Anúna is an Ireland-based choral group that has further broadened the boundaries of what we can define as Celtic music. Most know of Anúna from their involvement with Riverdance, however, Anúna has been around long before Riverdance ever was. Many elements contribute to what makes Anúna beyond amazing, but to recognize each one would be impossible.
Anúna is comprised of several talented singers and musicians. As some members decide to move on to pursue solo careers or other endeavors, Anúna has always managed to stay strong and grow into something better than it ever has been before. Two things that are very unique about the choir revolve around style: style of music, and style of singing. The singers consist of both trained and untrained voices. They sing naturally, with little vibrato, creating a pure and flawless tone. To listen to the women sing is like listening to angels. When the men sing tenderly, it could melt the heart. Together, the voices of the choir blend perfectly, creating one voice of its own.
Michael McGlynn is the creator of Anúna. Anúna first began as An Uaithne in 1987, and was later renamed Anúna in 1992. Michael McGlynn composes and arranges most of the music that Anúna performs. The music is unique in that it is a combination of Classical, Celtic, and Renaissance music. The music varies in style and tempo, and each song is intense in its own way. Michael McGlynn never fails to write an arrangement or composition that is, in my opinion, a masterpiece. He has a wonderful ability to make the oldest traditional piece sound completely new to the listener.
Anúna's most recent releases are Behind the Closed Eye and Deep Dead Blue. Neither are currently available in the United States. You can check the Anúna Web Site for information on how you can order these albums. Behind the Closed Eye is the first Anúna album arranged for an orchestra. The orchestrations are unique and extremely beautiful.
Behind the Closed Eye opens with "August," a song sung a cappella. The harmonies are rich, Michael McGlynn's solo is beautiful, and the cadences leave the listener in suspense. "The Great Wood" opens with a very intense and upbeat orchestration, gradually building up to a climax when the voices enter. Monica Donlon is the featured vocalist for this song. "Annaghdown" opens with strings, and shortly after, the solo vocals of Méav Ní Mhaolchatha and Roisín Dempsey. "Ceann Dubh Dílis" is one of my favorite songs on Behind the Closed Eye. It is sung by Garrath Patterson, Mark O'Sullivan, and Michael McGlynn, with Lloyd Byrne on percussion. The song is very energetic and lively. "Gathering Mushrooms" is a traditional Irish piece sung by Michael McGlynn. His voice portrays the story that he is telling so that the listener feels as though they are actually there. It is a very fun and light hearted love song. "1901" is a very mournful song, sung by Deirdre Gilsenan. Her voice is beautiful and full of passion.
I highly recommend Behind the Closed Eye to anyone who can get their hands on it. If you are new to the music of Anúna, I feel it is definitely worth it to give them a listen. For more information on Anúna, please visit the Anúna Web Site. Other releases by Anúna are Anúna, Invocation, Omnis: Ireland Release, Omnis: US Release, Deep Dead Blue, and Songs for a Celtic Christmas
Following is an interview between composer and vocalist Michael McGlynn and Stephanie
Q: When did you begin studying music? Did your family influence your musical career?
A: I began at the age of four with my twin John and we were later joined by my younger brother Tom, who has just left Riverdance. We sang while our mother played the piano - there were no geniuses in our family, and virtually no classical training for any of my relatives. My family did not influence my career - simply because their feeling was that if you expose people to many things, they may find something that they enjoy, rather than are good at - enjoyment is most important, naturally.
Q: Where did you grow up? Did this have any effect on your choice to pursue music as a career?
A: We grew up all over Ireland - Dublin, Donegal, Waterford, Galway - and this has given us a rather comprehensive view of life in Ireland today. Music was not a first choice; simply something that I pursued, as I did with English.
Q: What musical training have you undergone?
A: I have a B.Mus. and B.A. in Music and Music and English respectively. I am a mediocre pianist and a better singer - John is trained to about Grade 5 piano, and has his own musical avenues to explore - his new album Songs for a Fallen Angel will be out at the beginning of July. He is also a qualified Architect.
Q: Where did you go to college and what did you major in?
A: I studied in University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin - I also sang with the semi-professional student choir the now defunct RTE Chamber Choir. I met Monica Donlon in UCD in 1985 and Miriam Blennerhassett in the UCD Chamber Choir in 1987. Both are still with me and founder members of Anúna.
Q: What made you decide to put Anúna together? Was Anúna your first attempt at putting together a musical group?
