Category Archives: videos

‘Hide and Seek’ video by Irish barbershop quartet, 4 in a Bar

I visited this room for the first time only last week — the City Assembly House, just beside the Powerscourt Townhouse on Dublin’s South William Street. It’s a beautiful, surprising, melancholic space and it works as a perfect backdrop here, an extra character in 4 in a Bar’s video for ‘Hide and Seek’.

Spin me round again…

…walls where pleasure moments hung before…

Like their Facebook page to encourage further beautiful things from this group: 4 in a Bar

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David Rooney, whose album I’ve been recording piano and vocals for, and his striking portraits of 1916

Arminta Wallace interviewed David the other week and her article appeared in this weekend’s edition of The Irish Times — this weekend was the actual anniversary of the 1916 rising. 

Here, from David’s forthcoming album, and with me on piano, is ‘The Rising’:

1916 as you’ve never seen it before

Arminta Wallace, The Irish Times — Saturday, 23 April, 2016

By his own account David Rooney was an unlikely person to be asked to illustrate a book about the men and women of 1916. “For me growing up, everything associated with 1916 was coloured by the Troubles,” he says.

“My dad grew up near Enniskillen, and came down here to join the guards, getting away from the poisoned land, as he saw it, of sectarianism in the North. And I wouldn’t be alone in this: many people of my generation would have a real repugnance about the continuation of violence.”

But when Rooney got into the nitty-gritty of his research for the project he was fascinated by what he discovered.

“I’ve been reading the 1916 stories for more than a year, and there are so many instances where everything changed in people’s lives – and the lives of everyone around them. They fragmented, altered, spun off in all sorts of directions. Maybe the anvil of an event like this produces really extraordinary arcs of story – or maybe the stories always happen, and we just don’t register it. But when war happens, when conflict happens, the natural trajectory of things is altered. Like the refugee situation now. And we’re still living in the broken mirror of 1916.”

Rooney’s 42 thoughtful black-and-white drawings give the book 1916 Portraits and Lives, a collection of biographical essays published by the Royal Irish Academy and based on the academy’s Dictionary of Irish Biography, a visual – and, indeed, emotional – heft that helps it stand out from this year’s 1916 publications.

Originally the plan was to use photographs of the characters concerned, but in some cases the available imagery was of poor quality or simply nonexistent. So the academy’s graphic designer, Fidelma Slattery, had the idea of using original artwork. Its managing editor, Ruth Hegarty, ran with the idea, and Jackie Moore of the Office of Public Works – “the third part of that triumvirate of powerful women”, as Rooney puts it – came on board to support the project by buying the originals for the State.

How did Rooney get so up close and personal with his subjects?

“A friend of mine told me to read James Stephens’s The Insurrection in Dublin. That had a huge impact on the colour of it, because Stephens’s account is really what a journalist would do now. “It’s moment by moment. ‘Here I am on the corner of Abbey Street . . .’ It’s amazing – and an amazingly neglected document.”

The 1916 Portraits and Lives project has taken off to such an extent that it now has a life of its own. The book won a design award and was shortlisted for the 2015 Bord Gáis Energy Book of the Year. The ebook was made available for free download, and such was the uptake – more than 65,000 copies downloaded worldwide – that the offer has been extended until the end of April.

Limited-edition prints of the portraits are available to buy from the Royal Irish Academy’s website, and the originals will be on display at an exhibition in Kilmainham Gaol from May 12th.

As for Rooney himself, after 30 years as a visual artist, the illustrator with the highly distinctive visual “voice” is now developing another voice – as a singer-songwriter.

“There have always been guitars around, and I liked the idea of writing songs but didn’t know where to go to find them.”

A chance meeting with Glen Hansard changed all that. “I went over to his house, and I saw him working on the songs that became his Grammy-nominated album [Didn’t He Ramble]. To see them as pencil sketches – well, I recognised something in that. I thought, I know where to find my songs. They’re in the same well as the drawings, but much further down – and much harder to get at.”

Hansard has become a close friend and a constant source of musical inspiration. And with Declan O’Rourke producing and a band that includes the jazz drummer Conor Guilfoyle and the pianist Jay Wilson, who plays with James Vincent McMorrow, Rooney has now recorded 10 songs for an album due to be released this autumn. “It has been an absolutely incredible journey. With the drawings the best ones come if I get out of the way and let it flow. With music I have to be totally present at all stages of it.”

