Music Blog #1

Music blog I: June 18 2015

The students concentrating on music during the class – Drew, Mir, Morgan, Nesli, and Sophia – and I just completed our third morning session in our studio space, the top floor of 16th century Newtown Castle. As a place of residence for 500 years, we can only imagine the music and stories that those walls have heard over the generations. The Castle is at the heart of the Burren College of Art, and lies about a five minute drive or half hour walk from our houses down at the old Ballyvaughan pier. We’re fortunate to have this magical place as the central axis mundi for the class.

This week we’ve been splitting our time so that in the mornings the six of us work together as a group and in the afternoons the students work separately. In the morning sessions I present material on the basic structure and form of Irish traditional music, we listen to and discuss recordings by important artists from all the different corners of the Irish musical spectrum and, beginning on day two, an hour or so of each morning session has been dedicated to the students presenting to each other initial ideas for their eventual musical composition projects. Yesterday that exercise centered around generating variations upon a theme, one of the primary ways in which Irish musicians compose tunes (instrumental dance music) or airs (songs, often in free meter and unaccompanied). And today the students presented to each other the compositional ideas they came up with in the course of research or site visits yesterday afternoon and evening.

As week one transitions into week two, our procedure will change; rather than meeting together in the mornings, the students will be working independently pretty much all day on their individual composition projects. While the main part of the students’ day will be independent work, we will still check in with each other as a group perhaps for an hour each morning, depending on the balance the students end up needing between alone-time work (the “solitude of daily practice” as the guitarist Segovia put it) and social interchange.

I’m impressed with the way the students have jumped into the work, both in their own composing and in the constructive observations and feedback they’ve been sharing with each other in our morning sessions. They are clearly a tremendously supportive peer group, just as they are full of great musical ideas. Several students have said how they want to attempt projects here that they’ve dreamt of doing for a long time but have gotten sidelined along the way, for whichever of the many reasons our dreams are too often deferred. This is an excellent opportunity for the students to dive in to projects they may have only dreamt of being able to tackle thus far in life. Judging from the passion with which they’re presenting their ideas to each other and hearing each other out, the students are taking the opportunity seriously.

Nesli, Morgan and Sophia...three GREAT singers!

Nesli, Morgan and Sophia…three GREAT singers!

Yesterday evening before sunset most of the music students took a quick ride up to the 13th c Corcomroe Abbey outside of Ballyvaughan, then stopped at Bishop’s Beach to catch the sunset on the way back to town. Some of the students combed the fields for materials they might use as musical instruments or for sounds they might sample for their compositions; some skipped rocks in the ocean; some took the opportunity to walk quietly alone down the beach. We all got pulled into how the shifting light generated by fast moving cloud cover projected patterns on the limestone mountains off to our east, and onto the colored bands of seaweed, rocks, and sand which stretched across our field of vision. A day which began with spitting rain ended up with the incredible epiphany of sun breaking through clouds. Home to a quick dinner and a deep sleep.