CD: Colmcille

Colmcille by Janet Harbison and The Belfast Harp Orchestra

CD Cover: Colmcille by Janet Harbison and The Belfast Harp OrchestraA Commemoration of St. Columba in Plainsong, Poetry & Harp Music. Composed and directed by Janet Harbison. Featuring the Belfast Harp Orchestra with Mairead Healy (soprano) and St. Killian's Choir.

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Audio Samples

Album Information

Instruments: Harp Orchestra and Choir
Genre: Plainsong, Poetry & Harp Music
Format: CD
Our Ref: A0035
Label: Irish Harp Centre
Year: 1997
Origin: EU

Track Listings

01 Benedicite
02 The Land Called Scotia
03 index 1. Psalm 98, Cantata Domino
index 2. A Monastic Life
04 index 1. Aurora Rutilat
index 2. Dawn, Harbinger of Light
05 Suantrai (Lullaby)
06 Psalm 99, Jubilate Deo
07 Journey into Exile
08 The Derry Lament
09 Doire
10 Psalm 92, Dominus Regnavit
11 Amra, The Harper's Elegy
12 Amra, The Poet's Elegy
13 Psalm 150, Laudate Dominum

CD Notes & Credits

Sleeve Notes

1997 - The Year of Saint Columba or Colmcille

St. Columba (or Colmcille) died on 9th June 597. He was the founder of a great monastic tradition. Hundreds of monasteries throughout these islands owed their origins to him or his followers. Places suchas Derry, Durrow, Raphoe and Tory in Ireland: Iona, Dunkeld, Kirkcolom and Inchcolm in Scotland; Lindisfarne, Melrose and even Ripon and Durham in England, were associated with his tradition. Outstanding works of knowledge, literature and visual art were created in the Columban monasteries; some of them - such as the magnificent Book of Kells - almost certainly made to mark previous anniversaries of the saint.

Colum CilleCeolmbar - 'Colmcille the musical' was one of the many names by which he was rernernbered. He himself, wrote hymns and his singing voice was believed to have had miraculous powers. Many musical works, both religious and secular, in honour of (or referring to) him have been composed in the interval since he died. This beautiful work by Janet Harbison is, therefore, a very fitting tribute for the 14th centenary of the saints death.

One notable feature of this album is that, rather than in a studio, it was recorded in a number of places of worship historically associated with the saint; St. Augustine's in Derry: St. Columba's in Knock, Belfast; Iona Abbey; and the Parish of Mullagh and Cross near Kells. In the sixth century Columba crossed many barriers of geography, religion, politics and language. Today, Colmcille - 'the dove of the church' - is a timely example and symbol for us all.

Dr. Brian Lacey

JANET HARBISON - Composer & Director

Photograph of Janet HarbisionJanet Harbison, founder and director of the Belfast Harp Orchestra, has a significant reputation in leading the revival of Irish harping and in promoting the continuity of the oral tradition. While an eminent traditional harper, she is also recognised as an accomplished classical and jazz musician - and she brings all her musical experience into her innovative, yet still very Irish style of composition to small and large scale works. Her work with the Harp Orchestra and the Harp Foundation has also played a widely acknowledged role in providing a platform for the celebration of both political and cultural, music and dance traditions in Ulster by embracing both their gentle and extreme elements in all their variations. The focus on St.Columba also allows for the celebration of he Celtic Christian tradition from the time before church divisions.


Photograph of Belfast Harp OrchestraThe BELFAST HARP ORCHESTRA is a 25+ strong group of Irish musicians, singers and dancers, at least twenty of whom are amongst the most notable of Ireland's young harpers. The age range is from 12 lo 25 with the average age of members at 16 years. The members come mainly from the historical nine counties of Ulster and represent all social and religious backgrounds in the community.

The Belfast Harp Orchestra was founded in 1992 as part of the Bicentennial celebration of the Belfast Harpers' Assernbly of 1792. Soon afterwards, the Orchestras association with the veteran Irish group, the Chieftains, brought them into some of the worlds greatest concert venues. In its own right, the orchestra's early solo concert successes projected their profile into the league of major concert productions. The release (late 1995) of the Orchestra's first high quality CD production entitled "Carillon" brought their music to an even wider audience and earned such critical acclaim that they have been hailed as the follow up production to "Riverdance".

