Mick Moloney pictured with Athena Tergis, one of his guests in the series of videos posted by the Irish Arts Center.
Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely
Hey, have you been checking out Mick Moloney’s “By Memory Inspired: Songbook Stories, Tunes, and Songs from Ireland and Irish America?” If not, you may wish to make some time, as it’s a weekly series of videos put out by the Irish Arts Center, and it’s really must-watch material for anyone who loves Irish song, tunes, and the stories behind them.
Readers know Moloney as one of the world’s premier Irish music scholars, and recognize him not only for his fine musicianship, but also for his engaging presentational style. The amazing way he bringing songs and tunes to life in his live performances is the showcase element in each of these “By Memory Inspired” – every video is a fabulous and enriching way to spend roughly ten minutes of your day.
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The Irish Arts Center has posted four episodes so far, but Moloney tells me he’s committed to 15 so there’s a lot to look forward to. Last week’s episode was a fascinating exploration of Turlough Carolan’s piece “Loftus Jones” and included a performance with guest artists Athena Tergis and Billy McComiskey. Guests so far on previous episodes have the likes of included Haley Richardson, and Brenda Castles, and Moloney has told me to expect a few surprises in the future.
Keep up with “By Memory Inspired: Songbook Stories, Tunes, and Songs from Ireland and Irish America” through the Irish Arts Center’s website, irishartscenter.org. Episodes are posted Wednesdays/Thursdays.
In the media player this week is “Good Enough Music For Them Who Love It: A Selection of Historic Tunes played on the Irish or Union pipes,” by Nicolas Brown. With it, Brown, a Détroit-based piper who released the lovely pipes-fiddle duet album “All Covered with Moss” with his partner Alison Perkins in 2017, has given us a fascinating interpretation of what Irish piping was like more than two centuries ago.
It started with a book. Years ago, Brown bought a reproduction copy of “O’Farrell’s Pocket Companion for the Irish or Union Pipes,” a tune book published in 1806 that has become one of uilleann piping’s foundational texts, and was immediately taken with its contents. It put him on a path to know more about the instrument, its practitioners, and its history. This path brought him to other related tune books from antiquity, new-to-him facets of the piping repertory, and eventually, the purchase of an immaculately restored set of eighteenth century union pipes. A plan soon emerged, one that would bring all these elements together in the form of an album.
For “Good Enough Music,” Brown has selected material from the period 1750-1820, reflecting the music that would have been played on his now-antique instrument in its infancy. The music here can be traced back mostly to O’Farrell’s collections, and Brown has done well to blow new life into tunes like “Daniel the Sun,” “The Black Bird,” and “Past One O’Clock,” and sets of tunes, like “Darbey Carey / …” and “The Oyster Wive’s Rant /….”
However, three of the tracks, all published in O’Farrell’s books, stand out. These are the pieces from William Reeve’s “Oscar and Malvina,” a ballet-pantomime in which O’Farrell performed, that told the story of the bard Ossian and was first performed in London at the Theatre-Royal, Covent Garden, in 1791. The first is the production’s “Overture,” which includes several of the production’s themes,“The Battle,” a long descriptive piece that starts out with a familiar highland march, and the “Quickstep and Dance.” Each of these is quite well done and offers an interesting look at what Reeve’s play might have sounded like, particularly because of the instrument they’re played on. (I particularly that “The Battle” is rendered in its entirety; the highland march that starts it off has been recorded fairly often, but I don’t know of any recordings of the whole thing, kit and caboodle.)
Brown is a strong player and in this album reveals his great good taste, both as a player and as a curator of tunes. The focus here on O’Farrell is great and different from that of, say, Jerry O’Sullivan, who has also explored his œuvre. Although I imagine the album’s primary audience will be uilleann pipers (most of whom, if they have any savvy, will already know about this album), it is an entirely enjoyable project for those who love the pipes in a more stately setting. Quality stuff, here! You can purchase “Good Enough Music For Them Who Love It” by visiting www.pipesandfiddle.com.