Derek Bell - Personal Response to O'Carolan

How did you become interested in Carolan's music?

I knew some people who had O'Carolan music under their piano seat. His music was known by Irish people long before anything was done. Mine was the first recorded performance on the brass wire harp. (Carolan's Receipt, Claddagh Records). The second album (Carolan's Favourite, Claddagh Records) was the second Carolan recording produced. I wanted to make the music listenable for people in this century. I found that certain tunes were related in certain ways. I made several together into a coherent whole. I took the view that had Carolan been musically educated, he would have written in a certain way with orchestra.

Carolan was a highly individual composer, and the most consistently nationalist composer we ever had, he ranks with Schubert or Stephen Foster.

What is your favourite Carolan melody?

You can't have one really. Mrs Keel a slow one in A minor, is most beautiful.

Are you aware that "Sheebeg Sheemore" is Carolan's most recorded melody?

I wouldn't doubt that Sheebeg is the most recorded tune. It was called the "Coo Coo's Nest" one hundred years before Carolan. It is highly suspect he composed that one at all. Like many a first composer you go and crib somebody else's piece. You doctor a few notes and that's what he did. He went up into the mountains and the story goes that the Queen of the Fairies flashed the magic wand and he woke up seven hours later and came down and had the ability to compose. This was a stunt for the patrons. The patron [Squire George] Reynolds had asked why he didn't compose his own music.

Can you get into Carolan's head when you play?

It's impossible to associate yourself with a great person and not to some extent get into rapport if you understand or emulate some aspect of his life. With Carolan's music, it's taken on the picture of what he was, and one gets a measure of the extent of his expressive range. It's questionable if anyone else's music from the time would have been so wide. Carolan breaks out of the mould of the older harpers.

Why is Carolan's music attracting so many listeners now?

If it's arranged highly contrapuntal it can have as much value as Bach, and be heavily intellectual. There are certain movements to save the Baroque period of Carolan's music and listen to it. But that ignores the modal and folk music. What is happening now is we are moving into the Age of Aquarius. The atmosphere is going to change and as we move, wars are going to have to stop. We have to heal a lot of international tension and boundaries and the higher cosmic beings are shooting down rays to try and inspire a greater unity of people. Carolan's music does this now because he was able to do it in his own period with this own aristocracy. We are being encouraged to visit other countries and try to get to understand each other's literature and culture. Carolan and Irish music are saying this is the best of what we have to offer, come and look at it.

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