Exclusive Interview
with Ronan Hardiman

Interview and Photos by Annie from Dublin

'COMPOSER FOR HIRE' -Ronan Hardiman

Ronan Hardiman is one of the foremost Irish composers in the world today. He is of course best known worldwide for his incredible original scores for the world's most successful dance shows of all time, Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance and Feet of Flames.

Michael christened him 'Ronan Hardiman, Genius', using that word to describe him at every opportunity, while Ronan himself, in rather typically self-effacing Irish manner, still refers to himself as a 'composer for hire'.

I knew I loved all his music and from several past brief meetings I also knew he was a warm, friendly and generous man, but I always felt there was much more to be known, so it has been an enormous privilege to be able to sit down with him and learn about the man behind the music.

I was certainly not disappointed; I found Ronan to be a highly intelligent and articulate man with a tremendous amount to offer far beyond the wonderful musical visions he creates, and I was quickly aware that beneath the casual, easy-going exterior lies a strong, vibrant energy. I also found him to be the epitomy of what we Irish are supposed to be at our best, possessed of great humour and a determination to enjoy life and share that warm energy with everyone.

What follows here I know will be an inspiration to anyone harbouring wishes to achieve any artistic dream in life as well as being fascinating to read.

Q: You now live and work in Dublin. Is that where your family roots are?

A: Both my parents were born and reared in Dublin. My paternal grandfather was from Athlone. However The Hardiman name comes from Galway - there is a famous book called Hardimans History of Galway which was written some time ago by a distant relative.

Q: You are now an internationally renowned composer and music is your life. Do you have a musical family heritage? Tell me about your background.

A: I do. I come from a family of musicians, none of them professional musicians but with music in the house as I was growing up. I have 3 sisters and 1 brother, and they all play musical instruments - traditional musical instruments, so there was a lot of traditional music in the house when I was growing up -- largely because my 2 sisters and 1 brother went to Irish-speaking schools so there was a heavy emphasis on Irish music. So I was kind of drawn into that even though I didn't have the same education.

Q: The other four members of your family were educated in Irish language schools, yet I believe you went to St. Killian's, the German school in Dublin. What brought about this difference in upbringing within the family?

A: Largely because St. Killian's, the German School, was right across the road from where we lived!

We moved house when I was six, we were living in Clonskeagh [Dublin] and we moved down to Donneybrook, Co. Dublin and this school was right across the road so my parents thought it would be great to equip Ronan with a European language, and they thought it was a fantastic opportunity, so it was just a geographic thing!

Q: I understand that school is quite orientated towards artistically inclined people?

A: Yes, it was initially set up as a school for kids with parents, or one of German origin, who worked in the German Embassy. But by the time I went there they had opened it up to Irish kids as well, and there was quite an emphasis on the arts -- even in Primary School.

Q: And did this difference in education affect the relationship between you and your siblings as well as your musical direction?

A: Oh, yes. I suppose in any family, your relationship with your brothers and sisters tend to change from year to year anyway! But musically I think I was less drawn into the traditional thing as my brothers and sister were, although we had a family group and used to used to compete in competitions -- competitions that were organized around the traditional exploits -- dancing and music.

But I was confined to the bodhran -- that was my instrument -- because the piano didn't ... well I know Ceili bands use pianos, but it doesn't really lend itself to the raw stuff, which this was.

Q: I wonder if the bodhran has had an effect in bringing out the rhythm so much in your music? Because they are quite dominant.

A: Well I love rhythm - I'm a frustrated drummer! I wanted to give up the piano when I was ten and take up the drums, I was always fascinated by them.

Q: You attended the Royal Academy of Music for twelve years in your youth, yet before rebelling and giving your life to music you nevertheless began your adult life with a 'sensible' job in a bank. How did that come about?

A: That was a means to an end. I knew by the time I left school that music was more than just a pastime, more than just a hobby.

While I was doing my formal training with the Royal Irish Academy in my spare time I was all the time picking out tunes -- pop tunes that I would hear on the radio -- and I had started writing my own little ditties, and you know, performing for 10,000 people in my sitting-room. So I had the bug, the entertainment bug. I was fascinated by that, by the industry.

So I knew by the time I was leaving school that this was what I really wanted to do. All my family are glistening academics, they all went through university and did really well, but academically...It never really interested me, put it that way! And I knew I didn't want to go to third level education.

