Méav Ní Mhaolchatha is an extremely accomplished vocalist, with an angelic voice that can only come from the heavens above. It is sweet, smooth, and soothing to the soul. Its light, unobtrusive quality lures the listener in, only to escape when the music has ended.
Méav's solo CD, titled Méav, begins with the haunting song "Ailein Duinn," a song about a woman whose fiancé died on the way to their wedding. Méav's voice portrays the bittersweet sorrow that this song calls for. Though sung in Gaelic, the listener can easily interpret what it is about.
"When You and I Were True" is my favorite song on the CD. It opens with the whistle and fiddle playing in harmony together, and the instruments complement each other very well. Méav's voice is gentle and sweet in telling the song's tale. The oboe adds a wonderful touch, and is well suited for the song.
"She Moved Through The Fair" is extraordinary. I have heard many versions of this traditional song, but as it appears on Méav's CD, it is done in a completely different style. All the versions I had heard have been very slow and mournful. This version features Mouthmusic which makes it very energetic and intense.
Loreena McKennitt's "Dante's Prayer" appears on this CD as well, beginning with a haunting chant, accompanied by a deep drone. It then goes into an oboe solo, accompanied by piano. I love how she uses the oboe in her music. It isn't often that the oboe is used in Celtic music. I especially enjoy her use of it, as it is one of my favorite instruments. Méav shows great command of both her lower and higher vocal registers in this song, making smooth transitions between each.
"The Death of Queen Jane" is another favorite of mine. The baroque era was a wonderful period in music history, and Méav incorporated it into her music through this song. The instrumentation is light and buoyant, flowing freely and playfully.
Méav's voice is well suited for every style of music that appears on her CD. This CD is a treasure amongst my collection of music. Anyone who has the opportunity to buy it should. It can both lure the listener to pleasant sleep, and ignite lively energy. Méav also appears on Anúna's Omnis, Deep Dead Blue, and Behind the Closed Eye, as well as a CD called Aujourd'hui L'Irlande: Ireland Today.
For more information on Méav's CD, check it out at Hearts Of Space
The Following is an interview
between soloist Méav Ní Mhaolchatha and Stephanie Giamundo.
Q: What sort of an influence did your family have on your singing and musical career?
A: Music always played an important role in my family. My grandmother on my father's side set up a school orchestra in Cork, and although I never knew her, all her children were encouraged to play instruments. As a child growing up in Dublin, Dad would play the piano and I would sing, or we would clatter our way through piano duets together. My grandfather on my mother's side lived with us when I was little, and he had a great repertoire of songs - every family event was celebrated with music. There was an antique concert harp in the corner of the sitting room, and I was told I could learn how to play it once I was tall enough. In the end, I did not have to wait that long - I was given an Irish harp which is smaller and a lot easier to carry around.
Q: What type of vocal training have you had? When did you first begin your vocal training?
A: I cannot remember a time when I didn't sing. A nun, Sr Peter Cronin taught me as a child. The lessons were mostly just for fun, but she instilled in me a love of natural, unforced sound. When I was a bit older, she sent me to a pupil of hers, Mary Brennan, and I continued more formal classical training with her at the College of Music, Dublin. The Irish language, and traditional music were considered a very important part of the culture of my school. I studied Irish harp at school and piano after hours.
Q: As a vocal major in college, I strongly admire your talents. Are there any musicians out there that have greatly influenced your singing career?
A: The musicians I admire most are those that can make a song sound fresh and personal whether it's the first or the hundredth time you have heard it. I think it is a pity that musicians are so rigidly categorised, so I really enjoy a singer defying categorisation by choosing a song you would not associate with their style and giving it a whole new dimension - for example, Tom Waits singing "Somewhere" from West Side Story or Jeff Buckley singing the classical aria "Dido's Lament." Among the singers in the contemporary celtic field, I enjoy the gentle yet powerful delivery of Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh, from the band Altan, and Karan Casey, formerly of Solas. I also admire Noirin Ni Riain for her work in exposing traditional melodies and plainchant to a wider audience in Ireland and abroad.To relax at home , I often listen to the American music of the 1950s - I greatly admire Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald and Sara Vaughan.
Q: What style of singing do you mostly enjoy?
