The Music of my Heart Wants to be Heard
By Greg Ozimek,
March, 1999, PhenomeNews, Detroit, Michigan
What began as a planned Celtic musical tour de force of Irish artists' CD's to celebrate March's St Patrick's Day grew into a series of interviews with the singer, songwriter and poet Ms. Maireid Sullivan.
Near the top of the list of albums that were received to be published was For Love's Caress -- A Celtic journey by Maireid Sullivan (Lyrebird). Dancer, her first album, was created when she lived in Australia and with her Aussie band. For Love's Caress is a bold, alluring, and captivating series of Irish flavored songs both traditional and life-inspired created with her hand picked Celtic-American musicians.
There is a severe lack of great songs in the New Age and World genres. The lyrics are usually the robbers -- or, good intentions don't blend well with musical ability, or lack thereof. Hence, most New Age and World Music tunes have no lyrics. Happily, For Love's Caress, expresses well the contemporary New Age energy and attitudes in words and uplifting Celtic tune.
Maireid (sounds like 'parade' with an 'm') told me that her compositions, "Come out of wanting to reveal my deepest sense of my being, so that I can feel it in the reflection of others. To let my voice go with the sense and feeling of the song, into the listener, is a great liberation for me. My own original songs represent my own experience as a person of Irish birth who has 'left home' and traveled the world. The traditional songs are stories of the same thing from different points of experience: Being torn from home and the longing to return home, then returning home only to find that one is now longing for the people one met on one's journey across the world."
Intuition had me dig deeper. I was compelled. I found a treasure of musical brilliance and an articulate wealth of Celtic spiritual, and current historical significance.
Maireid, a "reader of history," as she told me, is an emerging historian of the Celtic culture and folklore. She is chronicling the lives of Celtic women performers along side her busy musical performance/recording/song wtiting schedules, in a book to be published by Quarry Press (Ontario, Canada).
Maireid Sulivan is 'One to watch!' Read a portion of our conversation.
Her Web address is wwww.maireid.com
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Greg Ozimek: In your current album, "For Love's Caress," you co-title it, "A Celtic Journey". What makes it Celtic?
Maireid Sullivan: Well, my own original songs represent my own experience as a person of Irish birth who has 'left home' and traveled the world. The traditional songs are stories of the same thing from different points of experience: Being torn from home and longing to return home, then returning home only to find that one is now longing for the people one met on one's journeys across the world.
MS: Words of the 14 century song, Eileen Aroon about a love that is far away and the shortness of life's bloom.
Youth will in time decay -- Eileen Aroon
Beauty must fade away -- Eileen Aroon
Castles are sacked in War,
Chieftains are scattered far,
Truth is a fixed star -- Eileen Aroon
My own song, Soaring, see the earth from the greatest distance humans have travelled; from outer space. We now have seen the earth from the moon through the eyes of the astronauts and that must really change every person's sense of where they are from and where they are going.
Soaring high o'er swirling winds,
Gazing down on our shining globe,
Hued in the sun, singed with fire,
The tilt, lilt, lull of the mind's eye.
My song Rapture aims to describe human evolution in terms of the earth's evolution because it is the same process on the micro and macro levels, from subtle levels to the physical and back to the subtle again: A constant movement.
The one truth all people share is that we are all on this earth together and it really doesn't matter where we came from. Our cultural roots are only important in that we can see that all the old cultures have striven for consciousness equally.
GO: Where does this bring us?
MS: Right now, in the historic sense, we are really beginning to focus on the global village and that is the way it must be for the future evolution of conscious and well being of all creatures. The individual ethnic cultural identities that we spring from are like flowers in a garden: At their best they are beautiful, inspiring, nourishing and enriching.
GO: Do you see your life, yourself, as fulfilling a role or purpose?
MS: Sure! My job is to present the gifts of the culture I was born into. I carry it with me on my own journey through my life and the world. I pass on what I have learned through my own poems and my traditional song collection. Through my commitment and passion, for searching out the hidden riches peculiar to the ancient Celtic wisdom, I draw up those still living energies from my roots and transmit them through the flower of my own being. That's another journey. My Celtic journey!
GO: How can the Celtic music of today be called "Celtic music"?