A: I conducted College Choirs, and when Anúna began as An Uaithne, we sang Renaissance and Modern music - however I found that the audiences reacted best to my music, and to this day we do mainly my own compositions. John joined in 1990 and his entering the choir changed it dramatically, as he was a rock musician. We have no time for the elitism that is associated with Classical Music, so his presence allowed us to explore different ways of presenting music that usually put most people into a coma.
Q: How do you go about selecting members of Anúna? What qualifications do they need to have? Do you go to them or do they go to you?
A: People come often to the group by chance - all need extensive training of various types in order to perform properly - some are brought in with untrained voices and bad sight reading - others are excellent singers, but may not be capable of performing at higher than the level of a piece of wood. We tidy them up, improve posture and expose them to international audiences - and usually aid and advise them on their vocal technique. You need no specific qualifications for the group - just a relatively small ego : )
Q: How did Anúna get involved with Riverdance? How long did Anúna stay with Riverdance? What made Anúna eventually leave the cast of Riverdance?
A: Anúna sang with Riverdance from its creation at Eurovision to September 1996. Bill Whelan and Moya Doherty requested our presence - they came and studied our performances and my musical style. We were then integrated into Riverdance [Candles - long dresses with trains - no conductor - pure female lead vocals - emotive choral sounds - movement], and it was great fun while we were part of it. Moya always treated us very well, and acknowledged Riverdance's debt to Anúna.
I pulled Anúna out of Riverdance because we all have to pursue a path in life - mine was not in a show. Riverdance, as it became more financially orientated, also became less interesting and challenging than what we were doing ourselves. I am glad that the quality of our input remains as a legacy in the show; even the most recent release [Summer 2000] Riverdance on Broadway uses three tracks featuring Anúna from the second Riverdance album.
It was a very difficult thing to revitalize the choir in 1996 - but we have surpassed our own expectations, particularly on Behind The Closed Eye and the new album.
Q: Anúna has cut several albums. These include: Anúna, Invocation, Omnis: Irish Release, Omnis: International Release, Deep Dead Blue, Behind the Closed Eye, and Songs for a Celtic Christmas. Of all these albums, only three are available in the United States. What restricts the availability of Anúna's music?
A: Record Companies do. The industry is in a terrible state now, and groups like Anúna suffer simply because the people who release records, with few exceptions, are not interested in Music at all - simply product.
Q: Deep Dead Blue was released twice, the second time through Gimell Records and with a completely different look. How did this come about?
A: Simply put - we signed a licensing agreement with Gimell/Universal. They released in some territories, but not the USA.
A: Record Company problems - hopefully it will get a release very soon in the USA and other territories where it is not currectly available.
Q: Behind the Closed Eye sets itself apart from all the other Anúna albums as it is accompanied by the Ulster Orchestra. How did Anúna and the Ulster Orchestra come together? Had you had previous experience writing orchestral works? Was it much of a challenge for you?
A: I am primarily represented as director of Anúna, but am really a professional composer; I even arranged the strings on John's new album! Behind The Closed Eye was a chance to flex my muscles - and is a beautiful album. It was an honour to work with such an excellent orchestra - we will hopefully be performing the work with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra in January 2001 in Sweden. We performed in most recently at the prestigious Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow with the Orchestra of Scottish Opera.
Q: Where has Behind the Closed Eye been released?
A: Only in very limited quantities in Europe.
Q: When will it be released in the United States?
A: There are no plans at present to release it anywhere except on the net.
Q: "August" is a haunting song with beautiful harmonies. What made you choose it as the opening track on Behind the Closed Eye?
A: Francis Ledwidge, the poet who wrote this text, died very young, and all of his poems are not too far distant from the life we led in Ireland when I was young - natural imagery and the beauty of the Irish seascape, landscape and sky obsessed him in the same way it does me. The track "August" describes the beauty of the month as a woman - "The lidless eye of noon shall spray tan on her ankles in the hay" - what a line! The rich sound of the men is quite unusual for Anúna, but also very sensual on this track - one of our favourites live too.
Q: "From Nowhere to Nowhere" is completely an instrumental piece. Why did you include a song that excludes the choir?
A: Simply because I can - I have total control over what goes on any album, and as the year of release signaled 150 years from the end of the great Irish Famine, I felt that it was appropriate to include a track commemorating it. What better way to describe the desolation of this horrific event- that with a single, sad and expressive instrument.
