THE MACALLA SUITE CD
Froots Magazine March 2017 Review OF The Macalla Suite CD
by Paul Matheson
As part of the 1916 Centenary celebrations in Ireland last year, this suite of music was commissioned from composer Michael Rooney to commemorate 1916’s Easter Rising in Dublin. Using a 60-strong orchestra of classical and Irish traditional musicians, this is a folk-classical suite of nineteen orchestrally-arranged short pieces composed in the Irish traditional idiom, incorporating traditional Irish songs associated with the Rising: The Bold Fenian Men, The Foggy Dew and Oró Sé Do Bheatha ‘Bhaile. Rooney’s suite portrays in music the sufferings of 19th Century Ireland, the Irish nationalist freedom struggle, the Rising itself, the aftermath, and the present-day reconciliation with the British state.There are some striking pieces here. A Clash Of Traditions juxtaposes the austere sound of the fife-and-drum marching tradition of the Ulster Volunteers with the softer richer sound of Irish traditional march-tunes, representing the Irish Volunteers. Confusion is a syncopated piece composed in changing time-signatures to capture the confusion before the Rising. The Battle evokes the armed conflict of the Rising itself, beginning with mournful cellos, ominous bodhrán and brooding strings.
The Suite’s orchestration is expansive and lush, like a film soundtrack. Indeed, this Suite will remind many people of Seán Ó Riada’s famous folk-classical soundtrack to Mise Éire, the 1959 Irish film documentary about the Rising. The epic sweep and heroic tone of Rooney’s piece, such as the brave uilleann pipes accompanied by majestic strings in Lament For The Dead, evokes memories of that work. Ó Riada’s influence is clear. Rooney (who is a leading exponent of the traditional Irish harp) also shares Ó Riada’s admiration for the stately elegance of Irish folk-baroque music, such as the Vivaldi-influenced compositions of the 17th Century harper Turlough O Carolan. Some of the most beguiling pieces here are the ones in Irish folk-baroque style, such as The Queen’s Speech, which commemorates the 2011 visit by the British Queen to Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance, where Her Majesty stood and bowed in honour of those who fought against the British state to win Irish independence. Rooney’s beautiful, graceful baroque composition is the perfect musical expression of peace and reconciliation.
Irish Music Magazine Review of The macalla suite May 2017
by Sean Laffey
A few weeks ago my 12 year old son came home from school and asked me did I have a copy of the Macalla album, so I gave him a Kerry answer. I replied with the question “why?” He said there was a brilliant piece of music on it. They’d listened to it in their history class that afternoon. “It’s called The Battle,” he said. So my Macalla went off for a few days to the land of X–box, Manga and Nintendo, AKA Tom’s Bedroom.
There are over 25 countries represented in my Tom’s school in rural Ireland. Those kids are of many ethnicities and religions, many of those lads will grow up with a sense of dual identity (who would want to deny them their roots?). As parents it is our hope they will be proud of their Irishness, that they will embrace Irish culture, have a love of its sport, music and an appreciation of its history. That is where work like Macalla is essential. In an age when music is disposable and fleeting, Michael Rooney’s Macalla paints a bigger picture. It proffers a broad tableaux from the stirrings of rebellion two or three generations before 1916 to the three or four generations afterward and the road to reconciliation. It reminds us that actions have causes and consequences.
Rooney achieves this in an hour by writing 6 episodes, each with a characteristic flavour, each of which can live on as a freestanding work. When presented in order the work is a powerful confirmation of the history of modern Ireland. Cinematic in its opening as it paints a picture of the Famine and the social order which sustained it. This is followed by four pieces, which tell of the Gaelic revival, the rise of Nationalism and the construction of an Irish Identity. The longest movement is The Rising and track 13 is that piece that drew my son’s attention, The Battle, followed by the sadness of the executions and a lament for the dead. It looks forward and is positive in its concluding reel Spleodar.
Is Michael Rooney the O’Riada of our age? From this album we would say he tells a story that is absorbing and has the same orchestral command of narrative. His ability to organise and command a folk orchestra shows he is more than a tunesmith. With a combination of classical players and a folk–memory orchestra, the work challenges the musician. It is not simplified to accommodate the non–readers and must have been a personal thrill to have been involved with.