A: I think unaccompanied, simple melodies in a natural acoustic can be very powerful, but it is also a privilege to work with musicians with different musical backgrounds and to share ideas with them.
Q: I have recently put together a band, and of the songs I had in mind to do, half were songs you had chosen for your solo album. What influenced the repertoire you chose?
A: Because my family was interested in both classical and traditional Irish music, I never felt there was a division between the two styles, so when it came to recording I wanted to reflect that. Simple songs with a timeless quality attract me. When I first heard "One, I Love" I assumed it was an old folk song - the imagery in it was so strong and somehow familiar, but it was actually written fairly recently. I think "Since you and I were true" has a similar quality. The composer, John Spillane is part of the contemporary Irish music scene, but like Jean Ritchie who wrote "One, I Love," he was influenced by folk music. Songs like "I Dreamt I dwelt in Marble Halls" and "Solvieg's Song" are more classical, but their melodies appeal to me in the same way.
Q: There are two separate releases of "Méav." Where were the different versions released? On the first release is the song "Dante's Prayer" and on the second is the song "The Death of Queen Jane." Why is there this difference?
A: The first edition of the album was released in Ireland,South Africa, Hong Kong, Poland, Switzerland and is soon to be released in Japan. When it came to releasing the American edition, I was given the opportunity to go into studio with a group of musicians I had really enjoyed performing with singing classical music in concert. They play early baroque instruments, and I thought it would be great to blend their sound with a folk-song which told a story from the same period. It reflects my interest in instruments you don't hear very often in mainstream music , and I would like to develop this further in future albums.
Q: I have always thought "Dante's Prayer" to be an exquisitely beautiful song. The opening part is enchanting. What made you decide to put this song on Meav and how did you put it together?
A: When I heard Loreena McKennitt's rendition of this song, I noted that it began with an excerpt of singing by a large Russian choir. While this set the tone for the song, I wanted to try something equally spiritual but closer to my own experience. The opening chant, "Flos Carmeli," in praise of the Virgin Mary, is one that I have loved for years - I sing in a Carmelite Church in Dublin where plainchant of this style is still sung by the priests every Sunday. I thought that its melody would work well layered over Dante's Prayer, and the rich imagery in it was also appropriate.
Q: "Ailein Duinn" has always been a favorite of mine. What is it about this song that draws you to it?
A: The story of this song is tragic, and I think that the melody conveys that to the listener even if they do not understand the words, which are in Scots Gallic. The story is about a woman whose fiancé drowned on the way to their wedding, and she tells how she is willing to go anywhere with him, even live under the sea. Her body was washed ashore some time later.
Q: "She Moved Through the Fair" is a very popular traditional song. The Mouthmusic added a wonderful touch! What inspired you to use Mouthmusic in the creation of "She Moved Through the Fair" and "Im A Doun?"
A: "She Moved through the Fair" is very well known in Ireland and has been recorded by a number of artists, from Sinead O'Connor to Boyzone. David Downes, (musical director of one of the Riverdance troupes) who arranged the track, had the idea of setting the serene melody against a strong rhythmic background.
In Ireland in penal times, many songs were written in two languages. While the English words might seem innocent enough, a message could be hidden in the Irish language words. In "Im a Doun," the Lallans words (Scots English) are reflected in the Irish language words underneath, giving it an extra dimension- but there is no secret message in there! The track "Close Your Eyes" is also bilingual- it was originally all in Irish, but I wanted a wider audience to understand the delicate imagery in it, so I translated it in part, leaving some of the Irish words to retain the original caressing sound of the song.
Q: Some do not know what Mouthmusic is. Perhaps you can give a brief description of it for the readers.
A: Mouthmusic is fast music where the rhythm is often more important than the words. It was popular during turbulent times in history when musical instruments for dance music were not permitted - people danced to mouthmusic instead.
Q: David Agnew, Mark Armstrong, Frank Gallagher, and Brian Fleming appear on your album. Who are they and what was their involvement with the production of Meav? Eunan McDonald, a former member of Anúna also appears on your solo album. What made you decide to have him take part in this?
A: I was delighted to hear that the Celtic Cafe recently did an interview with Eunan McDonald, the second voice on "One, I Love"- he is a close friend of mine and we have worked on many musical projects together. I can even remember him arriving at choir rehearsals in the College of Music wearing his school uniform! He was great to sing with on the album - we christened him the human didgeridoo after he had recorded the low drones on "Si do Mhaimeo I," because he sustained the phrases for so long.
