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November 27, 2003


Poetry of Grenfell
considered as text for musical composition

Mary McAuliffe
Mary McAuliffe
By Pamela Gill
Mary McAuliffe has a lot of reading to do. The Irish freelance composer, represented by the Contemporary Music Centre in Ireland, is reviewing the work of dozens of Newfoundland poets for a suite she is composing for the Newfoundland Symphony Youth Choir in St. John’s.

“I’m quite sure I will be choosing something from a poet here (at Grenfell),” she said during a recent visit to the Corner Brook campus of Memorial University.

While on campus, Ms. McAuliffe met with Principal and English professor Dr. Adrian Fowler, as well as others from the English faculty, such as Dr. Randy Maggs and Dr. Martin Ware. In addition, she met with music composer and professor of classics Dr. Michael Parker, and Dr. Patrick Monaghan, who is cross-appointed in the disciplines of chemistry and theatre.

The suite is made possible thanks to a scholarship Ms. McAuliffe was awarded by the Ireland-Canada University Foundation. The scholarship criteria requires that she work with a Canadian organization on a musical project of relevance to both Canada and Ireland. She applied for the scholarship with the support of Susan Knight, director of the Newfoundland Youth Symphony Choir, who invited Ms. McAuliffe as an artist in residence.

Her mission was to familiarize herself with the people of a place unknown to her – the place where so many of her countrymen found themselves when forced to leave their beloved Ireland due to famine and other devastations.

“I’m trying to find out all about this place and about the people here – it’s not quite separate from Ireland,” she said.

The theme of emigration is nothing new to Ms. McAuliffe – it has surfaced in her previous works, such as Leaving: a Famine Victim’s Cry of Desolation, which she composed in 1997, and The Wave, composed in 1998. Then there was Return to Old Ireland, based on the writings of Walt Whitman and W.B. Yeats.

“It’s not all doom and gloom – it’s a portrayal of the ethos of the country and the dreams and aspirations of the people of both places,” she said. “People may have had to leave, but there’s also the positive of the new lives they began here.”

She’s contemplating using seven poems for seven different movements within the suite.

“Possibly three poems from Newfoundland, three from Ireland and one that reflects some kind of combination of both,” she said, adding that once again, Yeats will likely play a role in this composition, as well contemporary Irish poets. “The overall criterion is not the poet, but their text, and its musical compatibility. It has to be balanced, with musical contrast, and fit together in a musical framework. But it’s important not to compromise the manner in which the poetry was conceived.”

The youth choir will premier the work in Canada and Ireland – their trip to Ireland has been scheduled for June 2004.

“This will be the most challenging major work to date that I’ve written for a youth choir,” said Ms. McAuliffe. “This is a very comprehensive composition.”


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Next issue: December 11, 2003

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