Twenty five years of clutter. A quarter of a century of analogue VHS cassettes, silently gathering dust and deliberately avoided. I knew that hidden in the decades of material were things that I simply didn’t need to remember, but there were also things I had forgotten that maybe should be rediscovered. The cassettes were deteriorating too, so despite my reservations I decided to use this small gap in my Autumn schedule to complete the vast task of digitising the Anúna sound archive.
A couple of things became apparent pretty quickly. From about 1991 until 1994 there are multiple appearances on panel discussions, reviews, opinion pieces and analysis. This was prior to Anúna’s appearance in Riverdance at the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. Indeed many of the interviews directly after that mention it only in passing as we were already well known to most of the journalists for our work prior to then.
A few years ago Dr Stacie Rossow of Florida Atlantic University wrote her doctoral thesis on my work, and she insisted on interviewing me extensively. I thought that these interviews were full of fresh perspectives and insights that I had never expressed before publicly. Listening to these twenty year old cassettes proves me wrong. I had said most of what I wanted to say about choral music and my compositions by 1994. I’m amazed that I have actually stayed on message consistently for so long despite the decades and experiences that intervened.
Another feature of the interviews was how clear I was about Anúna’s direction. I wanted to define an Irish form of choral music. In the late 1980s and early ’90s, I had been putting together some eclectic concert programmes – Henry Purcell, Benjamin Britten mixed with Clannad, traditional Irish and medieval song combined with contemporary classical music. Out of this grew the eclectic repertoire of the group today.
I just listened back to our performances at the Cork Choral Festival of 1991. At the gala performance that year we sang three songs that really shone out – “Gól na dTrí Muire”, “Deus Meus” and “A Stór mo Chroí”. I had forgotten the silence that descended on the audience during the performance, and how the music held them so enthralled. I remember now that some of the international singers came up to me as we left the stage. They had been deeply effected by what they had heard. They described it as something they had never expected, something very different. The choir had grabbed a large audience for the first time and held it spellbound.
As I type I am listening to a performance we gave a year later in the Project Arts Centre in Dublin – what a concert! Medieval Irish songs [“Media Vita” and “Christus Resurgens”] combined with contemporary Irish works by various composers with effects that included screaming and whispering. There were movement pieces with tape and dry ice created around my arrangements. Our guests were a extraordinary group of musicians and included Aylish Kerrigan [mezzo], Anne-Marie O Farrell [virtuoso Irish harp] mingled with the uileann pipes of Declan Masterson and the virtuosic percussion of Noel Eccles. I loved our performances of Seoirse Bodley‘s two works “Nocturne of the Self-Evident Presence” and “Homage to Marcel Proust”, an Irish classic of contemporary choral music.
There sitting in the middle of it is the end of An Uaithne and the start of Anúna.
I can now hear two types of singer on the recording. There are large, plummy voices favoured by the classically trained singers I had gathered around me for An Uaithne, sounding much older vocally than they were physically. I can hear other types of voice now – Early music singers, traditional singers and untrained singers. The performances are rough, but hugely energetic. Many of the performers are stuck to the inadequately learned sheet music, but some are singing without music and without affectation. And there at the end of the night is the first version of The Rising of the Sun – wow! It was specially commissioned for the Project’s 25th Anniversary and it is something else. Then the night was over. I remember my brother John, in his first year with the choir, asking for quiet in the dressing room and thanking me for giving him the opportunity to perform all this amazing music. There was silence in the dressing room, broken only by a few smirks from some of the singers, and then one group dies and another came into being.
So the archive hasn’t been so painful to transfer after all.