Ghost Songs – where Irish literature and choral music meet


Conductor and producer Róisín Blunnie presents the new album Ghost Songs, a unique collaboration of great voices from Irish poetry, theater and contemporary music, performing with the Mixed Chamber Choir on Laetare vocal ensemble.

For me as a conductor, the interplay of music and words is a subject of endless interest and analysis. These two arts can be independent, but when they combine and interact with each other, their essence can change to create a new entity, like an alchemy always open to interpretation and reimagining.

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Listen to: Ghost songs – Paula Meehan reads her poem The comfort of Artemis

This relationship is at the heart of my new mix-genre album Ghost Songs: contemporary music and lyrics from Ireland. As the producer of this album, my goal was to bring together fascinating voices from Irish literature and combine them with exciting Irish choral music, performed by my choir, Laetare Vocal Ensemble, to create a captivating experience for listeners.

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Listen to: Ghost Songs – Carl Corcoran reading Lola Ridge’s poem The Destroyer

Two events provided the inspiration and momentum to bring the album from the initial idea to its release: the Bealtaine Age and Opportunity Festival in Dublin, where Laetare Vocal Ensemble premiered two pieces by Derry-born composer Seán Doherty, featuring the words of Paula Meehan, who read each poem just before her choral performance; and the Anam Arts Festival at the University of Dublin, where Paula Meehan once again recited her work before the performances of Laetare, Marina Carr forcefully read her pieces, and where I first encountered the bilingual collaborations magic of the poet Dairena Ní Chinnéide and the traditional harpist and singer Síle Denvir.

I see sketches of islands

half revealed

like gods

in a mist

From Ní Chinnéide’s opening words, my hope for Ghost songs was that it would take the listener through the earthly and the hereafter, the liminal and the ethereal, through encounters and perspectives, real and imagined, to Ireland and beyond.

Ensemble Vocal Laetare

The album is built around nine choral pieces, by contemporary Irish composers Seán Doherty, Rhona Clarke and Michael Holohan. Each piece is preceded by the poem on which it is based, and these are interspersed with thematically resonant readings by Paula Meehan, Dairena Ní Chinnéide and Marina Carr.

Poet Paula Meehan appears in Ghost Stories

Broadcaster Carl Corcoran reads texts by unknown or no longer living poets, including WB Yeats and Irish-American modernist Lola Ridge, while Dairena Ní Chinnéide also lends her voice and dialect to the words of fellow Irish-speaking poet Seán Ó Ríordáin.

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Listen to: Ghost songs – Dairena Ní Chinnéide and Síle Denvir perform Numinosity

By inviting performers to be part of the Ghost songs project, I suggested a number of themes I had in mind to browse the album – ghostly, memory, the boundaries of the living and the dead, mysterious encounters – and I left it up to each contributor to select pieces from his own body of work according to their individual interpretation of the dissertation.

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Listen to Ghost Songs: Contemporary Music and Words from Ireland, via Spotify

It was important to me that each person had autonomy over their own contribution to Ghost Songs. I then invited visual artist Marie Hanlon, whose work I have long admired, to bring her unique vision to the project by designing a cover image that would reflect the themes of the album and evoke a sense of layers of interpretation it contains. His work “All These Others” was the final step in the process of weaving the collaborative fabric of Ghost Songs: Contemporary Music and Words from Ireland.

Listen to Ghost Songs: Contemporary Music and Lyrics from Ireland is available now – find out more here.


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