Global Times | Jiang Yuxia
Published on June 13, 2011 20:23

The full lineup of "Ireland's National Choir" performs in Beijing tonight.

With crystal-clear sound, unaccompanied choral timbres and haunting melodies, Anúna, Ireland's National Choir, comes to Beijing's Poly Theater tonight.

The 30-member acappella choir has not only enchanted the ears, but also conquered the hearts of diverse international audiences since their first concert in 1987. 

Featuring Irish music from the past to the present, the group has sung the opening vocals on Riverdance, won three Grammys and hit the No. 1 slot in numerous world music charts. 

Telling tales in tune

Following its Hangzhou, Chengdu and Wuhan shows last week, Anúna's China leg will be continuing its King's Voice tour after Beijing to Shanghai, Liuzhou and Shijiazhuang. 

The ensemble, featuring between 11 to 14 singers each time, will perform the choir's classic repertoire, written and arranged by founder and artistic director Michael McGlynn, as well as classic ballads, familiar to Chinese audiences, such as "Danny Boy."

Although not specially chosen with any nation in mind, the choir aspires to make its sets enjoyable and intersect the "power of the singers' performances and their humor," McGlynn told the Global Times via e-mail.

Anúna have a universal musical language. Their sound is one that can "touch the heart of all nations, simply because we aim to produce a vocal tone that 

people can understand in their hearts, rather than simply with their ears," said McGlynn, adding that the songs he has written for them over the years have 

been designed to appeal with this in mind. 

With a personal preference for songs that tell stories, those performed at tonight's concert will recount Ireland's history and culture but most importantly, stories about ordinary people's lives.

"The choir is my vision of my home, and the way it makes me feel… The folk songs and ancient melodies that are sung all over the world have the same common themes of love, loss, joy, so it is easy for people to identify with our culture.

No matter how different we may appear on the surface, we are all the same underneath, the composer noted.

"Our concerts are created to bring the audience gradually into our sound. This is really music for the soul – calming, ethereal but most importantly, human."

Unique performances

Originally called An Uaithne and featuring classically trained singers, the choir was founded 24 years ago with the aim of exploring and redefining Irish choral music, says its official website. 

Now the choir includes untrained voices and has since become one of the world's most famous choral ensembles, thanks to the originality of their performances and recordings. 

An Anúna concert is often considered a "true" show, due to its combination of movement, elegant costume and music, but its ultimate goal, according to McGylnn, is to give the audience to a very special chance to be touched. 

"In some ways [Anúna's shows] allow people to find peace within themselves, even if only for a short while, and that is one of the more unique aspects of the performance," said McGlynn.

Despite having toured and performed for global leaders in some of the world's greatest concert halls and historical venues, the greatest experience for McGlynn is still when the audience becomes part of the performance. 

"That energy is unique to performance. While I love representing what is best in Irish culture, often it is when we transcend our Irishness that that special moment occurs."

Operating without a conductor, the choir has developed a unique way of performing and members are aware of the importance of trust and respect both on and off the stage. 

Ireland does not have a specifically Irish form of choral music, other than what they do in Anúna, McGlynn explained. 

"When people come and see, it takes them a short while to understand that this is not what they already know of music from my country.

"By creating a form of choral singing that integrates the best aspects of the traditional melodic ancestry of Ireland with the energy of modern and ancient choral structures, we are at once timeless and of our time."

Enlivening ancient music

McGlynn himself is best known as a writer of choral music and among the nine albums released by the choir so far, most of them feature his arrangements and original works, such as Deep Dead Blue and Anúna: Celtic Origins.

McGylnn's own website says his harmonic language combines "elements of traditional Irish music, fixed and shifting drones and liberal use of jazz-tinged choral clusters and sonorities." 

Although drawn to the richness of his native culture, language and song, McGlynn claimed he is not a "traditionalist" devoted only to Irish music. 

Some of his compositions could be perceived as arrangements of old Irish songs but are, in fact, new melodies composed to traditional texts.

"There are wonderful things in the music of every culture and the common threads between us are what I strive to find but I also love showing how different we can be from each other."

As to his approach of reconstructing songs, he believes that to perform a song that is a thousand years old, the key is to make it live and breathe rather than attempt to perform an academic exercise based on ideas of authenticity.

"There is no one alive who knows how this music should have been performed. We can only guess.

"I aim to give modern audiences a taste of the past, and try and make them search out this music and dwell on the fact that we are part of a long and continuing story."  

It puts our modern lives into some kind of perspective. Maybe we have much to learn from our ancestors, he added.

The full lineup of "Ireland's National Choir" performs in Beijing tonight.
Posted in: Music