Category Archives: what I’m up to

Albert Herring

Firstly, delighted with myself: I completed the Crosaire crossword in The Irish Times today, most of it in less than an hour as I ate my dinner. One of the very last ones I got was rather nice.

Most uninhibited sort are confused by thief dropping farthing on road (9)

If we ‘confuse’ the letters of the word ‘are’ we get EAR…if we ‘drop’ the abbreviation of farthing (F) from thief we get THIE…and road=street=ST. All that gives us our answer: EARTHIEST (“most uninhibited sort”).

I’ve started working with a young singer/songwriter called Laura Elizabeth. I’ll be doing some playing on recordings she’s planning to make in the next while. Definitely one to watch — I’ll keep you posted. Check out her videos on YouTube.

This evening I went to the Royal Irish Academy of Music’s production of Albert Herring, an opera by Benjamin Britten. It was brilliant. The staging, for a start, was really economically managed, but pleasantly fulsome to set the scene in the happily bustling rural English town. The grocer’s boxes are full, the tables for the May Fair groan with delectable treats. Scenes were changed fluidly, only once requiring crew to come onto the stage. Costumes were a treat — Margaret Bridge as the imperious Lady Billows was gloriously bedecked in sartorial finery (to match her superb singing). Her sidekick, Florence Pike, sported an ominous eyepatch and self-important tweed skirt and jacket. The school mistress, the mayor, the young buck Sid, his sweetheart Nancy, the three kids, Albert, and his mother; all these characters were dressed in the colourful and elegantly practical clothing of an idealised inter-war England. The local policeman and vicar (played outstandingly by Padraic Rowan) wear the uniforms of their stations.

It’s a fairly evenly-distributed score, with everyone getting their chance to shine. Particularly impressive are the ‘crowd’ scenes and one ensemble that comes to mind is the one in the grocer’s in the second act. Mrs Herring and Nancy are joined by the octave-apart unison of the vicar and the school mistress (who, in the tradition of Oscar Wilde’s Dr Chasuble and Miss Prism, seem to have un petit frisson between them) — those pillars of society enveloping the fretting mother and guilt-ridden friend with stoic music. One part that feels underwritten is the mayor, a tenor role that doesn’t seem to add much to the drama. When given the podium at the May Fair to honour the newly-crowned Albert, he goes off on a self-aggrandising tangent about his council’s past achievements. Perhaps a bit of social commentary is being made…?

Britten’s music is wonderful. I’m not familiar with most of his operas, but those I have seen have convinced me that his reputation as a master of the genre is thoroughly deserved. This one, in particular, seems to be a great choice for a university level cast of the calibre of the RIAM singers. The music is supremely challenging for vocalists and orchestra, but marvellously engaging for an audience. What a delight to have such operas in English! I’m looking forward to the next one already.

A old friend of mine, Conor Mitchell, is one composer who is doing brilliant work. I went to see his opera ‘The Musician’, based on the story of the pied piper, in Belfast a few years ago and was blown away by how good it was. He just completed a set of Cabaret Songs to texts by WH Auden and Mark Ravenhill, which will be performed at Britten’s centenary celebrations in Aldeburgh later this year.

Back home


We got back home last night after spending Christmas visiting and enjoying the wonderful hospitality of our two families. Today my mum, my step-dad, Jenny, and I walked along the East Pier here in Howth. I’m playing tonight in The Millstone restaurant for New Year’s Eve, so I’m chilling out now. Listening to a CD that I found in a record shop near Botanic station in Belfast when I used to commute to work there from home in Portadown. I didn’t realise before but the vibes on it are played by Joe Locke, whose praises I was singing in my last post.

‘Breath of Heaven’ by Grover Washington Jr.


Up early this morning and off into St Ann’s to assist with the music. Charles is playing a ‘Fugue, Canzone, and Epilogue’ by German composer Sigfrid Karg-Elert. He played a bit of it for me yesterday and I’m looking forward to hearing it again. After the organ opening (in what *looks like* F# major…), there comes a part for violin and also female chorus. They sing the last line of the creed, “I believe in the life everlasting”. I’ll be turning pages.

I’m going to be having another crack at leading the congregation in a hymn, too: the mighty ‘Finlandia’ by Jean Sibelius. It’s a poignant hymn and its stoic words are very fitting for Remembrance Sunday. One of the most prominent features of St Ann’s is its memorial to those who died in The Great War – the names flank the altar. I often look at them as I sit up beside the organ console. One is a Wilson, one is a Dobbin (my step-father’s name).

The memorial in St Stephen’s church (which lost as many of its young men) is to the side of the church. Consider the painful discussions that must have gone on in churches all over these islands.

Be still, my soul…

You must remember this…

I’m in Spain with New Dublin Voices – we’re staying in a lovely town by the sea called Garautz, and the competition is taking place in a town about 45 mins south, Tolosa. It’s the first time I’ve visited Euskadia, ‘the Basque country’.

