The walking Irish musical encyclopaedia PJ Curtis shared a piece of music from a virtuoso tin whistle player and what struck me was I couldn’t detect the breaths of the player. What a remarkable feat. As I strained to listen closer I could hear little sips of air being taken to top up the breath required to bring the sounds to our ears. The speed of the fingers juxtaposed with the steady breath, as true as any duck swimming madly beneath dark waters, the swift movements of pad pressing on tin easily lifting off after what sounded like the lightest touch.
David Whyte writes “Good poetry begins with the lightest touch” and good sound begins in way too, with grace and a gentle ease that may well camouflage a flurry of fast and furious emotions. From the simplicity of the tin whistle to the complexity of the uillean pipes, for the wisp of a breeze to the wild wind on The Burren, this land of my ancestors knows how to be with air.
Ireland knows how to tame air and how to be tamed by it, to love it and to be held by it. The breath of God receiving the invitation of every reed to co-create sound. There is no need to do anything but to feel Her breath and to breathe deeply and often and to keep topping up with sips. I have taken a big breath and breathed deeply. I have been breathed on and joined my breaths with others to make a collective sound of breathlessness in awe and wonder of getting to the top of John O’Donohue‘s land, I have listened and been part of audience participation in Size2Shoes original composition of “You leave me Breathless” (a song of love not endurance after a workout!).
When a musician plays a slow Air it seems to be a wistful lyrical style, giving us all a rest from the jigs and reels of the session. The Air works as a salve to soothe the soul, a mixture of lulling you to sleep and waking you up from a dream, and also to help you catch your breath before you jump up for another dance. And the Air I heard Michael “Blackie” OConnell play on the Uilleann pipes in Cottage 7, Ballyvaughan, was as haunting and restful as any I have ever heard.
Hildegard your enduring mantra, to be a feather on the breath of God, was around every corner in Ireland. Feathers appeared, where my feet trod on the cobblestone streets of Ennis, on the ridge at Fort Lor, in the alley of Galway, in the graveyard at Ballyvaughan and in front of the entrance to Glenstal Abbey, I knew you were constantly present. Consistently you were inviting me to be a feather; to have a light touch, to help give flight, to join with others to create a wing to soar, to enter into the reminder that a single feather is of something much bigger than itself.
The elemental nature of air has conversational properties of epic proportions, from invitations of rest, being at my back to push me uphill, to offering me resistance to build resilience and to co-create beautiful music and words using my own body is a reed. Ireland has been my breath of fresh air, filling my lungs so I am ready to take little sips when I need to for my ongoing and life long pilgrimage.
With good humour and joy You leave me breathless.