Over the winter break, I had the great pleasure of visiting family and old friends at home in Donegal in the northwest of Ireland. Sometimes I get a little sheepish when people ask me what Donegal is like – it is all too easy to slip into clichés. I was thinking about this as I was taking the bus from Dublin airport to Donegal. As the bus worked its way around twists and turns on the final stretch home, it passed a rugged patchwork of fields outlined with low stone walls with cows happily munching on tufts of grass as light mist drifted down. Suddenly, a break in the trees revealed a greyblue lake, perfectly mirroring the surrounding hills and there it was - a rainbow, literally a rainbow - forming faintly beyond the mountain. It was a lost cause - there really is no place like home.
This year, my trip happened to coincide with the Apple Hill Playing for Peace workshop in Donegal. As well as hosting a summer chamber music festival in New Hampshire (which numerous CMW students have attended over the years through the Fred Kelley Scholarship), Apple Hill also has an innovative international touring program which you can read more about here. I was fortunate enough to grow up attending these workshops and was thrilled to have the chance to catch the final days of the workshop this year. I arrived just in time to hear the Apple Hill String Quartet play a wondrous concert and the next day, joined one of the student chamber groups for the final participant concert. With inspiring musicmaking, dear friends, infinite cups of tea and a bounty of mince pies on hand, it was the perfect beginning to the week.
I also combined my Donegal visit with my practice retreat – a wonderful feature of the Community MusicWorks calendar which enables resident musicians to spend a week deepening their practice. It often means getting a headstart on repertoire for upcoming concerts and also typically involves work on a specific project. Inspired by CMW’s Bach to the Future concert, I took the opportunity to develop some ideas for Bach performances in Donegal during the summer. My research involved visiting a number of local churches which house some of the finest examples of Irish stained glass art in the country. While I had been aware of these windows long time, it was eye-opening to finally see them in person. I hope to share an update once the project has evolved a little more but for now, here are some of my favorite examples:
After a lovely, cosy Christmas and New Year with my family, I am back in Providence and excited for new adventures at Community MusicWorks. The only problem is that I forgot to restock my supply of Irish tea - I may need to summon help from some friends at home…
- Ealaín McMullin, Fellow