Hornplayer extraordinaire David Fitzgerald, leader of lona Dave Bainbridge and Celtic author Canon David Adam have joined forces for THE EYE OF THE EAGLE. Mike Rimmer reports.
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Bainbridge expands, "The quotes that we've used from David Adam's book were specifically chosen, not only because we felt that they communicated the essence of the book's message but also because they suggested to us moods and colours that we felt could be interpreted musically in interesting ways. We wanted to create a setting in which the words would be enhanced. A word can pass by fleetingly, but if the mood or meaning of the word can be transferred to the music, it can be amplified. I wanted to give people longer to be able to understand the words. For this reason there are often long gaps between lines or verses where the music expands on their meaning and then prepares the listener for the next passage. An obvious example is the last track 'A Word Within A World' where the reading 'We need to keep a vision of this other world etc,' which is near the beginning of the piece, is followed by about another five minutes of music which aims to bring people into the presence that David Adam speaks about. Of course we can't actually do that, but we can use the means that God has given us to create an environment in which it might be more likely."
Speaking again of the piece "Fire And Water" Fitzgerald adds, "I see 'Fire And Water' as both a lament (and a cry) from the soul - individual and corporate - and also as being powerfully comforting and reassuring, as God says, "Fear not: for I have redeemed you, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." (Is 46:4)
He continues, "It is my prayer that, through this wonderful project, many shall find comfort and reassurance: that God surely walks through all of life's experience and that He, the Creator of the Universe, is concerned with the most minute detail of every minute of our lives in this world and, more wonderful than this, in the world that is to come."
As for future collaborations between Fitzgerald and Bainbridge? Fitzgerald says, "The pages of the future remain unwritten. God knows his eternal purposes. As Dave Bainbridge said to me the other day, 'The journey is not over yet.'"
Musically, the live event at Norwich Cathedral is in two distinct halves. The first presents a selection of pieces from a variety of sources, including favourite lona tracks, traditional works from church history and modern writings from John Tavener and Henryck Gorecki. The second half is a full presentation of the material from 'The Eye Of The Eagle album, complete with the readings on which the material is based.
Throughout the evening the visual focus is on David Fitzgerald in centre stage, an almost brooding presence around which the music appears to revolve. The lighting is simple but effective, giving the whole event a very classical atmosphere - this is not, as many might have expected, an Iona concert or folk/rock event. The presence of the Choir of St Edmundsbury Cathedral and the use of classical solo voices add to the effect. The visual and musical settings combine to form something almost ethereal at times, with an esoteric appeal that needs to be appreciated at a deeper level than much Christian music.
At one point, in an attempt to get close enough to the stage to take photos without getting in camera shot (the event was being recorded by Anglia TV for broadcast next year), I found myself kneeling on the stone floor, close to one of the enormous pillars supporting the cathedral roof, as the music seemed to wash over me and flow past into the depths of the nave. It felt an entirely appropriate posture; The Eye of the Eagle' is, first and foremost, an expression of worship.
Throughout the evening, the pace of the music varies very little. The interplay between the keyboards (and occasional guitar) of Dave Bainbridge and Tim Oliver forms the backdrop to the virtuosity of David Fitzgerald on a variety of wind instruments, with the soloists and choir picking out themes and motifs that enhance the feeling of something sacred. In the second half, the sampled voice of Maire Brennan and the spoken readings over sequenced backings gives some parts a rather Enya-esque feel, while others have the simplicity of purely acoustic guitar and wind. But, despite the use of modern technology, the overall effect remains firmly within the tradition of historic church music - I came away with the feeling that this is the kind of music the composers of the past might have written, if only they had had access to our technology and systems.
This continuity means that the event works together as a whole, despite featuring pieces from very different sources. In fact, this wholeness is one of the most memorable aspects of the event - writing this, four days later, I find it difficult to recall some of the individual songs and themes, but the memory of sights, sounds and the atmosphere is vivid. Moments that do stand out are the incredible, haunting rendition of Gorecki's "Amen" by the choir, and the final, climactic track, "A World Within", which combines all the instruments and voices previously used, including a magnificent contribution from the cathedral organ. The first half includes some familiar items by lona and David Fitzgerald, two of which ("lona" and "Here I Stand") cause a moment's disorientation as you get used to hearing them sung by someone who isn't Joanne Hogg!
'The Eye of the Eagle1 isn't going to appeal to everybody and if you
like your music to feature lots of rhythm and percussion then this
isn't for you. But, if you take The Eye Of The Eagle' for what it sets
out to be, then you won't be let down. Overall, this is one of the
most unique musical experiences I have had the privilege to
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