‘Vanished Lands’: a new suite of music by Neil Martin premiering next weekend

On Sunday, 6 July a new work by Neil Martin called Vanished Lands will be premiered in Tulfarris, Co Wicklow as part of a series called New Notes Now. Funded from a commission by Wicklow County Council under the Per Cent for Art Scheme on behalf of Music Generation Wicklow, I have been a witness to the development of this from a project proposal into a performed piece of music thanks to the fact that it arises in part from our local music club’s activities and more specifically my children and the children of my friends are among the musicians that will be performing the music on this occasion.

And what a process it has been to witness and be involved with.

The first meeting, back in October last year, with the Contemporary Music Centre and Music Generation in which we were presented with a short-list possible composers to choose from; Neil Martin‘s first visit to the area in January last to meet us and our children and the other group – Music Under the Mountain from Holywood; watching Neil listen to the two groups play some tunes together and then meet each young musician individually and listen to them play and take notes; talking to Neil afterwards about the area and showing him around the lakes and community; receiving the first movement of the music and watching the children learn it and give it shape; seeing Neil working with the musicians on the subsequent movements – guiding their playing, making suggestions to individual players, offering tips about performing, leading and delegating to and encouraging them as musicians; experiencing and assisting in the management and administration of the process; seeing the children work on the music alone and together and with tutors and parents and professional musicians; the involvement of the families in and discussions about the project and the music …

On Friday I heard the entire piece performed a number of times through and I have been hearing bits of it for a few months now, and I have to say I love it. I find it very stirring and powerful and beautiful, partly just thanks to the music, I know, but also due partly to the fact that our kids are the ones delivering it. The melodies and rhythms are essentially Irish traditional music in nature – there’s a jig, a reel, a hornpipe, a march and an air, but typical of Neil Martin, not only does the arrangement feature much harmonic layering, metric twists and turns and clever linking passages, but the tunes themselves are dense with variety and playfulness, so much so that some are quite a challenge for young traditional musicians to get right. A lot of work has been and is being put into teaching and learning this music.

At a number of rehearsals and for the performance itself, the children have and will be joined by Neil, some of their tutors and a number of professional musicians. This won’t, I think, take from it being the children’s moment: delivering for the first time in public this substantial and brilliant piece of music. I don’t believe they fully grasp the significance of that themselves and to an extent it’s just another one of the many music things they’ve done down the years encouraged by their parents (though involving a lot more work that previous projects), but I think later in life it will dawn on them more fully what a great one this one was. Neil has called the piece Vanished Lands referring to the flooding of the Poulaphuca valley and its impact on the affected communities. After visiting the area for the first time, he began reading and finding out more about the communities that lived in the Liffey valley, especially from Christiaan Corlett’s Beneath the Poulaphuca Reservoir. As he says in his programme note: ‘Such a potent human story is irresistible to the creative artist … I have tried to share something of my personal thoughts of the people and the place – thoughts of loss, of fear, of those who worked that land, of their homes, of their way of life, thoughts of celebration and of human achievement.’ The final composition is made up of five conjoined movements, amounting to about 15 minutes of music:

  1. The Poulaphuca Draught
  2. Burgage Church Tower
  3. Long John Quinn’s Settle Bed
  4. Baltyboys Bridge
  5. The Clover Meadow

More details on the project can be found here http://newnotesnow.tumblr.com/ and here https://soundcloud.com/cmcireland/music-generation-wicklow-neil-martin-comission Tickets for Sunday’s premiere are available here http://www.eventbrite.ie/e/new-notes-now-wicklow-county-council-commission-vanished-lands-by-neil-martin-tickets-11721694905 The performance will involve a traditional and classical ensemble featuring children and tutors from Club Cheol na Lochanna, Blessington and Music under the Mountains, Hollywood, as well as Sylvia Roberts on violin, Catherine Humphreys on violin, and Eimear Saunders on oboe. It will be directed by Neil Martin on cello.

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