HOT PRESS Presents THE MUSIC SHOW
RDS - Saturday 3rd & Sunday 4th October
Ireland's ultimate music experience comes to Dublin on Saturday
3rd and Sunday 4th October for an action packed and star studded
The Live Stage features Imelda May, The Blizzards, The Coronas and
Republic Of Loose.
A Conversation about Life, Work & Music with Glen Hansard
A Conversation about Songs with Christy Moore.
Plus Panels, Debates and Materclasses with the top Irish and International
Bill Whelan will join the panel on Saturday about Piracy.
Tickets available from www.ticketmaster.ie
One day E12
IRISH INSTITUTE OF NEW YORK LECTURE
Bill Whelan - "Irish Music & Identity: A Window and a Mirror"
Thursday October 15th at 7pm
Glucksman Ireland House presents the Irish Institute of New York
Lecture at which Bill Whelan will speak on the subject of "Irish
Music & Identity: A Window and a Mirror". Admission is free
but in order to ensure a seat please go to the website link below
for more details.
LISBON - What's it All About?
As a patron, Bill Whelan supports the Ireland For Europe campaign.
Ireland For Europe is an independent and non-party campaign promoting
a YES vote in the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty which takes place
on October 2nd 2009.
www.irelandforeurope.ie outlines the facts about the Lisbon Treaty
and answers many questions raised in the debate.
Also get more information from The Referendum Commission (www.refcom.ie)
who explain the subject matter of referendum proposals and have a
dedicated website for the Lisbon Treaty www.lisbontreaty2009.ie
WORLD COPYRIGHT SUMMIT 2009
9-10 June Washington DC
A Composer's Perspective
I attended this conference in Washington without any particular expectations. Driven by a growing unease at the global confusion about copyright, I wanted to hear first hand how an international convocation principally comprising Collection Societies, but also including some artists, legislators, rights owners, and broadcasters, might approach this fundamental subject.
In short, I heard little to dispel my unease. Rather, I found much to increase my growing panic - not just because I felt that significant players were missing, (Internet Service Providers, young mixers and mash-up artists, downloaders and end users, etc), but because I found the calm indifference which greeted certain statements made over the two days to be truly alarming.
Perhaps significantly, the conference began on the day after the Swedish Pirate Party had managed to win a seat in the European Elections. This group has in its manifesto the aspiration that "All non-commercial copying and use should be completely free." In addition, during the conference, the news arrived that the French Constitutional Council had rejected the "Création et Internet" law recently passed in France which provided for the punishment, by disconnection, of illegal downloading.
Whatever one thinks of these two events, all of this activity surrounding copyright points to the fact that those who initiate creative works are in the eye of a storm concerning their future and the future of the next generations of creators. What is profoundly depressing is that few of us are truly aware of what is going on, and those charged with protecting these rights are caught in a miasma of in-fighting, protectionism and legal confusion. Equally, they are being painted as somewhat morally degenerate when they speak up against the arguments advanced by those on the "Creative Commons" side of the debate.
(Note: The "Creative Commons" movement is a rather loose conglomeration of various consumers of intellectual property. Mark Helprin in his polemical but nonetheless highly illuminating "Digital Barbarism" describes the movement as follows:
"It is known informally as the "Creative Commons", and the charitable mask it presents, selfless people contributing their work - software, music, writing - to the common weal, is merely the cover (not much bigger than a postage stamp) for a well organised effort to cut away at intellectual property rights until they disappear"
Mark Helprin "Digital Barbarism - A Writer's Manifesto" 2009 Harper-Collins
Early in the conference my alarms began to sound when I heard Michael
Heller, a Professor at Columbia Law School, announce that the term
"copyright" would become increasingly irrelevant in the lexicon of
creative artists. Quoting liberally from his book "The Gridlock Economy",
Professor Heller seemed to somehow convince this conference that "gridlock"
was at the centre of the problems facing rights owners. He implied
throughout that this was of their own making. In fact, not only was
the expression liberally used by many speakers thereafter, but even
Robbin Gibb, singer/songwriter and President of CISAC reading from
a closing speech, referred again to "gridlock" as being close to the
roots of the problem.
Gridlock occurs for Heller, when an intellectual property (or group of properties) has too many owners, leading to difficulties in clearing copyright. This, in turn, leads to underuse. Nothing new here. It is a problem that rights administrators and music users have faced for years, but the baby of copyright cannot be flushed down the drain in the cloudy bathwater of "gridlock". It was no surprise at the conference that Zahavah Levine, Chief Council for YouTube, pounced on this as the justification for not properly recompensing copyright owners. "At last", she exclaimed "I feel relief - as if I have had a diagnosis!". There were those in the room, I for one, who felt that Ms. Levine was delighted, not because she had a "diagnosis", but because she had yet another excuse to resist paying for the copyrights she so flagrantly misappropriates.
Perhaps the clearest view of the state of the debate was visible when David Israelite, President and CEO of the National Music Publishers of America was pitted against Gary Shapiro, the President and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association. (Incidentally, the use of the term "Consumers" for what is essentially a middleman operation, is further evidence of the kind of people-friendly rhetoric adopted by copyright infringers.) Anyway, here was somebody representing copyright owners, in a clear debate with one representing those who disseminate copyrighted material via their technology (hardware or software). There is no doubt that Israelite inflicted a bloody nose in this lively debate, but the problem still remained. No matter how clearly he put the principled argument, there seemed to be a dogged resistance to accepting that copyright owners should be properly recompensed. Shapiro did not accept that prior consultation with creators would be preferable to what I call the "smash-and-grab and then negotiate" approach adopted by many of the members he represents.
In the many Keynote speeches and Discussion groups that formed this summit, too few artists were there to make their views felt. Paul Williams, songwriter and President of ASCAP made an eloquent and impassioned statement that addressed not only the writers need to be properly recompensed, but also the transcendental and personal connection that exists between the creator and the work, and which forms the basis of his or her "moral right". And even though Prof Heller sees the future of creativity largely in "assembly" or "collage", Williams voice was raised for those who bring a solitary work into being, often alone, without quilting it into the kind of patchwork creation that helps those in whose interests it is to muddy the waters of rights administration.
Though the film director Milos Foreman spoke powerfully of the problem as it affects film, and the painter and sculptor Frank Stella about his particular discipline, all in all however, the absence of many people who are at the fountainhead of creativity would give the casual observer cause to think that they don't really care.
It is a pressing matter for our global village, and for our legislators. It was comforting that Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Senator Orrin G. Hatch and Congressman John Conyers Jnr. actively attended and spoke at this conference. The have expressed themselves staunch supporters of copyright, but their job in crafting appropriate legislation will be made so much easier if a strong public campaign, led by creators, is undertaken to educate people and particularly the next generation to the need for copyright protection as a foundation for future creativity and a cultural economy.
