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Music as activism & finding the music within - Ruth McDonnell (Bright Way Podcasts)

bright way podcasts Apr 21, 2021

Ruth has played harp most of her life, and connects her music with current events - for example, playing “The Parting of Friends” outside the British Embassy in Dublin on the eve of Brexit​. This keeps Ruth’s motivation strong, and is one of the reasons she doesn’t experience performance anxiety​. Ruth is clear on her “why,” so her mission to share is a desire, not fear-inducing. Meanwhile, Ruth is also diving deeper into her own creative process and finding herself composing​ for the first time! Come join this dynamic conversation on staying connected to both your inner and outer inspirations so that your artistic voice is a full expression of your true self.

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Hello, Ruth MacDonald. Hello, Diana fellow Irish woman. Lovely to connect with you. Where are you? I'm in cork, which is done in the suburbs of kind of Ireland. I'm originally from Dublin, which I moved here about 30 years ago to take up a job at the local university. Yeah. And you had a great career there. I had a lovely career.

My career was in meat DMP, or I was head of media and pure and your interest to college cork. And I loved it part of my job. And particularly when social media came in, you know, I would could commission kind of music and poetry. And I loved that part of the job. And I regulated that when we had like Prince Charles came to visit the university in 2017,

I commissioned to Harpists a very talented Harp was graduate of the university doctor<inaudible> to write Plan state Prince Charles, which he duly did. And we made a lovely video, which we put out on social media. And then he actually played for the Prince when he arrived and the, and who, and the Prince was presented with the lovely, lovely leather-bound thing of the music manuscript off the music written down.

Now I knew myself that that music would go into a vault someplace that they don't keep them. So I got in touch then afterwards, a bunch of months afterwards, I thought, I guess in touch with the princess Harpists the Prince has his own harvest. Well, she always has a Welsh Harpists. So I got in touch with pockets of the time and kind of asked her if she'd got the music and she hadn't of course.

So I sent her the music and I love to talk that maybe I should have very formal, official engagements that she would be there playing plants, do Prince Charles. That's so beautiful. So Mo putting together music and social commentary in a way, social bringing together. And in fact, you had a wonderful event where you went to the British embassy with your Harp.

Would you tell us all those rice? Yeah, well, I was very dismayed when I heard that the UK was going to leave the European union. I suppose I can remember the seventies when we all joined Ireland and Britain joined at the same time. And I mean, the EU, certainly it was fantastic far for Ireland, not just terms of the economic support,

but in terms of defining ourselves as kind of a nation that we were no longer under their influence with us, we were true Europeans. And I suppose the whole notion of the European union, I already think it's great collaboration into dependence. No more Wars on European kind of territory. I really believe in that. I mean, I think it should be spread.

It shouldn't be the European union. It should be world union. So I knew that in Britain leaving that it could set a bad precedent, not just for them, but for other countries, maybe in Eastern Europe, just kind of working so strong in their democracy and we're veering a bit to the right. And I also knew that our Ireland and I mean,

the British didn't seem to consider this, but that Ireland would suffering, honestly, economically we're quite tied into the British economy, even for it, excuse me, cashing our goods across to Europe, go across Britain. So I was very dismayed and I talk on rather than, you know, go on Twitter and whatever, and Facebook that I would sort of do my loan event,

that I would go to the British embassy in Dublin and sit there and play a piece. So I played the parting of companions, which is kind of a 17th century. Lovely, very playing to fair. And what was really interesting, I was doing it just to make a point and because I, my background is in media, I'd let the media know and you know,

the television and all the newspaper. So it was great. Media coverage was really where I really says the sense of community that you talk so much about was that after that, on the weekend I was playing, I think on a Friday and one of my friends in Dublin, he was celebrating his 60th birthday and he's German. So he had people coming from all over Europe and he also had,

he'd spent some time in Berkeley, actually at the university. His wife had been working in the chaplaincy there. So there were Americans where people from BARR as well, and they wanted to be part of it. My original vision was me. So little kind of there, this lone woman, but it changed into something completely different. And my friend and,

you know, one of my friends, she wrote a haiku performed on the occasion and my German friend signed the part on the side and he sang an Irish song anyway, and his name, I just don't recall it. And the Americans there all were there and delighted to be there. And when we went to the party afterwards, it was kind of over a weekend.

