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  • Writer's pictureKieran O'Hare

Musical Notes: Carrig River

First, the actual liner notes from 'The Joyful Hour':

Track 2. Carrig River Pat learned this beautiful song of Wexford town from his father, Dominick Broaders of Carrig-on-Bannow, County Wexford. It was written by James Nolan and James McGrath in 1890. Pat has made slight alterations to the original lyrics. Thanks to Emmett Gill for the use of his set of uilleann pipes in the key of C on this track. We dedicate this song to Pat’s mother, Mai Broaders, also of Carrig-on-Bannow.

And here are some additional notes from Liz:

When it comes to songs, I am always curious about and interested in the ways in which the individual musical characters of lyrics and of melody and of rhythm interact with one another. When it comes to arranging, I think it is best to work with what is already there both in the music and the words, and also what is implied in the music.

Meters that have three inner beats (like a jig or a waltz) present to the listener an innate rolling feel. In jigs, there is a 1 which keeps you tapping a foot on that downbeat, but there is also another emphasis on the 3, which both pushes the momentum to land on the 1, but also gives you a sense of 2 beats over 3, a 1-3, 1-3, 1-3 feel. Waltzes have this same rolling quality, always bringing you back to the 1, and indeed the dance itself is all about moving and travelling on the 1. In a song, this kind of meter presents an interesting framework over which to drive the rhythm, and also over which to string the lyrics and melody.

For example, in the first verse, Pat sings the words ‘down by Carrig River’ with that feel of 2 over 3. At the same time, the imagery of the river Carrig, and of lyrics like ‘all nature it seems smiling’, or ‘sweet birdsong is singing in the sky’ – all imply a rolling, a moving, a flow that is already there in the music. The introductory ostinato line on the hardanger adds to the rolling effect with something that is not so much a standalone melody as it is quietly repetitive, and that implies and reflects the movement that is there throughout.

My aim was to create a ‘melodic binder’, if you will, that connects the melody of the song and the rhythm implied in both the backing and in Pat’s phrasing.

My inspiration for writing the instrumental break came from simply playing the melody of the song over and over again and seeing where I would ‘go’ from there, and perhaps asking myself, ‘where would this go if it could go?’ The melody of the song has four shorter phrases of eight bars each. The first and last of these phrases resolve harmonically, while the second and third do not. The melody as a whole, however, has this large arc – it’s one long perfectly conceived phrase that is balanced and given solid footing by the resolutions in phrases one and four.

I naturally was drawn to a melody that was more of an answer, or a flat and level plane, for lack of a better way to describe it, on which to set off a restatement of the last phrase of the melody. I was also trying to bring out that 2 over 3 pattern, and Pat went with me here which lifted it all the more. The restatement of the last phrase of the melody is as anthemic as it gets, and the high harmony I wrote for Kieran’s whistle was born out of the idea that yet another anthemic melody laid over top of it, in another register, would elevate the whole even more…

On another note, I will say that Pat has an incredible ability to take a song and learn it inside and out from others’ interpretations, and he’s always very careful to honor and respect ‘the source’. He is very much dedicated to learning the versions that he loves, and he will listen to these tirelessly for all of the details; but he manages, whether consciously or not, to inject a lightness, a certain rhythmic quality, with his bouzouki playing that lifts the song into another realm. It might seem at times that he simply takes certain songs at a slightly higher tempo, but this would be far too simplistic an analysis. It isn't speed for speed's sake, as the lyrics never struggle to be articulated when Pat sings. Rather, he adds a new dimension in very subtle rhythmic ways that continue to honor the lyrics and the melodies of the songs.

One evening at Pat’s house in Chicago, after I had sight-read the melody of ‘Carrig River’ out of a collection of Wexford songs compiled by Paddy Berry, Pat was reminded that his father used to sing this particular song. Other versions we have heard before have had a certain ‘walking’ feel to them, maybe almost a ‘country’ feel. In this case, with Pat’s version of ‘Carrig River’, to watch Pat ‘ingest’ a song in such a holistic way and make it his own is remarkable…

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