Thursday, April 16, 2009

words and music, continued


Dermot Henry was looking through a book in Kenny’s Bookstore, in Galway City one day [the old Kenny’s in city center for those of you who are picturing the scene]. The pages fell open to a poem by seventeenth century poet by Francis Higgins, a poem speaking in the voice of a woman who was growing older, but by no means fading away. As he was reading it, Henry heard music in his mind. Being a musician, and paying attention to such things, he made it into a song. It’s called As the Evening Declines, and has been recorded by Cathie Ryan.

Songs and tunes come in many different ways. Because it is National Poetry Month just now, I’ve been thinking about words, music, and how all that relates to the understanding and definition of poetry. Poetry, these days, often seems set off and aside of daily life (not if you ask Billy Collins or Wendell Berry though), while songs could seem to be closer. The processes and the tools are often very much the same. There’s also the thought that you have to stop and read a poem, while a song or a tune may be a companion as you move through your day. Used to be, in oral tradition, songs and poetry were more closely seen to be intertwined -- putting rhythm and meter and rhyme to words, and weaving them in melody, helped with remembering and passing on the stories.

I started, or perhaps continued, the conversation on the question of song lyrics and poetry here: poetry month: a view from the music road. There’s more to say on all these ideas. I’ll do some of that in future posts during poetry month -- we do have to talk about Robert Burns -- and in a new series on teaching and learning music that’s planned for later on in this summer. As always, I'd invite you to join in the conversation by adding your thoughts in the comment field below.

Meanwhile, Dermot Henry is a fine songwriter and singer originally from Sligo, whose early work from the 1970s someone should really issue again on CD. He’s written songs such as What Ireland Means to Me, The Girl from Asdee, and a good number of others. One of his best, Slan Abhaile, you may find on recordings by Kate Purcell and by Cathie Ryan. You may sometimes catch the man himself on tour these days as part of an Irish Home Coming show with Cherish the Ladies and Maura O’Connell, or at gigs of his own in the northeastern US.

you may also want to see


Voices: Cherish the Ladies

four ideas: songwriting

creative practice: the spaces between

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