Conductor and producer Róisín Blunnie introduces the new album Ghost Songs, a unique collaboration of leading voices in poetry, drama, and contemporary music from Ireland, performing with mixed chamber choir the Laetare Vocal Ensemble.

For me as a choral conductor, the interaction of music and words is a subject of endless interest and analysis. These two arts can stand independently, but when they combine and act upon one another, their essence can change to create a new entity, like an alchemy that is forever open to interpretation and re-imagination.

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Listen: Ghost Songs - Paula Meehan reads her poem The Solace of Artemis

This relationship is at the heart of my new mixed-genre album Ghost Songs: Contemporary Music and Words from Ireland. As the producer of this album, my goal was to bring together compelling voices from Irish literature and combine them with exciting Irish choral music, performed by my choir, Laetare Vocal Ensemble, to create an absorbing experience for listeners.

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Listen: Ghost Songs - Carl Corcoran reading Lola Ridge's poem The Destroyer

Two events provided inspiration and momentum in bringing the album from the initial idea to its release: Dublin's Bealtaine Age and Opportunity Festival, where Laetare Vocal Ensemble premiered two pieces by Derry-born composer Seán Doherty, setting words by Paula Meehan, who read each poem immediately before its choral performance; and the Anam Arts Festival at Dublin City University, where again Paula Meehan recited her work before Laetare’s performances, Marina Carr read powerfully from her plays, and where I first encountered the magical bilingual collaborations of poet Dairena Ní Chinnéide and harpist and traditional singer Síle Denvir.

I see sketches of islands

half revealed

like deities

in a haze

From Ní Chinnéide’s opening words, my hope for Ghost Songs was that it would take the listener through the earthly and the otherworldly, the liminal and the ethereal, through encounters and vistas, real and imagined, in Ireland and beyond.

The Laetare Vocal Ensemble

The album is built around nine choral pieces, by contemporary Irish composers Seán Doherty, Rhona Clarke, and Michael Holohan. Each piece is preceded by the poem on which it is based, and these are interspersed with thematically resonant readings by Paula Meehan, Dairena Ní Chinnéide, and Marina Carr.

Poet Paula Meehan features on Ghost Stories

Broadcaster Carl Corcoran reads texts by poets unknown or no longer living, including W. B. Yeats and Irish-American modernist Lola Ridge, while Dairena Ní Chinnéide also lends her voice, and her dialect, to the words of fellow Irish-language poet Seán Ó Ríordáin.

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Listen: Ghost Songs - Dairena Ní Chinnéide and Síle Denvir perform Numinosity

When inviting the performers to be part of the Ghost Songs project, I suggested a number of themes I had in mind to run through the album – ghostliness, memory, the boundaries of living and dead, mysterious encounters – and left it to each contributor to select pieces from their own body of work based on their individual interpretation of the brief.

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Listen to Ghost Songs: Contemporary Music and Words from Ireland, via Spotify

It was important for me that each person had autonomy over their own contribution to Ghost Songs. I then invited visual artist Marie Hanlon, whose work I have long admired, to bring her unique vision to the project by designing a cover image that would reflect the album’s themes and evoke a sense of the layers of interpretation held within. Her artwork ‘All These Others’, represented the final step in the process of weaving together the collaborative fabric of Ghost Songs: Contemporary Music and Words from Ireland.

Listen to Ghost Songs: Contemporary Music and Words from Ireland is available now - find out more here.