Come Away…with story, music and song

Come Away…with story, music and song. CD recording featuring Storyteller Mary Hays and music by Voice Dance. 2011, 60 mins. Order from ($20 Cdn, no GST. $5 shipping& handling).

Mary’s CD arrived on a day when, remarkably, I had no pressing business. So, alone in the house, I poured myself a glass of wine and settled in to enjoy listening. And enjoy it, I did.

A wordless a cappella tune performed by Voice Dance, sets the tone and draws the listener in. How fitting that it should be called Fuer Mutti (For Mom) because, when mary begins, she talks to the listener about how stories are told from one generation to the next, transforming as they are told. The family story of her grandmother, a Scottish immigrant, and her grandfather, a Swedish immigrant, and how they came to homestead in Alberta, and why they came to be living in a chicken coop, provides the frame for the collection of Celtic stories which follow. Perhaps, she says, they heard music of their homelands on the prairie wind as they lived in that coop, and perhaps they told stories. That is when the CD segues from a family story into the folktales which follow.

The stories range from the haunting myth of Oisin and the Land of Youth to the delightfully silly folktale of The Cow on the Roof. Oisin’s story, in particular, has beautiful use of language, not just in its descriptions, but also in the way the king of the Land of Youth speaks, and choice of works for his voice. When Oisin says that he wants to return to Ireland to tell his story so that common folk will know there is hope for the future, whatever their struggle, I couldn’t help but think of Mary’s grandparents and the struggles they had faced, and were facing back in the chicken coop where we had left them.

The myth is followed by an Irish folksong, and the pattern of story followed by music continues through to the end. The other stories which are told include that of the young husband who attempts to tend the house while his wife goes off to take his place in the fields, and a Scottish version of the night flight of a man who discovers the truth about his wife’s powers and the magic in her red pirnie (cap). After the folktales, Mary brings us back to her family and, in the litany of what she has learned from her grandmother, we find out about her grandparents’ lives. I think I would have liked her grandmother. How could you not like a strong woman who knows when to be strong and work hard, but also knows that “a well-dressed lady is a sight to behold!”

The music which comprises roughly a third of the CD is provided by Voice Dance (Lorrie Lipski, Kate Chapman, and Anja Hamel). In addition to the wordless song which opens the recording, there is also an instrumental piece (bodhran, pennywhistle and guitar), some traditional Irish and Scottish folksongs and one sung in Gaelic. The women’s voices are beautiful and, on two of the pieces, are reminiscent of madrigals or perhaps sacred music. My one regret is that in the songs in which there are intricate harmonies it is difficult to understand the words.

It is a pleasure to listen to a recording which takes listeners in hand from the opening bars and carries them artfully through to the end. The framing of the Celtic tales in a family story, the carefully placed music grace notes in the stories of The Red Pirnie and Oisin, the palate cleansing musical interludes, and the carefully chosen language of the stories pay off in a finely crafted recording. With or without a glass of wine, you will enjoy it.

Mary-Eileen McClear

Reviewed appeared first in Le Raconteur Vol 16:02 p.18 Winter 2012

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