Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"WB Yeats: Words for Music Perhaps" Radio Documentary series being re-broadcast on April 4th and 11th on RTE Lyric FM

My two part, BAI-funded radio documentary series “WB Yeats: Words for Music Perhaps”, shining light on the great Nobel Laureate’s complex and fascinating relationship to music, will be re-broadcast on RTE Lyric FM in the Lyric Feature slot on consecutive Fridays, April 4th, and April 11th, at 7pm. 

The first programme takes us on a unique sonic journey to ponder WB Yeats and his musical experiments, collaborations (from Elgar to Harry Partch), and theories during his own lifetime.  What was the great poet hearing in his inner ear?  DIT [Dublin Institute of Technology] Conservatory of Music record scores WB Yeats himself commissioned for his Plays for Dancers, from little known composers Walter Morse Rummel and Edmond Dulac, which are heard here for the first time ever. We learn about how the obscure Walter Morse Rummel met WB Yeats in esoteric London circles, and how their collaboration came about.   The first musicians ever to perform and record Rummel’s score for “The Dreaming of the Bones”, the DIT Conservatory musician-researchers share their insights into and experience of Yeats’s musicality or lack thereof. Yeatsian experts enlighten us on his theories, revealing that WB Yeats never allowed his composer/collaborators to have their own voice.  His words ruled supreme. Yeats was considered to be tone deaf by many, or at least tuned in to an “alternative” scale, as we hear in a rare BBC recording in which the poet himself sings out of tune.  Interweaving rare recordings of WB Yeats himself, we hear how towards the end of his life, the exciting new medium of radio revived his interest in and enthusiasm for, the bardic arts.  This Yeatsian sonic journey highlights how Yeats’s late radio recordings rhyme in with his early sonic experiments with Florence Farr in “Speaking to the Psaltery”, informed by the great poet’s utopian desire to bring about a democratic “magical revolution” across all echelons of society.  

Programme One is narrated by Tom Hickey, and features DIT Conservatory of Music musicians Cliona Doris (Harp and Arrangements), Tom Doorley (Irish flute), Noel Eccles (Percussion), Julie Maisel (Classical Flute), David Scott (Singer), Arun Rao (Cello), and sound recordist Ben Rawlins; "Everlasting Voices" team William Brooks (Composer), Nuala Hayes (Auto-harp), and Paul Roe (Clarinet)as well as contributions by Ron Schuchard, Margaret Mills Harper, Declan Kiberd, Harry White, Emilie Morin, and the voice of WB Yeats himself.   

The second programme explores contemporary musical interpretations of WB Yeats’s words, free of his own strictures and dicta, by great Irish composer Bill Whelan, and top Irish contemporary classical composer, Donnacha Dennehy.  In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Professor JW Flannery directed a rare season of Yeats plays at Dublin’s Abbey theatre, which WB Yeats helped to found.  We get a rare glimpse into Flannery’s creative process with the then fledgeling composer Bill Whelan, as they reminisce on those groundbreaking productions in an intimate and unguarded conversation, interwoven with excerpts of Whelan’s scores.  Actress Olwen Fouere shares her extraordinary approach to reciting Yeats’s verse in Flannery’s productions.  Whelan admits this is where he learned his metier as a theatre composer, and that his world-renowned score for Riverdance grew out of these Yeats productions.  Donnacha Dennehy finally lets us in on his journey to composing music for Ireland’s most iconic poet, from young grad student in the USA to his recent exquisite and accomplished settings of Yeats poems for soprano Dawn Upshaw in "Gra agus Bas".

Programme Two is narrated by myself, and features Bill Whelan, Jim Flannery, Olwen Fouere, and Donnacha Dennehy, as well as Yeats compositions by Whelan, Dennehy, and a tiny snippet of Sean Millar (for a Brokentalkers Yeats project that is in development), the voice of WB Yeats from the BBC archives, a hint of Harry Partch, and others, related to the story.