The Macalla Suite will echo for years to come, the CD is more than a memento of the Rising’s Centenary. More than a memory of two magical nights in Monaghan, it is an important cultural artefact, which we can consult in our own search for identity in the miasma of history.
The Living Tradition REVIEW OF The MACALLA Suite CD - March 2017
by John O' Regan
Michael Rooney (from Scotstown, County Monaghan, now resident in Sligo) has proven himself as a traditional harper and music teacher, whether recording with June McCormack or now in the composition of full scale epic works such as The Macalla Suite. This is not his first big composition, but has brought him more acclaim in this field having been included in TG4’s Gradam Ceoil awards this year. Based on the 1916 centenary celebrations and premiered in Dublin’s RDS on Easter Saturday 2016 at the State Event for the Relatives of 1916, and then transferred to London’s Barbican and a sell-out Irish tour, The Macalla Suite as represented here was recorded in his home county at Monaghan Town’s Garage Theatre in October last, and reveals his ability to compose and score full scale epics that while symphonic in style contain an accessibility seldom found in this genre.
One of the reasons the piece works so well is because the orchestra itself instrumentally blends both classical and traditional instrumentation, which serves itself well to the tunes and their application within the context of a historical narrative. The other source of success is the skilful use of songs from the period including Padraig Pearce’s adaptation of Óró Sé Do Bheatha ‘Bhaile and The Foggy Dew as well as Douglas Hyde’s lyrics to Eiroimid Feasta Ta An Lae Geal Ag Teacht that maintain historical correctness, while the new instrumental compositions work as both semi-traditional and semi-classical pieces that are melodic, reflective and appropriate, serving their place in the overall work. Their accessibility and listenability make them highly complex yet powerfully attractive individually, and in time maybe some might end up in the session repertoire. Performance-wise, the playing is stirring and subdued by turn, revealing a tightly hewn rhythm and string section accompanied by masses of harps, flutes, whistles, accordions, concertinas, banjos and percussion – all sounding sweet and melodically fluent. The Macalla Suite speaks volumes for Michael Rooney’s musical integrity, as it does his compositional fluency, and is his finest epic work to date.
The Boston Irish reporter,
Review by Sean Smith 2nd March 2017
Rooney, a harpist, recently won TG4 Composer of the Year honors for “The Macalla Suite,” which he was commissioned to write for a special performance at an Irish state event for relatives of 1916 participants (the live recording here was made last fall in Monaghan). It’s the ninth suite he has composed; his other works include “The Famine Suite” (1997) and “The Millennium Suite” (2000).
The six movements of “Macalla” are a musical evocation of Irish history, the first two presenting the circumstances and succession of events over the century leading up to the Easter Rising; the next three recount the Rising itself and the immediate aftermath, while the sixth is an expression of reconciliation – including “The Queen’s Speech,” referring to Elizabeth’s 2011 visit to Dublin – and of a modern, cosmopolitan Ireland. Four traditional songs – including “The Bold Fenian Men” and “The Foggy Dew” – serve as interludes and historical markers. Altogether, it’s an impressive mélange of sounds and atmospheres, emotive and accessible yet also with some sophisticated, ambitious ideas and arrangements.
In “Clash of Traditions,” Rooney sets up contrasting pieces – a fife-and-drum melody redolent of the Ulster Volunteers, and a nationalist theme suggestive of the Irish Volunteers – and then plays them off one another. “Confusion” shifts between three different time signatures, depicting the chaotic crush of events (chiefly Roger Casement’s arrest and the on-again/off-again Irish Volunteers mobilization) on the eve of the Rising. Arguably the highlight of the suite is “The Battle,” which gradually builds tension and suspense until it lets slip the dogs of war.
The blend of traditional and classical music elements in “Macalla Suite” is further reflected in the make-up of the Macalla Orchestra itself, which features sections both for “fiddles” and “violins”; there are also sections of concertinas, uilleann pipes, harps, accordions, flutes – even banjos (other instruments include double bass, cellos, piano, trumpet, and French horn). Considering how cranky some of these instruments can be, the degree to which they mesh seems fairly remarkable, and of course reflects well on the musicians who play them. Not to be overlooked is Rooney’s canny use of percussion, whether a single bodhran, martial-like snare drums or a full-on rock-and-roll drum kit – one of those subtleties that help make “The Macalla Suite” as compelling as it is.
