In this program featuring songs and stories of Turlough O’Carolan, we showcase many of his compositions. Turlough O’Carolan was a blind Irish harper who lived in the 17th century. Blinded by smallpox at the age of eighteen, and showing a great aptitude for music, was given horses and a servant and went on the road with his harp. Many of his pieces were a dedication, or “planxty” (a gaelic term meaning “in praise of”) to people he met in his travels.
Informational Concert: 45-50 minutes
This concert is an expose of a man who gave us approximately 1700 of the most wonderful musical pieces the world has ever heard. Still played & heard in the present day, they have withstood the test of time. Our presentation includes numerous musical examples of O’Carolan’s gift for capturing a person’s life experiences and personality with melody, harmony, rhythms, feels, modulation, tempos, form construction and more.
We explain what personal connection the subject of each composition had with O’Carolan. Following the story of his life chronologically, we will use musical compositions as examples of his experiences throughout his life. We play the music on cello, flute, pennywhistle & other instruments that would likely have been used during the time O’Carolan lived.
Here are a few examples from our presentation, “Songs and Stories of Turlough O’Carolan.” Each composition will be introduced with a story from O’Carolan’s life that inspired the composition.
- Planxty Nancy MacDermott — Nancy was the wife of one of the owners of the MacDermott-Roe Ironworks, one of the main employers in the late 1600’s in Ireland. She took an interest in O’Carolan’s education after he was stricken blind as a young lad. She was the one that helped him by giving him a harp, harp lessons and composition lessons. She also provided him with a guide and horses for his travels.
- Sheebeg, Sheemore — Known to be O’Carolan’s first composition, this captures the story of the hostilities betwixt two local fairy courts, one on the hill of Sheebeg (the little fairy hill) and Sheemore (the big fairy hill). The bones of Fionn Mac Cumhail (a legendary celtic hero) are believed to be buried under a mound on Sheebeg. It has a beautiful, flowing melody.
- Planxty Lord Inchiquin — Composed in honor of the fourth Earl of Inchiquin of Drumoland castle, in county Clare. This piece has a strong, forthright flavor, showing Inchiquin to have been a good, fair leader.
- Planxty Fanny Po’er — Fanny was the daughter of another one of O’Carolan’s benefactors, Mrs. O’Conor. This delightful melody was composed for her on the eve of her wedding. What a happy occasion it must have been!
- Carolan’s Concerto — Written as a contest piece. Some say that the Italian violinist/composer Geminiani sent it to O’Carolan with purposeful subtle flaws. The Italians were considered the greatest composers and virtuosos in the world at that time. O’Carolan corrected the mistakes and sent it back to Geminiani, causing Geminiani to declare that O’Carolan was a “musical genius.” This demonstrated that O’Carolan’s masterful compositional skills equalled any trained classical italian composers of his day. The style of this piece is very much like a typical, classical concerto. O’Carolan dedicated this piece to his now-married friend, Fanny Po’er, so it also became known as Planxty Mrs. Po’er of Coorheen.
- Carolan’s Farewell — The last piece he composed. Carolan made his way to the home of Mrs. MacDermott, his loyal friend, feeling that he was dying. He arrived at the estate, and calling for his harp, played this beautiful, sad air. He then retired to his bed, where he died a few days later. The year was 1738.
Curriculum Links: Music, World Cultures, History
Grades: K-12 (content geared to level of students)
Audience Size: Any
Special Requirements: Access to Electric
Study Guide available upon request. Discussion & writing ideas, pre-performance activities, post-performance activities.
“This delightful program exposed the students to new vocabulary, melodies, and gave them insight to a composer’s life.”
(Centre Elementary School)
“An excellent way to bridge the gap between the arts and other subject areas.” (Teacher, West Branch Elementary)
“The performers were exceptional and geared the performance to the students’ level.” (Teacher, West Branch Elementary)
Partial list of places presenting “Songs & Stories of Turlough O’Carolan”
- Centre Elementary School
- Lititz Public Library
- Osceola Mills Public Library
- Park Elementary
- Price Elementary
- Taylor Elementary
- West Branch Elementary
Other Educational Programs available: