Thoughts on Dancing at Lughnasa

I was standing on a wintry street in Clifden County, Galway, when Noel Pearson phoned and asked if I would be interested in composing the score for Dancing At Lughnasa. "Come to Dublin and see the film," he encouraged. "You won't be able to resist it." I had seen and loved Brian Friel's play several times, and wondered about its transference to the screen. At that first viewing in Ardmore Studios, I was smitten. The play had crossed these potentially hazardous waters magnificently, and I could hardly wait to get to work on the score. There followed an intense period of composition, during which Pat O'Connor visited the studio and listened to my early sketches. He encouraged me to respond to the emotions of the film and in those of the cast. This wasn't difficult. I have seen the film many times now, but there are still parts of it that I cannot look at without feeling strongly moved and affected.

The score is for the most part orchestral and I have tried to be lyrical and melodic, allowing the characters and the narration to lead my writing. The dance sequence, from which the film gets its title, features some newly composed pieces in the style of Irish dance music. The cast had originally danced to a recording of the well-known Irish tune "The Mason's Apron". The challenge was to come up with some new reels, which would build in intensity, and reflect the gathering exuberance of the Mundy sisters as they were transported from their everyday surroundings to a sublime and uncharacteristic loss of control.

The inclusion of WB Yeats' "Down by the Salley Gardens" as the end title music offered me an opportunity to work once again with Delores Keane. Her earthy vocal quality, mixed with the depth of her expression seemed to be a fitting end to this very moving and uplifting film.

Composer Bill Whelan

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