Folk World Review of Macalla Suite by Alex Monaghan
In a departure from the norm here, this is music written by Michael Rooney but not performed by him. The suite was composed as part of the centenary commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin, an important step along the path to the independent Irish state established in 1922, after a war of independence and a treaty agreed in 1921 between David Lloyd George and Michael Collins amongst others, so the good news is we have a whole rake of centenaries to look forward to in Ireland. The Macalla Suite was recorded at a live performance in Monaghan - a big plus for me of course - with around sixty musicians on stage.
There's a full list of performers on the sleeve, the first such list I've seen where fiddles are clearly distinguished from violins, as this work combines folk and classical players. On the traditional side, you'll recognise some names - Clare Quinn, Paddy Callaghan, Aoibheann Queally, Patrick Ballantyne, Brogan and Orlaith McAuliffe - as members of the up and coming cohort of Irish music virtuosos from across Ireland and the UK. This is a young ensemble, with no household names yet, and judging by the cover photo the classical musicians are of a similar age: twenty-somethings mainly, but the best of their generation if this recording is any measure.
The music tells the story of the Rising from its causes to its aftermath in a series of marches, jigs, airs, reels, and more classical pieces. There are four songs, all over a century old, but the bulk of this CD is new instrumental compositions, from the firmly traditional Scoraiocht Jig to the cinematic Execution which recalls dramatic scenes in Les Misérables, Gladiator, and oddly also Pirates of the Caribbean. The opening air An Tirdhreach Loite seems a little too cheerful, but a more serious edge is introduced by The Workhouse, and by the time we reach the midpoint of Confusion there is an ominous mood in the music. An orchestral string section and high brass fits well with percussion and traditional instruments: fiddles, flutes, free reeds, Irish pipes, banjos, and harps. Lots of harps: Michael Rooney knows his instrument well and uses it very effectively here, in stately instrumentals such as The Landlord and behind songs like Tá an Lá Geal ag Teacht.
The music for The Battle is stark and sombre, followed by an eerie Lament for the Dead on pipes. Only with The Queen's Speech does the joy return, marking a reconciled Ireland since the 1990s. The final two tracks blend classical, traditional and modern music in a celebration of Irish culture, culminating in a very fine fiddle reel Spleodar with a céilí atmosphere. For the more classically minded, this suite is split into six movements, but however you carve it The Macalla Suite is a banquet of very fine Irish music.
THE MACALLA SUITE
WEXFORD PEOPLE REVIEW OF MACALLA - 8TH APRIL 2016
[The Wexford People]
While Enniscorthy may, over the Easter weekend, have been the centre of operations for all things relating to The Rising in these parts, the National Opera House, Wexford was the place to be on Easter Monday evening for what transpired to be one of the highlights on the county's 1916 commemorative events calendar.
Macalla 1916: A Celebration of Easter 1916 is a new suite of music by acclaimed composer Michael Rooney. This epic work conveys in music, song and story the birth of a nation. Indeed if ever a show could be said to capture the passion, the people, the politics and the consequences of Easter 1916 this is it.
Those tasked with bringing this story to life are the Comhaltas National Folk Orchestra of Ireland. The orchestra is made up of over 60 young traditional and classical musicians. They come from all over the island as well as from Scotland and England. Even before they strike a note the sight of their ordered ranks on stage presents a wonderful image: there, centre-stage, the fiddles, beside them the two pipers, to the left a platoon of harps, behind them the accordions, then the concertinas and so on through battalions of banjos, flutes and fifes, brass and percussion.
Joining the orchestra were All Ireland champion singers Tadhg Maher and Shauna McGarrigle. Narrative duties were provided by former RTE presenter Ciana Campbell and respected actor Diarmuid De Faoite.
This gathering of our brightest and best talent, under the baton of composer and conductor Michael Rooney put in a sensational performance in bringing this story to life.
Rooney had twin aims in putting this powerful work together: an echo of the past, a vision for the future. So on the one hand, he reaches right back to the Great Famine and the terrible price paid by the people of this beleaguered island. On the other he presents to us the modern, mature and globally-respected Ireland we have today.
