Category Archives: Music

Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula: Music of Home

Music Travel

By Kerry Dexter


Destination: The Dingle peninsula, County Kerry, Republic of Ireland

Music: Ar Uair Bhig an Lae/ The Small Hours from Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh

The Dingle peninsula has its moments of being an attraction for tourists, but most of the time it is less so than the nearby Ring of Kerry. That leaves it to be a quieter place, a land of legend and history and about as far west as you can go and still be on the mainland of Ireland.

People came to Dingle going back six thousand years. Across those years they left traces of their lives in stone and bone and metal, and in more recent years, in poem and book, in art, in story, and in song.

Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh grew up in Dun Chaoin (in English variously known as Dunquin and Duncan), which in its turn is about as far west on the Dingle Peninsula as you can go and still be on the mainland. The view of the Blasket Islands from the windows of her father’s house, the sounds of Irish spoken as readily as English, the landscape of mountain and sea, and the day to day presence of music all shaped Nic Amhlaoibh’s time growing up. (In case you’re wondering, her name is pronounced  nik OWL eeve)

Dingle Peninsula musician

Dingle Peninsula Musician Murieann

Her travels have taken her far from the west of Ireland, at first to university in Dublin, then to study and later to teach traditional music in Limerick. As singer with the top traditional music band Danu and as a respected broadcast presenter, she has traveled to nearby places including the Western Isles and Glasgow in Scotland and distant ones including Romania, India, and the United States. She has recorded a number of albums with Danu, played shows and recorded an album with Scottish Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis and been a guest artist on the Irish Christmas in America tour with the band Teada, among other things.

Though she still travels often for her music, Nic Amhlaoibh has returned to make her home in Dingle Peninsula, a circumstance which, she says “had the songs flying at me from all sides.”

In part that’s what led her to make her second solo recording, which is called Ar Uair Bhig an Lae: Small Hours. There are a dozen songs, seven in Irish and five in English. As Nic Amhlaoibh unfolds the tales, her warm voice invites you to listen as though you could be sitting by the fire, hearing stories in music that the singer has found right at her doorstep as well as perspectives she’s brought back from her travels and connected to the mountain and sea landscape of her native home in the west of Ireland.

These stories include Bo na Leathadhairce, a well known song in west Kerry which may be about a cow and a sheep, but may also be about the making of poitin. (Note: Roughly speaking, Irish moonshine).

Gold Hills, from Australian songwriter Kate Burke, is a song about love, loss, and meaning which Nic Amhlaoibh learned while she was on tour in Burke’s native country, and which stands naturally among songs in Irish. Whether Irish is your language or not, Nic Amhlaoibh makes the connection of emotion and story clear.

A fine place to listen for that is the sequence of four songs with which she closes the recording. Cois Abhann an Sead, known as River of Gems in English, is a reflective piece that may set you dreaming, while Another Day, by American bluegrass musician Tim O’Brien, is a lively tale which holds the ideas of songs being passed on and people picking up the music and handing it on to generations to come. Bold Fenian Men is a well known Irish rebel song which holds the power, pride, and sorrow of choices made in such circumstances. An Clar Bog Deal is a love song, in which the man vows he’ll marry the girl he loves even if all they have is a board of wood to sleep on.

“I’m not really thinking about switching between languages when I’m working out what to sing,” Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh says, “I’m thinking about the song. There’s a great musicality to Irish, though. I think people respond to that, whether they’re understanding the words or not.” As you listen to the music on Ar Uair Bhig an Lae/The Small Hours in Irish and in English, you will hear that musicality, and the stories, landscape, and life of the west of Ireland as well.

Here is a video of Muireann Nic  Amhlaoibh teaming up with Julie Fowlis.

 

 

Love Quebec, Music and Winter

Note: Leading up to Valentine’s Day, in a romantic mood, A Traveler’s library has a distinct French accent this week. Kerry Dexter starts us off in French-speaking Quebec with a bilingual musical choice that shows how travelers might love Quebec and music and winter. Later this week, I’ll be reviewing two novels about romances set in the City of Love, Paris.

