Sublime sounds, sacred space

Mick describing and Caoimhin demostrating the complexities of the Hardanger fiddle

I was lucky (& bold) enough, some might say blessed, to attend a mostly private concert in Maynooth last night (in St Mary’s church put on for delegates at a European Association of Social Anthropologists conference): featuring Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Mick O’Brien up first lifted by the dancing of Sibéal Davitt; followed by Eithne Ní Chatháin with Seán Óg on clarinets & Cormac O’Brien on double bass. Sublime music. Eithne’s declared her enthusiasm for playing with “these guys” and it was reflected in a superb performance.

Caoimhín and Mick’s set included tunes from Peadar Ó Riada, their Canon Goodman set, and a tune by Michael Tubridy who was in the audience and once taught Caoimhín. When they both play tin whistle together, their register slipping makes two sound, at times, like three. A beautiful fragile thing, it is. Bird song-like. The fiddle-uilleann pipe relationship gives them more sonic ground and they always make the most of it, digging around in the tunes in search of riches: the past, somethings new and of each other.

Eithne included sean nós and contemporary songs, some of her own, some learned from singers in her adopted home of Dingle and some from other writers (‘Curra Road’ by Ger Wolf). My favourite was the closing Mo Bhuachaill Cael-Dubh. It was transporting. With the jazz influences coming through the clarinet & double bass, and the sophisticated approach to arrangement, this ensemble is exploring exciting new territory through traditional song. It is not about the singer, ever; but about the songs, their delivery, and their exploration through the instrument that is her voice. It is the definition of sublime (bringing Stina Nordenstam to mind at times for me).

The setting in St Mary’s church on the NUI Maynooth campus was perfect, Sibéal Davitt in particular putting the flagstones to great use with her steps during a couple of tunes. The whole thing, including a few warm-up pieces on the harp by Michelle Mulcahy, was put together for the European Association of Social Anthropologists by Enda O’ Catháin.

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