What was missing most from the World Copyright Summit was any scent of a solution. The meeting eloquently displayed that copyright is beset by problems and is under daily attack from powerful corporations. New models for dealing with the current technology have been needed for some time, and the music industry's response has been characterized by more than a modicum of infighting. As someone memorably remarked at the summit, "When we circled the wagons in our business, we ended up shooting at ourselves!"
The fact is that this is not a matter that can be left to those who are simply there to administer and collect the money. This is an urgent matter for all concerned, and the writers and creators themselves must take the lead. In some circles, the argument is portrayed as a battle between the common man and the powerful record companies. It is no such thing. It is a fundamental struggle between the media's new barons - those ISPs and other illegal purveyors of stolen copyright material - and the creators of music, film, video and indeed all creative works, both present and future.
This is a call to arms for creators. Stand up now and be counted, or remain silent and be permanently discounted!
COPYRIGHT STORM by Bill
The Journal Of Music
In June, Bill Whelan attended the World Copyright Summit in Washington
DC. His thoughts on copyright infringement online and how musicians'
and composers' work will be protected in the future can be read in
the August/September edition of The Journal Of Music magazine.
THE ARTS SHOW - PODCAST
hear a podcast of Bill Whelan's interview with Sean Rocks on RTE
Radio 1's "The Arts Show" please go to www.rte.ie/radio1/theartsshow/
MAKING OVERTURES 2009
gave a talk to students at the recent "Making Overtures" course
presented by Music Network at UCD on 13th July, 2009. His presentation "Navigating
the Industry - a Composer's perspective" can be viewed here.
THE ARTS SHOW - RTE RADIO 1
Sean Rocks interviews Bill Whelan
Sean Rocks will interview Bill Whelan on The Arts Show at 8pm on
Wednesday 15th July. They will be talking about Bill's recent and
future projects aswell as playing a selection of specially chosen
To listen please go to www.rte.ie
RIVERDANCE RETURNS TO
Following last summer's sell-out run, Riverdance The Show returns
to The Gaiety Theatre Dublin from 23rd June - 29th August 2009.
For more information and booking details please go to www.riverdance.com
AXA DUBLIN PIANO COMPETITION 2009 WINNER
Alexej Gorlatch from Ukranine was chosen as the 2009 Winner of
the Axa Dublin Piano Competition on Friday 15th May at the National
Concert Hall, Dublin. Alexej was also the winner of RTE Lyric FM
Prize for best performance of a commissioned piece, his chosen
piece was The Currach written by Bill Whelan.
Alexej started studying piano with E.G.Georgiew in Passau. At
the age of 12 he became a young student at the University of Arts
in Berlin with Prof. M.Hughes. Since 2003 he has been studying
at the University of Music and Drama in Hannover with Prof. K.-H.Kämmerling.
For more information click here www.axadipc.ie
AXA DUBLIN INTERNATIONAL PIANO COMPETITION FINALS - NATIONAL CONCERT
HALL, FRIDAY 15th MAY
Lyric FM will be broadcasting the Axa Dublin International Piano
Competition Finals live from the National Concert Hall, Friday
15th May 7.30 - 10.30pm. Six pianists, having played three solo
rounds of the competition, now play a full concerto each and have
chosen from four specially commissioned pieces by composers David
Byers, Siobhan Cleary, Jennifer Walsh and Bill Whelan. The evening
features RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and Gerhard Markson, conductor.
For more information click here www.axadipc.ie
Listen to the Finals on www.rte.ie/lyricfm/
BEYOND THE SOUNDTRACK OF THE BOOM
Belinda McKeon interviews Bill Whelan
(Irish Times Weekend Review, March 14)
THE SATURDAY INTERVIEW: ‘DEPRESSION HAS TO be outside of our options
at the moment," says Bill Whelan. He's talking about Ireland. He's
talking about the end of that era in Irish history to which some
believe Whelan himself, with Riverdance in 1994, wrote the official
soundtrack: the Celtic Tiger. Which is a phrase, by the way, that
sets Whelan visibly wincing.
He has always hated it, he says. "It meant nothing. It didn't
resonate. And I couldn't understand the sort of confident people
wandering around the place talking about making millions. To me,
this Ireland was a place where we were still struggling with our
identity, and finding out who we were, and with what felt comfortable
to be Irish."
For Whelan the composer, that struggle took the form of a slow-burning
reconciliation with Irish traditional music and dance, and of a
negotiation of the forms, a long process of accepting them as part
of his lineage and part of his language. Fed on a diet of jazz
and of the music of the 1960s and 1970s, it took him years to see
trad as something which felt right for him. It was out of that
experience, and the experience of melding traditional forms with
his myriad other musical influences, that Riverdance was written,
Whelan says, and not out of any anticipation of, or even interest
in, the notion of what he calls "Celtic Tigers". The plural conjures
up images of a whole ambush of beasts tearing through the country,
fleet of foot, or even Flatley of foot - but no, this was not the
stuff, insists Whelan, out of which music could be made.
"It could never be the main impetus," he says of the social and
economic story. "You're never trying to make some statement."
Riverdance did, however, turn out to be the stuff out of which
millions could be made. For its creators certainly - witness Whelan's
New York home, the penthouse apartment in a beautiful old Chelsea
building - but also for its country of origin. Riverdance was there
at the beginning of a canny and crucial re-marketing and repackaging
of Ireland on the global stage. And even if the coming of boom-time
Ireland was not scored into Whelan's staves as he wrote Riverdance,
such an Ireland glimpsed itself in the phenomenal success that
was the full-length, world-touring show which followed on from
the original Eurovision interval act. This was a glittering, glamorous
Ireland, an Ireland sure of its own footing and high on its own
fuel. It had moves. It had long, lovely legs. It had arms that
it was not afraid to move any damn way it pleased. It had little
black dresses and slick black shirts. It even - and here the handiwork
of American dentists proved almost as important as that of the
American dancing teachers who gave us Michael Flatley and Jean
Butler in the first place - had great teeth.
Coincidence or not, Ireland began thundering its way to a new
confidence and prosperity at just about the time that Riverdance
began thundering its way across the stage of the Point.
But it was a paper tiger, that Ireland, according to Whelan, and
he's not sorry to see the back of it. Easy to say from the comfort
of a penthouse overlooking Manhattan? Maybe. Yet what Whelan feels
most strongly about post-boom Ireland is plain optimism.
"Put the Celtic Tiger to one side, and I think that there is an
Ireland, post-Celtic Tiger, post-Belfast Agreement, which we have
to feel confident about," he says. "We're at an ugly stage right
now, because we're dealing with an economic situation which is
totally unreal, where we had allowed the economy to exist totally
removed from the normal things of labour, production, work, all
of those things. And we were not connected. It was obviously going
to fall apart. But what I think has emerged out of the late 20th-century
Ireland is that it's not the Ireland of the 1950s. We have all
these bright people, these educated people around the world. There
is an Ireland now which is ready for post-recession. And it is
open for business. We need to put the Celtic Tiger stuff in a sort
of bad cultural bank and move forward."
