Music and Multimedia at the Capital Irish Film Festival

This weekend a program I curated was screened at Solas Nua's Capital Irish Film Festival in Washington D.C. Last year I put out a call for Music and Multimedia works by Irish artists and got lots of submissions. Some were by people whose music I already knew, and some were by people I hadn't heard about yet. I ended up choosing the pieces listed below. After the show we held a vote for the audience favorite and the prize was won by Brian Irvine (composer), John McIlduff (Writer), Matthew Robins (Animator) for their lovely animated opera Peter, Lily and the Nose. The guys haven't posted a public video online yet, but I recommend looking out for it in the coming months.

Still from 'Peter, Lily and the Nose' by Brian Irvine (composer), John McIlduff (Writer), Matthew Robins (Animator)

Still from 'Peter, Lily and the Nose' by Brian Irvine (composer), John McIlduff (Writer), Matthew Robins (Animator)

Concert program:

For Each and Every One by Joseph Harney (composer), Neil O'Driscoll (filmmaker)

RoughTime by Trish McAdam (Director/Producer), Trevor Knight (Composer), Gyohei Zaitsu (Butoh Dancer) with Marc Sherwin (After Affects), PJ Dillion (Cinematography), Paul Tsan (Grip)

Urban Pulse by Ashlene McFadden (concept, director, editor), Cormac McAteer (camera man, editor, animation), James Greenan, Andrew Vickers, Joseph Comerford (Irish step dancers)

Evolution of Close Double Stars by Irene Buckley (Composer), Mike Hannon (Video)

Contour by Mary Wycherley (director and editor), Jürgen Simpson (composer), Laura Murphy (performer), Siobhán Ní Dhuinnín        

To Do List - by Brian Irvine (Composer), John McIlduff (Writer/Director)

Fly Away Marlene by Fergal Moloney (composer, visuals)

Silk Chroma (excerpt) by Maura McDonnell (Visual Music Composition), Linda Buckley (Music Composition) with Dermot Furlong (Producer), Gavin Kearny (Technical Sound)

on and on and by Fintan Ryan (director, animator, composer)

Wind On Waves by Shaun O’Connor (director, editor, effects), Katrina Emtage (Composer, performer), Ilse De Ziah (performer)

Falling by Enda Bates (composer, performer, visual artist)

Peter Lily and the Nose by Brian Irvine (Composer), John McIlduff (Writer), Matthew Robins (Animator)

Eli, Eli by Natasa Paulberg (composer), Eileen Carpio (visual artist)

The Incantation of Amergin by Lorcán Mac Mathúna (composer, voice), Daire Bracken (composer, fiddle).

winter tells lies by Jonathan Nangle (composer), Agnieszka Kamińska (video)

Sound in Jefferson's America

A couple of years ago I made a little documentary about Sound in Jefferson's America for WTJU Charlottesville to share information about a conference by Dr Bonnie Gordon and Dr Richard Will of the McIntire Department of Music. It includes some great performances by local musicians and information from local scholars.

If you're wondering why I sound so timid in this recording it's because I was recovering from a viral infection that meant I couldn't speak for the previous week.

Best of 2014

Now that it's 2015 I thought it would be fun to write about some of my 2014 highlights.

Favorite classical music performance:

This is an easy one, Jake Heggie's Moby Dick performed by WNO at the Kennedy Center. I didn't know what to expect from this show because I haven't read the book (frankly, it sounds dull). But I found this adaptation absolutely gripping. Overall it was a well-paced, engaging story with plenty of action.  Heggie's music was beautiful, dramatic, and fabulously orchestrated. I was on the edge of my seat a lot of the time, but the moment when the company chanted 'Kill Moby Dick' was especially thrilling. The wonderful performances were  were backed up by top-notch production design. Both the projections and the simple but novel slanting back wall that created the inside of the whaling ship added to the storytelling and created a bit of a wow-factor. I'm also pleased to note that this production is one of several contemporary operas that WNO has produced in recent years. Under Francesca Zambello's leadership they are making a big effort to promote new music. I hope that continues.

Favorite theatre performance:

Here I have to pick two. One was the most fun theatre performance I attended this year and the other was the most harrowing. Lets start with the fun. The Kennedy Center's Wold Stages Festival included the Bristol Old Vic and Handspring Puppet Company's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Now I've always enjoyed Shakespeare, but previously I'd only experienced his plays by reading them or watching film adaptations. This show was probably the best first live experience I could have wished for. It was energetic, hilarious, and featured wonderful production design and sound design.

