#37: Friday, December 14, 2018
“Ardaigh Cuain,” arr. David Mooney
Traditional Irish words and melody
SSAA, harp (or piano)
In “Ardaigh Cuain,” David Mooney has arranged a traditional Irish text and melody into a lovely, lilting selection for women’s/treble choir and harp.
There are four verses to the Irish text, with a four-measure refrain. Set in compound time, most of the song is in 6/8, with one measure of each refrain in 9/8. I love the flowing nature of Mooney’s arrangement. It is slow and deliberate, but never sluggish. The melody gently tumbles from one measure to the next, cascading as if a waterfall.
Verses 1 and 4 are both in unison, with arpeggiated chords from the harp underneath. These verses bookend the song, giving it a rounded form. If looking for solo opportunities, one or both verses could be a solo or small group, with the full ensemble entering for the refrain. This can also cut down on the amount of text to learn as a full choir, if you are pressed for time. However, tutti unison with treble voices can have such a haunting quality when done well; I would encourage full-choir unison on both verses. Unison singing provides the opportunity to refine the tone and blend of an ensemble, no matter the level.
The main section of Verse 2 is a 3-part canon on the melody. Soprano 1 enters first, with Soprano 2 and Alto each half a measure behind. Because this section is a direct presentation of the melody from Verses 1 & 4, there is no new material to learn. The octavo here is marked as S1/S2/A1, as if the Alto 2s do not sing here. Despite the marking, an even 3-part SSA split would likely be best, as the voices need to be balanced. Another option would be to assign students from each voice part to each canon entrance, so that the timbre is as consistent as possible across each line.
For the four-measure refrain after Verse 2, the setting becomes SSAA. Texture is now homophonic, as opposed to the imitation of the preceding verse. The moment where the music coalesces from overlapping entrances to a strong chordal presence is entrancing. This is also the first place in the song where the alto voices sing in a lower tessitura than the general melody. Adding those few pitches below the staff expands the vertical stability of the harmonies. It feels weightier and more settled for those measures – a lovely contrast to the earlier unison and canon.
Verse 3 is melody plus harmonic “oohs.” There is a small amount of divisi within each ooh line, usually one additional chord tone here or there. In the score, the melody is written in the S1 line, while the harmony is written to be sung S2/A1/A2. For practical purposes though, the top harmony line is likely best suited to your lighter, more floaty S1 voices. One option is to read the score as S2/S1/A1/A2, which puts your S2s on the melody, and brings your S1s down to read the higher harmony. Another possibility is to make the melody line a solo or small group and distribute your ensemble as standard SSA. No matter how you conquer this verse, it is a lush harmonic framework that is designed to stand alone a cappella without the harp.
Because of the strophic nature of the verse and chorus, the learning of the pitches and rhythms for this piece can come together rather quickly. On one hand, the material can be taught by rote on a neutral syllable. Or, the repetition can be an excellent way to reinforce the reading of minor-key solfege and of subdivided rhythms in compound meter.
The harp accompaniment consists mainly of repeated patterns or block chords, with brief interludes of more complexity between the verses. It is likely accessible by a strong intermediate student. I previously programmed the work with the Ball State Women’s Chorus using a grand (pedal) harp, and now am hoping to introduce the selection to Hollins students next year and utilize our folk (lever) harp. If a harpist is not available, the part can be played on keyboard or piano.
The most difficult aspect of teaching or learning this piece will be the language. Once it is learned, it flows beautifully. However, for English-speaking singers, even those who have studied Italian, French, or Spanish, reading the Irish text can be a challenge. Especially with the vowels, what you see is not necessarily what you get.
I will be honest – I initially came across this piece as a first-semester master’s student, leafing through boxes of repertoire at a conference booth. It sat in my “to program” stack for a bit, because I wasn’t confident I could teach the Irish text correctly. Once I had more experience under my belt teaching languages though, I jumped at the chance to program it. Thankfully, this edition has an IPA transcription at the front of the music, as well as a phonetic transliteration in the score. With these two tools, and frequent reference to recordings made by the composer and native Irish performers, accurate pronunciation can be easily within reach.
This arrangement is an elegant setting of a traditional Irish melody and text. Along with other selections in Mooney’s Irish Choral Series, this piece provides a beautiful glimpse into Irish musical heritage and tradition. It is a quality addition to any program and a beautiful lyrical selection for your ensemble.
|Music Source:||Traditional Irish|
|Arranger:|| David Mooney |
|Date of Arrangement:||2000/2002|
|Text Source:||Traditional Irish|
|Subject(s), Genre:||Longing, home|
|Voicing Details:||Unison, SSA, SSA div, SSAA|
|Ranges:|| (assuming solo/small group, with SSA oohs, on Verse 3) |
|Accompaniment:||Harp (or piano/keyboard)|
|Tempo:||MM=40 (Dotted half)|
|Series:|| David Mooney Irish Choral Series |
|Publisher:|| ECS Publishing / Canticle Distributing|
|Further descriptions and details, including program notes, audio, perusal score, and purchasing: |
Until next week!
Dr. Shelbie Wahl-Fouts is associate professor of music, Director of Choral Activities, and music department chair at Hollins University, a women’s college in Roanoke, Virginia.