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
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
“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.”