Q: Your parents didn't have a seizure at that idea?

A: No, I was very lucky, my parents were always very supportive. They had always taken the view with each one of us that they would encourage us down whatever path we chose, so I was very fortunate from that point of view.

Obviously they were concerned as any parents. They just wanted the best for their kids and they were very concerned that the entertainment industry is such a difficult industry to make any kind of living out of that they had grave concerns about it, but they could see how determined I was. They have been tremendously supportive, right from the time I was a kid playing the piano.

Q: Tell me about when you made the final momentous decision to change careers. Were you already married with a family at that time?

A: No. I was going out with my now wife, Helen - we worked beside each other for years, were friends for a long time before we had a relationship.

But the bank for me was always a means to an end. I joined the bank mainly as a means of getting money to buy equipment - I saw myself as a keyboard player and wanted to get into a band, wanted to start my own band, so that's why I took a job rather than further education. I saw it as a practical means to achieve the ambitions.

I was 12 years in the bank. I went in when I was 17, and it wasn't as if all of a sudden 12 years vanished.

All the time I was in different bands, you know, learning the craft, trying to attract the attention of record companies with their various different incarnations - and with some degree of success. It wasn't time wasted; two or three times we had developed investment from different multinational record companies who took an interest in what we were doing. We never actually secured the illusive deal, the record contract, but there was enough to give me and the various bands I was involved with hope, and also validation that what I was doing had commercial merit.

So I really believed in myself, that I could make a career out of music, but it just hadn't quite happened by the time ...Well, I suppose after 12 years I came to some very cold realizations and I gave the whole thing a hard analysis and I knew the bank was never really an option career-wise.

I just came to the conclusion that the with the rock band format, I wasn't really going to achieve what I wanted to achieve. So it never really felt like it was a momentous decision.

I was interested in soundtrack music, I felt that it was something that I had an aptitude for, I was always interested in it, so I just decided - I was 29 - if I don't do this now I'm going to regret it for the rest of my life. There were plenty of examples in the bank of guys who had all the talents outside of banking hours who never realized those talents and were as a result frustrated and bitter and I didn't want that to happen.

Q: How old are your children now, and do they show signs of inheriting the musical bug?

A: They do, yes, they do!
I have a 6-year-old girl, Ali - she's 6-going-on-30, very sophisticated as all kids are these days, and a 3-year-old boy, Sam. Yeah, they love music, absolutely love it - we could be out at Macdonald's or in the supermarket and they'll pick out something subliminal, you know, music playing in the background, and identify it! They're amazing, I've been very taken aback .... But I've been very conscious not to push them.

I've been playing the music obviously ....oh, from the egocentric point of view of course I'd love them to get involved but by the same token it has to be something that they want to do.

My daughter, Ali, is a tremendous little artist. She's big time into drawing. And it's in the family. My sister started out her professional life as a graphic artist, so.....

But they do show they love music, and I've been playing [music] as a means of getting Ali to sleep as a little kid. Every night I used to come and I'd bring her to the studio and play her music - not my own music now, I'm not that egocentric! But play her music to put her to sleep.

Q: Piano and keyboard seem to be the key instruments in your music. Do you play other instruments yourself? And do you tend to use the piano or a keyboard in preference when beginning a composition?

A: I do play a few instruments. I play the guitar, and a bit of tin whistle, and the bodhran, and I'm a reasonable drummer ..... So yeah, the piano is by far my best instrument, competence-wise.

But technology being what it is, if you play the keyboard you have every other instrument at your fingertips anyway, so I would be sitting behind a keyboard but I could be playing a string section, or a trumpets or brass section, or I could be programming drums! So I find that fascinating, what you can do with keyboards.

Q: So for that reason would that be the instrument you would go to begin a composition?

A: It depends on what I'm doing. I'm very keen on melody; I'm a great believer that if you have a strong melody everything else is very easy to arrange around a piece of music. But sometimes, if it's not a melody I working on - I'd be figuring out a melody on the piano - but it's either piano or else drums that I start with. I often find it very inspiring to start with a rhythm pattern. That almost, for me, dictates the structure for the melody or chord changes.

Q: No wonder then that you work with the Irish Dance well?!

A: Yes, it's something that I've always been into -- the rhythm, drums, and percussion.


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