We are in Whelan's home studio, a small blue-painted room on a
level above the living space, with a window on to the red turrets
of the Chelsea Hotel and, further off, the grey shade of Lady Liberty.
He and his wife, Denise, spend some of the year here; their twin
daughters, Nessa and Fiona, are working in the city at present;
their youngest son, Brian, is at Berklee College of Music in Boston;
and the eldest, David, lives in Ireland. Each year, they also live
in Paris for a time, but home is in Roundstone, Connemara.
THE TRAVELLING WORKS out well, Whelan says, giving him the distance
or the filter he needs to write about Ireland, if writing about
Ireland is what he is doing (his recent Connemara Suite, for example,
was written mostly in Paris). He has a neat, disciplined routine;
composing from early in the morning to lunchtime, and again in
Hovering behind Whelan as he talks, on his computer screen, is
the first page of his newest score, a piece commissioned by BBC
Radio Ulster and written for Michael Longley's poem, The War Graves.
The work will receive its premiere at Belfast's Waterfront Hall
on St Patrick's Day as part of a concert-length celebration of
Whelan's music (including sections from Riverdance, his 1992 Seville
Suite and other compositions). The War Graves, Whelan says, will
segue into a Scots Gaelic war lament performed by Hebridean folk
singer Julie Fowlis.
Two pieces about war, about young soldiers lost and lonely. Suddenly,
sadly, Whelan's latest work has new resonances, rawly contemporary
resonances. A work about young men going to war was always going
to ring true in today's world, but it has suddenly struck that
much closer to home and, certainly, that much closer to Waterfront
"The severest spot. The lads did well," the friends of slain men
write in a visitors' book at a first World War cemetery in Longley's
poem. The line cannot but bring to mind the photograph in many
of the day's newspapers, showing "RIP LADS" inscribed on a red
and black army belt, left with flowers at the army base in Masserreene,
The shadows of Northern Ireland may be finding their way into
Whelan's music at the moment for a very simple reason: his two
biggest current projects involve close collaboration with Northern
Irish poets. As well as the Longley work, Whelan has paired up
with Paul Muldoon to write a piece for the New York Metropolitan
Opera. It's a work "still very much in embryo", he says, but it
may take as its broad base a story from Irish myth.
Whelan is clearly interested in how a people lean on their inherited
myths, on what uses they make of those myths to find their way
through whatever time and place they find themselves in. It's in
such terms, for example, that he'll talk about what has just happened
in Antrim and Armagh.
"There are people there, I think, who are carrying a lot of mythology
around in their heads," he says. "And we can no longer afford to
think as an island."
This is what bothered him, he says, about Ireland's No vote to
Lisbon. It bothered him, too, he says later, when Irish-American
audience members walked out of Riverdance performances in protest
at the presence of African-American dancers and singers.
"We can think as a culture within ourselves, but it's no longer
an option to us to have a culture which doesn't connect with the
rest of the world, a narrow . . . even my own father's nationalism.
I think that, if he was alive today, that nationalism would have
grown into an internationalism."
WHELAN WAS BORN in 1950 in Barrington Street, Limerick, the only
child of parents who ran a newsagent's shop on William Street.
His father's name was over the door in English and in Irish: David
Whelan, Daithi O'Faolain. Inside, he sold An Phoblacht, the United
Irishman, the Easter lilies. He was "enormously" proud of his Republicanism,
as he was of his Labour politics, with both his own father and
his brother serving as early Labour councillors in Limerick. Of
the Civil War, though, his father gave little away, according to
Whelan. "On that, he was very silent. As most people were."
It was a house, too, of music. Whelan's mother was a classically
trained pianist, who had been to the Royal Irish Academy and had
taken lessons with some of the eastern European pianists who came
to Dublin in the 1930s. In the house, she played Chopin. His father
was self-taught and "picked out chords" on the piano and accordion,
but it was the harmonica, says Whelan, that "really opened him
up". On that instrument, he was a natural, and it's a big regret
for Whelan that he has no knowledge of how or why this was (his
father died when Whelan was 21, before he thought to ask him such
things). Whelan would also love to know how his father came to
have such an extraordinary record collection: Thelonious Monk,
Jussi Björling, Duke Ellington, Bill Haley, Renata Tebaldi, the
Whelan does have some inkling of how there came to be in the house
a piano so impressive that famous musicians and singers passing
through Limerick (including pianist Charles Lynch and, later, the
soprano Suzanne Murphy) would be told "Whelans have a nice Bechstein"
and would come to try it out. And of how his father had, too, a
Bell Howell projector around which he built a tiny cinema in the
house, and a Vortexion tape recorder which would become the heart
of the teenage Whelan's first recording studio.
"They never took holidays," he says of his parents. "Any money
they had went on things like that", by hire purchase if necessary.
His father was what would today be called an early adapter, the
1950s equivalent of the nerd queuing outside the Apple store to
see the latest Mac.
"He was fascinated by technology," says Whelan. "He'd be fascinated,
now, by the net."
The beginnings of Whelan's musical career involved some more primitive
technology: two knives on an old toffee can, banged in accompaniment
to his father's harmonica. Further down the line, there were piano
lessons, but he was an impatient student, something he feels he
had to make up for later on.
"We seemed to spend the whole year just learning a couple of pieces
for exams, and scales and arpeggios," he says, "and I was very
keen to get down to it, and to write songs, to be part of the mainstream
of making music."
He laughs. When his father would ask to hear what he had learned
in piano class, the young Whelan would improvise, imitating an
examination piece here, adding his own spin there. "He knew well,"
remembers Whelan. "He used to just look out the window, but he
just let me at it. He was very patient. And my parents never pushed
music at me. It was just part of the environment."
Whatever he was like as a piano student, Whelan was a precocious
musician. In the recording studio built for him by his father in
the attic in Barrington Street, he recorded a flute and piano piece
which, sent to a friend in England, ended up finding its way to
the ears of Limerick-born actor Richard Harris, who was then looking
for theme music for his new film. He liked it, and Whelan was brought
to London. There were parties (the Bee Gees and Christine Keeler
in attendance), there was a recording studio not of the home-made,
Vortexion variety, and there was a glitzy premiere of the finished
film back in Limerick. At the premiere, a bomb scare cleared out
the cinema. And the film flopped. Just as well, according to Whelan
"I thought it was the beginning, and the end," he says of the
gig. "I thought, ‘this is it'. So when the film did no business,
it was back to reality. But, as usual, you still have to do the
hours. And it was just as well really."
HE STUDIED LAW at UCD, but his heart was in the demos he was making
in Limerick and, later, after Polygram gave him an advance, in
Dublin with musicians such as Louis Stewart and Dessie Reynolds.
For several years, including the first years of his marriage, he
was a jobbing session musician, in studios, in jazz groups, then
in RTÉ. It was in RTÉ that he truly began to flex different muscles,
arranging, writing, producing.