Destination: Quebec, Canada

Music: Ce Monde Ici-Bas (This World Here Below) by De Temps Antan

Quebec Skyline

Quebec Skyline. Photo by Robbie’s Photo Art from Flickr

In the province of Quebec, in Canada, people really know winter. Love Quebec. Love Winter.As nearly half the year, from October through into March, is a season of cold and snow, it makes sense that Quebecois folk have come to love it, with major winter festivals lighting up the cities of Quebec and Montreal, people heading to the mountains to ski, and going cross country by ski and sled, celebrating life and love and music in the depths of winter.

Quebec Winter Carnival

Quebec Winter Carnival 2013. Photo by James McCaffrey

Indoors in winter there are celebrations of the unique landscape and heritage of Quebec’s people too. Most often these involve music. The three men who make up the group De Temps Antan know this well.

Through love of music shared in the family through study, through travel, and through winding musical paths, Éric Beaudry, André Brunet, and Pierre-Luc Dupuis each found his way to worldwide stages playing the music of Quebec as members of the iconic (and large) Quebec band La Bottine Souriante, and eventually, Beaudry, Brunet, and Dupuis chose to bring their love of Quebecois music back to the more intimate settings of those tunes shared around the kitchen table, as they formed the trio De Temps Antan. Their most recent release is called Ce Monde Ici-Bas (This World Here Below).

Quebec music group De Temps Antan. Photo by Wil Macauley.

Quebec music group De Temps Antan. Photo by Wil Macauley.

The family feeling and connection the men bring to this project doesn’t mean it’s all quiet music, though. Fast paced tunes and songs recalling and inviting dance that mark love for music in Quebec are in full character as the three friends play their way through sets of traditional music, music they’ve written themselves, and music which connects these sources.

Each man brings his own flavor to the music. Éric Beaudry grew up in Saint-Côme. and has taken an early love of singing and playing guitar to playing mandolin and bouzouki as well. He has studied both jazz and pop music as well as learning his own traditions, and now teaches traditional music too.

André Brunet’s instrument is the violin . Along with his brother Rejean — now part of the top Quebecois group Le Vent du Nord — he recorded several albums, and has also won the top award at the Canadian Grand Masters Fiddling Competition, the first Quebecois artist to do so. You might have heard his fiddling as part of the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia,

Pierre-Luc Dupuis comes from Louiseville, Quebec, where he grew up around music and was drawn to the accordion, with which he made a solid reputation across Quebec before touring the world as part of La Bottine Souriante, and now, with the trio that is De Temps Antan.

So what do these three friends sound like when they make music together? Love of place, family, friendship, a dash of humor and a touch of romance along with a nod to history and the joy of sharing music all come through in their music choices. They offer fast and slow pieces, trading melody and harmony line, warmth, humor, and quite a bit of that trademark Quebec musical accompaniment, stamping and tapping of the feet!

The music of Quebec is French music — all the lyrics here are in French — and is rooted in the songs and tunes emigrants from the Celtic regions of France carried with them over the ocean. It is also a music shaped and formed by new world encounters with the music carried by people from Scotland and Ireland and other countries, shaped and formed too by the landscape and the seasons on the land in Quebec.

On Ce Monde Ici-Bas, you’ll find a traditional emigration song (reworked with a nod to another part of French culture, the Cajun community), a lively drinking song, a romantic waltz, and sets of reels and jigs that you can just imagine being shared in lively fashion around the kitchen table. The closing track draws all these threads together, and evokes the romance and joy, the dance and reflection, of the music of Quebec. It is called Matin d’Hiver, Winter Morning.

Looking for a unique soundtrack to your own winter morning, or Valentine’s Day celebrations? De Temps Antan could just have that for you with Ce Monde Ici-Bas.

Note: All photographs used here are form Flickr, used with creative commons license.  Click on the photo to learn more about the photographer.

Best Music for Resolutions

MUSIC  TRAVEL

DESTINATIONS: the American West, Scotland, Appalachian Mountains, Indiana

MUSIC:

  • Tony Duncan,  Native Son [Canyon Records] (Available on January 21, 2014)
  • Catriona McKay, Tony McManus, and a whole bunch of other musicians, Celtic Airs & Reflective Melodies [Greentrax Recordings]
  • Al Petteway and Amy White Winter Tidings (Maggies Music]
  • Carrie Newcomer Kindred Spirits [Rounder Records]

By Kerry Dexter

Do you make resolutions at the new year? Perhaps you make resolutions on New Year’s Day, or New year’s Eve. I’ve a friend who makes resolutions at the winter solstice on 21 December, and another who chooses the turning of the Celtic year around the end of October. I tend to use Advent, the four weeks before Christmas, as a time when I think about resolutions. Maybe you do not make resolutions at all.