MS: The word "Celtic" is a concept, really, which has been applied to represent the (non-centralized) diverse nations of people who are connected by roots of language and philosophy and settled across Europe. Racially, they are Indo-Europeans. Celtic languages are a branch of Sanskrit which is traced from Europe to Vedic/Aryan settlement in India around 1500BCE. One part of the race of nations went east and the other west. In the East we have the Brahmins and in the West we have the Druids. The word "Celtic" comes from the Greek Keltori which means 'hidden people'. In other words, the ancient culture can be clearly traced today. It has not disappeared.
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GO: Where any Celtic tunes or songs handed down from the Celtic era? Did any survive?
MS: The written music that survives is from the late 17th century and is music for the harm.
The 17th century is the time of the real destruction of the old Irish culture (by England). The laws -- Brehon laws were being uprooted -- laws that were focused on compensation to victims rather than punishment of criminals -- and the music was in danger of being lost completely too under the weight of English rule.
A harp festival was organized in Belfast in 1792 and Edward Bunting was assigned to write the music down for the commercial publication of the tunes. Mr. Bunting continued to travel the country, far and wide, collecting and notating the old tunes. His collection traced music from as far back as the 10th century. He published three collections of over 300 melodies, thus saving the music from extinction during the great destruction of the culture under English rule.
GO: Destroying a culture, and killing people off, is terrible. Did the music actually survive those terrible generations?
MS: The music survived to be performed in private homes for the very popular House Dances. It should be noted that Bunting collected music that was being played everywhere throughout the country in private homes of the ordinary people and in the fine estates of the Irish and the Anglo Irish. The most famous Harper and composer of brilliant music crossing the classical and traditional styles, is Turlough O'Carolan, who was very popular with the gentry.
Sean O'Riada, who was Professor of Music at Cork University in the early 1960s made a great contribution to the reclamation of the musical tradition when he arranged the melodies and created harmonic parts for them.
GO: How long has Celtic music been popular -- is it alive world-wide?
MS: Well, really, the revival of the traditional music started in earnest after Ireland became the Irish Free State in the 1920s. It was part of the agenda to re-establish the suppressed culture. From that time the reconstruction really focused on the traditional instruments, harp Uilleann pipes, whistles, bodhran drum, and the singing. Gradually other instruments have been adopted in the tradition: violin, bouzouki, banjo, accordion, piano and of course, guitar.
It is extremely popular where the Irish, Scots, Welsh, etc. people went in droves as refugees from the Islands during the "clearings" by the English: To Australia, USA, Canada.
GO: Why has Celtic music seen a resurgence in the past few years?
MS: That is a huge question!
There is the whole history of the music reaching the mainstream in the 1970s Folk & Folk/Rock tradition: The English musicians, Steeleye Span, Pentangle, Fairport Convention, Bert Jansch, Martin Carty, John Renbourne, Brian Eno. In Brittany: Alain Stivell and in Ireland; The Chieftains, DeDannon, Clannad, Planxty, The Bothy Band, U2, Sinead 'Connor, Van Morrison, etc. who spurred a great revival of Folk music which led to world music in the 80s. The rhythm and melodies of even the most contemporary of these musicians reveal their traditional music roots. The current trend really became noticeable around 1993/94 and really surprised everyone, including the participants, from 1995 on. It is till growing in leaps and bounds.
GO: Is Irish/Celtic music a fad?
MS: I always say that it isn't a fad because it is connected with the rediscovery of the foundations of European culture: Pre-Roman empire and especially pre-Roman Catholic Europe.
I think people are still stunned, even delighted, to think that their really is a major wisdom tradition there, set in the context of a high culture! Even more stunned to discover that the so-called archaic wisdom has parallels and precedents to share with the most recent insights and ways of explaining the universe that comes from scientific research.
Seminal scientific thesis, like that of The Tao of Physics, focus their research on the Eastern wisdom traditions for ancient insights shared with contemporary thinking. There is a growing debate amongst historians, social scientists and philosophers who see the same wisdom roots have taken a surprising turn in their realization and practice of Celtic culture --amongst the ancient Druidic intelligentsia.
So, we are discovering exciting new ways of thinking that inspire us today from the ancient Celtic cultural ideals.
GO: Maireid, considering the link between the Vedas and the Celtic Druids, what is the Celtic bottom line?
MS: There is some discussion amongst Linguistic Scholars on the fact that since the Gaelic language is the most unchanged of all European languages, it holds the power of originality ascribed to Sanskrit. The Celts believed that we are all born embryonic gods and goddesses: that when we achieve the full blossom of our maturity, we have a filial duty to assist our kith and kin.
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