The late 1970s and early 1980s, as his children arrived (two sons
and twin girls), were a melange of jobs and angles: keyboards on
a Planxty album; a composition for a television series about Eamon
de Valera, with Liam O'Flynn on pipes; a Eurovision interval act,
Timedance, written with Donal Lunny in 1981. It was modern dance
and trad, but the formula needed a little tweaking. He toured with
Noel Pearson musicals, such as Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph
and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. With Van Morrison, in 1984,
there was the score for the film Lamb. He produced records, including
albums by Freddie White and Sligo band Those Nervous Animals, and
a track (The Refugee) on U2's 1983 album, War.
It was busy, it was frenetic, but it was far from secure, and
money was extremely short. Whelan remembers a "disastrous, depressing"
summer in New York, trying to follow up on some leads provided
by Paul McGuinness, with a very young family in tow.
What made the difference? Not Riverdance - that was still a long
way off. What changed the record, according to Whelan, was Windmill
"Before Windmill Lane, everyone, all the musicians - Van, Thin
Lizzy, Rory Gallagher - went away," he says. "The impetus was to
get out of the country, never to engage with your own place. But
the Windmill Lane thing reversed that tide. They brought all these
support mechanisms back to Ireland. It was a hive - management,
editing, production. There was a great sense that once we gather
these skills, once we do this, we can make it happen from here."
It is remembering this, he says, that colours his perspective
on U2's recent tax-related controversies.
"It's all very well to see these things in the moment, but when
you look across the broad picture, you know, the effects really
were seismic in terms of how we saw ourselves," he says. "And it
did turn things around. You could see people coming to Ireland.
Or you could present an idea to A&R people, and suddenly they'd
Whelan knows that Riverdance was his seismic shift, but at the
same time he can't view it in isolation from the work that came
before it, such as Timedance or the eastern European-influenced
album he produced with Andy Irvine and Davy Spillane, or his Seville
Suite in 1992, or his orchestral work, The Spirit of Mayo, in 1993.
"To many people it seems like it was one night. And it was that,
in a way, and that was important," he says. "But all that work
was all part of it, and then we got the break.
"So it was an explosion, yes. But it was an explosion of things
that had accumulated over a long time."
And 15 years later, you sense, he's not entirely sorry that the
aftershocks are finally starting to quieten down.
"We have all these bright people around the world. There is an
Ireland now which is ready for post-recession . . . We need to
put the Celtic Tiger stuff in a sort of bad cultural bank and move
A DIFFERENT CLASS OF JAZZ
(Courtesy of The Irish Times newspaper)
This week sees a great opportunity for Irish musicians as Boston's
renowned Berklee College of Music comes to Dublin to hold workshops
and award scholarships to promising students. BRIAN BOYD reports
THERE'S A BEAUTIFUL noise coming from the Dublin Institute of
Technology on the Rathmines Road. Guitars, harps, pianos, flutes
and violins are all being eagerly put to use as a small army of
musicians inside the building takes part in a series of improvisation
workshops. In one room, Jim Kelly, a professor of guitar, is talking
about "instantaneous composition" and leading by example; in another,
strings virtuoso Matt Glaser is coaxing a bass harmony out of a
young Irish pianist, and explaining its importance.
Both Kelly and Glaser are just two of a number of lecturers/musicians
from Boston's renowned Berklee College of Music who have travelled
over to Ireland for a week-long series of musical events known
as "Berklee in Dublin". All this week, Berklee has been welcoming
musicians from whatever level of knowledge or type of genre into
Rathmines DIT for a series of four-day improvisation workshops.
The opportunity to study with and learn from Berklee's famous
jazz-orientated faculty has attracted not just Irish musicians
but those who have travelled from around Europe to attend. And,
as always, Berklee is on the lookout for new talent. At the end
of today's session, it will award a series of summer scholarships
in Boston to those who have impressed most during the workshops.
For tomorrow and Sunday, Berklee in Dublin moves over to Newpark
Music Centre in Blackrock to audition and interview students from
all over Europe for a series of full-time scholarships to study
THE ATTENDANCE FIGURES for both events will reflect Berklee's
status in music schooling. When it was founded in 1945, all other
music schools were focused primarily on classical music. Berklee,
however, offered a formal training in jazz - still an "outsider"
musical form at the time - and while it is now regarded as the
best jazz college in the world, it also offers courses in rock
and other contemporary music forms, such as hip hop.
Its alumni include Quincy Jones, Keith Jarrett, Steve Vai, John
Mayer, Aimee Mann and Melissa Etheridge. Its annual intake is in
the region of 4,000 students and it has a faculty of around 500
professors and lecturers. To date, Berklee alumni have received
175 Grammy awards.
The school has strong links with Ireland. Its director of admissions,
Damien Bracken, is from Dublin and is a graduate of TCD, while Riverdance composer Bill Whelan is on Berklee's board of trustees.
In 2007, U2 guitarist The Edge was awarded an honorary degree by
"My role in Berklee arose from my membership of the board of trustees
at the school," says Bill Whelan. "When I attended the Perugia
Jazz Festival, I noted that Berklee was auditioning young students
and awarding scholarships to the most gifted. I also noted at a
graduation ceremony I subsequently attended in Berklee that there
was only one Irish young musician graduating.
"I approached Roger Brown, the president of the college, and as
a result Berklee sent a group of their staff to meet with educators
here. I arranged meetings with UCD, Trinity, UCD, University of
Limerick, Queens, Dublin Institute of Technology, Maynooth and
the Royal Irish Academy of Music. I also arranged an event at my
home for the college to meet with musicians, composers and teachers.
"In association with Newpark Music Centre , with which Berklee
has had a long association, this upcoming initiative was started.
It was decided that it should focus on improvisation, and invite
young musicians from all disciplines (classical and trad included)
to study an introductory course in improvisation over a period
of a week, and then to audition for the college at the same time."
Berklee has a strong overseas student representation, but Irish
students are still a minority. Berklee in Dublin is an attempt
to remedy this, not just by enticing students to study there on
full scholarships but also by establishing more formal links. The
idea is to create a constant flow of students and musical ideas
between Ireland and Boston, with improvisation techniques being
exported to Dublin and young Irish talent travelling to Boston.
Berklee has been holding auditions at Newpark Music Centre for
the last 10 years, and Newpark music director Nigel Flegg says
the links will become even stronger this September when, as expected,
students taking the college's BA in jazz (the first of its kind
in this country) will be able to spend a year or two in Berklee
as part of their degree programme. Berklee students will also be
able to spend time in Newpark.
It's not all about jazz though. Berklee's assistant vice-president
for international programmes, Greg Badolato, says the whole idea
of the improvisation workshop is to recognise the musical strength
of the host country, so he was pleased to see not just jazz students
but also traditional, rock and pop musicians avail of the four-day
stint at Rathmines.
"Improvisation may be largely associated with jazz," he says,
"but what we have been doing here in Dublin is offering the general
techniques that are employed by improvisers and then demonstrating
these techniques as they apply to various styles."
