Category Archives: New Dublin Voices and other choral singing

Riltons Vänner

I was introduced to the Mouth Off! podcast this week, an intoxicating mix of gushing enthusiasm, Americanisms that would make a Dublin Southside teenager blush, and great contemporary acapella music. I loved it and will definitely be listening again.

They reviewed The Swingle Singers’ latest album, ‘Ferris Wheel’, and I was all for buying it but couldn’t find it on iTunes. One of their recommendations I did find, though, was Riltons Vänner. Check out this sexy, slick slice of singing:

Some recording, a new piece, and a bursary

I’m writing this while eating a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. Raising a glass and a half to the taste of world-beating excellence. Please, American Kraft people (and I know you’re reading this blog…), don’t change it. Although I’m still a bigger fan of Quality Street than Roses. Just saying.

Last weekend I was recording with New Dublin Voices – Christmas music – in St Ann’s church on Dawson Street. It’s a lovely church to sing in but it was really cold. We did two sessions (usually three hours between meals in the biz) on both Saturday and Sunday and a rehearsal session on the Friday night, too. Needless to say, by the Sunday I was better prepared, piling on the layers and swapping the shoes-with-a-slight-heel that were recommended to me for singing in for my scruffy-but-comfortable trainers. I also used a music stand both days which saved me having to hold the music the whole time. The recording was produced by Bill Sommerville-Large and he was very good to work with. He guided us through the process and made clear suggestions as to where singers should be positioned. He has a wonderful ear and I’m looking forward to hearing the recordings, which we hope to put out on CD after the summer.

On Sunday, during one of the breaks between takes, I sidled over to the piano and my fingers fell onto a chord – hands centred just either side of middle C, right hand on a 2nd inversion Bb triad, left hand on a 1st inversion Eb triad. It sounded quite beautiful to my ears and over the next few hours I kept slipping back to the keyboard. “That’s the start of my new choral piece!”, I joked to those nearby. There was something cooking, though, and by the time we were packing up, I had a strong sense that this really was a new piece. At home I played it over a number of times, finding another section…

The next day I was in search of a text. I really like the poems of Dennis O’Driscoll but leafing through a volume of his work proved fruitless. Nothing suited the feel of this music. I took myself out to a local café for a cup of tea and grabbed a book on the way – a book of Celtic Verse given to me for my birthday a few years ago. I knew some things about the text I as looking for: it had to have quite short lines and it had to start on the upbeat. I forget the poetry term…<consults Stephen Fry’s excellent book ‘The Ode Less Travelled’>…ah, yes, it’s iambic. Mr Fry also includes a rather nice chocolate reference:

GOLDEN RULE ONE – reading verse can be like eating chocolate, so much more pleasurable when you allow it slowly to melt inside you, so much less rewarding when you snap off big chunks and bolt them whole, all but untasted.

Well, dear reader, I found it. The one. A poem that not only suited my chosen metre but, when I got it home and played it at the piano, seemed to compliment the music beautifully. The piece was finished! I can still hardly believe it. I spent the next day typing it into Sibelius and preparing scores for the choir to sing through it at our rehearsal. Everyone seemed to like it. Here is the poem, by Villiers de L’Isle-Adam (1838-1889):


Since I have lost the words, the flower
Of youth and the fresh April breeze . . .
Give me thy lips; their perfumed dower
Shall be the whisper of the trees!

Since I have lost the deep sea’s sadness,
Her sobs, her restless surge, her graves . . .
Breathe but a word; its grief or gladness
Shall be the murmur of the waves!

Since in my soul a sombre blossom
Broods, and the suns of yore take flight . . .
O hide me in thy pallid bosom,
And it shall be the calm of night!

My other big task for this week was completing my application for a bursary award from the Arts Council. It would be so great to get it but I’m not going to get my hopes up because only two applicants out of ten have been awarded in the last couple of years. Gathering together the support material made me realise how much stuff I have but also how unclear that is on the website. I plan to do a page with all the recordings I’ve done, with lyrics and a link to a score on Sibelius where possible.


Today we sang at Farmleigh House – the old Guinness family home in Phoenix Park. It’s a splendid ‘big house’ and was thronged with people visiting the Christmas market, listening to the storytelling and enjoying the lovely crisp winter day.

We sang in the ballroom three times in the afternoon – taking full advantage of the delicious food to be had from the stalls in between. I had mulled apple juice from an orchard in County Carlow and a ‘Farmer’s Lunch’ (lamb, Brie cheese, salad, chilli sauce on lovely thick bread). And a slice of Christmas cake.

