THE STORY OF THE
PILGRIM - SHAUN DAVEY
the following, Shaun gives his own insight into The Pilgrim story as portrayed
in the most recent live performances, on a track by track basis.
The Pilgrim story is not so much told as suggested. It is suggested by
the combination of;-
A musical performances by a range of vocal and instrumental
soloists representing the different Celtic regions, orchestra, pipeband
and choir, each of whom in turn takes the audience on a journey across
the seas and lands of the Celtic world. A musical pilgrimage in effect.
- A 'narrator' who reads/recites translations of poetry from early medieval
Irish literature, specifically chosen from poems ascribed to St. Colm
Cille, [known in Scotland as St. Columba] or relating to other early
medieval Celtic saints known to have travelled from one Celtic region
to another. The narrator's role is intended to both link and explain
the musical progression, but not to dominate it.
THE PILGRIM STORY
||1] The Battle of Cul Dremne; - instrumental - bagpipers,
wardrums and orchestra.
A bloody 6th cent. battle in Ireland , held by some historians to
have been provoked by Colm Cille, whose subsequent remorse, [or perhaps
compulsion by others], led to his exile in Scotland. The music builds
on this sense, pipers and percussion playing largely in opposition
to the orchestra. Out of this harsh musical struggle the piece concludes
with a form of bagpipes and orchestral fanfare at which point we should
become aware of the presence of narrator and solo harpist, who enter
as fugitives from a war zone. It is rare for a pipeband to share the
same stage as an orchestra; that they do so in 'The Pilgrim' is an
intended social point as well as practical necessity, for if pipeband
and orchestra are separated by too great a distance they will not
be able to play together with any precision.
||2] Colm Cille's Exile part 1; narrator and solo harp.
Speaking in English [or the language of the audience], the narrator
reveals himself as Colm, a prince of the royal family of O'Neill,
now forced into exile for his involvement in precipitating the terrible
battle. He identifies himself as someone who has since then travelled
as a pilgrim, both in penance and as a pioneer in the spreading of
Christianity, who looks back now on his life from the perspective
of the island of Iona and old age, with the wish that he could travel
home to 'fair Derry with its host of white angels from one end to
||3] Gair na Gairbe; - song in old Irish - male vocal soloist,
uilleann pipes, harmony vocals, choir and orchestra.
The song title translates as 'The sound of the [river] Corrib'. The
singer represents the young Colm Cille, with a picture of an idyllic,
comfortable and safe life as a student in a monastic settlement beside
an estuary. He describes the wildlife - stags and birds - always returning
to the image of waters perpetually advancing and receding up and down
the estuary and their power to mesmerise, impairing his concentration
in prayer and which continually remind him of the existence of a wider
world. The song ends with the entry of the choir and a prophetic prayer
for protection amidst the fury of storms.
||4] The Trotting Pilgrim; - instrumental - uilleann pipes
Here, and for the time being, the pipes portray a world of comfort,
well-being and good humour.
||5] Colm Cille's Exile part 2; - narrator and solo harp.
Still in his place of exile, still as an old man, Colm Cille extolls
the virtues of the people and land to the West [i.e. Ireland] and
either with tongue in cheek - or perhaps with genuine loss of equanimity
- conveys his contempt for the peoples and lands to the East [i.e.
continental Europe]. He continues with the translation of verses from
the song from his youth we have just heard and, as he does so, appears
to grow younger. He returns once again to images of the freshwater
river wrestling with the saltwaters of the floodtide, and to his failure
to attend to his duties as he stands, captivated, at the estuary's
mouth 'where it meets the sea'.
||6] A Walk in the Ocean; - instrumental - uilleann pipes and
A restless solo uilleann pipes passage, joined increasingly by the
orchestra, builds to a climax where the intention is to portray a
wild seascape with serried ranks of massive waves advancing majestically
across an ocean. A world Colm Cille the exile, is about to face.
||7] The Pilgrim; - narrator and solo harp.
The narrator speaks as his younger self at the moment when he stands
on the shore preparing - actually literally daring himself - to forgo
the comforts of sheltered monastic life in order to submit to a life
of certain hardship and danger 'upon the wild sea.' He lists the accustomed
pleasures he must leave behind, and focusses instead on the fearsome
ordeal that lies ahead. Resolved, he prays for Christ's protection.
Despite the fact that many flesh-and-blood 'saints' travelled known
sea trading routes, all 6th-century sea travel involved unpredictability
and real peril. This afforded real opportunities for pilgrim saints
to go into the wilderness in emulation of Christ, maybe to spend time
as a hermit in some remote spot, perhaps to found a monastery, or
maybe face martyrdom. On the one hand it was an opportunity to prove
their physical courage, on the other a chance -possibly a terminal
one - to demonstrate their spiritual faith in Christ's presence and
their acceptance of his wishes, no matter how disadvantageous to themselves.
