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Saturday morning quote #43: a ghost story for St. Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2012

Today’s quote happens to fall on March 17th, which in the home town of one of us tends to be an excuse for an almost unimaginable bacchanal starting with the largest parade of the year, and rapidly descending into hours of green-beer fueled mayhem of all sorts.  Although the city legitimately boasts a significant Irish-American community, on March 17th it seems all 400,000 inhabitants are likely to be sporting lurid green make-up, hair, costumes, pets, and foodstuffs, while the city’s main downtown thoroughfare closes down for hours for the parade.  No work whatsoever is expected to occur in the skyscrapers lining the street, as the lucky inhabitants enjoy a birds-eye view of the fun from the warmth of their offices.   And when the holiday falls on a weekend – well – the SWAT teams are standing by.

Safely 325 miles removed from such shenanigans, we find ourselves peacefully perusing the writings of Tomas Ó’Canainn, in his 1978 book Traditional Music in Ireland:

In the small rural communities in which it developed, the sean nós was very much more than mere entertainment.  It contained among its large repertoire the religious songs of a people who were not allowed the luxury of public devotion, their work songs and songs of love, their humorous songs and the stories of local tragedies whose horror had imprinted itself on the minds of the small community….the singer would tell, too, of the simple local happenings, perhaps adding a new dimension of fantasy to the event to provide the heroic element so necessary for an oppressed people.

In this situation the sean nós singer was not performing, but giving expression to the shared experiences and hopes of the audience.  He was not merely singing the story, but attempting, by the musical means we have already discussed, to do much more.  If we regard song as an expression of something which goes beyond mere words, then sean nós singing is something that goes beyond mere singing.

Donna’s singing has often been compared with sean nós.  Of course it is no such thing.  However, we certainly feel a great kinship with this haunting music, in which words and music are of equal value, and which at its best envelops both singer and listener in a spellbinding otherworldliness.  Not so far removed from what we do, we hope.

So on this St. Patrick’s day, we offer a five-year-old video of a favorite Irish ghost story:

  1. Lovely singing, Donna.

  2. mel permalink

    nothing is as beautiful as the sound of a woman’s voice

  3. Are you referring to anyone in particular? Ethel Merman, perhaps? Or maybe Bianca Castafiore?


  4. Dan Winheld permalink

    Finally got to hear this. Nothing to add to the well-deserved praise for Donna’s fine, & finely wrought singing. (No, not even Ethel Merman with a megaphone while swallowing a flaming farrier’s rasp).

    But the lutenist! What marvelous discipline! Have you trained in Zazen or were you a Buckingham Palace Guard in your youth? But your left thumb visibly twitched about three times. Ron, not quite perfect yet. At full screen, I found the veiled reflections in the lute ribs fascinating, couldn’t make them out definitely.

    Thanks- really beautiful- the aftertaste is continuing sweet in the memory.


  5. Thanks, Dan. I actually enjoy the role of just sitting there being ornamental, which only happens when I can convince Donna to sing an a cappella solo. We showed the video to one of my old folk music friends and his response was, “Is that Donna’s bodyguard sitting next to her?” The lute is a very nice one that I’m sure you have heard before in recordings by a guy who can actually play it pretty well. It was on loan while mine was being repaired after injuries sustained when it was stolen during an armed robbery. Never a dull moment.

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