Two of the pieces we performed yesterday in the ‘folk’ competition were in the Basque language – one of them based on folk rhythms and which proved very tough to learn by heart. The music was easy enough, and it helped to have a strong ‘earworm’ to hang the words on.

It’s funny how memorization happens. Most of the task is repetition and using as many tricks as possible to come at it from different angles, because it’s obviously necessary to do most of the learning outside the precious rehearsal time. I found the input from other choir members really useful in the past few days. Not even ‘input’, more a shared concentration – literally going over the words beside someone else doing the same thing. Sharing little ways to link phrases in the memory. There’s something about the ‘hothouse’ environment of a competition that focuses everyone.
We’ve one more rehearsal now, for a gig tonight (the competition performances are over now…results tonight).

Addendum: we got 3rd prize! 1st was a choir from Ukraine, 2nd was a French choir. Next thing on the horizon, our concert in Christ Church Cathedral on the 18th.

Dublin today

Things I saw walking from the end of the 31 bus route over to Aston Quay to get the 39a out to my piano students:

Poster and rehearsal photos on the wall of The Abbey Theatre for ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, directed by Neil Bartlett. I love the pics they put up – all around the outside of the building – actors are so dynamic! Hope to get along to see the production. The quote they’ve selected for the poster is “No civilised man regrets a pleasure”…

Next, just at the end of the road the Abbey is on (Marlborough Street), is the most prominent building project in the city at the moment, the New road bridge across the Liffey. It will eventually carry the long-awaited Luas track that will join up the Red and Green lines, but I’m hoping it might also allow an extension of the 31 from Howth over to the Southside…

Next, on O’Connell Bridge, stood a slightly sad looking man with some small, fanned-out business cards in his hand. I didn’t see what they were, nor did I stop.

At the end of the traffic island that runs down the bridge was a group of men with an expensive film camera. One of them had a clapper board that informed me they were shooting ‘The F Word’. I admit I looked around for Daniel Radcliffe, who’s in town filming it (and partying randomly with the victorious Dublin Minors team the other night, apparently). He was not to be seen: I suppose they were just shooting exteriors; establishing-shots and so on…

…and now I’m off to teach piano until I head out to Navan for the second night of Les Misérables in the Solstice Arts Centre.


I’m accompanying the senior choir of Wesley College at a Feis Ceoil thing on Monday. One of the pieces they’re singing is a Bob Chilcott arrangement of the lovely American folk song, ‘Shenandoah’.

If you know the song, it only has one note for the -doah part of the word. Got me thinking about the word, which I’d presumed to be from a Native American language. If you elide those last two syllables (as the song’s word-setting suggests), though, it takes on a very French sound. As I understand it, the word is commonly pronounced with all the syllables: Shen-an-do-ah. The song hints at an earlier, more French pronunciation: Shen-an-dwah.

Any thoughts / actual facts?! A cursory browse of Wikipedia didn’t provide me with any clues, so I turn to you good people…

New Dublin Voices doing ‘Lady Madonna’

My friend Fionnuala, who sings with New Dublin Voices, got married at the weekend and a group of us sang at the wedding ceremony. It was a truly lovely event with many delightful details. Needless to say, we broke out some NDV favourites in the bar afterwards. Like, *very* much afterwards. We always do this — doubtless a bewildering spectacle for those in the vicinity…!

Anyway, one of the ones we like to do in these musically-dodgy situations is a cool arrangement (by Carol Canning, for The Swingle Singers) of ‘Lady Madonna’ by The Beatles. Here’s a video of us performing it at a competition in Marktoberdorf, Germany in 2009. I sing the verses 🙂

The Mucky Duck

I played a solo gig last night in The Mucky Duck pub in Celbridge. I haven’t done very many gigs where it’s just me and the piano (when I have done gigs in the past, it’s mostly been on guitar). It was great, though, and I really enjoyed myself. Feedback was good from the audience — a nice mix of friends, punters sitting listening, applauding punters having conversations and food… Crucially, too, the proprietor and the guy who did my sound also thought I did well. The wonderfully nice guy who did sound for me — Mike Wilkins — took some video which I will hopefully be able to post up here in the next week or two.

I played all covers, some of which worked better than others. Ones that went particularly well were John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, done in the more up-tempo style of Herbie Hancock’s recent version (which, if you don’t know, you *must* check out…the rest of the album is absolutely brilliant, too. Seriously, iTunes, now…), also Dire Straits’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’, and Michael Bublé’s version of ‘Quando, Quando, Quando’ (although, sadly on this occasion without Jenny’s harmonious corollary). I did some jazz arrangements by Jack Long from a great book I have, ‘Blues for Piano’, although it was hard to read in the low light, so I didn’t enjoy that so much. Must get a wee LED gooseneck lamp…

click for their page on Menupages (a restaurant rating site)…

Anyway, really hope to do more of this type of gig. Maybe a restaurant or hotel… I’ve enquired with a place on Dame Street that’s looking for a musician, so we’ll see what comes of that!