by Deirdre Ní Chinnéide
I sit pen in hand, blank page, writing table at the window, as I gaze at the beauty of the colour and form before me. The sea and the skyline are one today and a soft breeze whips the white waves or ‘capaill bána’, as they are known locally here on Inis Mór, the biggest of the Aran Islands. My mind is blank, except for the awareness that today, I must write an article on creativity. I have been here for four days now and, walking the roads and ruins of the island, I have reflected on my own journey and relationship to creativity, but as the time comes to write, I am fearful that words cannot sufficiently describe the power of that experience. Inis Mór has always been a place of great significance for me, ‘my spirit home’ I call it, a place to leave behind the chaos and business of city life, to still the soul, and return renewed to the mainland. Two years ago, the calling to come to this place was very clear and, leaving behind my job as a psychotherapist, my family and friends, I came to spend five winter months alone, to open to what was to become ‘A journey with and through Sound’.
Working with clients as a psychotherapist with the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre for five years prior to my departure, brought me into contact with some of the most creative people I had ever met in my life. Clients finding the resources within themselves to acknowledge and work through the trauma of abuse, to re-claim the power taken from them, and to look to their future with hope following such darkness, became a symbol for me of the strength of the human spirit in the face of such adversity. Nowhere was this more acutely evident than in the Balkans, when my work with the Rape Crisis Centre offered me the opportunity to travel to Bosnia and Kosovo, following the wars that had occurred in both these countries. I personally struggled and searched for ways to acknowledge what I had witnessed, -to honour the ‘window’ that had been opened to me- and to take some responsibility for the integration of that experience, finding creative ways of expressing the depths of darkness and light I had touched there.
Each day on my return to home base, following the work in local villages, drawing, writing, dancing and sounding became my way of letting go of the horrific images and stories told to me in the course of the work. Bosnia and Kosovo were to become an integral part of further creative expression, as I began to find a voice and music during my time on Inis Mór, that would record in sound the depths of what I had witnessed there. One of the tracks of my CD called ‘Sunda’- ‘Cé Creidfidh an scéal’?- tells the story of a woman we had met in a village called Lybiniq. On the 25th of May during the war in this small village (population 300), 85 of the men and boys were taken from their homes, lined up against a wall and shot. This woman had lost her husband, father and son on that day and I was struck by the feeling of death that remained with her, as she herself had no desire to live following the murder of her loved ones. Composing and writing this music for her has become an opportunity to voice and sound the lament of any woman who has lost a child.
During live concerts as I sing ‘Cé Creidfidh an Scéal’? I am always aware of the power of this piece, as it opens the audience to their own experience of loss and grief. When music has the ability to reach this ‘place beyond words’ within us, it truly then carries within its notes the grace and gift of healing. As part of a closing ceremony to our work in Kosovo, the piece was played to the women of Lybiniq. Not speaking or understanding the lyrics in Irish and English, they listened to the sounds, hearing echoes of the journey they hail made as refugees from their country into neighbouring Montenegro, during the war. The space beyond words, the music between notes, and the silence of the sound, struck a chord with the rhythm of their own hearts, allowing them express what they had heard within and beyond the gateway which this music had opened to them. For both myself and my colleague, music became a healing resource in our facilitation of a group ending, with people who had experienced an inordinate amount of grief and loss.
I had, on many occasions, personally experienced the power of this healing, when I worked on my own issues, as a trainee on a two-year programme, facilitated by Chloe Goodchild, called ‘The Naked Voice’. This work became the beginning of a deep inner exploration of my true voice and silence. I learned and experienced the embodied sound and vibration, which held the very core of who I was and could be! I had always loved to sing, but knew in the songs and the way that I sang that there was something missing, a longing to express the deepest longing that, at times, haunted me, in its insistence that I go deeper still, to open to the gift of my voice, which was becoming bigger than any sound I had expressed in my life to date.
Creativity became a gift over which I had no control. All that was asked of me was that I would clear an inner space to allow this greater gift to arrive. Layers and layers of fears, of shadow, of resistance, were to be met, as I struggled to control all that was happening. Lyrics of a song I wrote called ’Walk me to the Water’ failed to get through the impenetrable wall that stood in my way:
Open to receive, Open to receive,
Open to receive. Open, open, open.
As I struggled to make ‘head sense’ of the process, it was like as if the angel of creativity spoke through my own lyrics, preparing me for the ‘Sunda’ adventure on the island of Inis Mór.
