The Encylopaedia of Music in Ireland (EMIr) was launched yesterday (4 October) in the Freemasons’ Hall, Dublin by President Michael D. Higgins, who described it as “an important day in the cultural life of Ireland”.
Traditional musicians from the DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama played music at the event.
The President spoke highly of the project, saying that it would be appreciated not just by our generation but by many generations to come for the wealth of information and knowledge it contains. He spoke of how it would go some way towards redressing the imbalance in the focus on literature in the cultural discourse about Ireland, and towards filling in the gaps that tend to be skipped over in casual descriptions of music in Ireland: traditional, U2, Riverdance.
Interestingly, he emphasised traditional music at many points in his speech, for instance recalling how he was struck when he was up launching the Fleadh in Derry earlier this year by the habit of traditional musicians to always provide the history of the tunes they played. He joked about it in relation to intellectual property, and called this “tracing” of the music a powerful ethic.
More generally he spoke about the importance of music in our lives, how it was the “very best” expression of the human spirit, with utopic capacities and the power to transform, to defy comprehension and defeat time; how it plays a significant part in our international standing and in our economy; and how it reflects back at us who we have been and who we are now. Referring back to his own academic work on migration, he expressed particular interest in the content of EMIr that reflected our relationship with other cultures and other countries.
He also praised the people behind the book, saying it was a courageous act on their part given that the music community, though brilliant, could be quite contentious. He said the book reflected well on our universities and their ability to collaborate, while expressing concern about the “fashion contest”-like assessment of league tables.
After the President, Harry White spoke on behalf of himself and Barra Boydell, the general editors, also emphasising the collaborative nature of the project, the massive undertaking it was (240 contributors researching and writing 2,000 entries, edited by 15 editors, advised by 9 specialists, overseen by 80 general editorial sessions). He thanked Chuck Feeney of the Atlantic Philanthropies. As well as thanking the key people (see below), he singled out others outside the academic involvement, namely Michael Adams of Four Courts Press (who he praised for being the first publisher in Ireland to publish a book with the word “musicology” in the title!), and typesetter/designer Lyn Davies, and style editor Patrick Divine. And he thanked Barra, pointing out that there was never a cross word between them, which, he said, would surprise those that knew him.
The executive editors were: Mark Fitzgerald (DIT) and Maria McHale (DIT). Its subject editors were Barra Boydell, Ann Buckley (TCD), Gareth Cox (MIC), Gerard Gillen (NUIM), Kerry Houston (DIT), Maria McHale (DIT), Mel Mercier (UCC), Michael Murphy (MIC), Méabh Ní Fhuartháin (NUIG), Harry White (UCD).
At UCD Press: Barbara Mennell, Noell Moran, Professor Leslie Daly and Professor Geraldine Meaney. The university representatives involved were: Professor Brian Norton and Melda Slattery of DIT, and Professor Mark Rogers and Eamonn Ceannt of UCD. The National Concert Hall representative was Simon Taylor.
The advisory editors were Ita Beausang, Nicholas Carolan, Paul Collins, P.J. Curtis, Martin Downling, Andrew Johnstone, Axel Klein, Joseph Ryan and Gerry Smyth.
I’ll be coming back to consider the content in the near future, but in the meantime the Journal of Music has reminded us of the debates there have been about the project since its inception.