Q: "Gathering Mushrooms" is the only song that keeps to the traditional Irish genre on Behind the Closed Eye. Will Anúna continue to make choral arrangements of traditional Irish music in the future?
A: Behind the Closed Eye is very pastoral and has a formal sadness about it - it simply pushes the sound of Anúna in a different way - however, its main aim was for me to explore my writing more fully, not to move away from the music that I love. The new Anúna album features many traditional arrangements, and is more like the first albums than Behind the Closed Eye. However, Behind the Closed Eye is still my favourite of all.
Q: The orchestral arrangements on Behind the Closed Eye seem very involved. Did it take you much longer to put together these works than it does for you to write for just the choir?
A: No - writing for orchestra is much easier than for choir - professional players can do anything, basically - Anúna is very limited in what it can technically do, however beautiful it may be.
Q: The overall tone of Behind the Closed Eye is bittersweet in that the music is so beautiful, yet somewhat mournful. It differs greatly in style to past Anúna albums. Is this a new road that Anúna is heading down stylistically?
A: That sadness is where the genesis of Anúna lies. As I told you, the choir is restricted in what it can do, so when I used an orchestra, I was able to portray musically, with much greater flexibility, my unique musical language, and sometimes that may appear to be quite sad, but often the sadness is balanced by songs like "Ceann Dubh Dilis" or "Gathering Mushrooms."
Q: Recently, Anúna has been working on a new album. Is it completed? Where was it recorded? Where and when can we expect it to be released? Has the album been named yet?
A: It is complete and untitled - very moody and more accessible - it will be available by the end of the summer. It was all recorded in a private chapel in Dublin, and all parts were performed in the one space. It contains some really exquisite songs - "An Oiche," "Armarque cum Scuto" and the very ambitious "Cynara" - one of our most complex and beautiful songs. There are also some well known songs such as "The Sally Gardens," but I guarantee that you won't have heard a version like this one before!
Q: Anúna was nominated for the Classical Brits award. What was your reaction to this?
A: The Classical Music industry is ailing all over the world - this is the way things will be from now on - the Brits were designed to showcase the most commercial artists of the year - unfortunately, as we had no record company when we were nominated, we got little exposure as nominees - however, to simply be nominated as the only Irish artist in this awards, considering the stiff competition, was a huge honour - as was our being the first recognized Irish act to be invited to perform at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall last August - the most famous Classical Music Festival in the world.
Q: Anúna has twice appeared on albums from The Chieftains, both The Long Black Veil and Tears of Stone. How did you get involved with this?
Q: Anúna recorded the soundtrack for the animated film, Thumbelina. How did you get involved with this, and what was it like recording it?
A: We were asked to participate in the recording, and met Barry Manilow on that occasion [he wrote music for the film] - a real professional, and he loved the choir's sound too. We have also worked with Sinead O'Connor, Michael Crawford, Elvis Costello, and many others - collaborations like that are always rewarding for us.
Q: Another recent recording you've done is with Secret Garden. You appeared on both the album and video of Dawn of a New Century. What was it like to take part in this and how did you get involved with it?
A: I met Fionnuala Sherry in about 1990, and we worked on some corporate gigs together - she is a great performer, and a real pleasure to work with. Rolf and Fionnuala asked us to appear on the album - and were so pleased that they brought us to Lillehammer in Norway to record the Video with them - their success is well deserved, and we performed with them on June 1st as guests in Dublin most recently.
Q: Anúna recorded "The Long Journey Home" with Elvis Costello. When was this and what was it for?
A: Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains asked us to perform on the soundtrack of the above named documentary with Elvis - again it was a pleasure. We have performed with Elvis live, and it was great fun to work with him again. He co-wrote the song "Deep Dead Blue" which is the title track of our last solo album.
Q: Anúna is very fan oriented in that there is both an email mailing list and a chat room where both Anúna fans and members can interact. What went into setting this up, and what was your involvement in it?
A: Anúna was one of the first groups in the world on the net - our site at http://www.anuna.ie is very simple [and soon to be considerably updated] - being such a non-commercial group, it allowed us to make contact with friends all over the world - it is one of the few ways that we can be contacted, and is maintained by Anúna members. The chat page is active, and, again, soon to be updated. The pioneering work in the Fan Club was done by Marguerite Smith - late of the USA, now in Ireland - a truthful and accurate critic of our shows too!
You can see enlarged versions of the group photos and picture identifications by clicking on the images
Stephanie Giamundo conducted the interview with Michael McGlynn, wrote the review of Anúna, 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.