InisWho are you
(excerpt: poetry from ‘Sunda’.)
As the ferry boat bobbed and swayed over the stretch of water that lies between the mainland and Kilronan, the port of Inis Mór, I wondered what lay ahead of me as I arrived with my winter supply of clothes books and music to keep me company in the months ahead. I had already secured a nice cottage as accommodation and, as the boat approached the high wall of the quay, I decided that I would name my project ‘Sunda’, which is the Irish word for the stretch of water between an island and a mainland. Other than having the name of my creative task, the rest was pure mystery!
As soon as I settled in, I felt the importance of putting some form or structure on my day, so that I could, at least, ‘turn up at the page’ on a daily basis. My morning began with meditation, mandala drawing, journalling and long walks on the island. As the days passed, the solitude opened me more and more to the unconscious and at times it was hard to distinguish the subtle difference between dream and reality. I felt more and more opened to my own process and the clearing that took place to make room for the emergence of creativity, was, at times, more challenging than I could ever have imagined. I became familiar with my fears and resistances, and developed ways of staying safe, knowing when to shut down the process, so that I could deal with the ordinary and extraordinary as they presented themselves to me. As the fear of my own creativity subsided, the lyrics, images and poetry wove their way into the canvas that was to become ’Sunda – A Celtic journey of Sound’.
ForgottenHave you forgotten who you are?
But a tragedy of Stone that stands alone.
Thus begins the opening track on the album ‘Sunda’, which expresses the central theme of the project, the need to reconnect with our Celtic roots in times of change. While Ireland now enjoys a material abundance that it has never known before, side by side with this wealth there is a deepening void, a loss of community, a search for meaning and, for many, a fear and intolerance of those seeking refuge among us. I wanted to respond by using a contemporary musical approach, to connect us with themes from our rich Celtic past – themes of life and death, the earth and nature, the savagery of war, the redemption of love and, ultimately the splendour of creation.
The sound of ‘Sunda’ calls us to return to the wisdom of our Celtic ancestors, who believed in the existence of other worlds – realms of the spirit known as the Land of the Sidh. The druid or shaman, could shapeshift and travel to these worlds at will, and return with insight into problems and challenges of everyday life. This musical journey begins in the current reality of present day. To remember and retrieve that which we have lost, the listener is invited on this adventure through the other worlds of the Shaman, the Land of the Dead and the Spirit World.
The haunting sound of ‘Sunda’ – from the land beyond – calls us home, to the journey of our own heart. The most significant part of writing ‘Sunda’ is that I personally have had to experience every step of the journey along the way. ‘Sunda is not merely the product of an active imagination but an embodied journey through different realms of reality, which are available to all of us, if we can only trust the power and divinity of our own creative process. People who have attended the live performances of ‘Sunda’ have spoken about the fact that it is more of an ‘experience’ than a concert and that they have been moved deeply, as they opened to the lyrics, sound, images and poetry that were presented to them.
When I returned to the mainland following my time on the island, the hard work of recording and editing “Sunda” began. A great team of people became involved and the music was produced and arranged by Trevor Knight, while the final product was a successful collaboration of very talented musicians and technicians. Vocally, I was joined by Fionnuala Gill, a dear friend and fellow traveller, and the combination of her soul and sound proved invaluable.
We formed a group called ‘Eala’ (the Irish word for swan) and travelled the country performing ‘Sunda’ at festivals nationwide. The response has been phenomenal and following the official launch of ‘Sunda’ in Dublin last September, there are plans to develop the project into a stage show and to tour the States in the future. On another level, I hope to develop workshops in the autumn, inviting people on this journey, where they can personally open to the sound of ‘Sunda’ and the journey of their own heart. It is my belief that, following the heart, we can nurture a desire for peace not war, and praise not slay creation. In opening to our Celtic past, we stand on the threshold of a new era with the hope of creating a future of connectedness and respect for difference.
This time of transition, this Celtic passage, calls the divided heart home to the depths and beauty of ‘Sunda’.
Take my hand, little one.
Let you walk on the inside.
Saved from that
Which blocks your journey home,
Good house of hope.
Deirdre Ní Chinnéide divides her time as a singer performing with ’Sunda’, facilitating sound workshops, and also works part-time as a psychotherapist in the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre – all enquiries in relation to ‘Eala’ performances or information about forthcoming ‘Sunda’ workshops can be sent to email@example.com.