While I was home in Ireland this summer I had the chance to see the premier production of Enda Walsh's Ballyturk at the Galway Arts Festival. The show was directed by the author and featured virtuoso acting by his long-time collaborators Mikel Murfi and Cillian Murphy. This production was extremely athletic and veered between side-splitting and heartbreaking. The combination of Helen Atkinson sound design and  Teho Teardo's music really enhanced the show's extreme emotional palette, sometimes creating an  overwhelming sense of menace. Like most of the audience I left the theater in silence hardly knowing what to say about this stunning theater experience. 


Favorite Musical

Although I really enjoyed Neil Patrick Harris' masculine and brittle Hedwig. I have to say that my favorite musical of the year was the revival of Sideshow that I caught at the Kennedy Center. For a Rogers and Hammerstein fan like me there was a lot to love. I adore back stage musicals and this one had  great behind the scenes sections and wonderful 'production numbers'. The songwriting was wonderful, bringing together the sound of 50s musicals and a contemporary feel. Equally importantly the casting was perfect. I'm not a fan of the Wicked/Disney Princess style songs and singing that are found in many recent musicals. So hearing the more traditional musical theater voices of Erin Davie, Emily Padgett and Ryan Silverman was a real pleasure. But the emotional bass of local man David St. Louis was breathtaking. Look out for this guy, he's really special.

Favorite Rock Show

First Aid Kit at the 9:30 Club. My husband got our tickets for this one. I tend to take his word for it on bands and didn't get around to listening to much of their music before the show. I was riveted. This pair of sisters from Sweden have songwriting skills as strong as their voices. I'm absolutely fascinated by their weird phrasing and I'm wondering what I can learn from it as a composer. Their music is emotional, fun, and great for singing along in the car. One of the best moments of the show was when the ladies asked the audience for complete silence and they sang without instruments or amplification. Magic!


Favorite Novel


I'm cheating on this one because it wasn't published in 2014. But my favorite book of the year was The Thing About December by Donal Ryan. I read it shortly before I met the author at an event in D.C. It's an extremely touching story about what happens to a vulnerable young man who is left  an asset that an entire town wants to make money out of but he wants to protect for reasons of family loyalty. The characters are beautifully drawn and the depiction of bullying is painfully accurate. Ryan's writing style is poetic, witty, and realistic. His novel The Spinning Heart is also a stunner.

I really enjoyed meeting Donal too. I don't see many Irish people in D.C. so it's a particular treat to have a long conversation with another Irish artist.

Favorite Non-Fiction Book

Although I enjoyed being mildly scandalized by Shirley Jones' bio my favorite non-fiction book this year was Rory O'Neill's Woman in the Making. I expected that the man behind Miss Panti Bliss would have led an interesting life, but I didn't realize that he was such a talented writer. My sister sent me a copy of the bio shortly after it came out, and I was delighted to find that it is a funny and extremely well-crafted account of a fascinating life. After a few chapters I wondered if O'Neill had used a particularly talented ghost writer. But as I read some of his pretentious but beautiful youthful letters to friends at home from Japan I realized that he's been honing his craft for some time. If you'd like to learn more about Ireland's leading drag queen check it out!


by playwright Colin Stanley Bell and composer Sarah O’Halloran

Workshop performances took place on April 4th and 5th 2014.

Dorothy Betts Marvin Theater at Marvin Center, GWU

The workshop was part of my 2013/2014 residency at George Washington University in Washington D.C. I had a wonderful year in which I received incredible support from the faculty and staff. The workshop process was a real pleasure, I worked with faculty and student performers, and I learned a lot. It was wonderful to have the chance to try things out both in the rehearsal room, and before an audience. It’s given me lots to think about as I work on the next draft of Stitching.


Stitching tells the story of Lana, a teenager, who lives with her grandmother. Isolated from their community Lana and Nana share a highly imaginative world full of fantastic stories. Recently Nana has become frail and her memory is failing, so Lana cares for her. Fearing being separated by the authorities they have kept Nana’s problems secret, but people are starting to notice. In desperation Lana resolves to find and repair her Nana’s memories. This quest takes Lana on an interplanetary adventure through time and space.

I wrote some blogs for Solas Nua about working on Stitching, you can read them here and here.