Category Archives: composition

We’re going on a bear hunt

Yesterday I was teaching classes in Our Lady of Victories Infant School in Ballymun. We had been doing all kinds of stories and music about bears over the past few weeks. Goldilocks, a campfire song called ‘The other day I met a bear’ and – my favourite – Michael Rosen’s wonderful action-story ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’. His sing-song delivery is perfect for young children to copy.

If you are a teacher or a cr猫che worker and would like a music visit please get in touch 馃檪


My brother-in-law, Dan, recommended that I listen to Battles a few months ago after he saw them do a gig in Dublin.聽 I just found some great photos from the gig on my friend Steve Ryan’s site.

Battles drummer, John Stanier
Battles drummer, John Stanier, photographed by Steve Ryan

Excellent music that is layered with interesting and infectious sounds and beats (and a fantastic loooong rallentando!).

Some cute cards from kids last week

I did a project with a group of school kids last week in Offaly.聽 We wrote a song about the Pied Piper, ‘The Bargain’, which turned out rather nicely, ending with lots of angry faces and fist-waving!聽 I’m pleased with the middle section (“the rats were drowned…”) which has a bit of The Divine Comedy about it.聽 I taught it to the school choir I work with, too.

The mayor and piper, a bargain they made
“A fortune in guilders – five figures we’ll pay!
Get rid of the rats, they’re a plague on our heads.
They’re the curse of our town – play your pipe ’til they’re dead!”

He led the rats to the river bank
And he played his pipe ’til the last one sank
The rats were drowned, the town was free,
The piper returned to collect his fee…

“Dear Mayor,” said Piper, “a bargain we made.
A fortune in guilders you promised to pay…”
The hideous, flatulent, double-faced mayor
Said “Here’s fifty guilders – we feel that is fair.”

“You are a loser and I am a winner,
I am a saint and you are a sinner.
This is not the end!
This is not the end!
I will have revenge!
I will have revenge!”

We also did raps – here’s the one I did with my group:

Let me tell you ’bout those rats
Some of them were fat, some of them were thin
Some of them were tawny, some lived in a bin
One of them – he was bigger than a cat
Now what do you think of that?!
Another one – hmmmm, he didn’t look so good
And the smell of him was pretty rancid, too.
Let me try to explain
This smell was insane
Now that I think of it I’m in pain
This odour brought tears to my eyelids
Imagine a sandwich left years ‘fore you find it
Under the fridge or behind a chair
Ugh! I bet you’re glad you weren’t there!

Great fun!聽 When we’d done our final performance on the Friday, they presented each of us with a little bundle of thank you cards – very sweet 馃檪

What you can do with the world at your fingertips…

Thanks to my old music-making friend, Alan, for showing me this amazing work by an Israeli musician called Kutiman.聽 Created painstakingly by sampling various YouTube videos, his music grooves big time.聽 The visuals are a testament to the countless enthusiastic music fans who have reached out across the globe via the internet.

The way it’s delivered is quite a departure, too.聽 The web site *is* the release – an exciting evolution of the MySpace idea (Kutiman’s own MySpace page is a great example).

Kutiman’s fourth track, Babylon Band, reminded me of the very cool “hyperactive editing” of Norwegian animator Lasse Gjertsen…

snow and Sigur R贸s in Dublin

Last week we had snow here in Ireland and the second concert featuring Brian Denvir’s faithful arrangements of Sigur R贸s music took place in the chapel of Trinity College Dublin.聽 A music-loving friend of mine told me she went running in the white marshmallow woods near her home listening to Sigur R贸s’s ‘Takk…’ album.聽 Snow is such a wonderful thing: at a time of year when everything is dark and lifeless, it blankets everything in brightness. A number of words came to mind as I thought about snow and also this remarkable music that has captured the imaginations of so many people: pristine, natural, soft, all-encompassing…

Opening with the instrumental ‘Samskeyti’, Brian and his fellow members of the Dublin University Orchestral Society led an enraptured audience through just over an hour of music by the Icelandic band. All the other tracks featured Aisling Dexter, who sang from the chapel’s lectern to the side of the stage.

‘S茅 Lest’
‘All Alright’
‘Inn铆 M茅r Syngur Vitleysingur’

The (male) singer in Sigur R贸s, J贸nsi, frequently uses the high, ‘falsetto’ range of his voice, giving the songs a very wide span of expression but placing them beyond the capabilities of most singers. I asked Aisling how she went about learning to sing the songs – some of which are in Icelandic, one in English and some are sung in a made-up language called ‘Hopelandic’:

Mainly, I learnt the words aurally – by listening to the songs and writing down phonetics – and practising! It was fairly difficult, but the more I listen to Sigur R贸s, the more I love it, so there was no problem with that!