The 1st Movement starts with 'An Tírdhreach Loite', The Blighted Landscape. We are back in the 1840s and the soul-destroying and desolate years of The Great Famine.
We then move, in the 2nd Movement, through the decades that followed when the country rose up in nationalistic fervor and set about re-building a long dormant cultural heritage. The music is upbeat and full of hope.
By the 3rd Movement we are a decade into the 20th Century and the divergence between those who wish to break free from the bonds of British rule and those who will stop at nothing to prevent this happening.
The focus then turns to the so called Great War as men from North and South fight and die in the trenches fighting for a common cause. This is conveyed in the sad strains of Marbhna don Ghlúin Chaillte - Lament for a Lost Generation.
The climax of the suite comes in the 4th Movement as we come to the events of Easter 1916. The music expresses the confusion, the fighting, the men marching to their execution, with the shock and sadness of what has just happened being expressed in Ómós do na Mairbh - Lament for the Dead.
Súil Siar takes a reflective look back at all that has taken place over a few short years, a world where "all is changed, changed utterly".
The 6th, and final, Movement takes us right up to the present, to the modern, self-confident and re-imagined Ireland we know today. The Suite ends on a lively and joyful note with Athmhuintearas - Reconciliation.
The inclusion of well known songs such as The Bold Fenian Men, Óró 'Sé do Bheatha Bhaile and The Foggy Dew punctuate the suite in a positive way, familiar, as they are, to most of us. Likewise the use of poems by Pearse, Douglas Hyde, Yeats and others, all eloquently delivered by Diarmuid De Faoite. The projection of images onto the backdrop adds to the overall experience. Ninety short minutes later the show is over. And, for a moment, a stunned silence fills the auditorium. Not for long, however, as an explosion of rapturous and sustained applause lets conductor and orchestra know they have scored a bulls-eye! We are rewarded with an encore of the final movement!
Rooney, delighted with the performance and the audience's reaction to it, said: 'It was an honour and a privilege for us to bring this suite to the National Opera House.'
MACALLA 1916 ENCHANTS TWO FULL-HOUSE ATTENDANCES IN THE GARAGE THEATRE – 7TH APRIL 2016
[Northern Standard Review of Macalla at the Garage Theatre, Monaghan]
IF IT SOUNDED good in the promotional literature, those assurances paled into insignificance when compared with the sweeping soundscape that engulfed all who were lucky enough to be among the two full-house audiences that attended ‘Macalla 1916’ at the Garage Theatre on Thursday and Friday of last week.
Michael Rooney’s superbly orchestrated score covered the whole gamut of emotions inevitably evoked by the many-layered and endlessly engrossing story of the Easter Rising, and the tale of the Irish nation before and since, providing a soundtrack that time and again veered from the haunting quieter interludes to the inspiring crescendos when the entire 60-plus Comhaltas National Folk Orchestra took full musical flight.
Nor did the 85 or so minutes of richly tapestried folk-music motifs ever become repetitive; every movement carried its own distinct ambience to the enthralled listeners as the groupings of traditional fiddles, harps, flutes, pipes, banjos, accordions and concertinas supported by classical violins, cellos, trumpets, percussion, piano, double-bass and bodhran intertwined seamlessly under Rooney’s masterful direction.
The net result was a riveting soundtrack to the imagery projected on the backscreen and the narrative compellingly delivered by RTÉ’s Ciana Campbell and Diarmuid de Faoite- with all three strands combining to ensure that every moment was imbued with its own meaning as the story moved forward, centred on the Rising but bringing us from Famine times right up to the present day.
The Macalla 1916 nationwide nine-night tour began on Easter Saturday at a flagship event in the RDS attended by 4,500 relatives of the Rising’s volunteers and President Michael D Higgins, and it continued in Sligo on Saturday before finishing in Derry on Sunday.
While there have been invitations to bring it Stateside, the sheer logistics that would be involved make that an unlikely outcome, but there are hopes that it may be staged again at home later in the year.