And this, really, for our pilgrim is the crux; - the tougher things
are the better he will be able to demonstrate his faith.
||8] The Pilgrim; - song in old Irish - male vocal soloist,
uilleann pipes, synthesiser.
The song expresses the moment of choice after which there can be no
turning back; the triumph of a spirit of faith and daring and the
decision to voyage into the unknown. Here, between the preceding narrative
and this song, vocalist and narrator merge into one identity, both
expressing the same motives and resolve, each reinforcing the other.
||9] Colm Cille's Farewell to Ireland; - narrator, solo harp
Colm Cille, once more given form by the narrator, is now far out to
sea, mid - channel in his 'humming currach', between the North coast
of Ireland and the Western Isles of Scotland. He examines his feelings
as he watches his homeland dip below the horizon. Turning, he identifies
the isle of Iona as his destination. He prepares himself for the ordeal
||10] Land of the Picts; - instrumental - pipeband solo.
The music is an aggressive tune, originally designed to be played
while marching, demonstrative of a formidable culture. The impact
of the pipeband, here complete with drum corps, is immense, and of
course, represents our arrival in Scotland.
||11] Iona; - instrumental - bagpipes solo with orchestra.
A lone bagpiper plays The Pilgrim air with orchestral accompaniment.
It loosely portrays Colm Cille's arrival at Iona and his involvement
with the monastic settlement on the island, his new spiritual home.
||12] Briochan and Colomba; - instrumental - pipeband and orchestra.
Colm Cille, known in Scotland as St. Colomba, was successful in his
mission to bring Christianity from Ireland to Scotland. But in order
to do so he had first to dislodge the Pictish Druids from their position
of supremacy. Legend has it that Columba discredited the senior Druid,
Briochan, in a duel of 'magic'. On the day Christian magic was perceived
to have the edge over the [hitherto apparently satisfactory] 'pagan'
magic which involved worship of natural phenomena, sun, moon, stars
etc. Early Christianity absorbed many of the conventions of the earlier
||13] Storm at Sea; - narrator and solo harp.
An early medieval poem describing the power of the wind over the sea,
a geographic, birdseye, description of the winds blowing from either
side of the Irish sea, north to the Isle of Skye or from the south
over the 'land of the saxons', and the creation of wild beauty as
the winds rise to gale force.
||14] Storm at Sea; - song in old Irish - male vocal soloist
The above set to music in which the singer acts as the god of winds,
summoning the storm. Through a tremendous orchestral crescendo he
calls for God's protection from the tempest. This song is placed here
to represent the Isle of Mann.
||15] The Irish Sea; - instrumental - solo harp, uilleann pipes,
whistle and orchestra.
A haunting and serene passage designed both to represent our passage
down the Irish sea towards Wales, and as a prelude to the next episode.
||16] Ymadawiad Arthur ['The Death of Arthur']; - narrator.
The narrator relates the epic tale of King Arthur's death on the battlefield
at Camlan, the last battle fought by Arthur at the head of the Christian
Celtic armies against the pagan continental invaders [Vandals, Goths
etc.]. According to legend Arthur was roughly contemporary with Colm
Cille and, as a Celtic hero is celebrated equally in the lowlands
of Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany.
||17] Ymadawiad Arthur; - song in Welsh - choir, uilleann pipes
The first of two songs specially written for choir, both in a Celtic
language, and both preceded by a reading in English by the narrator.
This has at its heart King Arthur's dying words 'Be brave, dare to
suffer,' contains his description of the isle of Avalon [paradise]
and the final disappearance of his burial ship in mist.
||18] Samson Peccator Episcopus; - narrator and solo harp.
[In this Latin title Bishop Samson followed the convention of the
time by acknowledging himself to be also a 'sinner']. A contemporary
of Colm Cille and a fellow traveller and founder of monasteries, Samson
was Welsh-born, served as abbot of Howth monastery, spent time as
a hermit in a cave in the Severn Valley, before the episode narrated
here; i.e. his crossing of Cornwall along the famous isthmus route
between Padstow and Fowey. As with the previous song, here the narrator
gives us the English translation of the Celtic lyrics we are about
to hear in the following song. His manner of delivery may imply personal
knowledge of Samson, certainly a sense of appreciation, of kinship.
||19] Samson Peccator Epscopus; - song in old Cornish - choir,
whistles and orchestra.
