Irish Music’s New ‘Pandemic Version’ Delivers ‘Message of Hope’

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I am ireland airs Tuesday, December 15 at 9:00 p.m. on WTTW.

A new special tells the story of Ireland’s journey to independence through the perspectives of eminent Irish leaders, and those behind the production believe its message may offer hope to audiences amidst the pandemic.

Through tales and songs, I am ireland examines Ireland’s long struggle for freedom. The special, which airs Tuesday, December 15 at 9 p.m. on WTTW, features music and stories by traditional Irish tenor Paddy Homan, who is virtually accompanied by 40 members of the City Lights Orchestra. Homan, who developed and played I am ireland live multiple times, worked with City Lights Orchestra conductor Rich Daniels and the Irish Fellowship club to bring the story to life on screen.

A 1959 documentary Setting Éire (“I am Ireland”) inspired the story. The documentary shares a name with a poem by Padraic Pearse and tells the story of Ireland’s struggle for independence until the Easter Rising of 1916, of which Pearse was one of the leaders. The documentary’s score was also a source of inspiration for Homan. Seán Ó Riada, who according to Homan is considered the first Irish national composer, wrote the music for the film.

“I thought to myself, I can’t exactly play the role of Seán Ó Riada himself because it’s like taking the Holy Grail,” Homan says. “I just said, let’s see it differently. Let us tell the history of Ireland from the point of view of the great rulers of the time between 1798 and 1916. “

Homan refers to Irish leaders like Michael Collins, Robert Emmett, Thomas Davis and others. But this is not a new story for Homan; it’s something he’s been playing for years.

I am ireland executive producer and music director Rich Daniels had known Homan for a few years and had seen him perform I am ireland at the Beverly Arts Center a few years ago.

“The first thing I said when I saw the thing was ‘Wow, this stuff is made for PBS!’” Daniels said.

After a few years, the two decided to make it into a TV production and then did just that.

“But when the world turned on March 11, we realized that all bets were off,” Daniels said. “So without undoing everything and waiting for the world to restart, I said, let’s do what we call the pandemic version of this.”

Conductor Rich Daniels, center, said he wanted the performance to be live even though he was “really waving his arms in the air.”

For so many performers and musicians, the transition to a “pandemic version” meant going virtual – and finding a lot of technical coordination. The 40 members of the City Lights Orchestra filmed themselves in their own home, playing on a click track to keep everyone in sync. With almost 60 minutes of music, that represented over 700 individual tracks that sound editor Steve Yates was able to put together piece by piece.

“At the end of the day, we wanted it to feel like it’s happening live and in real time with everyone at the same time,” says Daniels. “So you’ll even see me wave my arms in the air … [and] you will see all musicians respond in the same way to a conductor who is not there on their screen.

Homan, three accompanying musicians and dancer Brian Cunningham were able to perform while socially removed from Old St. Patrick’s Catholic Church on Adams Street. Homan emphasizes the importance of the church – which is Chicago’s oldest church – to the city’s Irish community. Homan says it was “a holy time” for him to perform in the church.

“There is actually a particular stained glass window that was dedicated to one of the Irish rebel leaders,” Homan says. “This show would never have been done anywhere else – only in Chicago, because of the great tradition of Irish music, culture and community that is here.”

Daniels says he thinks audiences can find solace in the visuals of an orchestra coming together virtually.

“My hope is that it gives inspiration and gives some hope. It allows people to see that through tenacity and perseverance anything can be accomplished and that people are stronger than individuals and that we can overcome all the challenges that we have in our lives, ”he said. he declares.

For Homan, there are also many lessons to be learned from the history of the Irish Road to Freedom. Homan emphasizes the connection between history and music, citing Irish revolutionary Michael Collins, who wrote that as Irish lands were dispossessed, a new type of music emerged in which “songs of hope, songs of hope, songs to inspire and songs of rebellion “took shape. .

“It’s almost like, because of COVID, this show starts responding to us,” Homan says. “There is a message of hope in this story, and it is also a message of resilience. But it also shows the power of the human spirit to overcome.

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