Composer tries to convey sense of wonder in new piece written for Pipes of Christmas shows

cormac de barra, pipes of christmas

Harp player Cormac de Barra has written a new composition, “Beautiful Things,” that will be performed at this year’s “Pipes of Christmas” concerts in Summit and New York.

An annual tradition since 1999, the Pipes of Christmas concert offers a uplifting way to celebrate the holiday, with beloved, traditional and often majestic songs played on bagpipes (and other instruments as well), plus readings from Celtic literature. This year’s shows will be at the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York, Dec. 16 at 2 p.m., and the Central Presbyterian Church in Summit, Dec. 17 at 2 and 7 p.m. (For a chance to win two tickets to the 7 p.m. Dec. 17 show, send an email to njartscontest@gmail.com by midnight Dec. 13, with the word “Pipes” in the subject line.)

The Pipes program stays largely the same from year to year, but a new addition this year will the premiere of “Beautiful Things,” written by harpist Cormac de Barra to commemorate John Curry’s 1879 vision of the Virgin Mary at the Knock Parish Church in Knock, Ireland. Pipes of Christmas organizer Bob Currie, of Summit, commissioned the work after seeing de Barra, a Dublin native who is still based there, perform with singer Moya Brennan in New York. Currie contacted de Barra through a mutual friend.

“When Bob explained his historical family connection was County Mayo in the west of Ireland, it intrigued me a lot,” said de Barra in an email interview. “He also explained that he wanted to commission a song about the Vision of the Virgin Mary at Knock Shrine in 1879 as seen through the eyes of youngest witness to the Vision, five-year-old John Curry.

“Ihad been to Knock on many occasions with my family when I was young. My great uncle composed a Mass in the Irish language which we sang at the Basilica in Knock more than once, so I was honoured to carry on the tradition and write a new piece to be performed this year (and hopefully again).”

JOHN CURRY

Curry died in 1943 at the age of 68 and was buried in a Long Island cemetery, but this year, his body was disinterred and honored with reinterment in the cemetery of the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in downtown New York. Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan celebrated his requiem Mass.

“Beautiful Things” features harp, most prominently, though there are alsoflute, violin and cello parts. It lasts about five minutes. De Barra, who will not be able to attend the New York and Summit concerts, said his musical inspiration for the piece was “firstly, the many sacred hymns that have been written in the Gaelic language in honour of Mary — most specifically, the ones I grew up singing.

“I took this as my starting point. I wanted to remain true to the tradition but add something of my own to it.

“Secondly, I wanted to hint at the vision being seen through the eyes of a child and I feel that sense of wonder is better captured through a playful, joyous tune.
Consequently, I have two sections in the piece. The apparition itself being in the style of the ancient hymns and then the piece develops as the young boy, John Curry, sees the vision through his own eyes.”

Featured “Pipes of Christmas” performers will include actors James Robinson and Andrew Weir from the movie “Braveheart”; New England fiddle champion Paul Woodiel; “Riverdance” piper Christopher Layer; guitarist Steve Gibb; cellist Sarah Hewitt-Roth; Scottish Country Dance aficionado Susie Petrov; the Solid Brass ensemble; Scottish Gaelic Mod champion harpist Jennifer Port; and the Kevin Ray Blandford Memorial Pipe Band of Redlands, Calif.

The 2 p.m. shows in New York and Summit are sold out, but tickets are still available for the 7 p.m. show in Summit. Proceeds go to a variety of music and music scholarship programs. Visitpipesofchristmas.com.

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