‘We know traditional music represents so much more than just the melody that you hear’: Úna Monaghan at Tradition Now and Galway Jazz Festival

‘We know traditional music represents so much more than just the melody that you hear’: Úna Monaghan at Tradition Now and Galway Jazz Festival

Harper, composer and recipient of the inaugural Liam O’Flynn award, Úna Monaghan will perform solo in Dublin and Galway next week. She spoke to the Journal of Music about her current work for harp and electronics.

Úna Monaghan’s solo concert at the Tradition Now festival next week (Tuesday 1 October, 8.30pm) marks the beginning of her creative association with the National Concert Hall. In March, she was awarded the inaugural Liam O’Flynn award, which supports a traditional musician with a bursary and rehearsal space to create ambitious new work. Monaghan plans to use the award to write a new six-part suite called Aonaracht. The piece will feature artists such as concertina player Jack Talty, singer Pauline Scanlon and fiddle-player Paddy Glackin, and will be premiered next year.

Her concerts in Dublin and Galway next week, however, will focus on solo harp and electronics, although Scanlon will make a guest appearance at the lunchtime Galway Jazz Festival concert at the Black Gate (Friday 4 October, 1pm). Monaghan will also give a solo concert at Kieran Moloney’s Music Shop the same day (6pm)

Although she regularly performs on just harp, the appeal for Monaghan of combining harp with electronics is multi-faceted. She uses movement sensors, tape and archive recordings.

Traditional music has such a wealth of information behind the tunes. We hear these stories on the stage. We know of the history of the pieces. … Traditional music represents so much more than just the melody that you hear. I think that as soon as you introduce computers, you can actually sonify some of that information. You can provide another dimension that has been implicit for so long.

The added dimension also gives her more creative material to respond to in performance:

When I’m playing traditional harp [I’m] focused on what the fingers are doing, technique, playing the tune… If I add other sounds then my brain has other things to bounce off… It can hear other things that are happening… [This] happens in traditional music already. If you are playing with anyone, you are bouncing off the stuff they are doing.

Monaghan has just returned from England where she was Rosamund Harding Research Fellow in Music at Newnham College, University of Cambridge. She will be based near Dublin for the next three months while working on Aonaracht before returning to Belfast. She is also working on a book on experimental traditional music and has recently been working with Jennifer Walshe as sound engineer on the work Time Time Time.

At Tradition Now and Galway Jazz Festival, she will focus on some works from her debut solo album For, which she released in 2018 and which was described as ‘startling… surprising and brilliant’ in the Journal of Music. Live, however, the works are different every time. For Monaghan, going on a journey with the audience, and having that creative conversation, is key.

I try to have this dialogue with the audience as I explain the tunes. I like to have a conversation about where this work has come from. I’m definitely not about presenting it and wandering off.. … I’m totally open every time I perform to stuff not working. It’s all built that way. It is unpredictable. It does involve things that have been taken into the computer on the night rather than pre-programmed. So it’s risky for me, but I ask the audience to come with me on that.

Úna Monaghan’s concert takes place on Tuesday 1 October at the NCH Studio. Tradition Now takes place from 1 to 6 October and also features Barry Kerr, Paddy Glackin, Lisa O’Neill, Brighde Chaimbeul and Niall Vallely’s Sounds Like Freedom, in which Monaghan will also perform. For booking, visit www.nch.ie.

Galway Jazz festival runs from 2 to 6 October and features Monaghan, Lauren Kinsella, Andreas Varady, Trish Clowes, Nils Okland, Daniele Di Bonaventura and more. Visit http://galwayjazzfest.ie.

Published on 25 September 2019

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