When Berklee first opened, jazz was the most important and popular
non-classical musical form, but in a much-changed and much-fragmented
musical world, the school has now expanded away from its jazz base.
In the 1960s Berklee began teaching rock'n'roll, and it has since
created the first degree programmes in film scoring, music synthesis
and songwriting. Over the last few years it has added hip-hop,
electronica and video-game music to its curriculum. Tellingly,
perhaps, a degree in music business/management is now one of its
most popular courses.
SO WHAT AWAITS those Irish musicians who will be travelling over
to Berklee, either for a summer course or a full-time degree course?
One of the first Irish students to attend the college was flautist
"I think I was the first person to get Arts Council funding to
study anything other than classical music," he says. "I attended
Berklee in the 1970s and it was a great experience. I had first
heard about it from reading biographies of these really cool jazz
musicians, and it seemed they all had studied there.
"It's not just the college, it's the city. In the same way that
trad musicians meet here for sessions, the same happens with the
jazz musicians in Boston. I was one of only two or three flute
players there and we studied our principal instrument as well as
harmony, listening and music analysis courses."
Dunning left before completing the degree courses to release a
number of albums with a band called Nightnoise and is now a member
of Puck Fair. His music can be heard on the soundtrack to Martin
Scorsese's film, Gangs of New York.
"I never got the piece of paper from Berklee," he says, "but I
was learning and playing jazz with some great people - and that
was enough for me."
This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times
THE YEATS PROJECT
Irish Repertory Theatre, New York
April 8th - May 3rd 2009
The Irish Repertory Theatre will begin previews of The Yeats Project
on Wednesday, April 8, presenting all 26 plays written by William
Butler Yeats performed in repertory. Eight of the plays will receive
fully mounted productions on the Mainstage of the Theatre whilst
the remaining 18 plays will receive Concert readings in the downstairs
The fully mounted plays on the Mainstage in Cycle
A are: The Countess Cathleen, The Cat And The Moon, and On Baile's
Strand. Mainstage productions in Cycle B are: The Land of Heart's
Desire, The Pot of Broth, Purgatory, A Full Moon In March and Cathleen
The Countess Cathleen, The Cat And The Moon, The Land of Heart's
Desire, and On Baile's Strand are directed by Charlotte Moore.
The Pot of Broth, Purgatory, A Full Moon In March and Cathleen
Ni Houlihan are directed by Ciarán O'Reilly. The remaining eighteen
plays will receive concert readings in the Studio Theatre at The
Irish Repertory Theatre. These plays: At the Hawk's Well, Calvary,
Deirdre, The Hour Glass, The King's Threshold, Oedipus Rex, The
Resurrection, The Shadowy Waters, The Words upon the Window Pane,
The Green Helmet, The Only Jealousy of Emer, The Unicorn from the
Stars, The Player Queen, The Dreaming of the Bones, Sophocles'
Oedipus at Colonus, The King of the Great Clock Tower, The Herne's
Egg, and The Death of Cuchulain, will be directed by George C.
Heslin, Artistic Director and Founder of Origin Theatre Company.
Other scheduled events include five special poetry evenings featuring
distinguished guests, a Dance Recital from Darrah Carr Dance, a
movie screening of Words Upon the Window Pane starring Geraldine
Chaplin, Gerald McSorley, and Donal Donnelly, and a literary evening
featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning author Frank McCourt, Colm McCann,
and special musical guests. Marian Seldes, Brian F. O'Byrne, John
McMartin and David Staller will host an open microphone night wherein
the general public are invited to take the stage and perform a
favorite Yeats poem.
In association with The Yeats Project, Glucksman Ireland House
will present distinguished Yeats scholars; Prof. John Kelly of
St. John's College, Oxford, and Prof. Ronald Schuchard of Emory
University who will discuss their collaboration on the most recent
volume of "one of the great works of literary scholarship
of our time" (London Review of Books), The Collected Letters
of W.B. Yeats: Volume IV (OUP, 2005). This volume, covering the
crucial years 1905-1907, was awarded the ninth Morton N. Cohen
Award for a Distinguished Edition of Letters and is the fourth
of a projected fifteen volumes.
The American Irish Historical Society will host a special reading
of The Words upon the Window Pane which will be accompanied by
a screening of The Other World: Yeats and the Esoteric.
A panel discussion moderated by Professor James Flannery of Emory
University and featuring Bill Whelan, composer of Riverdance and
music director for The Yeats Festival at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin,
plus world renowned master puppeteer Roman Pasca, will focus on
Form and Idea in the Theatre of Yeats.
There will be a special one time reading of Sailing to Byzantium
by Sandra Deer, an original play featuring the characters of Yeats,
Ezra Pound, and their various lovers including Maud Gonne and Olivia
Performances on the Mainstage are Wednesday - Saturday at 8 PM,
Matinees are Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 3 PM. Please visit
The Irish Rep website www.irishrep.org for the complete schedule
Tickets to The Yeats Project are on sale now. A special $100
Festival Pass is good for one admission to all Yeats Project events
presented at The Irish Rep, subject to availability on a first-come,
first-served basis. Single tickets to each Cycle A and Cycle B
performances, $65 and $55. Single tickets to all other events,
are $20. Patron's Circle Membership discounts are not available
on Festival Pass tickets. Tickets can be purchased by calling (212)
727-2737 or at the Box Office. The Irish Repertory Theatre is located
at 132 West 22nd Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues. For more
information, visit www.irishrep.org.
ABOUT THE IRISH REPERTORY THEATRE
Founded by Ciarán O'Reilly and Charlotte Moore, The Irish Repertory
Theatre opened its doors in September 1988 with Sean O'Casey's
The Plough and the Stars and is celebrating its 21st season. The
Irish Rep is currently the only year-round theatre company in New
York City devoted to bringing Irish and Irish American works to
the stage. Recognized with the Jujamcyn Theatres Award, a special
Drama Desk Award for "Excellence in Presenting Distinguished Irish
drama," and the Lucille Lortel Award for "Outstanding Body
of Work," The Irish Rep has celebrated the very best in Irish
theatre for over twenty years, from the masters to the new generation
of Irish and Irish American writers who are transforming the stage.
Nearly 40,000 audience members annually attend productions at our
theatre located in the heart of New York's Off Broadway community.
Once here, they witness The Irish Rep's engaging perspective on
the Irish and their unique contributions to the world of drama.
BBC RADIO ULSTER BILL WHELAN CONCERT.
Hear the concert which was broadcast on St Patricks night live
from the Waterfront Hall Belfast.
ST PATRICK'S NIGHT CONCERT UPDATE
BILL WHELAN - A CELEBRATION, 17 March 2009 at 8pm
A night of music celebrating one of Ireland's most distinguished
musicians and composers. The Ulster Orchestra and international
guest soloists perform works by Bill Whelan:
- THE WAR GRAVES
- THE SEVILLE SUITE
Broadcast live on BBC Radio Ulster
Bill Whelan is perhaps best known as the composer of Riverdance,
the Grammy award winning dance and music sensation which gripped
the world following the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. But his career
is broad and varied. He has produced U2, composed film scores such
as Dancing at Lughnasa and Lamb (with Van Morrison) and he was
a member of the seminal traditional music group Planxty.