This picture was taken in the conservatory where RTÉ filmed us for Richard Corrigan’s cookery show to be broadcast on 22 December.

Joy be with you all

Played banjo on RTÉ’s arts programme, The View, last night with James Vincent McMorrow.

I also sang carols with some of my fellow New Dublin Voices on the steps of The Gate theatre in full Victorian garb, complete with top hat. They were celebrating the opening night of Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ and it was probably as interesting for us to see the parade of Dublin’s finest heading up the steps as it was for them to hear our singing!

(Quick plug – NDV gigs in John Field Room (11th), St Ann’s (12th), and Blanchardstown (19th).)

Loving the banjo at the moment. I didn’t know that it was actually invented by African slaves in the US by combining different African instruments. (One of the best banjo players in the world is Béla Fleck. I’ve seen him play a couple of times in Dublin. He made a film tracing the banjo’s African roots: trailer looks good…) I’ve been practicing by playing traditional Irish tunes out of a book I found years ago at home called ‘Whistle and Sing!’. It was compiled in 1974 by a man named Eamonn Jordan who lived in Portadown (where I grew up) and it’s an absolute treasure trove of songs, airs, and dance music from Ireland.

Despite not growing up on the side of the fence that celebrated Irish trad music I will be forever indebted to my dad for passing on and fostering a love of our musical heritage. He never learned to play an instrument himself but encouraged me and my sister to play. He brought me along to my first session when we were off on one of our mountain-climbing trips – me barely able to play more than a few chords on my first, high-actioned, acoustic guitar!

Sláinte, dad xo

Kirk Franklin

I’ve been a big fan of Kirk Franklin ever since my sister lived in Philadelphia for a year back in ’98/’99.  His gospel choir compositions are certainly among the absolute best and the choirs and bands he has worked with over the years have been eye-wateringly groovy.

At Edinburgh I conducted one of his pieces, ‘Blessing in the Storm’, as part of a carol service and usually sneak at least one of his pieces into the repertoire of any choir I work with.

Tomorrow he plays his first concert in Ireland and I’m quite the excited bunny!  It’s in the National Show Centre in Swords – a venue I’ve never been to – and tickets are available at this website.  I spoke to the organiser yesterday and he seemed up for doing some deals on tickets.  There are a number of different prices available, with significant discounts for people under 26.

Major recommendation, no matter what you may think of the subject material 🙂

Here’s a taster:

Something beginning with B

Imagine confining yourself to a single letter.

“Platoon” and “Peter Pan” in a month watching only films starting with “P”. Cornflakes and carrot-cake on a day devoted to food beginning with “C”.

For their winter concerts on November 21, 22 & 28, the international award-winning New Dublin Voices have done just that: everything in the concert begins with “B”.

What could have been a constraint in fact proved liberating. NDV burrowed deeply into all that “B” has to offer and came up with a wonderful programme embracing the new – the 2008 surround-sound effect of Sea Swell by Irish composer Enda Bates – and old – madrigals by Bennet in the 16th century – and the familiar – Brahms, Bartók, Britten and Bernstein – and the excitingly obscure – an incredible, unforgettable piece by one Wolfram Buchenberg.

And to round things off, some Beatles, some Barbershop. And The Barber of Seville.

“B” there!

St. Ann’s Church, Dawson St.

Sat Nov 21st @ 8pm

Carlingford Heritage Centre, Louth

Sun Nov 22nd @ 7pm

St. Augustine’s Church, Galway

Sat Nov 28th @ 8pm

Programme includes:

Britten: Hymn to St Cecilia

Brahms: Drei gesange op 42

Buchenberg: Klangfelder

Bates: Sea Swell

Bernstein: Warm-up

Biebl: Ave Maria

€16/€12 (con) at the door or 0818 205 205

For further information please contact Lucy Champion at +353 87 983 2553 or

New Dublin Voices was founded by conductor Bernie Sherlock in October 2005. It has since become a leading Irish chamber choir presenting concert programmes that are fresh, innovative, and exciting, ranging widely in style and period from the medieval to the contemporary. The choir takes special pleasure in exploring the often weird and wonderful music of living composers, and has given numerous Irish and world premieres.

Competitive successes include National Choir of the Year at the Navan Choral Festival (2006, 2007, 2009), several awards at the Cork International Choral Festival, including National Choir of the Festival in 2006, and various prizes at Dublin Feis Ceol.