As for recording and performing, that’s a collaborative process that is a shock to a perfectionist who is used to working at home alone. “I’m in total control of the images. With the music I have to let go. Take that de Valera image. If that was music, okay, I get to do de Valera, but I’ve to get you to do the swan, because you’re the person who can do swans. While we’re rehearsing, the swan is exactly like it’s going to be here. And then comes the day of recording, and you’re thinking more of a goose. ‘Why does it have to be a swan,’ you say. ‘Can’t it be a cormorant or . . . a shag, maybe’?” He laughs. “Yeah. And you have just to say, ‘Okay. Let’s try that’.”

…maybe some other time

Last night I recorded a version of one of my favourite songs by The Divine Comedy, ‘Bad Ambassador’. (One take, so as not to annoy our neighbours too much…it’s not the sort of song that works quietly!)

It was the fifteenth anniversary of the release of Regeneration, the album that the track is taken from, on 12 March 2001.

Fifteen years ago I had just moved back home after graduating from the BMus course at Edinburgh. I was working at the Ulster Orchestra as their Education & Community Outreach Assistant. My diary reminds me that I was teaching clarinet to a wee girl called Sarah; I took her and her mum along to see the orchestra performing Mozart’s clarinet concerto. I was helping prepare the confirmation class at our church. I was playing in a band with my friends Jonny Boyle, Gareth Leslie, and Gareth’s brother-in-law Ben.

I didn’t work out how to play this song until years later, but Neil Hannon’s acoustic version was definitely released as a b-side…free with a weekend paper, I recall. Also on that CD were some behind the scenes videos of Neil in the studio with producer Nigel Godrich. He was renowned for his work with Radiohead and there were certainly tell-tale similarities in some of the sounds and techniques on the album.

I didn’t see the video to Bad Ambassador until mid-2014, and that was in rather a roundabout way (that I blogged about at the time).

Advent calendar: 13

(So I’ve missed a few – I’ll fill in the gaps next year!)

Today, I’ve made a tutorial video for a piece that you might recognise from Greg Lake’s moody Christmas hit, ‘I Believe In Father Christmas’. It’s called ‘Troika’ and was written by the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev and is in his ballet ‘Lieutenant Kije’. This easy piano arrangement was done by the prolific composer and arranger Pauline Hall and is one of the 2016 Preliminary exam piano pieces set by the Royal Irish Academy of Music.

Troika is the Russian word for three-of-a-kind and here depicts a team of three horses pulling a sleigh.

Enjoy!

Advent calendar: 7

Today I’ve got two great Christmas tunes for beginner piano players to enjoy — ‘Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!’ and ‘Frosty The Snowman’. This video will help you learn them by heart (there’s no music reading required). Have fun, and get everybody to join in and sing with you at Christmas time 🙂

Click here for more information on my music teaching.

Advent Calendar: 2

Today, under the second window of my creative Advent calendar, is my cover of John Mayer’s jazz waltz Christmas love song, St Patrick’s Day.  The guitar chords are very, very much up my street, and our voices have a similar range. 

If you’re interested in learning how to play the song, I’d recommend getting the published sheet music. It’ll save you a lot of trouble. Believe me, there is a lot of incorrect stuff on the internet when it comes to music…! My go-to site for lyrics and chords is Sheet Music Direct. Paying a euro for their clear formatting and accuracy is absolutely worth it, compared to trawling around hoping the person who posted such-and-such a tab actually knows what they’re talking about :-/

Click here to go to St Patrick’s Day lyrics & chords on Sheet Music Direct.

Okay, without further ado, here’s my version of the song — enjoy!

Someone Like You (Adele) — piano tutorial

I’m teaching piano two days a week at the moment at a primary school in Dalkey. It’s a maternity leave cover and the teacher I’m covering for left brilliant notes and guidance for me. Some of the students are doing work on Royal Irish Academy of Music grades, but most are beginners. With the beginners I’m mostly using John Thompson’s Easiest Piano Course, with a few using Me and My Piano.

  
One of my students has been coming in to lessons and playing snippets of songs that she’s learned from YouTube videos, mostly Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’ and, last week, Damien Rice’s ‘9 Crimes’.

When I got home yesterday, I did a search for tutorial videos for the Adele song. Unsurprisingly, there were quite a few, and the one I looked at had nearly 800,000 views! It was okay, but didn’t particularly demonstrate a good hand position, or in fact have the exact accompaniment part that’s on the recording. So I decided to make my own.

It’s actually a bit tricky to set up a camera to shoot down onto the keyboard while you’re playing. I’d tried once before, a few years ago out in Dunboyne, using a music stand with my iPad on it. This time, I dug out an old PC webcam we had bought in Australia and clipped that to a tripod. It still had to sit awkwardly between my legs, but it didn’t matter much for this piece, since there’s not a lot of movement in the hands.

Anyway, see what you think. Any feedback would be much appreciated. What could I improve on?

PS I’m offering a discount on lessons if you sign up before Christmas.