But on Tuesday 17 March, Bill Whelan's focus is firmly set on
Belfast for a special St Patrick's night celebration of his music
at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast featuring the Ulster Orchestra
and a host of international soloists.
One of the highlights of the evening is a new composition - The
War Graves - a setting of the poem by Michael Longley, Professor
of Poetry for Ireland. The Belfast poet, who celebrates his 70th
birthday this year, will recite the poem, accompanied by the Ulster
Orchestra. This special piece also features the acclaimed young
Scottish singer and musician, Julie Fowlis (BBC Radio 2 Folk Singer
of the Year 2010).
Throughout the evening, Bill is joined on stage by some of Ireland's
leading musicians, including the fiddle player and singer/songwriter
Sharon Corr from The Corrs.
The night is also somewhat of a reunion for the original musicians
who recorded Whelan's large scale orchestral work The Seville Suite.
Written for the Seville Expo in 1992 the work charts the Flight
of the Earls from "Kinsale to La Coruna". The work features three
of Ireland's best know traditional musicians - Declan Masterson,
uilleann pipes, Máirtín O'Connor, accordion and bodhrán player
Mel Mercier, as well as three outstanding musicians from Galicia
- harpist Rodrigo Romani, and whistle/pipe players Xosé V. Ferreiros
and Nando Casal.
Some of Bill Whelan's more recent compositions are also included
in the programme. Violinist Fionnuala Hunt returns to her native
Belfast as soloist in Inishlacken, a work inspired by an island
off the coast of Galway. Fionnuala is joined by the young Dublin
fiddle player Aoife O'Brien.
Two of the stars from Riverdance appear as special guests - the
leading Irish dancer Colin Dunne and renowned Spanish Flamenco
dancer, Yolanda Gonzalez Sobrado.
Bill Whelan says, "It is a real pleasure to be coming to Belfast
where I have not performed since the early 1980s with Planxty.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with the superb Ulster
Orchestra on a whole evening of my music. It is rare that one gets
a chance to assemble such a great collection musicians and performers
from at home and abroad, and I am particularly pleased that this
is happening in Belfast, where I have had long personal associations."
The concert is presented by John Toal live on BBC Radio Ulster.
For more information www.bbc.co.uk/northernireland/radioulster/stpatricks/index.shtml
ST PATRICK'S DAY CONCERT
BILL WHELAN - A CELEBRATION
The Ulster Orchestra and international soloists, conducted by
David Brophy will perform a night of music by Bill Whelan on 17th
March 2009 at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast. Featuring some of
Bill's best known work including The Seville Suite, Inishlacken
and Riverdance, the concert will be presented by BBC Radio Ulster's
John Toal and broadcast live on BBC Radio Ulster.
Concert starts at 8.00pm
Concert Duration 2 hours
RENOWNED US MUSIC COLLEGE COMES TO DUBLIN
Berklee College of Music is holding their first ever improvisation
workshop in Ireland from April 13 - 17, 2009 hosted by Dublin Institute
of Technology (DIT) in collaboration with Newpark Music Centre.
The workshop will invite participants to become acquainted with
the fundamental skill of improvisation, from its underlying theories
and stylistic considerations to how it relates to the composer's
craft. This workshop is intended for all musicians, from classical
to Irish traditional, from pop and rock to jazz, and more. Participants
will study with Berklee's world renowned faculty, including violinist
Matt Glaser, guitarists John McGann and Jim Kelly, bassist Michael
Farquharson, and saxophonist Greg Badolato.
Founded in 1945, Berklee College of Music is located in Boston,
MA, with many of its students progressing on to successful careers
as composers, performers, producers, engineers, educators and business
professionals. Some recognisable names amongst their award winning
alumini include Quincy Jones, Melissa Etheridge, Bill Frisell,
Steve Vai and John Mayer.
Bill Whelan's involvement with Berklee began in March 2007 when
he was invited to joint the Board of Trustees. Over the last two
years Bill has engaged actively with The President of Berklee and
the Berklee staff in exploring ways to introduce young Irish musicians
to the school and to try to facilitate study opportunities for
them at this superb institution. This Improvisation Workshop is
the first step in what is hoped will be a growing relationship
between students and colleges in Ireland and Berklee in the USA.
For more information on Berklee in Dublin: Improvisation Workshop
2009, please go to www.berklee.edu/summer/dublin.html
THE JOURNAL OF MUSIC IN IRELAND FREE ARCHIVE
The JMI have opened their archive free to online readers, so if
you missed Bill's interview with Toner Quinn in their July/August
2008 issue (Vol 8, No 4) please go to www.thejmi.com for a chance
to read it and more...
US TOUR FOR THE DUBLIN PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA
The Dublin Philharmonic performs music by Irish composers as part
of a 49-city tour of the United States during January-March 2009.
The orchestra's inaugural American tour, under the direction of
music director Derek Gleeson and principal conductor Colman Pearce,
will feature four different concert programmes, one of which will
exclusively focus on Irish composers.
The Celtic Spectacular concert will blend traditional and contemporary
Irish music and feature music by Patrick Cassidy, Vincent Kennedy
(including the premiere ofDreams, a new 10-minute work for solo
violin and orchestra specially written for violinist Cora Venus
Lunny), Mick Langan and Bill Whelan (his concerto for traditional
fiddle and classical violin, Inishlacken).
Soloists featured on the tour include Celine Byrne (soprano),
Cora Venus Lunny (violin), Conor Linehan and Peter Tuite (piano),
Frankie Gavin and Athena Tergis (fiddle), Aidan O'Brien (uilleann
pipes, flute and whistle), and Peadar Townsend (percussion).
The tour, under the auspices of Columbia Artists Management, begins
on Saturday 10 January in Orlando, Florida and ends on Tuesday
17 March in Costa Mesa, California.
For details, please see our calendar at www.dublinphilharmonic.com.
2008 BILL WHELAN INTERNATIONAL BURSARY
Applications are currently being sought for the next round of
Whelan International Music Bursary. The Bursary programme which
established in 2004 to support Irish music students studying abroad
already assisted a number of students from different disciplines
from film scoring, orchestration and music composition to continue
studies in the UK, USA and Germany. The bursary scheme is administered
the assistance of The Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO).
The very high costs associated with studying at prominent international
music institutions raises significant obstacles for most Irish
offered places at such universities. The introduction of this award
the burden significantly. Ongoing support and mentoring from the
selection team means that students are in a prime position to maximise
study and networking opportunities.
