I clearly remember the day in 1987 that I set Anúna up. I sat, surrounded by a group of young singers in a Dublin bar, and outlined my plan to create a new choir.
The subsequent journey was incredible. In the last quarter century our voices have resonated through vast halls in China and Japan, and echoed across the sacred spaces of European cathedrals. We have sung together in some of the greatest concert venues in the world including The Royal Albert Hall, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and Radio City in New York. Our music has taken us through fifteen albums, collaborations with rock stars and symphony orchestras through to video game soundtracks. We have represented Ireland as international musical ambassadors for our country of origin. All this time we have continued to develop and refine the uniqueness of our unique vocal sound and performance practices. Anúna have come further than I could ever have imagined. This sixteenth album is titled Illumination specifically because our journey has been about casting light on so many things – choral music, ancient songs and cultures, performance practices, hidden textual truths.
Initially when I began recording Illumination with my long-time collaborator Brian Masterson, it was with the intention of presenting music which had featured as part of the history of the choir, material previously unrecorded or incomplete. We also wanted to develop further some of the unique recording processes that we had experimented with over of the years. All of the material on the album is newly recorded despite some of the original arrangements and songs dating back as far as the late 1980s.
I had to include three songs that we were constantly being asked for on CD, “Dormi Jesu”, “Illumination” and “Cúnnla”, all of which have featured in our live repertoire since around 2007. Then there were the many pieces that had, for various reasons, never made it on to a CD. Foremost among these were “Fegaidh Uaibh”, which dates from 1999 and was intended to be the tail end to the piece “Ocean”, “Agincourt” and “Mignonne Allons”. The latter two songs were intended for the earliest albums by Anúna but didn’t make the cut. “Agincourt” was replaced by “Heia Viri” on Invocation in 1993 while “Mignonne Allons” was simply forgotten at various sessions because its art is concealed in its deceptive melodic simplicity.
“La Chanson de Mardi Gras” started life as an arrangement that I made of the well-known Cajun folksong for a beer commercial in 1990, and it is here presented as a complete piece, displaying many of the characteristics that I would later use in some of my best-known songs. “Summer Song” exists in various aborted recorded versions over the last decade or so, and is, at last, here presented on disc. I made four separate attempts to set the text of one of my favourite Irish songs and here present what I came up with in the form of “Siosúram Só” specially written for the 2011 Anúna International Choral Summer School.
Other pieces are included because they tie up loose ends of our history. “Fionnghuala” is presented with Gaelic pronunciation as accurately sung we can manage in an arrangement I did for the massive 2007 PBS project Anúna : Celtic Origins. I have also separated off the two folksongs “Greensleeves” and “Scarborough Fair”, as they were originally presented as a medley for that TV special. “My Songs Shall Rise” completes the cycle of poems I set by the Irish writer Francis Ledwidge. “Ah Robin” acknowledges where Anúna came from, as our original repertoire consisted primarily of music dating from the 11th to the 16th century. My love of English music and text from this period has been hugely influential on the sonic direction the choir have taken over the decades.
Finally there is “Danny Boy”. I set this last year, and I have to admit that it took me considerable effort to do so. Ireland is two things, a real place and a dream. As a real place it can leave a lot to be desired. It is a country where systemic corruption, nepotism and parochialism have been tolerated and allowed thrive, but it is also a dream. As a dream it is unique. The land itself is old and very beautiful. The folk music is among the finest on the planet, and the people, to this day, dance words on their tongues. I’m not sure why I have chosen to include the song on an album now. Maybe its because I see the song for what it is at last, a beautiful melody with a universal text. Maybe there really is no such thing as a real place, and dreams, like Anúna itself, can be formed and made real with enough belief and honest passion.
Michael McGlynn, May 2012