Author Archives: Amy McAllister

Catrin Finch

Welsh harpist Catrin Finch shows her flexibility, creativity and imagination on her self-composed 2015 album ‘Tides’ ; the work revels her as much more than a classical harpist, composing pieces of striking originality and beauty.

A huge promoter of the Harp, Catrin runs the Academi Catrin Finch Academy. Anyone with Spotify should give the album a wee listen!

Tides harp

Catrin Finche’s album ‘Tides’

Cliff Town House and Tourism Ireland

I had the pleasure of playing in Cliff Town House for Events Partners, Tourism Ireland (https://www.tourismireland.com/) and some guests from New York.

They got to hear some material from the album that I’ve written . Americans are so positive!

Summers day in Cliff Town House

Summers day in Cliff Town House

Barberstown Castle

We were playing at an event full of graphic designers who were visiting Barberstown Castle in Kildare. I had the pleasure of playing with Aoife Kelly who is a wonderful fiddle player and singer from Kildare. It was nice to share the singing with someone. Siobhan was the dancer for the night and she was amazing! What a great show, thanks to Barberstown Castle and Damhsa for having us in :)

 

Back in Barberstown Castle

Back in Barberstown Castle

Castle Leslie in Monaghan

Castle Leslie in Monaghan

Castle Leslie in Monaghan

I was playing at Castle Leslie in Monaghan on Saturday, and what a spectacular venue it is. The castle is encased on 1000 acres of woodland and features a central lake. The interiors are decadent and decorated with an unsurpassed style and timeless beauty.

The bride had requested lots of chart music which is always received well. The guests were fans of O’Carolan, so his pieces got a nice outing, as well as the old ancient pieces like Limericks Lament . I wish every venue could look like this!

Castle Leslie in Monaghan

Castle Leslie in Monaghan

Clontarf Castle

50th wedding party

I got asked to play at a 50th wedding anniversary in Clontarf Castle, and the old gentleman had requested celtic airs and the likes, ‘none of that modern stuff…’

It’s nice to do these gigs and be reminded that clearly, love exists all around, and romance is not dead.

I left before the DJ at around 8pm , the pro’s of being a harper!

Castle Leslie in Monaghan

Castle Leslie in Monaghan

The lake at castle Leslie

The lake at castle Leslie

The Gloaming

I treated myself to a ticket to see The Gloaming on the National Concert Hall at the weekend (also as part of my birthday gift to myself.)

Martin Hayes is possibly my most favourite musician and the music he makes with Denis Cahill is magic.

The concert didn’t disappoint. I think I was smiling the whole way through the gig.  Iarla O’Lionaird sang beautifully and the pianist with them, a young Thomas Bartlett, was nothing short of astounding. With each musician being a master at their art, the combined effect on stage was thrilling and heart-warming enough to make me forget that I’d had the flu for days.

Even when Hayes plays tunes I don’t like, they suddenly become full of intricacies and peaks and a beauty I wasn’t aware existed within the piece. He brings out a diamond in every rough.

The Glaoming’s music is traditional Irish music at its finest and I went back on Monday night for another listen :)

My birthday was March 1st and I got invited to play on the Cill Airne on Dublin’s quays for some folks from across the water. It lasted into the very small hours, but there was no better way to spend my day – on a boat, with free drinks, playing music!

We had a whistler who took part in the session too, and it was enthusing to see a young man whistling, it’s a bit of a forgotten art.

We had some percussion too which went down very well, and I showcased (shyly) some of my new pieces, it was good to give them some airing. The flute player played some Medieval pieces so the mixture in texture and style was very interesting for everyone playing.

I sang some acapella pieces and some faster trad pieces like ‘P for Paddy’ with the guitarist.

I’ve only gotten round to posting this today as shamefully, the weekend was a bit of a whirlwind!

Here are some snaps.

 

Getting ready to play on the CillAirne on Dublin's quays

Getting ready to play on the CillAirne on Dublin’s quays

 

Session in full swing at the Cill Airne

Session in full swing at the Cill Airne

Google meets Guinness

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Setting up in The Gravity Bar

I had the pleasure of playing for Google alongside two of my favourite Dublin based musicians.

Raidy is a singer who plays concertina, ukulele and a bit of harp, and Fred plays bodhran. It’s always such a pleasure to play this venue with its view over Dublin, especially as night falls and the city flights up like thousands of little plankton.

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Night time from the Gravity Bar

We played mainly upbeat reels, jigs and slip jig and went for a pint after. Successful night!