Michael Mc Donnell
IRISH HISTORY BROUGHT TO LIFE THROUGH MUSIC - 17TH MARCH 2016
[Irish World Newspaper, London]
This new suite of music by distinguished composer and musician Michael Rooney, reflects the period of Irish history from the famine to the present day. Prior to the concert, Daniel Mulhall Ambassador of Ireland to Great Britain welcomed guests including President of Comhaltas Ann Finnegan, and John Concannon Director of Ireland’s 1916 Commemoration programme. Ambassador Mulhall thanked Comhaltas in Britain 1916 Committee for showcasing the first performance of Macalla 1916 in London. He expressed pride in the organisation’s huge contribution to ensuring Ireland’s cultural heritage is kept alive for Irish people abroad.
Macalla 1916 was presented by the National Folk Orchestra of Ireland which, fittingly, included musicians from Britain. Michael Rooney also conducted the performance. The first movement was gentle and reflective – the pre famine years, when landed gentry lived very differently to the native Irish who were frustrated and powerless.But, Irish natives did not give up, leading to the song The Bold Fenian Men (aka Down by the Glenside) which is an anthem from that period for the men who fought to free Ireland.
A rousing March signals the second movement inspired by the new nationalism sweeping through Ireland after the sad years of the famine. The GAA and The Gaelic League were founded with the aim of reviving Ireland’s culture sport and language. The stage backdrop of a selection of images from National Archives of Ireland and RTE stills are excellent choices.
The third movement began with Ulster flavour – a fife and drum march countered with a reel reflecting the nationalism of the Irish Volunteers. There was also a lament for the men north and south who fought in World War 1.
The Fourth Movement brought the audience to the Easter Rising. Óró Sé do Bheatha Bhaile sung by Shauna McGarrigle and Tadgh Maher was poignant. This song was popular with Irish Volunteers during Easter week 1916. The music also captured the confusion following Roger Casement’s arrest and the hours leasing up to the Insurrection.
The narration for Macalla 1916 was delivered eloquently by Ciana Campbell and Diarmuid De Faoite. Capturing the courage of the Easter 1916 – this tense, sad, frightening event, would test any orchestra or band. Full marks to everyone for holding the audience spellbound while the Proclamation of the Irish Republic was read aloud as the musicians played marches reflecting death and laments for those who died.
The Foggy Dew rounded of this part of the suite. The fifth Movement echoes the deep thinking as survivors of World War 1 returned to an Ireland with a new parliament and a civil war at home.
Everyone at the Barbican would relate to Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the Garden of remembrance in Dublin in 2011 where she honoured those who fought against Britain for Irish Independence. Michael Rooney employed traditional Irish, folk and classical genres to convey the feeling of joy and happiness at the symbolism of a new dawn of understanding between Ireland and England following the success of the Royal visit.
Macalla 1916 shows the wealth of talent in the National Folk Orchestra of Ireland – it was amazing to watch classical musicians play from memory and in harmony with the traditional players.
Two standing ovations were deserved
MACALLA 1916 AT THE BARBICAN - 6TH MARCH 2016
Macalla 1916 has managed to wonderfully condense almost 150 years of Irish history into beautiful and emotive melodies and orchestrations that are unashamedly Irish… Following a thoroughly enjoyable performance, the National Folk Orchestra of Ireland and Michael Rooney ended the evening to thunderous applause and two well deserved standing ovations. The unique blend of classical and folk music was expertly harnessed by the orchestra to a great effect. More >>
GIG REVIEW: 'MACALLA 1916' PERFORMED BY THE NATIONAL FOLK ORCHESTRA OF IRELAND - MARCH 2016
[London Folk Magazine]
Rooney is an incredibly well acclaimed composer, and from ‘Macalla 1916’ it’s easy to see why. The music was moving and fun by turn…The music captured the sorrow of the period, the difficulties of division, as well as the surging of Irish pride and hope. Rooney’s music was truly moving and the terrifically played by everyone in the orchestra. The orchestra’s first concert outside of Ireland was a clear success, and the mere fact that it was in the Barbican highlights how far the country has come in just the last hundred years. One important aspect highlighted is just how alive Irish folk music is. Based on last Fridays performance, it is not only surviving, but flourishing with impressive style…If you get the chance I couldn’t recommend seeing it more. More >>
Of night, light and the half light - 24th May 2015
Michael Rooney's short symphony in three parts, written for the occasion, exceeded in eloquence even that speech. If the first part evocation to the 2011 visit of Queen Elizabeth suggested an odd choice of theme, the nod to Yeats in the second threatened to burst every Sligo heart with pride. The final part, divided into a lament and a celebration, seemed to succeed, as the aptly named Joe Queenan - Cathaoirleach of Sligo County Council - said in introducing it, in "making audible what ultimately becomes visible". More >>
Prince Charles Visit: ‘No longer victims of our difficult history' - 21st May 2015
One could not stop one’s foot tapping. So said a smiling Prince Charles after he and Camilla were treated to specially commissioned piece of music performed by a spirited group of young traditional and classical musicians in Sligo’s Model arts centre.
