It's more than black dots on white paper!

Lineage chosen as one of the 'Pictures of Ireland" celebrating Waterford's 1100th Birthday

Article 28.10.2014 00:27

Pictures of Ireland is a concert celebrating Waterford's 1100th birthday. The evening started with a performance of Granuaile by Shaun Davey. This very popular suite is for orchestra Soloist (Karen O'Donovan) and Uilleann Pipes (Jimmy O'Brien-Moran) and features the well known movement Ripples in the Rockpools. After the interval the orchestra played The Irish Suite by Leroy Anderson, followed by two new works. The Lineage Suite (by me) and Legacy by Greg Scanlon. Legacy uses melodies associated with Waterford in addition to new material and is scored for soloists, choir and orchestra.

Pictures of Ireland

It was a real honour to have a piece of mine played for such an esteemed event and by such a talented orchestra.

The inspiration for this composition has been my grandparents or, more accurately, my memories of them.  It strikes me that part of the end product of composition is to leave one’s mark; not necessarily for posterity, but more as a form of self-expression for analysis not only of the music but of the composer’s psyche and perhaps even the composer’s heritage. With the thought of my own mortality being brought to the forefront of my mind by the recent passing of my Father it was decided that a musical form of family tree would serve well as a compositional project and would also provide interesting subject matter.

The September concert contained only the first movement of this orchestral suite and this takes the form of a musical look at my maternal grandparents, Forrest & Annie Hodges. Their characters provide a rich tapestry of inspiration, my grandmother having to bring up a family alone through WWII and my grandfather returning from war as Regimental Sergeant Major of the Gloucestershire Regiment in the British army. 

It may be interesting to note that, in my quest to find suitable material for this suite I also wanted to find a way of linking in some kind of 'Irishism' denoting, perhaps, where my own lineage has brought me. They say that truth is often stranger than fiction and I soon found out, during my research for the work, that the Regimental Quick March of the Gloucestershire Regiment, that of my Grandfather and Father in fact, is a piece that hails originally from County West Meath, The Kinnegad Slashers. The dye was cast, as they say, and my link was clear, or so I thought. However, I have many more links to Ireland than I ever imagined, it transpires. My family originated in County Tipperary and sold leg armour hundreds of years ago with some of them moving to France and Switzerland, eventually making the trip to the UK around 1200ad. My branch of the family goes back to Fairford as far as 1400 and, although I had never realised, the family name relates back to its Irish origin "cos" being the Irish word for 'leg' (relating to their occupation of forging leg armour).   

My memories of my grandmother, tempered by time, are pleasant and cosy and the rich harmonic texture provided by the whole orchestra portray this. Like my grandmother, the string section is always busy and there are several counter melodies scurrying along underneath the clarinet solo until the ‘Annie’s theme’ comes in at bar 30 in the string section, the horn figure at bar 31 providing another pastoral timbre.

There is a change of time signature and tempo, denoting a change of character, and our attention turns dramatically to my grandfather, Forrest. The descent into the relative minor key conveys his journey into war and, indeed, there is an obvious reference to the beginning of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, serving as a reminder that the BBC World Service prefaced all its Western European broadcasts with the Symphony’s opening motif from 1941, the ‘V’ being for victory and that this is a sound my grandfather would have known, no matter how eerie it may sound to us today, as a comforting sound while he was away taking solace that, through the BBC broadcasts, home was never far away.

The minor tonality gives way eventually as altered strains of the Gloucestershire Regimental march, “The Kinnegad Slashers”, or “Land of sweet Erin” as it is otherwise known, are heard first in a minor tonality then major.  The piece continues with the two main themes being intertwined bringing the movement to a victorious conclusion.


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