I was exploring ‘eighteen seconds before sunrise’, the official Sigur R贸s news source, and found lots of interesting information on the band but not much in the way of translations beyond the titles of the tracks.聽 I’m sure part of the appeal of the music is that most people who hear it have no clue as to what the words are about.聽 This is actually quite a special luxury for Anglophones, so used to being bombarded with textual information that we can’t help but process.聽 Part of me doesn’t want to know what the songs are about because then I might lose the ability to listen to what they mean.

One point I’d agree with that I read on the ‘eighteen seconds…’ site was that Aisling’s microphone wasn’t good enough: they just used the lectern microphone through the chapel’s PA system.聽 I’m all in favour of the group’s choice of venues – so far using the natural acoustics of sacred places – but the dire in-house amplification systems should be firmly ignored.聽 The group – who might perhaps benefit from a name? – hope to play a gig in The Black Box in Belfast soon.聽 It will be interesting to see how they fare in a small theatre; hopefully they know a good sound engineer!

Unfortunately our camera is in the repair shop, so I had to rely on the trusty phone.聽 There are apparently videos of some of the songs soon to be available on YouTube, however, so keep an eye out for those.

The music of Sigur R贸s (Trinity college chapel, Dublin 4feb09)
Aisling Dexter and Brian Denvir

Saint Brigid’s cross

Last night I performed my latest song for the audience at Saint Brigid’s parish, Cabinteely.聽 New Dublin Voices were doing a concert to raise money for a charity called Preda that helps children in the Philippines.聽 The priest had suggested that it would be nice to have a new hymn composed for the occasion and I took on the challenge.

Saint Brigid's cross

I didn’t know much about Brigid, but quickly discovered that she is patron saint of four main groups: babies, farmers, travellers and a last set to do with creativity and fire.聽 This last group – comprising blacksmiths, poets, scholars and printing presses – was interesting to me.聽 Some of the ideas associated with Brigid’s day come from the ancient pagan goddess of the same name.聽 She was considered a goddess of fire and was thought to manifest herself through poetry (seen as the ‘flame of knowledge’ in ancient Gaelic culture), song and craftsmanship.聽 Brigid’s day (the first of February) is the first day of Spring in the Irish tradition and Saint Brigid crosses are made.聽 It would have been common in some households to burn the cross from the previous year in a symbolic act of renewal.

I wanted the song to be for the listeners, an invocation to think about the people, now and through the ages past, for whom Brigid was a source of inspiration and hope.聽 Consideration, appreciation and love of others is something we can all strive for and practice.聽 With or without words.

(click on the title to play…)

Saint Brigid’s cross

Burn like a mother’s love
For her newborn child
And its tiny beauty.
Pray – with or without words –
Oh, for the tiny children.

Burn like a farmer’s limbs
When the work is done,
When the day is over.
Pray – with or without words –
Oh, for the farmer working.

And the simple cross
Hanging on the wall
Can remind us all
Of springtime’s promise. (repeat)

Burn like the stars above,
Guiding trav’llers home
From a tiring journey.
Pray – with or without words –
Oh, for their safe return.

Burn like a great idea,
One that thrills the ear
And delights the mind.
Pray – with or without words –
Oh, for the truth to shine.

And the simple cross
Hanging on the wall
Can remind us all
Of springtime’s promise. (repeat)

(lyrics and music 漏 Jonathan Wilson 2009)

New Dublin Voices on Facebook

If you’re interested in keeping up with what New Dublin Voices are up to and hearing about upcoming concerts, then please become our fan on Facebook.

Our next concert is on Sunday 1st February in St Brigid’s church in Cabinteely, County Dublin.聽 It will feature some of our favourite pieces as well as some solo and duet pieces in what will be a concert to suit all ages.聽 Proceeds will go to the charity PREDA.

I hope to have completed a new St Brigid hymn for the occasion…

Christmas success for New Dublin Voices

New Dublin Voices had a very busy Christmas season with concerts in Navan, Dublin (performing for the Friends of the National Gallery, singing carols in Dickensian garb on the steps of The Gate theatre before the opening night of ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’ and doing a lunchtime concert in the National Concert Hall) and Blanchardstown.聽 We also kept popping up on television – appearing on the teen segment ‘TTV’, on the fashion show ‘Off The Rails’, at the end of the news one day, and on the broadcast of us singing with The Priests at their concert in Armagh.

