Little did I know that when I crossed that bone-chilling jetway onto my EI 137 in Boston heading for Dublin in January of 2017 that I would be repeating that same journey a year and a half later. As a very active singer who evolved into a music major, I have always found myself joining a choir or taking part in music workshops and classes. So, within a week of settling into my new home of Cork City, Ireland, I had started my classes, joined the University College Cork Choral Society, an Irish traditional dance class, a small sean-nós (or Irish traditional singing) class, and a sean-nós singing workshop with the world famous Irish singer Karan Casey.
From these experiences, I would learn how to dance a jig and hornpipe, sing many sean-nós songs in both English and Irish Gaeilge, travel to Budapest, Hungary, to participate in an international choral competition, and, most importantly meet the people who would change my life, not only when I was in Cork the first time, but those who would inspire me to return after I finished my degree here at St. Lawrence.
As I have been writing, I realize that I have been talking about this mysterious thing called “sean-nós,” literally meaning “old-style” in Irish Gaeilge, but there is much more to it than that. Iarla Ó Lionaird, a renowned sean-nós singer, says, “it [sean-nós] is an approach” and “treated as a sacred cow and white elephant;” because, in the end, it can be defined, but it can never be perfected in the way other forms of music can, because it is different every time. Sean-nós pulls me in because of its rawness and earthiness which have the ability to connect with the people of yesterday and today. Not one performance of a song is the same, because each person’s experiences shape the words, notes, and passion that is heard and felt through it.
Before I decided to apply and then was accepted into the Master of Arts in Ethnomusicology program at University College Cork beginning in the Fall of 2018, I returned from Cork in May 2017 raring to head back on up to Canton for my Summer University Research Fellow Project with David Henderson, ethnomusicologist, professor of music, and the person who showed me what it is like to become passionate towards a certain music, people, and place, academically. Prior to my departure to Cork, I applied to the St. Lawrence University Fellowship Program to do a project on Irish traditional music that summer. The culmination of my summer research fellowship was a recital of sean-nós music on Family Weekend 2017. I was able to perform with many talented professors, community professors, and even my mother. When I applied, I was very excited at the prospect of this opportunity upon my return from studying abroad, but I had no idea that it would inspire me to apply to graduate school back in Ireland!
I have always loved learning, but I told myself I would never study music. I would always tell my music teacher mother, “I don’t want to study music because so many people tell me I should and I think it will ruin the fun of it.” Through St. Lawrence, Dr. Henderson, my mother, and the experiences and people in Cork, I have learned that studying music, especially sean-nós, allows me to live what I love. Excitement does not even begin to describe how I feel about returning to Cork, and I cannot wait to share with St. Lawrence my future projects and endeavours.
I leave you now with a verse from one of my favorite sean-nós songs, A stór mo chroí (The love of my heart):
A stór mo chroí when the evening mist
Over mountain and sea is falling
Oh turn a stór and then you list
And maybe you will hear me calling
For the sound of a voice you will surely miss
Somebody speedily returning
A rune a rune won't you come back soon
To the one that will always love you