From Saturday runs to Olympiad stage

editorial image

Early Saturday morning training sessions with athletes may seem bizarre circumstances in which to find a composer hard at work but that’s exactly where a new choral piece commissed to celebrate the upcoming Olympic Games first burst into life.

Inspired by City of Derry AC Spartans, ‘Number Seven’ is a masque, created by emerging young award-winning choral composer Seán Doherty and celebrated Dublin-born novelist Carlo Gébler. The Verbal Arts Centre in Derry is to showcase the 20 minute-long finished product to celebrate the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and mark the arrival of the Olympic torch in Derry in June.

Seán and Carlo started out on their journey to fuse sports and the arts by making several visits to the Spartans’ Saturday morning training sessions at Gransha. There they were given the opportunity to delve into the thoughts of the club’s master runners, drawing on their experiences of being in competitive race mode and having an unerring will to win.

“We asked loads of questions about racing and the feelings of the competitors before, during and after. We got a great insight,” Seán told the ‘Journal’.

The Spartans were generously welcoming and very forthcoming in their sharing of their experiences as lifelong runners, providing information that was fascinating and stimulating for the artists. The athletes may have found the encounters during their early morning sessions unusual at first, but soon came to enjoy the experience. Secretary Gerry Lynch described the experience as “absolutely spellbinding”.

“The writers have tried to get inside the heads of the runners, and people have really opened up.

“The range of stuff that has come out is absolutely fantastic,” added the veteran runner.

The masque has been written for a soloist and choir.

“The theme of commentating remains central to the entire piece - the choir as chorus commentates externally on the race run by number seven, while the soloist (who can be male or female, soprano or tenor) provides the new and innovative perspective of the thoughts of the runner during an epic struggle to finish the race and triumph. The length of the race is deliberately not specified but the writers believe they have captured the essential experience of every runner who races to win, whether in a 100 metre sprint or in a marathon.

A spokesperson for the Verbal Arts Centre, which is co-ordinating the project, said: “The success of the piece is a measure of the quality of the work of these artists. Carlo Gébler’s text has been honed to a meticulous precision so that every word penetrates and forcefully conveys the passion and intensity of the experience.

Seán Doherty’s music has taken this text and captured the relentless rhythm impelling the runners forward.”

‘Number Seven’ is one of three projects commissioned locally under the Comment-8 programme and co-ordinated by the Verbal Arts Centre in Derry for 2012.

All three projects ( the other two are Irish language play/musical ‘An Capaillín Spágach’ which is based on equestrianism and contemporary music piece ‘Shoot Out’ which is based on football) will be specially performed in the Sports Hall in Magee University on Tuesday, May 29. Comment-8 is funded by Legacy Trust UK, creating a lasting impact from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games by funding ideas and local talent to inspire creativity.

And Seán Doherty, a former pupil of Lumen Christi College, is true example of rising local talent. Before learning classical music, Seán Doherty played traditional fiddle music and as a boy won the Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann All-Ireland Fleadh.

He was taught by such performers as James Byrne, Tommy Peoples, and Buncrana’s Dr Liz Doherty; the latter introducing him to the fiddle music of Shetland, Norway and Nova Scotia.

Though studying classical violin with Michael d’Arcy, Seán felt his interest shift towards choral music, and consequently sang with the Ulster Youth Choir, Codetta Chamber Choir, Emmanuel College Cambridge Chapel Choir, Opera Ireland chorus, and the choir of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. Seán read music at St John’s College, Cambridge.

At Cambridge, he became interested in fifteenth-century manuscripts. This led to his postgraduate proposal to Trinity College, Dublin, where he is currently writing his completing his PhD.