Category Archives: poll

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.

Rothko Smile

My jazz trio is doing its second gig tonight at Anseo on Camden Street in Dublin.  We’ve been thinking of a name and have paused for a little while on ‘Rothko Smile’, inspired by the famous painter.  His paintings are very popular and yet are rather abstract, so the idea of someone smiling a ‘Rothko Smile’ is quite an enigmatic one.  A friend pointed out on Twitter that Mark Rothko himself wasn’t a particularly happy person – maybe the pleasure we feel when seeing his work is tinged with a little sadness for its creator?

I found a blog post by a fellow WordPress user that describes some of their feelings on Rothko (and includes three very nice examples of the painter’s art).

Whinging about iTunes

I followed a link to this album, which was featured on the iTunes Store front page…

Here’s what I posted to iTunes, although I suspect it may not be published:

If the blurb is anything to go by, this release is designed to be listened to with the accompanying booklet.  iTunes doesn’t supply it, so why would I buy this from iTunes?  I would *love* it if all albums were shipped with digital booklets.  This release seems to show up the poorer experience that we’re being given by iTunes when album booklets aren’t shipped with the music.  Why does the product have to be dissected for digital release?

I certainly can’t see any point in buying this release digitally from iTunes, when I’d be missing out on the fascinating-sounding booklet that the artist has prepared.  To another retailer, methinks…

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music and video, chocs and blood

Yesterday Hamlet and I went into the MUZU TV studio to record a video for their site (to be released at some pertinent date in the future).  I arrived in first, bearing my spine-compressingly-large keyboard up to the second floor, and was greeted by the amiable Martin who furnished me with a cup of tea.  He was taking a straw poll at the time – Roses or Quality Street? My bid for Quality Street was overturned and, a short while later, a tin of Roses appeared to the general delight of all.  I notice Cadbury’s have banished foil completely, allowing for easier access to such delights as the caramel barrel.  I happily munched away on fistfuls of chocolatey goodness despite holding firm to my conviction that Quality Street is a more interesting mix of sweets.  Truly stalwart stuff on my part, you’ll agree.

The video recording was really laidback and the guys made our visit really enjoyable.  We recorded ‘I am a man’ and ‘El Capitane’ and then Hamlet was interviewed by one of the editors of the marvellous (and now free) State magazine, Phil Udell.  The MUZU TV site has loads of really great archive video footage on it as well as all the latest stuff and Phil asked Hamlet to have a look for a video he’d like to talk about to camera.  They happened on an interview David Bowie did with Russell Harty which was just fascinating.  The subtle tension and awkwardness as Harty repeatedly goads Bowie with provocative assertions is remarkable in this age of nonsense-talking TV interviewers.

I had a look at the site today – The Ting Tings’ channel shows off the inventive videos to their infectious songs; old interviews with Sting, Andy Summers and Stuart Copeland (seperately) on The Tube oozing attitude and talking about their various non-Police dalliances; Paula Yates interviewing Michael Hutchence; Zoe Conway stunning the crowd at the Balcony TV awards – there are armloads of gems to discover.

I picked up a copy of State, too.  I like their layout (amazingly devoid of excess advertising) and the quality writing about music and (almost) nothing else.  The rating system in the reviews section is good, too, using a kind of temperature gauge instead of any numbers, stars or anything so quantifiable.  I bought Messiah J & The Expert’s new album, ‘From the word go’, on the back of reading the review.

On Wednesday I played a solo set at The Song Room (Trust you, The boy who cried wolf, Radiohead’s Backdrifts, Face in a frame, and Kings of Leon’s Sex on fire).  Hamlet’s guitar was in surgery after sustaining a nasty injury at last week’s Song Room so he used mine for his set.  The slight difference in the dimensions of our guitars coupled with Hamlet’s masochistic playing style meant that my brand new strings got a bit of a respray…

'Hep C' Hamlet, they called him...

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