutes, violins, a guitar, a harp and three keyboards. The rap and the song went really well and the audience gave them a huge, well-deserved ovation at the end.

In June, they’ll come to Dublin and perform some of their pieces with the other schools that have had projects this year. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a recording of them singing the song but here’s a version I recorded in my hotel room last week to give you an idea:

The Song Room

I played at The Song Room on Monday night, a new singer/songwriter night at O’Sullivan’s on Westmoreland Street hosted by Hamlet Sweeney and Brian Brody. Brian opened the night with some of his songs accompanied by a harp augmenting his guitar. Ria followed with a band and had us grooving. Hamlet and I did a set next and then I finished the night:

  • ‘Raise your glasses’
  • ‘My belly’s empty and my heart is sore’
  • ‘I love you madly’
  • ‘Face in a frame’
  • ‘Make it home’

The last two went down really well, which I was pleased about. I played ‘Make it home’ on the piano that’s a feature of the pub – nice to play on a real instrument.

You can join the Facebook page for The Song Room or visit the MySpace page.

Seth on spam

I regularly read Seth Godin’s excellent blog and found this post about spam interesting.

When I launched this site and my Facebook artist page I wanted to let people know about them and went to send an email to everyone I knew on Facebook. I found that the clever people at Facebook have made it impossible to send an email to everyone you know without you actually typing in every name. This is a great way of preventing the site becoming one huge spam-fest, but didn’t help me. I remembered that, in the past when I’ve set up events on Facebook, it was easy to select all of my friends and invite them. This I did – setting up my website as an event. I tried to explain it in the text but, as I realised when people started saying they were sorry but they couldn’t come, and as Seth’s post highlights, I had shot myself in the foot by opting for my convenience as a priority. We live and learn…

Music means a lot to me

This week I’ve been working on a music project along with three other musicians. We’re working with the 5th class girls of Scoil Angela, Thurles, County Tipperary every morning and visiting other schools in the afternoons.

On these projects I help the kids write songs and raps after getting some ideas from the group as to what they’d like to write about. The school are going for their first green flag and so we decided to write a rap about litter. This fits nicely with the work I do in primary schools with Sustainable Energy Ireland so I happily spent the afternoon sitting in the sun writing the first verse of the rap:

I don’t like seeing litter on the ground; it makes me sad, it makes me frown. You know how one thing can spoil your day? Well – guess what?! – my day just turned to grey right before my eyes. I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise but I’m a dreamer so it gets to me every time . . . So I rhyme and I sing and I hope it gets through ’cause the mess that you make is for you and me, too, and I don’t want to see our world go down the tubes but if you don’t help me and I don’t help you there’ll be no beautiful world for our kids to come to.

A lot of rap songs use samples of existing songs as a hook so, following in this glorious tradition, I used Coldplay’s ‘Don’t panic’ chorus:

We live in a beautiful world – yeah we do, yeah we do. We live in a beautiful world…

The next day the girls wrote a second verse:

If we all work together we can make our school better. Let’s make a start – we can all play our part. What about the chewing gum? It sticks to our feet, it makes the place ugly and mucks up the street. We have a compost bin you know – it is there! – it’s not invisible; please use it, be fair. Be cool – throw your trash in the bin at school. Come on, let’s do it, the environment rules! If you bring rubbish to school put it in your bag: that’s how Scoil Angela will get a green flag.

I love the crushing 10-year-old sarcasm of the compost bin line 🙂

Yesterday we wrote a song together based on things that they like. I’d written the words of the chorus that first, sunny afternoon, inspired by one of the girls’ comments about how music was all around, even in the lawnmower outside. She’s probably never even heard of John Cage, who I blogged about only last week. Here are the lyrics of our song:

Camogie, tennis, basketball
Soccer, wrestling, we love them all.
It’s fun, it’s fit, why can’t you see
Sport is a way we can be free.
Drama, cooking, dancing, art
We love to play a different part.
We use imagination,
Look ’round for inspiration.

Pass the ball, pass the beat
Come on let’s dance, let’s move our feet. (x4)

Music means a lot to me
It’s not just songs and melodies
If you listen up you’ll see
There’s music in everything (x2)

Music is more than just a sound
You can play it soft, you can play it loud;
You can play it fast you can play it slow
Whatever goes with your flow.
There’s R’n’B, jazz, blues and pop,
There’s rock and roll and hip and hop.
So many kinds to choose from
So get your dancing shoes on.

Pass the ball etc.

Music means a lot to me etc.

We perform these, and the other instrumental pieces we’ve been working on, for the girls’ parents and the rest of the school tomorrow 🙂