Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Music of Joyce

James Joyce's first dream was to be a professional singer, but after he placed second to the legendary tenor John McCormack in a school singing competition, he chose instead to focus on his writing. I like to think of the student Joyce mooning around Dublin, dreaming of being a famous singer while writing essays about Ibsen. He was not a man for whom second best was an option. He certainly draws from his musical training in his writing, however. The soprano Molly Bloom, with her gasping career and annual public performance, has as much in common with Joyce the singer as she does with his wife Nora Barnacle.

Readers often remark upon the musicality of his text and how it is infinitely more accessible once read aloud, not unlike the difference between hearing music and looking at a score. The Sirens episode of Ulysses is among his most musical and includes several musicians in repose including the sopranos, Miss Douce and Miss Kennedy, Molly's singing partner and lover: Blazes Boylan, Stephen Dedalus' father Simon, who was a great singer until his alcoholism destroyed his talent, Ben Dollard and several others. The chapter opens with list of sounds and phrases, the tap, tap of a blind man's cane, the impertinent snort of a bootboy, the shrill giggles of the sopranos, our hero's farts. It is an overture, whose excerpts are heard in context throughout the following pages. There is even a short musical score within the episode. Last year, Janet Coleman and David Dozer performed the overture followed by Aaron Beall, Tara Bahna James and Nicole Wiesner in a raucous scene from Sirens. Tara Bahna James also sung the traditional Irish revolutionary song The Night that Larry was Stretched.

In addition to presenting great artists interpreting Ulysses, every year we highlight different musicians, some Irish classics like the music of John McCormack, The Pogues and U2 as well as some completely new contemporary acts. When we recorded the great music lover Garrison Keillor last month he turned us on to the late singer Frank Harte (left), whom he performed with when he did A Prairie Home Companion in Dublin. We will be including some of Harte's songs in the broadcast this year.

We are also really excited to be playing for the first time on American radio the music of the fantastic new ensemble out of Dublin,
Tarab. Their Arabic name refers to state of ecstasy one enters into as a listener and their members hail from Italy as well as Ireland. Tarab brings together traditional Irish music with Jazz and Moroccan influences to create a completely original sound. The group is only a few months old and already receiving rave reviews. Bloom fantasizes throughout the novel about the Far East and Tarab's music is the perfect accompaniment echoing Joyce's deeply Irish but truly international exotic imagination. In a four starred review in The Irish Times, a reviewer writes "Not perhaps since Andy Irvine’s celebrated East Wind in 1992 has there been such a convincing reorientation of the Irish tradition." You can watch them perform live in the video above but dont forget to tune in to Radio Bloomsday on Thursday, June 16 from 7pm to 2am to hear Frank Harte, Tarab, Garrison Keillor, Alec Baldwin, Jim Fletcher and more!

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