Looking forwards to seeing Eddie Reader this week.

Chris Thile comes to Ireland

I’ve been excited about this visit for months and on January 21st Chris Thile and the Punch Brothers are coming to Dublin.

Infact one of my top 3 favourite tracks is a Chris Thile one ‘Raining at Sunset.’

I found this on the Journal of Music this morning, and it’s great to see inspirational musicians like him taking part in educational ventures whereby he will be taking a music workshop before his gig.

http://journalofmusic.com/listing/05-01-15/punch-brothers-performance-workshop

Song-Sharing Session

I got invited to a song-sharing session in Chaplins Bar on Sunday night.

I love song sharing – but it’s always a different experience in Dublin as I don’t know any of the ‘local’ songs, and can’t join in. Likewise, they aren’t terribly familiar with my northern songs, or the ones that us Glens people have stolen from Scotland, which lies 17 miles to the east of the Glens.

A successful song sharing night is effectively one where you manage to pick up a nice new song, and I this case I heard ,‘The gypsy love song.’ The man singing it definitely didn’t have a traditional voice, he had a ery controlled tenor, bordering on classical voice, but I loved the song, and will have to learn it. A wonderful task for the Christmas holidays!

The Radisson

I had the pleasure of playing at the Radisson in Stillorgan Dublin on Saturday. I love hotels at Christmas time as there’s always a bit of atmosphere. It does mean trying to brush off the Christmas tunes, which only get an outing once a year!

Singing at The Radisson in Dublin

Singing at The Radisson in Dublin

Ben Howard

Ben Howard took to the Olympia last Monday night. The performance was amazing, and most of the musicians on stage were playing at least two instruments (up to five). He made use of varying the energy on stage by having a female band member who played keys, double base, guitar, some percussion, and sang. She was amazing.

I didn’t hear a single flat note, and everything was so tight.

Great gig to catch live if you can.

Apologies for the awful photo, but a post is always better with a photo!

Ben Howard at Dublin's Olympia

Ben Howard at Dublin’s Olympia

Cliff Town House

On Sunday I had the pleasure of playing in Cliff Town House (Dublin) for a crowd from the US on an Irish familiarisation trip.

Americans make the best audiences, and will always take an interest in the music, and ask lots of questions! I love working for a firm that are encouraging tourism in Ireland, as we have so much to offer people from all over the world, and I like to do my bit from the arts and culture perspective.

Cliff Town House US familiarisation trip.

Cliff Town House US familiarisation trip.

Cliff Town House

Cliff Town House

It’s also the first Christmas tree of the season!

I’d recommend Event Partners to anyone!

http://www.eventpartners.ie/

Eithne Ní Uallacháin

It’s great to see this album of Eithne’s out. I look forward to hearing all the offerings from this beautiful, treasured, unique and original Irish voice.

Eithne Ni Uallachain

Eithne Ni Uallachain

The album is a solo one that she was working on before she passed away, and features mostly her own compositions in Gaelic and English.

As Eithne was a cousin of my mum’s, I was introduced to her singing, and her songs at a young age. My favourite track is an ‘The Emigrants Farewell’, which she recorded with La Lugh. There is something otherworldly, delicate and engaging about Eithne’s delivery of any song.

The Emigrant’s Farewell.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NgLxKZrzk5A

Her family have set up a website so it’s easier to explore all the beautiful music she made while she was alive.

http://www.eithneniuallachain.com/

Clint Mansell, film score composer in The National Concert Hall

Clint Mansell at the National Concert Hall Dublin

Clint Mansell at the National Concert Hall Dublin

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Must be the most ambient music gig I’ve ever been too.

The performance came complete with a projector screen which displayed behind the musicians – usually to a pleasant, modern effect with the exception of one or two rather odd and intense mini-films.

The piano player was incredible, as was the quartet he had accompanying him on stage – there is nothing like a good cello player.

The pieces contained a lot of tension, mainly illustrated on the strings, and Mansell clearly has a gift for arranging up to 7 musicians on stage.

He played the pieces he is most famous for – electronica infused film soundtracks (eg Black Swan, The Wrestler), and the audience was enthralled. I also saw some little kids there which was great. My favourite piece was accompanied by a beautiful dance slide show (much better than aforementioned freaky singing face one.)