Chance are, though, that you do look forward toward where you’re going and look back at where you’ve been. Perhaps you think about it as setting goals, making resolutions, creating intentions, or planning for what’s ahead. The time when the calendar turns from one year to the next is often a reminder of the need for such reflection and an inspiration for doing it. Music can be a good companion.

American West


Tony Duncan knows the landscapes of the American west in his bones. He is of Apache and Mandan –Hidatsa –Arikara heritage. His instrument is the Native American wooden flute. On his album Native Son, Duncan offers songs of family, songs of landscape, original and traditional songs which invite and share reflection.

“Flowing through the mighty rivers and streams a song is heard if you listen closely,” Duncan says, “ the sound of the sun rising in the east and setting to the west, the call of the cactus wren in the desert and the call of the elk in the high country. If you listen closely you can hear life in all its wonder.” He makes music inspired by these ideas in pieces called Evening Meadows, Sacred Mountain, Stories Upon Stone, Eagle Has Blessed Us, and others. He ends this collection with his take on the hymn Amazing Grace. [Here is a sample of Duncan playing with his group Esttun-Bah at the 2009 Santa Fe Indian Market.]

Scotland

Across the water in Scotland, you might at first think of the skirl of bagpipes leading marches and dancers’ feet flying to lively jigs and reels. There is an equally  long tradition of music for the quiet side of life in Scotland as well. The people of Greentrax Recordings decided to put together an album of just such music, which they’ve called Celtic Airs & Reflective Melodies

They’ve gathered music which traverses the landscapes of Scotland, played on fiddle, harp, guitar, pipes, and other instruments by many of Scotland’s musicians. Harp player Catriona McKay took inspiration from a trip on a sailing vessel for her tune called The Swan, while piper Jimmy Young composed Denny’s Air on first meeting his wife Denny. Guitarist Tony McManus turned to an air Robert Burns used to make his song Ye Banks and Ye Braes.

Appalachia


As you read the title of Winter Tidings: An Appalachian Christmas you might be thinking but wait: it’s not Christmas. The gifts of the Christmas season — hope, love, faith, courage, change, challenge, forgiveness, trust, to name several — are ones to carry forward through the year. These elements of the story persist and are good things to consider as you make plans, set goals, and make resolutions.

Al Petteway and Amy White, who live in the Appalachian mountains, use guitar, bouzouki, dulcimer, keyboards, and other instruments to create a collection of traditional and instrumental music which evokes reflection and the quiet side of the winter season. If the Christmas story is not part of your faith, still, this is album which reaches across boundaries of faith to the essentials which connect us — and which are good things to have along when making resolutions and setting goals.

Midwestern U.S.


Carrie Newcomer, who draws deep inspiration from her native ground in Indiana writes songs which take these things into account, songs which invite reflection and suggest good questions. On her album Kindred Spirits she’s included songs from across her career in music “but I decided not to do it chronologically,” she says. “I wanted to do it as I would a set list for a concert, with ideas and melodies flowing into each other.”

Some are songs she’s recorded before, including the story of friendship in The Gathering of Spirits and the gifts of ordinary things in Holy as a Day is Spent and others are new, including The Long Christmas Dinner and a new version of an old favorite about how to walk in the world through trust called Bare to the Bone. She begins the collection with a new song called The Speed of Soul. In that song Newcomer considers an idea she heard in a Native American story, that at times we travel faster than ours souls can go, that we need to take time to slow down and catch up with our own selves.

As you are considering making resolutions and setting goals, making plans and setting intentions, that’s a good idea to have in mind.

Note: It is the policy of A Traveler’s Library to let you know about affiliate links.  There are links in this article to Amazon, where you can listen to bits of the album, and do your shopping if you wish. It does not cost you any more, and you will be benefiting Music Road and A Traveler’s Library.