The Belfast Harp Orchestra concerts arc always an extravagant presentation of Ireland's and particularly Ulster's musical heritage in a "New Irish" medium, full of energy and colour. The mix of Irish harps with lambeg drums, Scottish bagpipes, flutes, fiddles, concertinas and bodhrans. not to mention Irish and English song. solo and set dancing, is certainly dramatic. Many of the programme items directly address the Northern Irish conflict in musical terms using the themes of both sides and creating an interplay representing both strife and resolution. Ultimately, the concerts present a magnificent spectacle of the music, song and dance of Ulster!

This production honouring St.Columba is the first Orchestra programme with a religious connection. Because of the political and religions environment in Northern Ireland, religious themes had been avoided as they were almost always the basis for contention. However, at every concert venue, whether in a church, cathedral, regular theatre or concert hall, the orchestra has united forces with a local cross community choir or choral group, or have instigated the collaboration of two choirs from Catholic and Protesiant parishes to perform the work. The significance of St.Columba as a mediator and reconciler is still evident 1400 years after his death. Having by now performed the work over the northern half of Ireland and the western isles of Scotland, the universal opinion is that everybody involved in the production, from its composition to its performers, from the concert organisers to each concert audience, has been spiritually enriched, reminding us of the capacity of one person to effect a generosity of heart and humility that can make a real difference in reconciling a troubled community.

The Belfast Harp Orchestra harpers on this recording:
Leader: Grainne Hambly (Mayo Abbey);
Members: Roisin Bonner (Age 14, Derry): Dearbhail Finnegan (Co.Meath); Róisin Hambly (Age 15, Mayo Abbey); Barbara Haugh (Age 13. Antrim); Declan Hegarty (Age 15, Derry); Maeve McGuinness (Derry); Julie McNeill (Age 16. Antrim); Una Monaghan (Age 14, Belfast); Teresa O'Donnell (Dublin); Fionnuala Rooney (Age 17, Co.Monaghan); Aonghus Rooney (Age 15, Co.Monaghan};Claire Shane (Age 15, Co.Antrim); Jennifer Shane (Age 13,Co.Antrim)
Tubular Bell ringer: Michael Hambly (Mayo Abbey)
Prayer Bell ringer: Pauline Rooney (Co. Monaghan)
Harp soloists: Janet Harbison & Gráinne Hambly
Photograph of Mairead HealyMairéad is quickly establishing herself as one of Ulster's favourite sopranos. Having performances in many of Ireland's leading concert venues to her credit, she has also received awards for her achievements in musical theatre. In 1996, she was awarded the title 'Belfast Female Voice' by the Association of Irish Musical Societies for the performance in 'Carousel'. More recently she performed the title role in 'The Merry Widow' and the role of 'Maria' in 'West Side Story' in the Grand Opera House, Belfast.
ST. KILLIAN'S CHOIR, Mullagh, Kells

Photgraph of St. Killian's ChoirFounded in 1993, St. Killian's Choir is the parish choir of Mullagh and Cross in County Cavan, situated in the district of Kells, where the illumination of St.Columba's commemorative gospels were initiated. St.Killian was born in Mullagh just over 40 years after the death of Columba, and in the same evangelical tradition, he set out to bring Christianity to Europe where he was eventually martyred in 689 AD. St.Killian's Choir recently visited and performed in Wurtzburg, a German city particularly associated with St.Killian and have been featured on Bavarian TV as well as RTE in honour of the historic occasion. The Choir is jointly conducted by parish curate, Father Charlie O'Gorman and local national school teacher, Miss Breeda Mahon.

Directors of St.Killian's Choir:
Fr. Charlie O'Gorman & Brccda McMahon
Members of St.Killian's Choir on this recording:
Precentors: Brian Cahill, Cormac Cahill, Raphael McKenna, Breeda McMahon, Fr. Charlie O'Gorman, Gerry Smith
Choir members: Aisling Carolan, Kitty Carolan, Eilish Clarke, Patricia Conary, Dorothy Crilly, Mary Flanagan, Margaret Gilsenan, Mary Kelly, Rita McCormick, Fionnbharra Mac Curnáin, Eileen McMahon, Angela McNicholas, Nancy O'Byrne, SeosamhÓ Méalóid, Mairéad O'Reilly, Michael O'Reilly. Gene Ormiston, Elizabeth Smith, Ailish Smith, Elizabeth Smith, Mary Smyth, Madeleine Ui Mhéalóid.
Precentor for Psalm 150: Gerry McBrian, Belfast
Photograph of Antaine O DonnaileAntaine comes from a background steeped in the Irish language history and culture in Ulster and Ireland's prime cathedral city Armagh he received his early interests in Irish drama when at school with the Christian Brothers and achieved early recognition for his talents with many national awards for drama. He is now an adjudicator with the Comhlachas Naisiunta Dramaiochta and in 1994 he achieved his PhD in Social Linguistics from Uttiversity of Ulster at Coleraine. From this practical and academic environment he moved into the world of production and broadcasting. Antaine is a leading producer and presenter of Irish Language programmes with the BBC.