I was really touched. The people were delighted. I mean, I felt, Oh, I must do something. And I know, but I had got cold feet at times. I thought, Oh, what am I doing? Am I not, you know, paying my Harp outside the MC how crazy is, it's sort of caught people's imagination. And I think at the party,

you know, there were people all over the Irish people living in the UK and us and grew up there and they were saying they were delighted that I had done something a bit sort of different, and that somebody had kind of, you know, rather than just taking to anger and pressure that they had expressed themselves maybe in a more creative way. So I really got that sense of the power of community and how one person in connecting with us and even doing it can kind of invigorated,

I suppose, everybody didn't give, I suppose the bit of encouragement to others. So I was delighted. And I remember YouTube speaking to you, actually, your phone call about your week, I think beforehand. And I was very, I was doing about the whole thing and you encouraged me as well. And it was that kind of encouragement because I've had one or two of these ideas in the past.

And like that I get an idea. I go too far, but I, then I suppose I get cold feet, I suppose that's an unnatural thing. And I need the support actually. I think most people do to say no roots, go for it, do it. Yeah. It's a great idea. And two gives me courage. So I was delighted,

of course, in the end that I did do it Such a great example of so many beautiful things. Yes. I definitely believe all of us need community. All of us need that kind of encouragement because we do have little fears here and there that, that actually may hold us back when it's in fact a great cause I love that you were leading the community from a positive place.

You were leaving it with art. And the other part is you really are such a marvelous example of art as cultural diplomacy. So there's a whole genre of diplomacy that is art as the way to connect with other people, to communicate with other people, to collaborate with other people. And you're a shining example of that. Yeah. And just to have capital hall event was interesting.

And they, I had gotten in touch with my counterpart as a Bright, the pro of it at the embassy and had dealings with her when Prince Charles came, because she says she invited me. She came out that and bought me out a cup of tea and some biscuits. She had invited me in, but seeing that there was quite a gang around,

they were in such pain and pleasure. I said, I suppose I should stay with them when they turned up, which you brought me out, I love your cup of tea and biscuits and stage run. So there was all of that too. So it was, yeah, it was great. Oh wow. When we connect with people through our art,

I think we connect through the heart and that is a direct connection and bypasses all the arguments about who's right. Who's wrong, this that the other. And we get right back to true connection. And from there we can work again. But if we get stuck in these kind of heady arguments of right and wrong, they could go on absolutely forever. And we've seen that happen with Jenny,

thank you for what you do. And the other part that I wanted to talk about was you mentioned the haiku and you tell me something very interesting about you starting to compose. Now, could you tell me a little bit about that? Was it the same haiku? No, who's a different, well, what happened when I got to a certain stage in your course where we were looking at courts?

I said, yes, let me try this out. And even though I've been playing the Harp for 50 years and you know, at the very start when the first year or so I use to and create things on the Harp. And then I, for some reason I completely stopped until about a month ago and I started to play around and then it was a friend's birthday.

One of the friends who have been at the British embassy and she's into, she writes, I cook. So I thought for me practically, I thought, surely I can manage 17 notes. Cause the haikus of 17 syllables, I think getting them. So I did it and I made a video of it and I send it up to her and she was very touched,

you know, kind of with it, with the high coop. So what I've found and just before that, I'd been playing around with the course. And since then after I won a few more pieces for Valentine's day, and I'm now working on a slightly longer piece with my Harp teacher in Ireland. So I write out the metal a and you know,

and do some of the left-hand and she helps me visually, we review it. So I have a bit more work to do, and I'm absolutely loving it. And I think what I've got from sort of from the Bright Knowledge and that is that, you know, I don't worry, even though I know lots of professional musicians and things like that, I don't worry,

is this good? Is it bad? That's not a consideration. This is an expression of something deep within me. And I'm intrigued at the process better. You know, something comes out as I kind of think, I used to think of composition that people would sit down with the manuscript and there would be very much a head think what I'm finding is that it's much more a gosh.