The music that got the royal toes tapping was a 15 minute piece composed by Michael Rooney incorporating themes of reflection, lament and celebration, including a poignant movement titled ‘Lord Mountbatten’ that was followed by a moving finale, ‘Reconciliation’.
It captured perfectly the two themes that overlapped and harmonised throughout the event and Prince Charles was singing off the same song sheet. More >>
Prince Charles: The compassion shown by Mullaghmore community aided 'the healing process' for Lord Mountbatten's family - 20th May 2015
During the visit, the royal couple were treated to a music composition created especially for the event. “It is Sligo's gift to you and one that is full of meaning and symbolism,” explained Mr Queenan.
The three pieces, composed by Michael Rooney, covered the queen’s visit, an interpretation of the Yeats poem He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven and a final peace on loss and reconciliation.
The final piece incorporated a lament, entitled Lord Mountbatten, which “acknowledged a pained and troubled past” before moving seamlessly into a second upbeat and positive piece entitled ‘Reconciliation”.
“Music makes audible what ultimately becomes visible,” said Mr Queenan.
Thanking the musicians for the pieces, Charles said they would “remember and treasure it for the rest of our lives”. More >>
Review of 'A Second Coming' - 18th Jan 2015
"...Four musicians deliver an exquisite original score of traditional Irish music".
Review in Irish Voice Newspaper, NY - 9th Feb 2013
I ambled over to Christchurch to catch the Dublin premiere of composer Michael Rooney’s The De Cuellar Suite, dramatically performed by over 60 Sligo and Spanish musicians and dancers symbolically remembering the plight of the Spanish Armada and in particular Captain De Cuellar.
Comprised of 11 movements based in Irish, Scottish and Galician music originally debuted in Sligo back in 2011, the impact of the performance was powerful to say the least. The companion publication with the music score and CD of Rooney’s magnificent opus making it the highlight of his still promising career.
Review in Irish Voice Newspaper, NY - Nov 2006
Over a year ago I wrote about the marvelous musical couple of Michael Rooney and June McCormack whose life-long journey has been about learning, teaching and playing traditional Irish music. They entered the University of Limerick's Irish World Music Center program for Masters Degrees in Irish Traditional Music Performance. Having seen them perform a number of times in recent years, I wondered what more they needed to learn since they were already bedazzling audiences around the world with their pure ethereal music. But the reality was they were too busy performing to allow the rest of their gifts to flourish and they needed the focus of a university setting to channel their efforts in publishing material that was close to them.
For Flute Player June McCormack from the fertile Ballintogher region of Sligo, a teacher by profession and training as well as a performer it allowed her to develop a handsomely packaged 56 page guidebook for learning the flute complete with two accompanying CDs to help give aural illustration. It is entitled "Fliuit: Irish Flute Tutorial" exploring 64 Irish tunes and in the very detailed fashion that many of her flute students enjoy when taking workshops with her either in Ireland, the U.S. or down under in Australia or New Zealand where they are frequent visitors. With the use of crans, rolls, cuts and bounces, she brings the music vividly to life for her audiences and this tutor attempts to encourage others to do the same when they spend quality time on their own time. June's sourcing of the tunes is valuable as well because that is an important criterion to how the tune should be played.