It was his Pi and Requiem for a Dream Soundtrack (Darren Aronofski) in 2001 which propelled Mansell to international attention and he has gone on to win 3 Best Original Scores Awards and has been nominated in 12 BAFTA categories.

http://www.clintmansell.com/

Wedding on St Stephens Green

Newman Church St Stephens Green

Newman Church St Stephens Green

Saturdays wedding was a beautiful surprise in that I’ve never been in any church or chapel with such beautiful acoustics.

Newman/University Church is situated in the center of Dublin and Saturday was a beautiful day.

The bride had given orders that she wanted no singing, something very simple and asked me to choose all the music. I’ve never had so many people approach me at the end of a ceremony to tell me the music was lovely… which in itself is a success.

I played all old trad airs, concertos and slow pieces as well as a hymn (it was a wedding after all!)

Development of Traditional Irish Music in Northern Ireland

I was delighted to see this post in the Journal of Music about the Arts Council of Northern Ireland having established a forum to develop traditional music in the region.

It advocates the inclusion of traditional Irish music in Northern Irelands formal music education system. This is a wonderful proposal, especially as Ireland has such a unique and popular music of it’s own – many countries would kill for such identity.

Also, since Irish music has grown in popularity, many musicians are making a living from traditional music, young students should be made aware that it is a viable career choice. Or that they could teach Irish music, which is steadily growing in popularity.

The meeting will focus on the aspirations of those people who front the trad music scene in the north.

The meeting is taking place on October 16th, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

http://journalofmusic.com/listing/06-10-14/forum-set-develop-traditional-music-sector-northern-ireland

 

Playing in the Guinness Warehouse… again!

Saturday was a great day, during the day I was jamming with the flute player from Mutefish, Daithi. Harp and flute work incredibly well together. We played some trad pieces, like Ag Criost an Siol and other slow airs, and then we played some u2 pieces, because people always love that! Mutefish are playing this Friday at the Grand Social and I definitely plan to attend. They are a band who work incredibly well live.

Then that night I was play ting in the Gravity bar in the Guinness Store House again.  It was a small American crowd, Americans always appreciate music! I played a selection of semi-classical pieces, trad pieces, sang, and improvised a few things.

After my 2 hour slot, ‘Slide Step’ came on, they are a group of contemporary step dancers and irish dancers. I knew a few of them, and the lead dancer was a guy I used to tour with (he had just started as a professional Irish dancer at the time.) He has certainly come on quite a bit, and his stage presence has gone through the roof. Well done Eoin!

 

Clontarf Castle

Clontarf Castle

I played for the first time in Clontarf Castle last night, I kept the repertoire to a mix of light classical and contemporary pieces as the crowd were international.  It’s a nice venue and I can’t believe I haven’t been before.

I love it when I pick up little stories from the audience, and one Italian orthopaedic surgeon told me about Captain Harlock, a cartoon from long ago, whose girlfriend played harp on the spaceship! He was a violinist until he decided there was no future in playing it…  but it was great to talk music a while with him anyway.

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I’d love to be back again soon.

I have a busy weekend ahead of music making, can’t wait!

Frank Harte Singing Festival

The Frank Harte Festival

Irish Music lovers from all corners of the globe descended in Dublin this weekend for a highly acclaimed festival of Irish Traditional singing. The festival is dedicated to the memory of Frank Harte who promoted Irish traditional singing in Irish and English. He also collected lots of songs so they wouldn’t ‘die with the singer’ and did podcasts of his singing for RTE. There was word on the street that our very own Christy Moore was also out-and-about, adding to his song collection!

One lady I met told of how Christy was waiting for her outside the bathrooms to ask her ‘Where did you get that song from?’ – this funny little encounter displays a singers never ending drive to discover a new song, uncover its landscape, weave their instrument around its and sing their own interpretation of it.

On Sunday the Cobblestones had a singing session: I love hearing new songs, but, as now as I’m based in Dublin, my repertoire of Ulster based songs isn’t increasing as I’m being exposed to Dublin songs.

Truth be told, I love Northern songs, they seem to be more ‘love storied’ based, and Dublin songs have more events and stories to them, so it’s just a change in subject matter really…

Thanks for a great weekend to all who came to Frank Harte

Trad for Trócaire

Session in full swing in The Globe

Session in full swing in The Globe

Trad for Trocaire
Last night ‘The Globe’ on Georges Street (just beside Trinity college) hosted its own Trad for Trocaire night.

