Thursday, February 4, 2010

For a Song: John of Dreams

Mick Moloney with Eugene O‘Donnell: John of Dreams


It must have been 1979. I attended a wonderful concert by Mick Moloney and Eugene O’Donnell. As I recall it now, this was my introduction to Celtic folk music, and what an introduction it was. Moloney plays banjo, guitar, and bouzouki, while O’Donnell is a great fiddler. Both were born in Ireland, and both found their way to Philadelphia where they met. And both, while staying in America, have dedicated themselves to preserving the heritage of Irish music as they learned it. Moloney in particular has done some very interesting projects lately, concerning his heritage and the immigrant experience in America.

But I learned all of that later. In 1979, I only knew that I had found a new (to me) type of music that sang to me. The pair performed both instrumental dance pieces and songs. They had released a pair of albums at that time. Both musicians shared duties on both albums. O’Donnell’s album was entirely instrumental, and a great introduction to jigs and reels and such. Moloney’s album had songs sung by Moloney, alternating with instrumental pieces, but where the fiddle was not necessarily the featured instrument. Both albums were fine documents that helped me recall a great show.

But the songs on Molney’s album struck me particularly. John of Dreams was one of those, a beautiful lullaby. If the melody sounds familiar, it is a folk melody that Tchaikovsky adapted for his Pathatique Symphony. The words are by English folk singer Bill Caddick. But Moloney and O’Donnell make the song sound thoroughly Irish.