"As we head into year four, I am delighted to note the progress
and careers of the recipients to date and would encourage any students
come forward for the 2008 awards. Since I first launched the Bursary
with IMRO's co-operation in 2004, I have been investigating some
opportunities for Irish students to study abroad, and am actively
with institutions here and elsewhere to see how this might be expanded
the future. I expect to have something new to announce before this
completes its term in 2008" outlined Bill Whelan at the announcement
bursary deadlines for 2008.
"Receiving the financial support which enabled me to study
Composition at the Royal College of Music in London in 2006 was
the incredible privileges that came my way through being a Bill
Bursary recipient. Along with the respect that has come from being
by Bill, I can barely describe the extent to which his sustained
encouragement and enthusiasm has accelerated my career and personal
development as a composer, both at and away from my writing desk.
studied and worked alongside so many 'emerging' composers also
successful careers, I am constantly aware of the gift the Bill
Bursary has been to me, and have yet to hear of a funding scheme
offer anything comparable " added bursary recipient Anna Rice.
Bill Whelan, best known as composer of Riverdance The Show, a
winner for 'Best Musical Show Album', has worked extensively in
television and film. His orchestral works include the specially
commissioned piece, The Seville Suite (1992) and The Spirit Of
His work in international film includes Lamb which he co-composed
Morrison, his emotive score for the Jim Sheridan/Terry George film
Mother's Son and the original score for the film version of Brian
award winning Dancing At Lughnasa which starred Meryl Streep. His
production and arranging credits include U2, Van Morrison, Kate
Richard Harris and The Dubliners.
Bill speaks to Galway Bay FM and Mid-West Radio
Bill speaks live today to Keith Finnegan of Galway Bay FM and Paul Claffey of Mid West FM Radio about the upcoming
performances of Riverdance The Show in Castlebar. The show runs
at the new Royal Theatre in Castlebar from September 3rd until
9th for more information check out www.theroyal.ie
MUSIC, IRELAND and RIVERDANCE
Bill Whelan in conversation with Toner Quinn of the JMI. This wide
ranging interview is available to JMI subscribers at www.thejmi.com
"Doing Something Irish" from Thomas Moore
The first in a series of UCD Scholarcasts, given by PJ Mathews,
lecturer at the School of English, Drama and Film at University
College Dublin. An analysis of Thomas Moore's Irish melodies
and looks at Riverdance as a stable signifier of a complex cultural
moment. To hear more please go to www.ucd.ie/scholarcast/scholarcast1.html
CRASH ENSEMBLE CONCERT
A new work by 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lang receives its
first performance in Dublin in June.
The Dublin based group, Crash Ensemble, is to give the world premiere
of a David Lang work in a concert of music commissioned from American
and Irish composers.
Presented under the banner of ‘Crash Originals' at the Vicar Street
venue, Thomas Street, Dublin on 10 June at 8pm, the concert includes
two works first heard in 2007 -- Gerald Barry's First Sorrow and
Kevin Volans' Joining Up the Dots.
Based on a story by Franz Kafka, Barry's strings-based work quotes
the lullaby Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and, says the composer,
is ‘about a trapeze artist who is happy only when aloft'. Volans
has a long association with the Crash Ensemble, which premiered
one of his works at RTÉ's Living Music Festival last year.
Donnacha Dennehy's Grá agus Bás (featuring guest vocalist Iarla
Ó Lionáird) concludes the Irish contribution while Terry Riley's
Ancient Giant Nude Hairy Warriors Racing Down the Slopes of Battle
completes the American involvement.
For further information and ticket sales please visit www.crashensemble.com or www.ticketmaster.ie (tickets are €20/€18 from any ticketmaster
IN PRAISE OF CONNEMARA
Helene Dunbar meets Bill Whelan and finds out that his
latest work explores a deeper side of his psyche. Click
here to read the interview
Interview with Kirsten Tagami of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Bill speaks to Kirsten Tagami of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
while in town for Riverdance The Show at the Fox Theatre. Click
here to read the interview
Globalising Irish Music
As part of the University College Dublin
Scholarcast series, Bill was invited to give a lecture on "Globalising
Irish Music". Download
the lecture or transcript.
The Seven Ages
This is a ground-breaking history charting the birth, growth and
development of the Irish state since its foundation in 1921.
For this unique television series, two ex-presidents—Patrick
Hillery and Mary Robinson—have given extensive interviews, as
have three former Taoisigh Garret FitzGerald, Charles Haughey
and—in his first-ever television interview—Liam Cosgrave. In
frank and extended conversations, free from the burdens of office,
they discuss the roles they played in shaping the modern Irish
history. The series is a visual and oral record, a testimony
from eye-witnesses both well-known and unknown, of the history,
politics, culture and religion of the Irish state.
Music composed by Bill Whelan
DVD Available on Buy4Now
Zoë has recorded two solo albums to date, both released to critical
acclaim. The first, simply titled Zoë Conway, was produced by
Bill Whelan and received second place in the Irish Times top
five releases of the year. The second, The Horse's Tail, was
released in October 2006 and similarly appeared on the top five
trad releases of the year. For this album, she was commended
by critics for capturing a sound which harks back to old LP recordings
and reveals the raw energy of Irish traditional music. Both albums
showcase Zoë's original compositions alongside older traditional
tunes. She has just released her first DVD, Zoë Conway Live,
which is available exclusively on her website.
VANESSA MAE - Choreography
Vanessa Mae makes her Sony Classical debut and marks a new musical
direction with the release of Choreography, a highly original
album that celebrates dance rhythms from around the world. Original
pieces and fresh arrangements have been created for the album
by the Oscar-winning Vangelis, Bill Whelan of Riverdance (Emerald
Tiger), Indian film composer A.R. Rahman (the musical Bombay
Dreams) and Tolga Kashif (The Queen Symphony), amongst others. Vanessa Mae website.
IN PRAISE OF CONNEMARA
Helene Dunbar meets Bill Whelan and finds out that his latest
work explores a deeper side of his psyche.
Bill Whelan's name is, of course, synonymous with "Riverdance",
the seven-minute composition written for the interval of 1994's
Eurovision Song Contest that went on, as a full-length production,
to take over the world of musical theatre. And it would be easy,
24 years on now, to fill a book about the impact that the show
has had on the worldwide perception and popularity of Irish music
But Whelan, who has played keyboards with Planxty, produced records
for the likes of U2, Kate Bush, and Patrick Street, written award-winning
theatrical, film, and television scores, and composed a slew of
highly acclaimed orchestral works, views his seminal show as simply
one step on his musical journey.
His newest work, "The Connemara Suite" (Tara Records)
is performed by the Irish Chamber Orchestra conducted by David
Jones and features Zoe Conway (solo fiddle), Morgan Crowley (vocal
and lilting), Colin Dunne (dance percussion), Fionnuala Hunt (solo
violin), and Michelle Mulcahy (harp) . "From a personal perspective
it doesn't represent too much of a shift since many of the things
I've done since the late 1980's onwards would have had an orchestral
aspect to it," explains Whelan. "For me to move towards
chamber music was somewhat accidental but when I did get connected
to it, I began to enjoy it."