The leading musicians were Darragh and Mairead on concertina and guitar – a delightful duo who are known for being ‘full of tunes.’
We had some guest musicians there also: Michael Heslin is a singer/songwriter from Dublin who is releasing his first Americana influenced album in a few weeks and his songs provided a wonderful alternative to the straight up trad of the evening. He’s definitely one to watch.
We had a few songs in Irish and Mairead sang a powerful Gene Richie piece which got rapturous applause. There was also sean os dancing.
There was free drink for all the players (thanks to the Globe!)
It was wonderful to see such a generous turn out for such a worthy cause, Ireland is still one of the most generous countries in the world despite the recent economic turbulence.
This weekend see’s the John Harte festival taking place in Dublin – can’t wait to learn some new songs!

Catriona McKay plays Dublin

Catriona KcKay in concert

Catriona KcKay in concert

On wednesday night I had the privilege of attending a concert given by one of my favourite harpists, Catriona McKay (Scottish), she performed alongside Chris Stout and Seamus Begley in the Sugar Club in Dublin.
She played numbers from her stunning album ‘Starfish’ and ‘White Nights’ for the first half of the show, and Chris Stouts’ sturdy fiddle accompaniment added texture and diversity, visually and musically.

Both Chris and Seamus sang, Chris’s song being one I had never heard before, originating from his native island off the coast of Scotland.

Catriona was playing a Starfish harp… and the sound would be enough to convert anyone from the strong held first position of Larry Egar’s in the country. Infact I have noticed a trend of great harpists beginning to play Starfish’s – which I believe are Scottish. I wonder which harp Catriona played for years and if the name of the album (‘Starfish’) was inspired by a change in harp.

She plays leaning over to the right and wraps herself around her harp a little bit – which I suppose we all do a little bit when you get into a piece. Her playing was flawless, sublime, intricate, intimate, modest and dramatic yet mellifluous.

Chris did more talking than Catriona but it was interesting to hear the history behind each piece and the inspiration behind each composition. For example White Nights was inspired by the long nights of lightness in Chris’s home island (I wish I could remember which one it is now!)

My favourite set was a Michael Rooney number she played with Stout and Begley and it had an impressive number of key changes.

I’m delighted I got to see her play as she’s one of my favourite harpists of all time! My favourite compositions are The Swan and White Nights.

Playing in Dublin City University on a summers evening

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I love playing for a group of international people as you always hear so many stories about ‘people they know’ who play the harp, why they love harp music and Irish music in general.

It was my first time in DCU (Dublin City University) and it’s a gorgeous campus. Likewise the room had great acoustics so the sound was lovely.

I was playing for the people of ‘International Public Procurement’ so they were an eclectic bunch… ironically it’s the first time since January I’ve brought my EP’s out so they took a few of those too.
And for once I changed my gig outfit from black to pink! Success!

La Caverna Temple Bar musicians

Wine bar opening, La Caverna

Opening of the wonderful wine Bar, La Caverna in Temple Bar

Opening of the wonderful wine Bar, La Caverna in Temple Bar

Years ago I answered a post looking for ‘jazz singers’ in Dublin. I was just off the road and thought a regular gig would be lovely, and ended up being adopted by the Romanian family who run La Caverna, run by Dan Balau. The food is wonderful, the service is amazing and I love love love playing there. They also give me unlimited drinks which always goes down well when I’m heading out on the town afterwards!

During my time there I’ve teamed up with gypsy guitarists, Brazilian keys players, germany strings players, and brought my harp along.

SO I sang jazz/gypsy there inbetween tours for a few years – I cant find all the images as my computer crashed. Recently they opened their wine bar, what a night.

So here it is, my favourite restaurant in Dublin and some of their musicians

https://www.facebook.com/LaCavernaTempleBar?fref=ts

La Caverna Temple Bar musicians

La Caverna Temple Bar musicians

Snow Patrol ‘Run’ #Irishembassyparis #tourismireland

Last January I had the privilege of being asked my Tourism Ireland to sing for the Promotion of their Wild Atlantic Way scheme in The Irish Embassy in Paris. The scheme aimed to promote the beautiful drive around the west of Ireland – entitled the Wild Atlantic Way. You can watch the video if you youtube myself at the Embassy in Paris.

Nature over nuture? How important is practice?

