Over 50 musicians from Mayo are hard at work, putting in the long hours to get ready to take on Broadway next month.
Fáinne Óir is a new musical production composed by Belcarra native Kathy Fahey - which will showcase not only her composing skills but also the musical talents of the Mayo Concert Orchestra, the choral abilities of Voxfusion along with fiddle player David Doocey, uilleann piper Diarmaid Moynihan and flautist Stephen Doherty, with contemporary dance choreographed by Ciara Sexton and narration from Sarah Lafferty.
Fáinne Óir tells the story of an Irish family living in the townland of Glanagweeha in West Mayo during the Famine Years of 1845-1848. Parents Sean and Maire O’Malley and their five daughters Saoirse, Maire, Aine, Nora and Brid, work in community with their neighbours, surviving mainly off the life-giving potato crop.
Fáinne Óir is also a story of young love between Saoirse, the oldest daughter, and farm hand Diarmuid, who works late into the evenings to be with her. The destructive potato blight hits Ireland and the O’Malley smallholding does not escape. Through music and dance, you are taken on a journey as Diarmuid makes a promise to Saoirse that he will protect and love her forever - you are also taken on a sad and tragic journey.
Last week a special preview of some of the musical pieces from Fáinne Óir was held in the Royal Theatre Castlebar - where the show will stage its premier on Friday, September 20 - before the whole show moves stateside to play in the Peter Norton - Symphony Space Theatre on Broadway on Thursday, September 26.
The Mayo Advertiser caught up with composer Kathy Fahy at the preview showing and when asked what was going through her head when she took on such a daunting task she said: "What was going through my head was - I must be nuts...I must be crackers - but I would have never taken it on only for Mike Hannon (co-producer ), so I'm blaming him. He had asked me to get involved in another project that subsequently didn't take place, and we thought - as I have one piece of music done, lets go for it and make something of this."
As for how she came up with the story and built the music around it Fahey explained her process: "I sat down one night to build a story around this piece of music and I did that in about four hours, I had my overview ready with 17 parts in it all titled - but still a lot of blanks to fill in.
"Then I started composing along to each title - I had a little paragraph written on each - and as I was composing I was visualising what would happen, I had the whole thing in my head as to how the story would flow through."
Initially the idea was to record the composition and then bring it on the road as a recorded piece to back the Fáinne Óir dancers - but Fahey then decided she couldn't do it without having the musicians, who have put so much into it, play it live. "What we were going to do originally was to record the music - then take it to America with the dancers and go from there, but then I got this brainwave one night - I'm bringing the orchestra with us - I couldn't possibly do this without them, they have worked so hard - and I suppose that is where it got a little crazy.
"But we're working away - we meet once a week, we don't normally practice during the summer time but we have to with this. We are still in rehearsal, we have just under five weeks until the show comes on and by then we will be spot on."
Getting the music down and having it note perfect is one thing - but packing everyone up and putting the performance on live in New York is another thing altogether. However it is just too good an opportunity to miss, said Fahey. "We have 54 singers and orchestra players getting on the plane on September 25 - they have embraced it from the word go. It is a fantastic opportunity for them too, not just for me. When is an orchestra from the West of Ireland going to get on a Broadway stage? It is great and it's a sign of the talent we have here in Mayo."
While there are vocals in the show, it is not a traditional vocal as you would expect but the contribution of Voxfusion will be a key component of the whole concept and show, Fahey added. "It gels the whole thing, we had the dance and we had the music - what was missing was the vocals and because it is a contemporary show with contemporary dance, it was not appropriate to put words to the music, because you would have to put modern words to an old story, so it is non-verbal music and the oohs and ahhs work very well with it."
As for the dancing side of the show - that is all going on behind the scenes, but Fahey is well on top of what is being put together by Ciara Sexton. "We'll meet the dancers for the first time on September 7, but Ciara Sexton who is the choreographer and lead dancer, she is working away on it, she has done her auditions and she has recordings of the music - so she knows. Anything is possible, myself and Ciara are working together closely behind the scenes and whatever we can do we will do."
Fahey is also immensely proud that she is a female composer and conductor who is taking on a challenge like this, saying: "The other thing we don't look at is female conductors are quite rare, particularly in Ireland, female composer conductors are very rare - it is big for Mayo and not just for me. This is a product of Mayo and I need to prove to the world that we are not quaint and we can do contemporary."