Producer: Deirdre Mulrooney
Writer/Researcher: Deirdre Mulrooney
Sound Supervision: John Davis
Commissioning Editor for RTE Lyric FM: Olga Buckley

Liaison Producer/ Technical Support: Eoin O’Kelly

Monday, March 17, 2014

St. Patrick's Day Special on Irish Dancing on RTE Radio One's History Show

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I was in fine company yesterday on Myles Dungan's "History Show" on RTE Radio One, with Barbara O'Connor (author of The Irish Dancing), Diarmaid Ferriter (author of Sin, Sexuality and Society), Percy Lovegrove (Author of An Auld Cockle Picker, husband of the late Doreen Cuthbert), and Ann Fryer-Walsh (1940s Modern Dancer, who still teaches keep fit classes at the League of Health), for a St. Patrick's Day Irish Dancing Special!  We covered everything from the origin of dance in Ireland, whether there was ever a word, or a need for a word for it, to the weirdness of competition Irish dancing, to the ballroom of romance, to the glimmer of hope that was Erina Brady's Modern Dance in Emergency Dublin, to Riverdance.

Phew.  It was a Dance Talk Marathon!  You can listen back by clicking here:

They also wrote a nice blog about it on the show's website.

In other news, WB Yeats: Words for Music Perhaps is being re-broadcast on RTE Lyric FM on Friday April 4th at 7pm and Friday April 11th at 7pm in the RTE Lyric Feature slot.  More of which anon.  Have a wonderful day.  Hope you find a nice ceili and kick up your heels! For something totally different, I'm off to "Yoga Stops Traffick" a Mysore style yoga class run by musician yogis John and Suzanne Brennan to raise money to help prevent child trafficking in India. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Patrick Scott and the Dancers

What is this - a Bottle and Pyjama Party?  A gathering of cool 1940s Bohemians in Georgian Dublin, smoke, drink, chat, crouch on the floor – and behold a young woman in full flight, dancing. Some are perched on the windowsill, others lean against the mantelpiece, one plays guitar. Pause, rewind. Hm.

Bottle & Pyjama Party?  Recognise Anyone?  Is that Lennox Robinson with the glasses to stage right?

This 1940s photograph in “Golden Boy”, Se Merry Doyle's documentary about the extraordinary opus of artist Patrick Scott, sets all the Modern Dance bells off in my head.  Could that dancer be Jacqueline Robinson - Bohemian refugee, and protégée of Irish-German Modern Dance pioneer Erina Brady?  

Jacqueline Robinson in "The Hooded Lover"
Trying to piece together a lost jigsaw of Modernism in 1940s Dublin, I write to Patrick Scott, Ireland’s greatest living artist, enclosing several images of modern dancers in Emergency Dublin, lovingly preserved in a French Dance Archive.

In one, the mysterious Erina Brady, in her trademark black beret and leopard skin coat, founder of “Irish School of Dance Art” at 39 Harcourt Street, is deep in conversation with Irish-Hungarian Basil Rakoczi at a 1943 Dublin Art Exhibition. Patrick Scott had his first exhibition with Rakoczi’s White Stag Art Group – Bohemian refugee artists and pacifists who fled to neutral Ireland during World War Two.

Fast forward : my phone rings. Unbelievably the 92 year old Patrick Scott himself is on the line, saying yes, that’s who you say it is, in the photograph.  And yes, he knew all the people I mention in my letter.

I’m invited over to the enchanted world of what he calls his “tumble down stables”, a charming mews in Ballsbridge. His assistant Tom, who coincidentally is a contemporary dancer, leads me up a spiral staircase to meet the great artist, who I find smiling, on his chaise longue, wrapped in a blanket, in the fading February afternoon light.  This being Dublin, I offer a few stories of people we know in common and of a St Patrick’s weekend in his Blessington Cottage, praising especially his exquisite sunken Japanese bath.  “Did you sit there in the sun?” he wants to know, letting me in on its lovely raison d’etre.

