I AM OF IRELAND / Yeats in Song
“...among the best I’ve heard.”
Andrew McGowan, Founder & President of the
W. B. Yeats Society of New York
William Butler Yeats wrote that he wanted his poetry to be spoken on a stage or sung. Much of his poetry is inherently musical with its hauntingly beautiful words and simple rhyme schemes. I AM OF IRELAND/Yeats in Song is a collection of twenty-four Yeats poems I set to music, a musical celebration of the poet and Ireland. For the past two years a number of legendary and gifted Celtic artists have recorded my settings (or songs) using traditional instruments.
When I was a young boy of eight or nine years old, my father gave me an English literature textbook. The most enchanting words in that book were from the poem, Down by the Salley Gardens, described by Yeats as “an attempt to reconstruct an old song from three lines imperfectly remembered by an old woman in the village of Ballysodare, Sligo, who often sings them to herself.”
Fifty years later, I still found Yeats’s words enchanting. While walking in the woods one day with my black lab, Chloe, I began silently reciting He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, a love poem probably addressed to Maud Gonne, a fierce Irish nationalist and revolutionary. Suddenly a tune came to me, an exciting and pleasant surprise to say the least since my only experience with music is singing and listening. Eventually, I set over a hundred Yeats poems to music, singing each song into a handheld recorder. [To my great horror, I once erased all the songs, but that’s another story. All’s well that ends well.]
I soon discovered soprano Laura Whittenberger and pianist Peyson Moss (both graduates of The Peabody Conservatory) who in February 2016, performed my Yeats tunes at the American Irish Historical Society in New York City. The recital, sponsored by The W. B. Yeats Society of New York, was a success. Who knew that what began as a dog walk on a path in the woods would lead to a concert on Fifth Avenue (across from The Metropolitan Museum of Art!). A CD followed, Words that Sing in the Night, which was released in June 2018.
In early 2019, Paul Marsteller (a music producer) discussed with me the idea of creating a various artists Celtic adaptation of my Yeats songs. One by one, we assembled a stellar cast of notable traditional folk singers and musicians. While many of these artists may be known to you, others will be, perhaps, a happy discovery.
I AM OF IRELAND/Yeats in Song has been a labor of love. Hopefully it will survive as a fitting homage to W. B. Yeats, the man who inspired it.