Category Archives: togetherness

Reading Room

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I’m writing this surrounded by cherubs and scholars in the reading room of the National Library. I have always meant to get a Reader’s Ticket and today finally got around to it. I was in town, at the sumptuous 37 Dawson Street, filming with James and the band for the RTÉ arts show ‘The Works’, which airs this Friday (7 March) at 8.30pm.

We finished our European tour with a really brilliant show in Paris (at La Gaité Lyrique) just over a week ago, having blazed a post tropical trail through Germany, Holland and Belgium. We played in quite a range of venues, from a small 200-seater (Brotfabrik in Frankfurt — dear knows what the venue guys thought as we ferried our entire lighting rig up the narrow, metal fire escape stairs that lead up from the courtyard below), to the unexpectedly brilliant venue in the old botanic gardens in Brussels, to the classy, professional venues that seemed to be everywhere in Holland, to what was for me a real highlight: the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.

It won’t be long now before we’re back on the road again for five weeks in the US and Canada. I’m really looking forward to it: it’ll be my first time visiting most of the places we’re going to. My sister and I took a trip to Philadelphia / Virginia (& Washington DC) / Long Island (& New York) / Toronto (& London, ON) in the summer of 2000. We crammed all that into one month, staying with family and friends along the way (and enjoying the hospitality of the Salvation Army in Toronto!).

This time out it’ll be a tour bus bunk all the way. That was probably the hardest thing to get used to, and there was much discussion as to the merits of top, middle, or bottom bunks. I only tried the top bunk last time, so I must experiment with the other options on this run.

I got through two books: ‘Stoner’ by John Williams and ‘A Visit From The Goon Squad’ by Jennifer Egan. Both were brilliant and weren’t a million miles apart in terms of subject matter and tone (although Jennifer Egan pulls off some beautiful chapters in voices ‘other’ than that of her primary style). I was also introduced to the delight that is ‘East Bound and Down’. It had been my intention to try and get through the last few seasons of ‘Breaking Bad’, but that would’ve meant isolating myself from the group and well, gosh darnit, if they weren’t just too good to be around! I really must try and get to it on our jaunt around America, though. The others have all seen it (and there’s more than one of them has some item of clothing related to the show), so I’d say they’re champing at the bit to talk about it sometimes!

Laugh, Kookaburra

I’ve had quite a lot of religion in the last twenty-four hours. Quite a lot of beginner guitarists, too, and fifteen minutes of ‘Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree’ (with the word ‘gay’ in the last line substituted for ‘great’ in the kids’ books).

I sang in the choir yesterday at St Ann’s for the funeral of a man I didn’t know called Des. His eulogy (delivered brilliantly by an old friend to a packed church) painted a picture of a long and happily full life. Full of work, sport, and friends — many, many friends and, in 1973 (when he was fifty-one) he got married in St Ann’s.

St Ann’s is an Anglican church, in the same tradition as the ones I attended growing up in the North. The minister is from the North, too, so it’s all very familiar! I’ve sung there quite a few times in the past few years — I also started to learn organ there with Charles Marshall last year. At the service yesterday, Charles played as the minister said some introductory sentences of scripture before we processed down the aisle ahead of the coffin. It was really effective — the music ebbing and flowing, suspending time, allowing the concepts of life and death and resurrection to be carried into the room, not simply said by a person.

After is finished in the music school last night, I got a lift into town with Emily, who takes the new community choir out there (Castleknock School of Music in Ongar). She was asking me what brought me to Dublin and I was telling her about coming here initially to do a year of discipleship training at CORE church. It seems rather strange to me now (well, what I mean is, it sounds strange when I tell others…), but I was seriously considering becoming a minister at one point. I don’t think anyone but me would’ve thought it a serious possibility, in retrospect! Anyway, Emily and I chatted about what we believe or don’t believe.

I came home and, rather too late, had a take-away from the Chinese place opposite the DART station in Howth. The young girl at the counter, wearing a hoodie emblazoned with the name of a school of English, tapped away on her plugged-in iPhone as the two of us waited in silence for the hatch behind her to open and the brown paper bag to be thrust out. ‘Kick Ass’ was playing on a flat screen above her head. I ate the food — shredded chicken with cashew nuts in a honey sauce with boiled rice — while watching Richard Dawkins on YouTube debating with an Australian cardinal, George Pell, in front of a studio audience that applauded *a lot*. And laughed at a couple of odd places, which led the jet-lagged and exasperated Professor to ask a few times, “what’s funny about that?!”.

Today in the Irish Times there’s a review by John Waters (a renowned pro-religious columnist) of Colm Tóibín’s ‘The Testament of Mary’. On the opposite page, there’s this letter:

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I wonder if I feel the same way about religion in my life as I do about the word ‘gay’ in the Kookaburra song. It’s not the same to surmise that the bird’s life is “great”. Okay, the more suitable words aren’t going to fit so neatly into the song, but when I think about that word I wonder if we haven’t lost something in ‘losing’ its original meaning.

It’s simply not possible to revert to it, though.

Chamber music group in Howth

One of the things I miss the most in my music making at the moment is playing with others. I’m just coming to the end of Alan Rusbridger’s inspiring book, ‘Play It Again’, and found his descriptions of informal chamber music sessions very compelling. I also had the great fortune to win a couple of tickets to see the Vienna Piano Trio playing Haydn, Schubert and Beethoven in Castle Coole last week. It was wonderful to watch the communication between them and sense, especially in the Haydn, the fun they were having. I’d like to try and initiate something like that in Howth (where I live). It would be a place for musicians to come together and explore the chamber repertoire. Maybe you have learned an instrument when you were younger and haven’t played for ages… I play piano, but I also play clarinet and would love to *actually* play it, as opposed to just knowing how to!

Please pass this on to anyone you think might be interested.

Brian Eno

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Brian Eno gave a lecture at the Red Bull Music Academy recently. I just watched it this morning and now have a small checklist of things to do / listen to, an app to download, and a workflow to get going. I read his excellent, insightful 1995 diary, ‘A Year With Swollen Appendices’ about ten years ago and have always been impressed by him.

Here’s an excellent summary of the lecture by someone who was actually there, Una Mullally.

Sherbet lemon?

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I’ve been a subscriber to The Irish Times for about six months now (it is delivered imperceptibly every morning, waiting for me on the front step when I come down). One of the very great things about it is the variety and scope of the writers. Reading them week after week, you get a sense of their personality (the norm now of putting the writer’s picture at the top of the article helps, too). I read a lot of international news media on the Internet, too, but it doesn’t compare to leafing through the paper over a cup of coffee, casting one’s eye over the properly full-sized pages, reading the odd thing that jumps out. For example, Michael Dervan is the grandmaster of music criticism in Ireland — towering in stature and in intellect — so I had to read twice the following charmingly Dumbledore-ish sentence in his column today:

In its lowest range [the double bass] is utterly unique, rich and soft-textured in a way that makes you smile and want to rub your tummy.

He describes the new film, A Late Quartet, too (about the complicated relationships between the members of a professional string quartet), which sounds very good. (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Christopher Walken?! — albeit, as it transpires, senza vibrato…)