Unlike Welsh, its close cousin Cornish is now a dead language. However
in sound it seems to have had, as one would expect, close ties with
both Welsh and Breton. Here the lyrics of this song for the choir
takes the form of a snapshot of Bishop Samson in his Irish chariot
as he rides over the back of Cornwall, performing a miracle en route,
cheered by the people, towards Gurnesey and Dol in Brittany, where
he founded his monastery. Like Colm Cille, [and Arthur], Samson's
life provides the context for us to travel from one Celtic region
||20] St. Mathew's Point; - narrator, harps, solo bombarde
Travelling on, the narrator delivers the words of of Bishop Patrick
[not the same as the patron saint of Ireland]. In terms of character
the image and emotion expressed in this poem would have been appreciated
and shared by Colm Cille so no psychological shift is required of
the narrator; we still see him as Colm Cille, now riding the prow
of a well-found sailing vessel. He likens the ships potential to traverse
huge distances to the potential of his book of gospels to spread the
message of christianity....'Speed on my book, an angel go with you....Learn,
my ship, to safely race upon the plains of the ocean'. In this passage
the narrator conveys the fact that at this time, while the rest of
Europe was in chaos [the Dark Ages'], it was in the Celtic world that
Christianity was able to be practised and preserved. This early medieval
poem, composed on behalf of Bishop Patrick, demonstrates how effective
were the Celtic 'saints' of the 6th century in returning Christianity
once again to Europe [the Irish St. Columbanus founded monastic settlements
on the Rhine for example]. This expression of the inexorable onward
movement in the spreading of Christianity provides a powerful moment
to launch a new voice in the concert - the very distinctive Breton
bombarde, in a passage designed to portray the exhilaration of a successful
navigation of the dangerous reefs and rocks which lie off the coast
of NW Brittany.
||21] Danse Plin; - instrumental - bombarde and biniou.
After a lengthy period of full orchestra the concert now depends on
just two musicians, playing bombarde and the smallest member of the
bagpipe family, the Breton biniou. It is an opportunity for something
both intimate and earthy, for a' plin' is the most primitive of Breton
dance steps, thought to have originated with the dual purpose of stamping
on the freshly-harvested corn. Such music is still played at the 'fest-nos'
in Brittany, typically a local village dance.
||22] Bal Plin; - instrumental - bombardes and orchestra;
Typically in Breton tradition an energetic dance is followed by a
slow one. The Bal Plin has a graceful, stately quality. At this point
in the concert there is no story, but the effect of these dances is
celebratory, a relief from the more serious affair of the spreading
of Christianity and the dangers of medieval travel. These dances also,
by contrast celebrate our more normal, entirely 'pagan' urges to dance,
party and procreate.
||23] Danse An Dro; - instrumental - bombardes and orchestra.
The third of the Breton dances, this picks up the tempo again in the
manner of the first, this time with a playful role for the orchestra.
Our rhythm band [featured guitar, bass guitar, percussion and keyboard]
start to kick in. We are about to enter the final quarter of the concert
in which a driving rhythm section plays a central part. Again, no
story as such, more the highest point and conclusion of a party.
||24] Kenavo d'an Naoned ['Farewell to Nantes']; - narrator.
As before, part of the function of the narration is to give the audience
advance understanding of a Celtic language song. These words give
us once more a glimpse of our pilgrim saint, but more distant, seen,
perhaps at dusk, re-embarking on the ebbtide for another sea crossing,
again embracing the perils of the pilgrimage, this time out into the
enormous Bay of Biscay.
||25] Kenavo d'an Naoned; - song in Breton - male vocal soloist,
harmony vocals and orchestra.
After the celebrations in Brittany, this is the only truly sad song
in the whole work; as it should be when the subject, as here, is a
farewell exchanged between people who know that they will never meet
again. Though we, the audience will in fact meet the narrator twice
more before the concert's end, this song is designed and placed to
give a strong intimation of mortality, that all good things and all
good people come to an end, and that all that comes in the meanwhile
is a bonus.
||26] The Pilgrim's Sunrise; - instrumental - gaita [Galician
bagpipes], uilleann pipes, harps and orchestra.
In the sense that a darkness, night, fell in the previous song and,
at the same time a chapter in our 'story' ended, this piece starts
with the lights extremely low and begins the final section of the
concert. It is constructed on the lines of a traditional Galician
'Alborada' ['Sunrise' in Gallego], a music with which Galician gaita
players serenade the dawn while slowly walking around a town or village
on Fiesta day. Our solo piper begins offstage and, as he advances
into the hall, so he brings with him the sunrise, the stage bathed
in warm light that intensifies as the piece develops. He is joined
by uilleann pipes, harps and orchestra; it is time to celebrate once
more. In terms of story, we have arrived in Galicia, the southernmost
part of the Celtic world.
||27] Two Galician Dances; - instrumental - gaita, bombardes,
bagpipes and orchestra.