Husband Michael Rooney from Gortnamona (The Field of the Bog) in Scotstown, County Monaghan focused on his own impressive compositions which have brought him to the fore as one of Ireland's most promising composing musicians in any genre. While he also plays the concertina, it is his exquisite harp playing that led to this publication of "Harp Tunes: 23 Compositions and Arrangements" in Volume 1. There are no CDs included in here but Rooney has added scores for accompaniment alongside those of the main melodies to aide those harpists who play alongside other musicians. There are recent compositions like Land's End and Mairéad Gheal which were composed in honor of and on site of the Montauk retreat they escaped to in recent years as well as tunes from his Famine Suite (1996) and Millenium Suite (2000).
Both of these books along with their excellent duet recordings, Land's End (2006) and Draíocht (2004) can be ordered from their website at www.draiochtmusic.com. As impressive as their contributions have been thus far, their future work can only be imagined but rest assured it will play a sizeable role in keeping traditional Irish music alive and relevant to any era.
The Irish Gazette, California - December 2005
Lively, nimble, bright; these words may begin to describe 'Draíocht'. Draíocht (dree-ucht) in Irish means magic and druidry, and this CD does capture the rapture that can be got from truly soulful, unpretentious traditional Irish music.
And while Michael Rooney and June McCormack might seem like magicians of the music, their own hard-earned skills are certainly at the root of their powers. Both are veterans of the Irish traditional music scene. Michael is senior All-Ireland Champion on the harp, has recorded on several other trad CDs, and has composed 'Ocras', a CD marking the utterly devastating famines stemming from the potato blight in Ireland just over 150 years ago. He is also a talented concertina player.
June McCormack herself won the senior flute competition at Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in 1998, and that year was also voted the Young Traditional Musician of the Year. As part of the group Síona, she recorded 'Launching the Boat', which had great success in Ireland. She has also recorded on several other trad CDs.
Together, the harp and the flute form a fine, and rare, union. The only other harp/flute CD of like quality that comes to mind is 'The Tailor's Choice', recorded over 20 years ago. Here, the same harmony of spirit is produced, with the flute and harp each lightly weaving the melody together.
Among the great pleasures of this utterly charming CD are tunes composed by Michael Rooney himself. A magnificent minuet called 'Na Maithe Móra' ('The Great Nobles'), was written to capture the feel of the dancing in the houses of the Irish and English landed aristocracy during the famines. The bright beauty of this perfectly ordered minuet makes a dark shadow when one becomes aware of the chaos and suffering outside the gates of the aristocracy's lands, where the Irish tenant farmers and their families were starving. It's a stark social contrast that famine historians have struggled to describe; here Michael Rooney captures it in the terrible beauty of this tune.
Alongside the dark, of course, the CD has the bright, light sound of jigs, reels, and hornpipes. These quick dancing tunes are complemented by slower tunes like the lovely 'An Bhuatais', which is almost transcendental in its feel. One of the best Irish trad CDs to come out this year, 'Draíocht' charms by its measured, graceful pace and melodic simplicity, and by not overwhelming one with excessive 'accompaniment'. When you have such a perfect gem, you don't need a fancy 'setting'.
"'Land's End' Is Sheer Enchantment" (Review in The Irish Echo) - 19th April 2006
[Copyright © Earle Hitchner. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of author.]
Two years ago, the first full collaborative album by Monaghan-born harper Michael Rooney and Sligo-born flutist June McCormack was entitled "Draíocht," a fitting name now adopted by the duo and a fitting description of both that CD and its successor, "Land's End." "Draíocht" is Irish for enchantment or magic, and the spell this husband-and-wife team weaves shows no sign of being broken. "Land's End" is even better than "Draíocht," which finished in the Irish Echo's top 20 trad albums for 2004. The new release will climb much higher in this year's list.
Everything about "Land's End" radiates exquisite taste, exemplary tempo, sensitivity within sinew, and soulful originality, including five keeper melodies written by Rooney. His compositional skill was previously apparent in eight of the 11 tracks on "Ocras" in 1997, three tunes on "Oisín Mac Diarmada / Brian Fitzgerald / Micheál Ó Ruanaigh" in 2000, and four tunes on "Draíocht." A Rooney slip jig common to those last two albums, "Tír Rafartaigh," is already a session and recording staple, and Cavan button accordionist Martin Donohue recognized the appeal of Rooney's slow air "Aghaidh Jhanuis" on his new solo CD "Tasty Touches."
