Sunday, November 29, 2015

First Week in Advent: music and quiet

As the month of November advances and as December comes in, news reports and essays start to appear about braving the holidays, overcoming the burdens, getting away from it all. In private conversations as well you begin to hear these ideas going around. But still...

Still. That’s a good word for it. In the Christian calendar, this begins the season of Advent, of preparation for Christmas. Certainly that sort of preparation can at times be as busy and as bothered and as burdensome as the sort things that seem to be expected in other areas of life.


In the midst of rush and hurry, burden and change and loneliness and misunderstanding that can seem to be magnified by this season that is meant to be wrapped around with goodness and light and joy, the goodness and the joy are there. Deep in the memory of carols played once to often, deep in the longings not yet met from the past, deep in the smiles of strangers, in in the snap of winter air, in the quiet of snowfall, in the turning and falling of leaves heavy with that snow, in stars flung across indigo sky, they are there. As advent begins, look for the stillness and the joy. Listen for the quiet, and the music.

It may seem a paradox to say listen for the quiet in the music. Silence, though, is the canvas on which music is painted. Music is often a doorway to two other things that are especially part of this season and which may at first seem at odds with each other: solitude and community.

Music to go along with these ideas:

Community is one of the highlights of life along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. The communities where people, the work they create, the roads that run along the west of Ireland coast, the remnants if those who lived there in the recent past and in time long gone, have been around themselves from time long before the idea of the Wild Atlantic Way came to be. It’s a designation that frames the place in all its diversity and commonalities, and one that draws people to it and helps them remember and explore things they might not have come to otherwise. You could say the same of the recording The Wild Atlantic Way. It is, as its subtitle promises, a journey in Irish music. In spare yet vivid language and instrument, Francie and Rory Conway’s title track tells a bit of of life along Ireland’s wild western edge and on its western waters. In the thirteen tracks which follow, some of Ireland’s best musicians call forth the fun and the dance and the humor, the wry wit, the sadness, the fellowship and the mystery of the Atlantic edge of Ireland.

There are tunes from the tradition, for instance John McSherry’s Atlantic Drive and The Rolling Wave from Dervish, tradition and contemporary song and melody in Samhradh from Lumiere, top class singers including John Spillane, who brings his own song Along the Wild Atlantic Way, and Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh and her bandmates in Altan, who offer the haunting song Far Beyond Carrickfin. From Donegal to Cork, in song in English and Irish, with tunes and melodies of the tradition and newly created, these artists bring to mind the friendship and the mystery that are also hallmarks of the way. It is a thoughtfully chosen and well sequenced collection (that part was done by Colm O’Siochain, whose work you have met before here along the music road) that will bear return listenings in any season.

Donald Shaw writes of a landscape no less wild and challenging in his series of instrumental pieces which make up Hebrides: Islands on the Edge. This music was composed originally as soundtrack for a BBC nature series of the same name. Individually and taken together they stand beautifully on their own, calling to mind wilderness and sea, history, and a Celtic sense of place. BBC nature shows aren’t always that peaceful, as nature itself isn’t. There is however a certain peace in the turn of day to night and spring to winter. These things, along with contemplation of the landscape itself and the fact that he comes fro Scotland’s west in Argyll perhaps help inform the sense of reflection, peace, and yes, quiet, in the music Shaw creates. He has many fine musicians along for the journey, too. In addition to his own top class accordion and piano skills, Michael McGoldrick adds flute and uillean pipes, Aidan O’Rourke and Patsy Reid are on fiddle, James Mackintosh and Signy Jacobsdottir are on percussion Catriona MacKay is on clarsach, and there a a number of other musicians as well. The music they have created is good for listening at any season. Its contemplative aspects make it an especially good companion as Advent begins.

You may also wish to see
Ireland's Music: Altan: The Widening Gyre
Music for the first week in Advent: candle in the window
Voices of the Wild Atlantic Way: Donegal and Derry at Wandering Educators
Ireland in Winter at Perceptive Travel
Cathie Ryan: Through Wind and Rain

Photographs by Kerry Dexter and by and courtesy of Joseph Mischyshyn and DJ McPherson

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