I love to read studies on Musicianship – the psychics behind it and what parts of the brain enable one person to have better musicality than another, or what you can do in everyday life to improve your playing (this generally applies more to harp than voice – for me personally, I find rest and keeping relatively happy and relaxed are the best things for your voice. If I’m tired there is NO covering it up and often my voice will cut out mid song…)

Of course! This study has been done in Sweden ( I lived there for years, the whole report is massively swedish!) It basically supports the idea that musical ability is genetic and that the mind as  a pre-disposition to ‘bring musically minded.’ It describes musical ability as three things: rhythm, melody and pitch discrimination. It based the study on sets of Swedish twins and having some do more practise than others – it found no huge difference in ability after.

Firstly, I don’t disagree with this study – I remember listening to music on TV when I was four and demanding a piano or a violin because the tune was swirling around in my head and I wanted to play it. Or I would hear music on TV credits and start singing it, I wasn’t the height of the TV at this time. That is being musical. Some people have that and some people don’t. It helps to be naturally quick but I don’t agree that this is something you can’t tap into – with enough practise and tuition. I’ve met some people who are the best musicians around now a days and they’ve just worked damn hard at it – they definitely didn’t have it naturally. Then there are the people who are just borderline ‘gift from god’ talented. I think those people are just untouchable.

Even at performance level – I’ve started to attend music theory lessons with a retired Professor from The Royal Academy of Music in Dublin. I’ve been doing tedious theory for over a year and it has improved my musical ability in ways I can’t describe and I ways I didn’t think was possible. I can now pick up light classical pieces from youtube after one or two listens and I can transpose any pieces – it’s just opened my mind.

If I come back from a  four month tour with a great musician (I’ve one guy in mind here) I’ll find that my playing is razor sharp – because of the environment, the inspiration, and the PRACTICE.

Maybe this study should have got some professional musicians involved? It’s all very interesting anyway!

See the report beneath

http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/07/30/0956797614541990.abstract

Phoneix Park

holeinwall

Hole in The Wall is a lovely wee bar built into the side of Phoneix Park- I love playing here as the people are always friendly and great craic, there’s a great atmosphere and I always feel like I’m out of the city centre when I come here. The people are always pretty receptive to anything you play or  sing which makes for a great night.

!Hole in the Wall

Playing for the dancers

I was delighted to play at the recent Damhsa evert involving some of the wonderful Riverdance and Gaelforce dancers in the Hilton Hotel in Dublins Ballsbridge. I was performing with the very talented Robbie, a stunning bodhran player from Dublin who is part of the band ‘Perfect Friction.’ The best thing about playing for an international audience is their appreciation of Celtic Music and in particular, harp and voice together on the harp.

Soundchecking with the dancers ahead of the nights performance

Soundchecking with the dancers ahead of the nights performance

After we played for an hour or two, we were joined on stage by the dancers, in all making for a memorable evening. It reminded me of being on tour with the dancing troops (I’m lucky to have played for some of the best dancers out there), and playing music for the dancing tours I did; dancers are such fun and bring a tremendous energy to any performance. I’d love to do another dancing show in the future as visually, it makes for a much for textured show in general and you can tell a much more layered story when you can portray emotion and voice through movement.

The dancers

The dancers

Harfish, not harpist!

Harfish, not harpist!

A funny misspelling of Harpist. Harfish!

Back in The Westbury

Back in the Westbury, it's been 4 years but it was lovely to return.

Back in the Westbury, it’s been 4 years but it was lovely to return.

 

18th June, The Westbury Hotel

I was resident harpist in The Westbury for 2 years before I left for America and Europe to tour full-time- they are lovely, lovely people to work for, and I absolutely loved taking all the old time requests for the clientele. It’s such a beautiful setting too – I had to include an image if their beautiful flowers! They must have the best flower arranger in Ireland, every day I went in there would be a new display. I went back in recently to play for some foreign visitors. What a lovely evening.

Flower arrangement in The Westbury

Flower arrangement in The Westbury

 

Vital Survey documenting Harp playing in Ireland

 

An important Survey for Irish Harpists

The Arts council of Ireland recently carried out a very important and vital survey into harping in Ireland.  The harp is such an undocumented instrument, and as its still so difficult to find a harp teacher. Pupils are often left to bring themselves up. Surveys like this are hugely vital in developing an understanding of the harp, understanding how widely it is played, repertoire diversity, how often these people play and to see if the harp becoming more popular.

 

Harping in Croke Park!

croke park3

Croke Park2

Well, this must be a pinnacle for any harpist, playing in Croke park! I was so happy to be given the privilege to play somewhere where so many important sporting moments, past and present have taken place.

Playing in Croke Park.

Playing in Croke Park.