Awards in 2009 include the Grand Prix at the 12th Budapest International Choir Competition, third prize at the International Chamber Choir Competition in Marktoberdorf, Germany; third prize and the special prize for the best interpretation of the set work (Laudatio Domini by Kokkonon) at the 3rd Harald Andersen Chamber Choir Competition in Helsinki, Finland; and the inaugural ESB Feis Ceol Choir of the Year.

(Twenty-)five(ish) go to Marktoberdorf

This weekend was the 11th international chamber choir festival in Marktoberdorf, Germany, and New Dublin Voices made the trip.
The opening concert was given by Consono, from Köln, who won the top prize at the festival in 2007. We first heard of them then and we learned a piece written for them by Michael Ostrzyga called ‘Iuppiter’. We met the choir at the Cork festival last year and, in a whirl of giddy choral excitement, sang the (amazing, but certainly not ‘light’) piece to the bewildered festival club attendees. While not making us hugely popular with the gathered choir folk that night, it did forge a link between ourselves and Consono (who won the Cork festival that year).

Link to video of Consono singing ‘Iuppiter’ at Marktoberdorf in 2007

Their performance at the Marktoberdorf opening concert was a real pleasure to behold. One of the best things about these choral festivals is the opportunity to hear other choirs and we certainly listened attentively to the wonderful, disciplined sound of Consono.
It was great, too, to bump into another choir we have become great fans of, the Stockholm Musikgymnasium Choir.

Link to video of Musikgymnasium choir singing a stunning folksong (arranged by the conductor) in Budapest

The competition consists of two rounds: the first is a twenty-five minute programme of more ‘serious’ music and the second is a ten minute set of lighter material. In the first round we sang: Musica noster amor (Handl-Gallus), Sonnet No 76 (Janson), Bogoroditse dyevo (Rachmaninov), Bagairt na marbh (Holohan), Ecco mormorar l’onde (Monteverdi), Bealach Conglais (the world premiere of the piece written for us by Ian Wilson), and Rotala (Karlsons).

In the second round we performed: Double double, toil and trouble (Mäntyjärvi), Wade in de water (Koepke), and Lady Madonna (arr. Carol Canning).  I sang the verses in Lady Madonna, which was great fun 🙂

The festival was run like clockwork and had a wonderful atmosphere.  The competition element was not overemphasised and the organiser, Dolf Rabus, has done an amazing job of cultivating such an inspiring event.  One of the exciting and forward-thinking things about it is that all the performances are recorded and videoed, so hopefully I’ll be able to point you to some YouTube links soon…

Videos from Budapest

I posted up the videos of New Dublin Voices in Budapest.  We won the chamber choir competition singing this programme:

  • Salve Regina – György Orbán
  • Ecco mormorar l’onde – Monteverdi
  • Bagairt na Marbh – Michael Holohan
  • Lullaby (from Four Shakespeare Songs) – Jaakko Mäntyjärvi
  • Double, Double Toil and Trouble (from Four Shakespeare Songs) – Jaakko Mäntyjärvi

Much to our surprise and delight we went on to win the Grand Prix the following day singing these pieces:

singing in harmony

I was determined to start back strongly after the Easter break with the girls choir I conduct.  I’ve been experimenting with seating arrangements for the forty or fifty of them that turn up every week(!).  For a while there I arranged them in a circle to try and eliminate the talking in the back row phenomenon.  It sort of worked and certainly loosened things up a bit; I could walk around the circle and encourage sound production where necessary.

The sixth years have their conformation coming up – quite a big deal, I realised when the teacher produced the book of music they’d be singing.  I arranged them in as few rows as possible length-ways in the room where we rehearse and did a good hour’s work with them.  Starting with standing up (a huge challenge for some of them!), breathing and warm-ups – explaining why all these things were important – we progressed to the simple canonic Agnus Dei that was in the book.  The good thing about this music is that they all pretty much know it already.  Of course, that can also be a bad thing…we got into a discussion about what humility is (“…it’s like when you invite someone into your house…”) as I got them to think about how to sing the words.  The last note in the phrase is a semibreve on the word ‘us’, so we also had to think about where to place the ‘s’.

In contrast, we also worked on the refrain of the Gloria.  This had an optional harmony and, buoyed by our good work to this point, I forged ahead…  We sang the melody all together, then I taught them all the harmony line.  By alternating tune and harmony a few times we were eventually able to split into the two parts.  A great achievement for them – can’t wait for next week!