The icing on the Christmas cake was winning the prize for the best performance of the RT脡 lyric fm Christmas Carol Commission by Elaine Agnew.

Here’s my recording of the ladies of New Dublin Voices, conducted by Bernie Sherlock, with me accompanying on piano, singing the lovely Curoo curoo.

Our first concert in 2009 will be of music from the 1560s and the 1960s.聽 First rehearsal is on Tuesday…

two new recordings

These tracks were recorded by my talented friend Paul Donnan in the beautiful entrance hall of Powerscourt in County Wicklow.聽 I have a fascination, inherited from my father, with Irish ‘Big Houses’.聽 Powerscourt has its own special sadness – it was destroyed by fire in 1974 – and this is never far from one’s thoughts within its bare-brick interior (restored in 1996).聽 I dare you to examine unmoved the photos of the house from before the fire that are displayed inside.

It was a real treat to be playing my songs in that place while the winter night seethed with jealousy outside.

I chose two: my latest song, ‘Face in a frame’ and a song I wrote about five years ago which I call ‘Little boy’.聽 I realise now that it’s finally recorded that it’s as much about the little girl…any ideas on what it should be called?聽 (Paul called it ‘Tonight’.)聽 Click on the titles to listen.

Face in a frame

Carry my love over the ocean; bring him back here, back to my arms.聽 Accuse me of greed – I don’t care for reason – I just know I need him keeping me warm.聽 The neighbours are kind – they smile and make small talk – but I politely decline when they ask to tea.聽 I couldn’t help counting the chairs at the table.聽 The catch in my throat: “No, everything’s fine”.聽 Your face in a frame (last summer’s vacation).聽 Your coat on a hook on the back of the door.聽 I walk in the rain reliving old memories; each line on your face the same as before.聽 Our boy’s growing tall, he’s stronger each day now.聽 He asks me no questions, I tell him no lies.聽 I can see in his face that he wants to protect me.聽 I wonder can he see the same thing in mine?聽 Your face in a frame (our boy on your shoulders).聽 Your coat on a hook on the back of the door.聽 I’ll try to explain when he’s a bit older.聽 Oh why can’t things stay the same as before?

Little boy

Little boy, what have you done?聽 Little boy, what have you done?聽 You’re so big and strong.聽 You’re so big and strong.聽 Little girl, what have you done?聽 Little girl, what have you done?聽 You’re so beautiful.聽 You’re so beautiful.聽 Tonight the angels rejoice over you.聽 Little boy, what have you done?聽 Little boy, what have you done?聽 I’ll wipe your tears away.聽 I’ll wipe your tears away.聽 Little girl, what have you done?聽 Little girl, what have you done?聽 I’ll wipe your tears away.聽 I’ll wipe your tears away.聽 Tonight the angels rejoice over you.

last month in a nutshell

It has been a very busy four weeks since I last posted something.聽 Here are some highlights:

  • the first stage of the Infant Imaginings project drew to a close.聽 Helene Hugel and I have been working on a number of fifteen-minute pieces for babies (between three and twenty-four months) over the past while and we presented them last week in Tallaght Community Arts Centre and in a health clinic.聽 All being well (i.e. if the funding comes through!) we’ll be developing our work further in the second half of next year.
  • I met a singer-songwriter who I really enjoyed – Audrey Ryan, from Maine.聽 The first time was at a singer-songwriter night in The Stables in Mullingar where I was playing with Hamlet.聽 It was Halloween, she played ‘The Monster Mash’ (it caught on in a flash, for your information).聽 Second time was at The Song Room the following week and she’d been up all night watching Obama win the election.
  • I did a schools project in Navan and wrote a lovely song for the kids to sing (which I’ll post soon).
  • New Dublin Voices did two concerts which featured the beautiful choral music of Jaakko M盲ntyj盲rvi, a Finnish composer.聽 The choir sang one of his pieces last year, the exquisite Die Stimme des Kindes, and we reprised that and two of the works that helped make him one of the very best composers writing for mixed voice choirs today: Canticum Calamatatis Maritimae and Four Shakespeare Songs.聽 I urge you to download this stunning version of Die Stimme des Kindes performed by the all-male American choir, Chanticleer.
  • Hamlet played his Bewley’s theatre gig to a nicely-packed room backed by ‘The Handsome Strangers’ – me on keys/cajon/backing vocals, Barry Rycraft on double bass and Satya Darcy on drums.聽 There are some videos on Hamlet’s Facebook group, which you can join for updates on his musical adventures.聽 Next on the horizon is the recording this weekend of his debut EP…