With this music the concert goes into rhythmic top gear; the gaita
leads first the bombardes and then the pipeband in a statement of
increasingly wild and exultant celebration. With the added weight
of the bagpipes it gains a martial feel and contains a reprise of
Colm Cille's fanfare first heard in the 'Battle of Cul Dremne.' It
is by far the loudest piece in the concert and generally delights
the audience with its abandon. It also provides our male vocalist,
Liam O'Maonlai, with the perfect opportunity to demonstrate his skill
with the bodhran, invariably a strong visual feature of the performance.
These two 'Galician' pieces provide the extended sense of crescendo
and fulfillment that prepares the way for the contrast of what follows.
||28] St. Manchan's Prayer; - narrator and solo harp.
The narrator, still a manifestation of Colm Cille, and still accompanied
by his faithful harpist, describes the building of a monastery in
a wild and secluded place. It represents journey's end. Whether it
is in Galicia, or Scotland, or back in Ireland is not important. The
importance of what the narrator describes is that, to him, the process
of bringing into being such a place represents heaven on earth. We
see Colm Cille finally at peace. As a point of interest, St. Manchan's
church and grave are on the southern tip of the Dingle peninsular,
Co, Kerry. They are situated on a pilgrimage route which terminates
at the top of Mount Brandon, named after the most celebrated of 6th
century seafaring saints, St. Brendan. They also lie just a short
distance from a traditional embarkation point for the most famous
of all pilgrimage destinations, Santiago da Compostella.
||29] The Deer's Cry; song - female vocal soloist, choir and
orchestra. (also known as I Arise Today)
The original old Irish text is also known as St. Patrick's Breastplate
which, for many centuries, has been used as a travelers prayer for
protection. Indeed, in reciting it very much gives the effect of putting
on a suit of armour, piece by piece. With this musical setting the
female solo vocalist, Rita Connolly, onstage but held in reserve for
so long, finally comes into her own, providing , with the choir a
spiritual tour-de-force in which the voice of the individual rings
out in defiance against a world's danger, both natural and man-made.
Had this piece occurred earlier in the sequence it would have appeared
to be a prayer to benefit our journeying saint, Colm Cille. Coming
here, towards the close we, the audience recognise that it is for
us, a prayer for our own protection. The lights begin to dim before
the end, gradually, in simulation of sunset; some light remains on
the female solo vocalist.
||30] A'Ghrian; - Narrator.
A short traditional prayer from the Outer Hebridean isle of Barra,
translated from Scots Gaelic, in which one salutes the sun as it sets
and prays that one may live through the night to see it rise the following
day. It is significant that the prayer addresses both the Christian
God and the 'pagan' sun in almost equal measure.......'I am in hope,
O great and gracious God, that thou will not put out for me the light
of grace, even as thou dost leave me this night.' This has a special
poignancy when spoken by our narrator, Colm Cille, now in the darkness
of night and now, as at the start of the concert, in his old age.
||31] A'Ghrian; - song in Scots Gaelic - female vocal soloist,
pipeband, other soloists, choir and orchestra.
The above words set to music in their original form, with their strong
association with an earlier religion, with its worship of the sun
and careful attention to the natural world. The first 3 verses for
solo female vocal [the soaring voice of Rita Connolly again] are serene;
then, as light begins to return and the sun rises once more, a transformation
occurs with the entry of pipeband, choir and brass section, who invest
a simple melody with a power that is both graceful and assured. The
huge increase in scale is further emphasised by the participation
of all soloists. Once more, the music returns to a mood of celebration;
of life certainly, but more particularly perhaps, of kinship, the
underlying reason for the original commissioning of the music by Lorient
||32] segue coda; - instrumental - The Irish Sea [variation];
everyone. This is a melody we have heard before through the concert,
which reappears after' A'Ghrian' ends, as an unexpected reprise. It
has the effect, initially, of delaying the audience's applause, for
it is evident we have reached the end of the concert. Yet, as it too
builds in momentum and power, it gives the artists a chance to participate
in a less formal manner and make contact with the audience in a shared
celebration of the end of the concert. The combined effect is designed
to produce an emotion as close as possible to celebrations in a football
stadium where the home team has just won. This is important, for while
on the one hand it does tend to reinforce a sense of tribalism, of
more consequence to the general tone of the concert is the underlining
of the fact that 'The Pilgrim is not a 'religious' work. Its impulses
are secular; it aims to commemorate Celtic saints as ordinary people;
the sense of pilgrimage is to do with the journey of the individual,
independent of a particular church; with the passage from birth to
death accompanied equally by the religious and the profane, the Christian
and the pagan.
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