Photograph of Gerorge HolmesGeorge Holmes hails originally from Lisburn, County Antrim but has been settled in Groomsport, County Down for many years now. While serving as a narrator on this production, George is best known for his Lambeg Drumming, an art passed on to him

from a very early age by his grandfather and also from the celebrated drum maker Billy Hewitt. He has contributed to a number of TV and radio programmes on the Lambeg Drum and was involved in the making of the films Cal, and The Lost Belonging, both of which featured the instrument. In addition to Lambeg Drums. George plays a range of other instruments, bedhran, banjo, mandoline and guitar.

Acknowledgements (Composition)
Janet Harbison would like to record her thanks to Fr Harry Coyle, Dr Brian Lacey, Dr Alan Taverner, the Cappella Nova, the Liverpool Cathedral, the Oxford Book of Irish Poetry. Janet's mother Eleanor Harbison who made the recording possible, and Saint Columba himself for inspiration and assistance in the composition, performance and recording of this work.

Acknowledgements (Production)
Janet records her great appreciation of the artistic and technical advice of Patrick Dalgety, the Engineer and essentially co-producer of this production. Thanks also to his partner Debra Salem for her patient support and advice. Finally a special thanks to Donald Neil of Priory Press for the cover design.

Acknowledgements (General)
Many thanks to Rev. Gregor McCamley of St. Columba's Church, Knock, Belfast; Rev. Rosemary Logue of St. Augustine's Church, Derry; and Rev. Charlie O'Gorman of St. Killian's Church, Mullagh, Kells, and the Iona Abbey Community for their generous assistance and the use of their places of worship in which we recorded this album. Thanks also to the Belfast School of Music for their orchestra's tubular bells and to Mr Thomas Donaghy for his prayer bell.

This album is dedicated to Daniel Harbison who died aged 10 months in April 1996 for whom Suantrai was originally composed.

Belfast. November 1997

Programme Notes

The Columban Suite
Composed by Janet Harbison

The Columban Suite consists of a number of pieces of early Celtic Christian plainsong and poetry gleaned from historical sources presented as we have inherited them with some contemporary translations and newly composed harp music. The composition is a homage to St.Columba, also known as Colmcille, telling of the story of a man of significance whose message of faith, reconciliation and peace has trancended 14 centuries.
A plainsong Benediction
The Land Called Scotia
By the Roman poet Donatus C.829-876 translated from Latin (Thomas Kinsella)
Psalm 98, Cantata Domino
Set for Soprano and harps - a modern setting but keeping much of the original plainsong tones intact
A Monastic Life
Anonymous poem from the 9th century
Aurora Rutilat (Dawn, Harbinger of Light)
A sung hymn with a recited translation.
Suantrai (Lullaby)
An original piece in a serene mood.
Psalm 99, Jubilate Deo
With simple continuo part on the harps, this is another rendering of original plainsong
Journey into Exile
Another original piece of harp music in the Geantrai mood
Solo Harp
The Derry Lament
A lament based on the theme of the poem attributed to Columba but probably dating from the 11th or 12th C. The English translation of the lament sung by the Soprano is abridged from Thomas Kinsella.
This is an original setting of the Irish poem in a modern Irish translation edited by Fr Harry Coyle.
Psalm 92, Dominus Regnavit
Once again, the old plainsong rendering of the psalmto a simple continuo accompaniment on the harps.
Amra, The Harper's Elegy
This original harp piece was inspired by the early ecclesiastic style of singing called Organum where parts move in parallel motion. However, single lines of other melody dance around the Organum base.
Amra, The Poet's Elegy
By Dallan Forgaill on the death of St.Columba in 597, this is the elegy lamenting the death of the church leader. It is recited in contemporary Irish from the source "The Earliest Poetry of Iona" with a translation abridged from various sources.
Psalm 150, Laudate Dominum
This is a combination of some latin verse and the standard English Anglican translation of the psalm in plainsong. However, it is triumphally accompanied by the full forces of the choir, the harps and soprano.

Note: The full text of the works, which are reproduced in the CD book are not yet included on this page.