Without intending to dispel conventions and stereotypes associated with a harp-flute combination, Rooney and McCormack do precisely that. He displays a lot of drive in the delicacy normally expected of a harp, while she exhibits plenty of delicacy in the drive she imparts to dance tunes on flute. This isn't just a literal marriage. It's an ideal musical marriage, two distinct instruments and two instrumentalists of distinct styles locked in the common cause of producing sounds rigorous in tradition yet imaginative in scope and effect.
Lively, fluid, accurate, expressively ornamented flute and harp playing propels the "The Old Maids of Galway / The Rookery" reels. McCormack's breathy Sligo style on flute is, well, breathtaking. Her trifecta year of 1998
Graceful playing on harp shifts into gutsy playing on harp and flute in "Jack Coughlan's / The Mystery Reel" and in "Paddy Fahy's Jig / Paidín Ó Raifeartaigh." From the outset, the jigs "The Battering Ram / The Legacy" feature animated, melodic twinning on flute and harp that float as if they were on air cushions.
Very few contemporary Irish traditional music composers come as close to the symmetry and comeliness of Turlough O'Carolan (1670-1738) as Michael Rooney. His two planxties, "Boithrin Doire" and "Planxty Fitzgerald," are models of elegance laced with vibrancy and joy. Rooney's tune for his July 2004 wedding to McCormack, "Glór na nAingeal," conveys the serenity and blissfulness expected at such an occasion, and the harps of his siblings Fionnuala and Aonghus expand the impact. Just as buoyantly lovely are Rooney's "Land's End / Mairead Gheal," two tunes he composed for a couple who housed June and him for a time in Montauk, Long Island, N.Y., while they were on tour.
Soloing is well placed on the album. In the reels "Colonel McBain/The Master's Return," McCormack shoulders the melody while her husband largely provides rhythm and accents. Rooney solos on harp at an appealing canter in the hornpipes "The Galway Bay / The Bee's Wing," with ever-so-light accompaniment by Scahill on guitar and bodhran, and his harp soloing also glistens in the song melody "An Buachaill Caol Dubh" followed by "The Deer's March," the latter expertly underpinned by Laura Maher on cello.
Pictured on the actual CD is a photo of a schoolboy Rooney on harp and a schoolgirl McCormack on flute performing together at a Foróige event in University College Dublin in July 1990. Kismet has smiled on the duo ever since, and CD listeners and concertgoers have been the beneficiaries of this marital and musical alliance. "Land's End," for which I wrote gratis an essay, represents an irresistible calling card for Michael Rooney and June McCormack as the best traditional harp-flute duo in Ireland today.
Review in Hotpress Magazine
Having first met up in 1990, when they were asked to perform a duet at a Foróige concert, Monaghan-born harpist Michael Rooney and Sligo flute player June McCormack made their first album as a duo in 2004, got married that same year and have been touring as Draíocht ever since. Like its predecessor, Land's End emphasises the quieter side of traditional music, which isn't to say it lacks life - both musicians are well able to kick up their heels on faster tunes like the sprightly 'Colonel McBain / The Master's Return'. But it's the slower numbers that stand out, notably Rooney's originals: the title track, which refers not to the Cornish coast but to a house on Long Island; 'Planxty Fitzgerald', composed as part of a Millennium Suite for the Fleadh Cheoil; the heartbreakingly lovely 'Boithrín Doire'; and 'Glór na nAingeal', which sees Rooney joined on harp by his sister Fionnuala and brother Aonghus.
Sarah Mc Quaid
Review in Irish Times
Oceans converge and a relentless energy fires the most resistant spirit. So too it is with harpist Michael Rooney and flute player June Mc Cormack's music. A melding fo genteel formality (in Michael's original planxty, Boithrín Doire, and in his title tune, a masterclass in restrained excellence) and raw-nerved virtuosity. Land's End glories in each ingredient, lending its essence in tiny tinctures, all the better to savour it in its entirety. Mc Cormack lures a gorgeous woody flute tone, an earthy counter to Rooney's fine-fingered harp. Land's End is a thing of rare beauty where less is questionably more. Rating: ****