Murmurs and Drones
Track 3 - Two Pantomimes
I began sketching out the two tunes in this composition back in 2005 when I lived in Seattle as an accompaniment for Irish step dance champion Kelly Nagan to perform in my concerts. But it took six years of experimenting with different settings before I felt the piece was worthy of performance and recording, and by this time I had moved to North Carolina, and Kelly never ended up dancing to it!
The ensemble with which I ended up recording the piece on my album Murmurs and Dronesincluded violin (me), mandolin, cello, and acoustic bass. The album ended up winning the popular vote in the 2012 Independent Music Awards.
I refer to the two principle melodies of the piece as "Pantomimes" because the setting reminds me of a French Harlequin clown conveying loneliness and pathos in the first tune (subtitled "If Tears Could Dance"), followed by the slightly bewildered yet childishly comical dance of the second tune (subtitled "Marionette's Hornpipe).
Track 13 - Ceilidh in Killiecrankie
Ceilidh in Killiecrankie referes to a community dance in the small Scottish town of the same name. Ceilidh dances are extremely popular in nearly every town throughout the whole of Scotland and attract participants of all ages and economic strata. By then end of the night the dancing works up to a feverish pitch of hilarity and vigour.
Shades of Green
Track 8 - Silhouette
Medley of two traditional tunes arranged and performed by Jamie Laval
Both tunes have a similar quality of haunting melancholy which I sought to emphasize by rendering them in a slightly more stylized performance than what is typically heard in traditional Celtic music. The first tune, an old Irish air called “Were You at the Rock?”, is played with more violinistic prowess and fewer florid ornaments than might be thought typical for the style. The second tune, Duncan Johnstone, is usually performed at a faster tempo and with fewer “edgy” harmonies. I found that by slowing it down I was able to bring out a greater depth of feeling and create more of a sense of atmosphere.
“Silhouette”, the title of my arrangement, is meant to be a descriptive suggestion of a person sitting motionless in semi-darkness, perhaps contemplating some unreconciled feelings of sadness and uncertainty.
Background information about the two tunes:
1. Were You at the Rock? (“An raibh tú ag an gCarraig?”)
This song speaks of Penal Days when the Mass was celebrated in secret at remote gatherings. The "Carraig" was the "Mass rock" used as a meeting-place and altar. According to native Irish "sean nos" singers, the words appear as a love song, "Were you at the Rock and did you see my Valentine?", meaning either the priest or the Host. However, it was a code addressed to a disguised priest or congregant, so the enemy would not grasp the true meaning even if he spoke Irish. Death was the penalty for those caught at Mass. In Penal Times, a price of 30 pounds was offered for the head of a priest or hedge-school master, the same as for that of a wolf.
An raibh tú ag an gCarraig?
nó a' bhfaca tú féin mó grá
nó a' bhfaca tú gile,
finne agus scéimh na mná?
Nó a' bhfaca tú t-úll
ba chumhra is ba mhilse bláth?
nó a' bhfaca tú mo Vailintín
Nó a' bhfuil sí á cloí mar táim.
Ó bhí mé ag an gCarraig,
is chonaic mé mé féin dó grá
Ó chonaic mé gile
finne agus scéimh na mná
Ó chonaic mé an t-ull
ba chumhra is ba mhilse bláth
Agus chonaic mé do Vailintín
agus ní sí á cloí mar 'láir.
Were You at the Rock?
Or did you yourself see my love,
Or did you see a brightness,
the fairness and the beauty of the woman?
Or did you see the apple,
the sweetest and most fragrant blossom?
Or did you see my Valentine?
Is she being subdued as they are saying?
O, I was at the rock
And I myself saw your love
O, I saw a brightness,
the fairness and the beauty of the woman
O, I did see the apple
the sweetest and most fragrant blossom
and I saw your Valentine
she is not being subdued as they are saying.
At first glance, "An Raibh Tú ag an gCarraig" appears to be a series of questions and answers about a young woman, but in reality it contains a coded message. A traditional air from the 1796 collection of "Ancient Irish Music" of Edward Bunting. The coded message is uncoded below.
[English metaphoric translation]
Were you at the Mass?
Did you see the Virgin Mary?
Did you take communion?
And say the rosary?
Did you see the chalice?
Did you see the sacrifice of the Mass?
Did you practice the faith?
Are we being persecuted as they are saying?
I was at the Mass;
I saw the Virgin Mary
I received communion,
and said the rosary
I saw the chalice,
and saw the sacrifice of the Mass
And I practiced the faith;
we are not being subdued as they are saying.
[Source: www.IrishPage.com August 2006]
2. Duncan Johnstone
This four-part Scottish bagpipe tune was written by Pipe Major Donald MacLeod. MacLeod was born in 1917 in the town of Stornoway on the Hebriddean island of Lewis and died in Glasgow in 1982. MacLeod’s brilliant performance style, beloved compositions which also include “Susan MacLeod”, “The Blackberry Bush”, and “The Hammer on the Anvil”, along with his long-reaching influence as a teacher made him one of the most celebrated musicians to come out of Scotland. The Donald MacLeod Memorial Competition was instituted in 1994 in his honor.
Duncan Johnstone was written as a tribute to the MacLeod’s great friend. Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s Duncan Johnstone was acclaimed as one of the most spectacular pipers in history. He was the winner of numerous competitions and honorary awards. In 1978 he founded a piping school in Glasgow, where he taught until his death in 1999.