Launched during the Cork International Choral Festival earlier this month, Deirdre Moynihan’s Choirs CAN project is a free online resource for choirs and amateur singers. The resource taps soprano and fiddle player Moynihan’s experience in classical and traditional music.
Moynihan says of Choirs CAN, which she produces: “It began about 12 months ago, as an idea to bring traditional songs into the realm of choral music. I wanted to make it accessible for everyone, not just in Ireland, but to choirs all over the world. The idea was to provide practical tools for choirs and conductors.
“Having spoken to people about it, there was a general consensus that there is a lack of arrangements, so I consulted them to see what they’d need.
“They were excited about having more Irish music available to them.”
Moynihan successfully applied for funding from the Arts Council of Ireland, through the Deis award and Forais na Gaelige. Their support allowed her to make imaginative, four-part choral arrangements, of eight traditional songs, available on her website to amateur choirs.
The downloads include not just sheet music, but recordings of all the works by Moynihan’s choir, Moving Voices, and audio-learning aids for singers who learn better by ear. An Irish pronunciation guide is included for each song, too. “It’s nice to have the recordings as a reference. I think, it makes them less daunting,” Moynihan says.
Moynihan made four of the arrangements, commissioning two each from composers Andrew Synott and Mark Armstrong. “The brief, for all of us, was to arrange something that would be suitable for secondary school and non-professional adult choirs, and to maintain the integrity of the traditional song.
“Within the set, there’s a variety in terms of style and difficulty. I really do think there’s something there for everybody. There’s a lot of fun to be had with them and I think choirs will really enjoy singing them,” Moynihan says.
Some 500 singers took part in the first public performance from the collection, during the ‘big sing’ at Cork International Choral Festival on the May bank holiday. Members of choirs from Ireland and abroad joined the public at the annual event, which was conducted by John O’Brien. Conducting from the stage of Cork City Hall, O’Brien formed a choir in 45 minutes, from the singers filling the auditorium, to singing Moynihan’s arrangement of ‘Óró sé do Bheatha ‘Bhaile’.
The project injects accessible choral music into a repertoire that can stagnate, with the same pieces of music being performed time and again in competition and concert. The songs chosen all come from the seminal publication, Cas Amhrán, by Micheál Ó hEidhin, a former schools’ inspector of music who died last year. “It was a little blue book produced by the Department of Education in the 1970s,” says Moynihan. “My father used to teach us songs out of it, and I do find, when I mention it as a source, it’s very recognisable to a lot of people. It had over a hundred songs, with lovely illustrations.”
Choirs CAN represents an effective model for making participatory music accessible to the public for free, demonstrating a use of public funds that merits further exploration. “I can certainly see it expanding in the future,” Moynihan says. “It will be interesting to see how much choirs use the resource.”
— Nicki ffrench Davis