And sometimes if I haven't practiced the Harp, I might on my way to bed say, I just go in for 10 minutes. And kind of when I say doodle, kind of just see what comes and I find that's actually quite a fertile time actually, that seems to come. And I think it's partly maybe because I have no expectation of anything I'm just relaxed and at ease.

And it's a lovely place to be in. I presume if you're a professional composer, there'd be more pressure. But for me, I'm finding this really exciting. Oh, that's thrilling to hear. I truly believe we have the music and Citus already. It's all there. And it's just a question of letting it come out. And that's not always such an easy thing to know how to do a lot of it does involve as you say,

sidestepping judgment, because the judgment part is this good. Is it bad? Those are kind of show-stoppers, you know, cause we say, Oh, it's bad. Ah, you know, we usually then we'll walk away, but we could use discernment. We could say instead, Oh, this part isn't working. I wonder what would make it work?

And I know that's how you approach things instead. Yes. I mean, there's a craft, I suppose, an expression of something within you. And then there's the craft kind of, of, you know, there are things to be learned. So I suppose that's the process that I'm going through and I'm loving that. And what I'm finding very interesting is that a lot of the music that's coming out of me,

it's kind of, you know, pay toss. I found, I didn't want denting happy in the key of G or whichever I was a truck Practice instinct to fate, to the Dorian mode and you know, and everything that's come out. Like it's quite, my husband says it's quite revealing. And even for myself, and I think actually what the music does though,

it's a very deep level. It does allow me to maybe express something that doesn't otherwise get expressed if there is paid pulse. And if it's sad, it's a way of processing emotions. So, you know, it's taken me in, I was in a slightly different thing, I suppose, a lot of the music before be external focused and maybe playing a concert or doing this,

our thoughts. Whereas now it's very just at the triangle, it's very much internally maybe expressing, helping me get in touch with what's ever in me that I'm even unaware of and expressing that. And it may maybe resolving whatever, if there are still there's stuff there. So it's like a bit of for myself, you know, and, and I, I'm just loving us and we've become more ourselves when we integrate,

like when we integrate all those parts of ourselves, see those parts of ourselves, we're just more us, which is a great thing. Yes. You appreciate how you are honoring your artistic style. You're noticing, Oh, how, how curious that I'm drawn towards these darker sounds where melancholy or introspective and that's what I'm going to do. That is my voice.

That's what comes out and you're really, you really are honoring that. Well, you know, dad, I'm almost, I would say ashamed to say, it's only since I have kind of joined up with you that I have discovered that was one of the revelations of, you know, the Bright Harpists Knowledge is that, you know, I've been playing pieces that other people like to hear.

I always worked on the assumption, particularly coming, maybe from Ireland, I've worked as a college student and been rotted castles, these medieval banquets. So I've done that and I've always assumed that's what people want to hear. They probably to push it. It has never been what I've been interested in. And it's only really now at the very start of my career.

My teacher used to have me Learning very Motrin, kind of contemporary music that I loved. It wasn't previous, all traditional Irish music. But once I got to a certain stage once really I left and I found that I was playing like for the castles kind of, you know, sort of Irish, traditional music. So it's only when I got onto your,

during your course that I realized, you know, it's that you say you should really play the music that you love. You should express that rather than what you think. And I realized that for many years, for most of the years gone by, I haven't been playing the music that I like. I've been playing music that I think people expect to hear like Carolyn does all fabulous music,

but not really not what interests me really are air excites me. So it's only in the last year or two that I've really said no more. I only learn music that I really liked. And I sure I'm now beginning to write some of my music and I'm loving that sort of process too. Yes, I am so excited to hear about your composition.

That is just thrilling to me that you've started taking that on. And I love what you said earlier before we started recording. When you said, you know, I've been looking for the music that I really love really, really, and you really love. And I realized that music is inside me. Yes. Yeah. Yeah. Well, I've been looking for that sort of emotional connection and that my very simple notes,

you know, it's very simple what I've done, but that speaks to me in any way that most of the music out there, you know, hasn't so I'm man does lots of lovely music that I, you know, I am learning and that there's, you know, from different people and which I love that sort of mode and music. And I love that with drone music too,

you know, all the Balkan kind of music they have are written in a, some sort of mode. I'm not quite sure like that. And also in Israeli and a lot of the Arabic music, they have that don't, they end up, it's very appealing, just like a lot of Irish music, of course it's Moodle as well. But I had called the yeah.

