Show Now On!

April 6th - May 19th 2016

APRIL ISSUE: 04/04/16

Michael's Bio When did you start playing music? I started playing the violin at the age of 5. Why did you start playing music? My two older brothers both played the violin, and because they were doing it, our little sister and I wanted to do it too! We have some classic photos of the four of us standing around playing our violins. As my brothers grew older, they took interest in other things and stopped playing, but I continued, and I'm glad I did. What musical instruments do you play? I would consider the violin to be my main instrument, but I also play the viola, guitar, mandolin, piano, and saxophone. I bought an pre-WWII clarinet last year at a garage sale in Seattle, and I'm learning how to play it now. It's a complex instrument, but it's a lot of fun trying to get a decent sound out of it. What do you like about playing an instrument? I like playing an instrument because it's a great way to express myself in a creative way. And after playing an instrument for a long time, it's nice to be so comfortable with it, that it almost feels like an extension of your body. Why do you think it's nice to have live 
music in a show? I think live music brings an energy to a show that is exciting and fresh. When music is created and performed in front of an audience, it's almost like the music is a character in the show. And when an audience can see and hear music performed in front of them, it creates another dimension to the whole experience of going to a show. Which Branar shows have you written music for? How were they different? I've written music for four Branar shows: Clann Lir (the music was co-written with Freda Nic Giolla Chatháin), 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, Spraoi, and currently Maloney's Dream. They were all different. Clann Lir told the story of a loving father searching for his children who had been transformed into swans, so the music was heavy on themes of loss and longing. 'Twas was a joyful Christmas show, so the music was bright and cheery and evoked the familiar themes of the festive season. Spraoi is a story about two boys with no common language who were trying to communicate, so the music had two independent themes that joined into a common theme as the boys bridged the gap between them. Maloney's Dream is a work-in-progress, but there are themes of early 1900s jazz, military percussive elements, and tunes with an Irish traditional flavour. How do you start writing music for a show? At Branar, we have the luxury of spending a lot of time developing a story from square one, and the music also begins at this point. In this way, the story informs the music and the music informs the story, so the music is very much an integral part of the process. Once the story takes shape, I pick out the important themes, and try to write distinct melodies that capture each of these themes, while also keeping a common thread that links these musical pieces together. Then I would focus on individual characters in the story, and try to create a musical theme for each one. I find that when I start writing music for a show, I am filled with so many ideas and I try out as many as I can, but in the end, only a very small percentage of what I came up with stays in the show. How long does it take you to finish a song? When do you know it's finished? It varies…sometimes I can come up with a melody, and then the verses, chorus, and bridge come naturally and almost immediately, and sometimes it takes me ages to move beyond a basic melody. I find that when I'm stuck and don't know where to go next, it's helpful for me to leave the piece of music as it is, in its very basic state, and then revisit it later. I'm a big believer in letting ideas "simmer", and when you come back to an idea with a fresh head, it's easier to see whether the original ideas have potential for growth and development, or if you're better off starting over. Sometimes, it's best to leave a bad idea well alone! As for knowing when a song is finished, I often feel like a song is never finished…it's abandoned. This is not a bad thing…it's just that I feel a song can always be improved, but eventually you have to finish the song when it feels the most complete, and then proceed onto other projects. How does it feel when you're onstage and the cast is playing your songs in front of an audience? It's very fulfilling to write a piece of music that the cast enjoy playing and the audience enjoy listening to. A few times, I have had the pleasure of hearing an audience member humming the tunes after a performance, and it's nice to know my music has made an impact. What's your favourite composer? I like a lot of different composers, from classical composers like Johann Sebastian Bach and Pyotr Illyich Tchaicovsky to modern composers like Ennio Morricone and Max Richter and Randy Newman. I am drawn to the music of film especially, and I am fascinated by how music and visual images work with and against each other. I am also a big fan of a great pop song, or a song with strong storytelling. I am as big a fan of Pharell Williams and Thom Yorke as I am of Bob Dylan and Nick Drake. Do you have a favourite song? I don't have one single favorite song, but I find that I go through phases where I am mesmerised by a certain song for a long period of time and I spend a lot of time trying to deconstruct it and figure out how it was written. I am very interested in arrangements and dynamics…when used well, these two factors can transform an otherwise somewhat mediocre song into something extraordinary. Do you have any advice for anyone who's already a musician or someone who wants to be a musician? If you're already a musician, continue making music and do your best to listen to everything you can. There's a wealth of diversity and richness that opens up to you once you start exploring genres and styles outside your comfort zone. This music may challenge you, but it will only make you a better listener and better performer. For those of you who are considering music as a hobby or career, pick up an instrument and give it a try! It's never too late to start learning an instrument, or take singing lessons, or start studying music theory. Music is a great gift, and it's one of the few things that connects people from all over the world, crossing over barriers of culture, religion, and language. Lastly, as the great keyboardist Viv Savage once said, "Have a good time, all the time."

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