I was very fortunate with the other musicians who worked on the album too. David Agnew, whom I met while touring the US with the Irish National Radio Orchestra, encouraged me to work on a solo album in the first place. He added his rich, plaintive oboe sound to many of the tracks. Brian Fleming brought a touch of exotic rhythm to the album, playing djembe and tone drums as well as the more traditional bodhrán. Mark Armstrong played keyboards and wrote a number of lovely arrangements for the album, and Frank Gallagher doubled up on violin , viola and low whistle.
Q: Which song from Meav do you feel is your best accomplishment? Why?
A: It is difficult to choose a track - whenever you listen back to your own work there are many things you would like to do differently! However, I really enjoyed recording "One, I Love," partly because it was the first time I recorded my own arrangement of a song, and partly because of the intensity you can achieve by simply layering two voices.
Q: How did you find out about and get involved with Anúna?
A: Michael McGlynn, the director of the group, heard me singing on the radio and invited me to join Anúna. I had always been interested in choral music, and felt we had a shared interest in presenting traditional, classical and church music in a contemporary way, so I accepted.
Q: Would you say your involvement with Anúna has helped your solo career to prosper? What did you love most about being a part of Anúna?
A: Singing with Anúna was a great experience. I had been juggling singing with work as an arts administrator, and joining Anúna helped me to make the decision to sing full time. It was an opportunity to work with world-class musicians like Elvis Costello and the Chieftains, and many of the singers in the group are now close friends. It also provided valuable stage experience - we toured widely, from sun-baked gardens in Morocco to snow-covered churches in Scandinavia. It taught me to be prepared for anything in live performance.
Q: Do you have a favorite solo that you performed with Anúna?
A: I loved the plaintive quality of "Blackthorn" and the simplicity of "When I was in my Prime," both from the album Deep Dead Blue.
Q: What is it that made you decide to leave Anúna?
A: I had been with the group for a number of years when I was invited by a record company to work on a solo project. While I still enjoyed singing with the group, I was keen on trying something new. It became increasingly difficult to work on solo material and give the group sufficient time commitment, so I decided to leave.
Q: How did you get involved with Lord of the Dance?
A: The composer, Ronan Hardiman, had asked me about singing in the show a number of times, but I had been tied up with other musical commitments at home. This time the show was touring South Africa for three months, and by coincidence, my album was also being released in South Africa - it sounded exciting, and it has lived up to my expectations so far!
Q: Do you plan on touring in the United States anytime soon, or anywhere else in the world?
A: I hope to do some performances in the US later in the year. The album is being released in Japan soon - I would love to perform there also.
Q: Can we expect another solo album sometime in the near future?
A: I have been working on material for the next album which I would like to record this autumn if possible, but as the first album is only being released in a number of countries at this stage, the next one will not be out for a while.
Q: You also appeared on an album entitled Aujourd'Hui L'Irlande: Ireland Today. I think "The Darkest Midnight" is sublime. How did you get involved with the creation of this album?
A: I met the producer of Aujourd'Hui L'Irlande while doing a series of concerts with Anúna in France. It is part of a series of folk-music albums from around the world. The track that you mentioned, "The Darkest Midnight," is a very ancient carol from Kilmore in County Wexford.
Q: Are there any other albums out there that we can find you on?
A: I recorded three tracks with the Irish National Radio Orchestra on a CD entitled Celtic Spirit, which was released in conjunction with my first tour of the US with them. I also recorded the theme music for a recent BBC TV series, "The Aristocrats."
Stephanie Giamundo conducted the interview with Méav, wrote the review of Méav's CD, created the web design, and edited the graphics and photos found on this feature. Stephanie is the webmistress of her web site, Rua's Realm. At Rua's Realm you can find information about Celtic Corner and Uisce, as well as other information dealing with Celtic Music. Celtic Corner is Stephanie's mailing list that discusses mainly Celtic Music, as well as Celtic culture and literature. Uisce is Stephanie's Celtic band, a band centered mostly around traditional celtic music. You can find mp3s of Uisce's music at Rua's Realm.