I am pathetic. My heart is blown open way too easily. I’d make a useless critic. But I have to say I just loved nearly every minute of the music of Siansa Gael Linn 2014 last night in the National Concert Hall. OK, yes, it can all get a tad samey after a while. You hear a good deal of the fashionable arrangement licks over and over, and they almost become clichéd right before your eyes. Some of the songs and their arrangements are a little too familiar perhaps. Some might say, too, more fundamentally, that so much dressing up of the tunes and songs – with modulations, “worked up” harmonies, gear-shifting links, sudden stop-starts – is somewhat gaudy, putting the cleverness of the arrangement ahead of the playing of the music, distracting from the plainer beauty of the music. (This is reflected in the dizzying amount of instrument changing that you see going on all the time on stage. Single instrument musicians are the exception at Siansa.) And personally, I’ve never liked competition, so the format itself goes against my grain a bit: the judges (Mary Bergin, Ciarán Ó Maoinaigh and Niamh Ní Chara, this year) have an unenviable job sorting through and scoring the frenzy of performances.
And yet, and yet, and yet … so much talent, so much enjoyment, so much hard work paying off, so much of a sense of pride (parental, local, mentor, personal) coming off the stage. You’d want a hard heart to be able to avoid being moved … especially as a parent in attendance with their music-loving child (who pictures herself being up there some year, I suspect).
And then there’s the really outstanding moments that make you pay particular attention and win you over to the whole thing again (and I imagine make the judges give extra marks): a particularly beautiful voice in full free flight, a special acoustic glow coming from the playing on a particular instrument, a buzzing energy as a collective sound leaps just a little bit livelier from one group.
And impossible though it is to be objective, I think the judges got the top three right this year: Sligo group Iontas (mentored by Michael Rooney) from Gairmscoil Chúl Atha from Riverstown were awarded first prize; Glór Mhaigh Eo from Caisleán an Bharraigh were second; and Cóiriú from Scoil Mhuire, Maherafelt, Co Dhoire came third. However, the group from Mayo (pictured) did it for me more than all the others (and I’m from Sligo … and I love Michael Rooney’s music … and Liz Carroll tunes one of which Sligo used). They were practically levitating for me. (I wonder, in fact, did they lose some points for going over time, cause it felt so complete and rich to me I can’t imagine it having been only ten/twelve minutes.)
There were lots of other amazing individual performances: Cork’s Róisín Ní Dhonnchú’s lead in Slán le Maigh on the harp and the keyboard playing of Eleanor Nic Gamhna from Coláiste Íosagáin are just two that I can remember from the blur of talent I witnessed thanks to Gael Linn last night.