Outside, light falls as 1940s Bohemian Dublin reflects from my laptop into Pat Scott’s eyes, widening now with reminiscence. Tardis-like, we travel 70 years back, to 1940s Dublin, arriving with an “Oh, yes”, of fond recognition for the “lots of interesting people” stranded here during the war years.  Pat’s friends.  From Margot Moffett, to Erina Brady, and most importantly, those masters of self-invention, the White Stags, he recalls them all as “a breath of fresh air”.

Patrick Scott chatting to Basil Rakoczi and Kenneth Hall.  Nick Nicholls and Maurice Craig in the background.

How did it start? Well, one day, he simply walked into the “White Stag Gallery”, and lo and behold, there was Basil Rakoczi. Though “Benny”, as he was known to his friends “had the hots for him”, it was Kenneth Hall, who died young in 1945 that Pat refers to as his “special friend”.  His eyes well up a little as he points to Hall’s painting “Apres la Guerre”, that still hangs within his eye line, seven decades on.

Basil Rakoczi and Kenneth Hall

It was Rakoczi, who also started his own “Society for Creative Psychology” in Dublin, who brought Pat to watch the “formidable” Erina Brady, teaching class in her studio.  Pat shares an indelible image of her 1941 Mansion House debut - Erina on all fours hammering jutting nails into the stage before she could start her barefoot dance. He gasps at the recent news update that her father was a priest.

Surprisingly, Brady’s Mary Wigman style dancing wasn’t Pat’s first encounter with Modern Dance. Fresh up from Cork to study architecture at UCD, Pat the 19 year old suddenly found himself among German Modern Dancers at a party in Dublin Service Apartments – where he had found temporary digs. Proving that to every cloud there is indeed a silver lining, these fine Ballets Jooss dancers were stuck here for three weeks with their anti-war epic “The Green Table” when war broke out.

The Green Table by The Ballets Jooss

Avoiding the war too, were movers and shakers Cork-born architect Noel Moffett and his Malawi-born, Scottish wife, Margot.  They ran the 1945 TB exhibition at the Mansion House, including Erina Brady’s TB ballet.  When they split, Margot became a Modern Dancer. Pat tells me Margot kept in touch even after she moved to India where her ashes were eventually sprinkled in the Ganges.

The Voyage of Maeldune, chor. by Erina Brady (1946) L-R: ?, June Fryer, Jacqueline Robinson, and Margot Moffett. 

Another good friend Liam O Laoghaire, whose Film Society he says was the only show in town for Dublin’s many artists and intellectuals, made 1943 film “Dance School”, in barter with Erina Brady.  Pat remembers..
Margaret Becker in "Dance School" (1943), directed by Liam O Laoghaire

This being the dawn of the motor car, Pat bought composer Brian Boydell’s Ford Lancia, and they were all in awe of the Hempel’s wheels, which architect Michael Scott gleefully acquired when the German Legation left Dublin after the war.
A Ford Lancia

What a milieu.

Pat was good to vouch for his dancing friends, despite his frail state. However, I only heard of his own dancing style at his sadly suddenly posthumous IMMA exhibition “Image, Space, Light” when his husband Eric described Pat’s “dancing for joy” in an “all over dancing style in which he moved every single muscle of his body”. His friends, the dancers, would like that.  
Patrick Scott & Yours Truly, in his studio, February 6th, 2013.
 The above radio essay was broadcast on RTE Sunday Miscellany today.  We were extremely lucky to have the great Patrick Scott, RIP, contribute to TG4 documentary "Damhsa na hEigeandala" last February 6th (when I insisted on getting the above photo taken, on my iphone).  I was lucky enough to enjoy a few chats with him reminiscing over his Bohemian friends and milieu from 1940s Dublin.  I'll be back in touch when I have a broadcast date for the documentary!