Three Celtic Songs

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 10.56.22 AM.png
Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 10.56.22 AM.png

Three Celtic Songs


for three solo women's voices or treble choir (SSA) (2009)

  • Premiere: 20 November 2009 / Gilda Lyons, Elaine Valby, Ruth Cunningham / Phoenix Concerts / Church of Saint Matthew and Saint Timothy, NYC
  • Instrumentation: three solo voices (SSA) or treble choir
  • "Commissioned by the Phoenix Concerts, NYC, and dedicated to Gilda Lyons, Ruth Cunningham, and Elaine Valby"
  • Duration: 10'
  • Text: Scottish Gaelic, Alexander Macdonald (1751); 17c. Irish, Anonymous; 7th c. Irish, Anonymous (adapted by the composer)
  1. Bring a Chant
  2. That Night
  3. The Islands of Earthly Paradise

Program note

There is no purer sound in song than the blend of three complimentary treble voices singing in close accord. I am fortunate to know the three voices for whom I composed Three Celtic Songs intimately. I was inspired by Ruth Cunningham's voice (and her many artistic adventures with the group Anonymous Four) to explore ancient music sounds and gestures. Elaine Valby's voice  (a burninshed, throbbing mezzo that swells with moving authority, particularly when she sings spirituals and folk ballads) inspired me to incorporate the pitch-bending and coloristic shifts of the American spiritual tradition. Gilda Lyons' great experience as a new music specialist (and vocal composer)  inspired me to incorporate contemporary pop recording voicings, and demanding color shifts across the passaggio.

I adapted three ancient texts. First, I set the scene with the high romanticism of Alexander Macdonald's Scottish Gaelic Bring a Chant. Dedicated to Ruth, its mixture of eroticism and mystery provides an opportunity to showcase each woman's voice in turn, creating an intensely female space.

That Night (dedicated to Gilda) uses the anonymous words of a 17th century Irish poet to create a mood of sensual longing and tender regret set perhaps just before dawn. "I am ready," the song ends, in gentle waves.

The Islands of Earthly Paradise To close, I reached back to an anonymous 7th century Irish poet to create a contemporary, though ancient-sounding melodic "catch" that alternates with tricky, contemporary harmonic writing. Dedicated to Elaine, we're treated to more fog, more mist, more dew, and the sea. Together, the women unfurl a sheaf of brilliant rising runs that seem to burn away the watery images for a sunny finish.

(Banner photo: Elaine Valby, Gilda Lyons, Ruth Cunningham)

Valby, Lyons, and Cunningham.

Valby, Lyons, and Cunningham.