Check out: the Irish Art Song Project Dáirine Ní Mheadhra and John Hess.

Check out: the Irish Art Song Project

Jenna Simeonov

Before you even knew it was a problem, the team at the Irish Art Song Project have solved the issue of singing in the Irish language.

Led by Artistic Director Dáirine Ní Mheadhra and pianist John Hess - names you may remember from Canada’s Queen of Puddings Theatre - the Irish Art Song Project is a resource that provides spoken recordings, word-for-word translations, and phonetic guides for singing in Irish (or Gaelic, as most non-Irish call the language), all free for download.

During a visit to Dublin a few years back, Hess and Ní Mheadhra were surprised to discover that in the entirety of the Contemporary Music Centre there were only 17 songs from the 20th century and later that were set to Irish language texts. English, it seems, is the default even among Irish composers.

“Even though I was brought up speaking Irish Gaelic, it didn’t occur to me to commission composers to write on Irish Gaelic texts,” says Ní Mheadhra. “Colonization does weird things to a country.”

With the Irish language in constant decline, and with the number of contemporary art songs representing the language at a frighteningly low number, Ní Mheadhra and Hess decided to do something positive. “We thought we would commission 50 art songs, solely based on Irish language poetry,” says Ní Mheadhra.

They’ve recruited 17 composers from around the world - including Canada’s Ana Sokolovic - who were all “completely willing” to be a part of the project. With the help of experts in Irish literature and language pronunciation, the Irish Art Song Project team guided them through the largely new task of setting the Irish language to music.

(clockwise from top left) Magali Simard-Galdès & Louise Thomas; Daire Halpin; John Hess & Pauline Ashwood. Photos: Grianghraf/Photo Marshall Light Studio.

With a newly augmented library of songs, Hess and Ní Mheadhra have also made it completely easy to sing in Irish - a solution to the general unfamiliarity with the language and a dearth of resources. Accompanying the score to each of the 50 new songs is a recording of the spoken text, a word-for-word translation and a pronunciation guide written in the singer-friendly International Phonetic Alphabet.

Essentially, the Irish Art Song Project provides everything a singer looks for when they find a new song, free and in one place. “Any singer, anywhere, can sing an Irish art song,” says Ní Mheadhra.

For more info, check out the video below, or start perusing the collection.

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