Setting out to "write for traditional musicians within the
framework of a chamber orchestra" Whelan admits, comes with
intrinsic challenges. "There are always problems that apply
when you work with traditional instruments and an orchestra. For
instance, if you involve the pipes even the best piper in the world
is bound by the fact that his instrument will only play two octaves.
In 'The Connemara Suite', I worked deliberately with instruments
that weren't subject to those constraints. Zoe plays traditional
fiddle but she is also a classically trained musician who can move
in and out of the tradition. Michelle plays Irish harp - it's not
a concert harp so it's not as flexible – but she plays melodic
and accompanies herself in a unique way so that at times she sounds
like two harpists, or a harpist and a guitar. Most interesting
is Colin Dunne – He is probably one of the most extraordinary Irish
dancers in that he is very much rooted in the tradition but is
not afraid to move out and have a look at what's going on elsewhere."
That philosophy is something that Whelan also tries to exemplify,
particularly in the second of 'The Connemara Suite's three pieces,
Errisbeg. "It uses pieces of the Irish tradition but I've
also tried to flex some slightly different muscles in terms of
my own writing," he explains. "It's probably not as accessible
as other parts of my music. But, I feel that this album, even though
it's got none of the pizzazz of "Riverdance", or none
of the big orchestral power, has strengths in other ways that are
moving slightly more towards a darker side of my own emotional
Additionally, Whelan is also working on another piece of music
theatre. He has been asked to create a work for New York's Metropolitan
Opera. "I got a call asking if I would write 'a musical or
an opera'. Its wide open and this was the spirit of the whole adventure
and indeed it is an adventure for everyone involved. They've asked
people like myself, Wynton Marsalis, and Rufus Wainwright to write
– which a leap of faith on the part of (Met's General Manager)
Peter Gelb and (Lincoln Center Theatre's Artistic Director) Andrea
Bishop that they wanted to stimulate some new writing and see what
comes out of it. But as to what it is, and what it will be, it's
early to say."
To Whelan, his focus on a more classical style is a return to
the path that the success of 'Riverdance' diverted him from. "As
with many people in Ireland who came through the music industry
in the 70's and 80's I kind of had to do everything to survive.
And I'd made a decision that that was getting me nowhere and that
I was only going to write." Out of that period grew "The
Seville Suite" which Whelan wrote for the celebration of Ireland's
National Day at Expo '92 and "The Spirit of Mayo", performed
in 1993 in Dublin's National Concert Hall. And then "Riverdance".
"'Riverdance' was a massive rock to throw into the water
and it created quite a splash in the personal lives of those involved
and by 'personal' I include the artistic life." says Whelan. "It
gave me a certain amount of financial comfort which was a completely
new experience. But on the negative side …we developed more shows,
took the show to America, developed a second company. I spent a
number of years, it seems, auditioning new musicians, going to
Australia, Japan, doing press. When I look back, I wonder, what
would have happened had I had the confidence to say 'it's up and
it's running, goodbye.' Yes, 'Riverdance' made a big difference.
But while not many people would have sympathy with me because I
have done very well out of it, I also have to live with myself
personally and there are times I have wondered 'if it hadn't been
there, would I have done something else less interesting financially
and in terms of global impact but artistically interesting for
me? Would I have done a show with puppets in Paris or something?'
"But in a way," he laughs. "'Get over it Bill'.
I like what's happening now. The Connemara Suite is almost like
a centering, a reconnection with where I want to go musically.
I'm glad I did it and certainly the thing here at the Met is right."
"But at times both the size of 'Riverdance' and eventually
the expectation for me to do another 'Riverdance' became somewhat
of a weight. I felt we did it and it would be dishonoring where
it came from if I tried to do it again and to cash in on it. 'Riverdance'
didn't cash in on anything that was already there. It was something
that came out on its own. I remember Fintan Vallely, who was writing,
I think, in the Irish Times, said that whatever he felt about the
show and he had critical things to say about it, he did not look
forward to the outpouring of imitators and copiers that would follow.
I remember reading that and saying 'that is not going to happen.'
And it did unfortunately."
About the new crop of Celtic music shows Whelan says wryly "Well,
they all have the word 'Celtic' in them. I don't really want to
get involved in a commentary about any of them frankly, I can only
speak about the show that I know and that is 'Riverdance'. To many
people 'Riverdance' may have seemed like an explosion on an evening.
To those of us 'involved with it, and to me in particular, it represented
a stage along a track. Now it was a very lucky stage and a very
important stage but it nevertheless came out of something. I called
it 'Riverdance' because of its connection to 'Timedance' which
I wrote in 1981 with Donal Lunny. I made that connection deliberately
because to me it was a continuance of that work; it was a continuance
of my work with 'EastWind' (Andy Irvine/Davey Spillane); it was
a continuance of my work with 'Seville Suite'; it didn't just happen.
It came out of somewhere."
"And that somewhere," muses Whelan, "was really
pre-Celtic Tiger Ireland, which is another Celtic that I have quite
a bit of issue with. I'm not sure if I understand the Ireland that
is painted as the Celtic Tiger Ireland. It's not one that I personally
relate to even though 'Riverdance' is often used as its cultural
icon. I reject that absolutely and I'm sorry if people say 'tough
luck that's what it is.' But we never saw it becoming what it became.
I would put my hand on my heart and say that 'Riverdance' had nothing
to do with a cynical attempt to make money."
He continues, "You know, Michael Flatly did his own show
and if anyone had a right to try to do another Irish dance show,
he did. He was absolutely in his rights to do it and I have no
problem with that. But it's something about what it says about
ourselves. Irish people should be a little more confident than
feeling 'look, we're just going to get one shot here – let's really
milk this thing.' We should say 'we're going to do something different
now. We're going to take them all a little bit by surprise and
instead of doing the same thing; we're going to do something quite
a bit different.'"
As for traditional music, Whelan says "I sense it's in some
kind of pause. I think it's currently healthy but that people are
regrouping, having a think about where next to go with it. There's
a lot of interest in it still, a lot of young people taking it
up. The work of Comhaltas, the Fleadh in Ireland, and the Willy
Clancy School - these are all fantastic things and should be minded
and guarded and we'll always have to go back to these things to
move forward – little touchstones of the purity of the tradition."
Growing up in a home with not only traditional music but also
everything from Verdi, to Glenn Miller, to Elvis Presley, Whelan
believes in both the purity of tradition and that things must keep
moving forward in new and unexpected ways. "I think it's important
to keep your ears open. I believe that every kind of music has
its own truths and its own abilities to communicate and if you
stay with it long enough you'll find it. There are things there
that are part of Jewish Klezmer, and Eastern European music, and
Argentinean Tango that are available to speak to all of us. Why
should a guy from Brazil connect to Irish music? Because anyone
can. It's everybody's music really. Even though we make it for
ourselves, it belongs to the world."
Interview by Helene Dunbar
Reprinted courtesy of Irish Music Magazine and taken from June