Compánach was sparked by the encyclopedia Companion to Irish Traditional Music which was first published in 1999 to alphabetically document the nature and performance of indigenous Irish music. A totally new edition was issued in 2011, doubled in size with c. 900 pages, and is also an e-book. The Compánach concert is based on its content, taking an A-Z format to illustrate tunes and song drawn from each Irish county, and ancient to modern eras. Over an hour and a half it uses the voices of solo, and unison duet and trio instruments, step dance, song in Irish and English, and large-scale photos to creatively document Irish Traditional music.
The visual motif for the concert is the Companion’s cover image – a profound painting by the Irish artist Daniel Maclise of an 1832 Halloween party in Co. Cork. In vivid colour, this depicts all the elements of Irish music traditions – the piper, fiddler and flute player, the boy with the tambourine, the young learners, the dancers – all performing in an animated community celebration. Present in this image too are symbolically-important figures: one of the earliest folklorists – Thomas Crofton Croker – and an early antiquarian – Fr. Matthew Horgan – both of them contributors to the philosophy which energised the 20th-century revival of Irish Traditional music – of which this concert is the ultimate expression.
Compánach takes all its aesthetic cues from Maclise’s painting by using pipes, fiddle and flute, by opening with music collected by Rev. James Goodman which is likely to have been played on that night in 1832, and by using the power of a visual narrative of c. 800 images rather than spoken commentary to tell the music’s story.
A work in progress, the show has evolved from an educational performance at the Tocane, France summer school in 2012, then it was premiered as a music-photographic concert at the at Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris, and at The Leuven Institute for Ireland, Leuven, Belgium in December, 2013. It had its inaugural Irish performance at Ranelagh Arts Festival, Dublin, September 2014. In 2015, it was performed at Aras Chronáin, Clondalkin and at the From the Mountains to the Sea literary festival at Dún Laoghiare, Co. Dublin in March; at the Séamus Ennis Arts Centre at The Naul, Dublin, and the Duncairn Arts Centre, Belfast in October, and at the William Kennedy Piping Festival, Armagh in November. Refreshed, expanded and updated, it was performed at Brussels Tradfest, Luxembourg Conservatoire of music, Cork Folk Festival and Ennis Tradfest in 2016. Enquiries are welcome.