It is not often that one of my favorite genres of music comes with pictures, but in this case, Ilse de Ziah & Maarten Roos
have provided just that in their remarkable documentary film, Living the Tradition, an enchanting journey into old Irish airs
. Ilse de Ziah is a popular cellist, composer, and performer living in County Cork, Ireland. Maarten Roos is a well-known documentary filmmaker. In concert, their talents have produced a ninety-six minute documentary about the pursuit of traditional Irish music. Ilse travels the length and breadth of Ireland to meet up with homegrown talent and kindred spirits that keep the traditions alive and Maarten provides a vivid cinematographic chronology.
Disc 1: The full-length feature film centers on ten Irish aires and the people that perform them. After Ilse meets and confers with the musicians, she performs the air in that locale. Thus, we get the back-story of the music and the flavor of the area in which it is played. With her, Ilse carries her hard cello case and her little wooden stool, and in her pockets are determination and a passion for the truth in the music. I can clearly hear that passion in every performance. As she plays the cello, I could imagine her heart embracing not only the instrument, but also the spirit of the music itself.
Maarten Roos is obviously a detail-oriented cinematographer. He captures the fine expressions of every performance and adds the brightness of the day in which every character becomes a saint. He also films the nuances that make the performance memorable; the grain of the wood on the curve of a harp, the waves of the sea grass and the waves on the sea, and most of all, the stones. The rocky ruins, the wavering walls, and the crosses that make the graveyards sacred.
One of my favorite tracks on Disc 1 is Carrickfergus (The Rock of Fergus). Filmed in Helen’s Bay, Ilse chases the sunrise and, meeting her on even ground, plays a bittersweet tune of yearning called Carrickfergus, a song about a man looking for lost love.
"I wish I was in Carrickfergus, only for nights in Ballygrand.
I would swim over the deepest ocean, the deepest ocean for my love to find,
But the sea is wide and I can't swim over, neither have I wings to fly.
If I could find me a handsome boatman to ferry me over to my love and die."
Filming the performance of the ever-popular tune, Down by the Salley Gardens, Roos captures a rippling pool, turning the performance into a mirrored Monet. Ilse’s rendition is a bit spirited, but she does bring to life all that is hidden within the words of W.B. Yeats’ poem. The song offers the whisper of willow trees and the hope of a newfound love.
The tune Amhrán na Leabhar or Song of the Books became a quick favorite. The tune was a lament over lost objects more precious than gold, but the setting of the graveyard in which Ilse played the tune was quietly beautiful. The Celtic crosses stood like silent monuments as her cello paid homage to life gone by.
Disc 2: Irish Airs for Solo Cello & Performances by other Musicians are vignettes of all the songs brought to life in singular performances. It opens with Cape Clear featuring gorgeous visuals of the rising sun and Ilse playing her cello as a warm morning breeze flows through her hair.
The beginning scene of A Stór Mo Chroí or Treasure of My Heart has a nosegay of purple asters abloom as Ilse and her cello face the sun and greet the day. Waves crash on the black, basalt rocks and wispy clouds bring a pall of darkness in this caoineadh or lament. Penned by Brian na Banban the music carries on about the sadness of leaving home for an unknown land. It might be America or Canada, but it is always far away.
Ilse and Marja Gaynor perform an old tune called Fanny Power. Yes, it would make any eight-year-old giggle, but the story of Fanny Power, a beauty with braided hair and snow white skin, played faster than a waltz, but slower than a dream, is a tune to remember. Thanks be to Turlough O Carolan and Alfred Percival Graves.
Living the Tradition, an enchanting journey into old Irish airs, the 2 Disc Set, is one that you will cherish. Nowhere else can you find the stories of such stirring music told better than by this amazing cellist and this astounding filmmaker. I challenge you find interviews and accompaniment by this illustrious group of artists anywhere else. Living the Tradition has it all. If it were just a music CD I would give it a great score. Since it is two DVDs with incredible visuals and emotional music, I give it my highest recommendation.
Ilse de Ziah & Maarten Roos
Living the Tradition, an enchanting journey into old Irish airs
DVD 2 Disc Set
Ilse de Ziah & Lightcurve Films
The Search for Musical History