Kind of in book, it's kind of, you know, the pathos, the melancholy. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. In fact, it's interesting listening to very early recordings of Irish fiddle from, I think the twenties and thirties even, and they were very deliberately using quarter tones for sure. Deliberately going and vocalists do that all the time, ill and pipes hanging out zone constantly.

And so yeah, things are not as cut and dried as, as they're often presented to be. And I think ultimately why we want all these devices is we want to express the full complexity of our feelings. And so we try to find these ways to do it. And if that's quarter tones and odd signatures, whatever it happens to be, we have to find that thing that does ring true to us.

And it really sounds like you're getting ever, ever closer to that. Oh, that's me. That's my son. That's so thrilling. I love is I have a way to go, but you know, to find that part Had never struck me before, you know, so I'm delighted. So, you know, yeah. Thrilling, thrilling. So I always love to ask a couple of questions of my podcast guests.

And one of those questions is what is one myth that you find is prevalent about creativity in general? What is something that people tend to think about or to say about creativity? And you're kind of like, Oh, I don't think that's really true. Well, I suppose the way people may be defined that your creative or your knowledge, your, you know,

your eyes are an account to the jar of musicians. And I don't think that's, so I think everybody has creativity with them and it's a questioning, I suppose, of listening and finding it like this friend who writes the haikus, she's, she's an academic and sort of, you know, she'd love to be into music, but she's not good. She's very good at cooking.

You know, she's a great cook. So our creativity comes with our cooking. So there's so many different just like their multiple intelligences, so many different ways of being creative. And as I say, even doing the most simple things, whatever, you know, around the place, I suppose it's partying with intention and, you know, deep listening as you'd say,

but you know, it's an approach I suppose, to the matter on hand in some ways. So I don't think there isn't, even though the general relation goals, you're an actor or an artist or whatever, you're creative, but if there's scope there for everybody to be creative, I love what you're saying. You actually answered my second question. My second question,

if there was one thing that you want people to know about creativity right now, what would it be? And I think it's very similar to what you just said. Yes, well that everybody is creative within them. And it's just finding the best method of expression for them, whatever that might be for somebody to do the Harp or music cooking or whatever it could be,

you know, cleaning the windows, whichever, you know, making cartons, whatever know multiple ways. Yeah. Yeah. And, and you really stoke your flame several ways. One way is your social activism, really artistic activism where you're connecting your art to real life right now. And real things, important things. And having a community around that inspiring and community around that,

being inspired by community around that. And the other part is really tapping deeper and deeper into your artistic voice and noticing what is it that I love and going for that playing in those Modes without judging, you know, who's the audience going to be blood. It doesn't matter. It's that confidence of following through on your artistic voice. And that's what I'm doing now.

And, and it's great. And it's completely sort of an internal process. I don't care. I don't necessarily Plan formers anywhere I may or may not look, that's not,<inaudible>, she's just the pure creative she's finding that voice. And that's wonderful too. And I think you had that in some reason, a discussion in your concert yesterday. Yes.

And you know, there are times I suppose, to be externally and focused, but there are times when you just Batten down the hatches as it were and go inwards and kind of stay troll that space, whatever. And however, maybe, you know, I'm a newbie at this and I liked that. I'd been kind to myself, I'd say, let's see,

right. This takes, let's learn more about doing it. And in fact, I remember ages ago, I think I'd come across in the trainings, you know, analyzing music, you know, and I told her, well, I have all of the school, one of the great ways to kind of bring myself up to speed as it were. And without having to sit down and look at theory,

things is to actually do, as you suggested to get of pieces of music I have and see what have they done, what chords they used, how have they gone from one house, they developed a melody line, all of that sort of stuff. It's all there. All I have to do. And I'm kind of excited about that to kind of sit down and,

you know, pick up a few trips and just see kind of thing, what people do, you know? So that's where I'm now. Exactly. Oh, so fun. I learned so much from studying scores of other composers and picking and choosing what I like out of it and making it yeah, That's right. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Oh,

well, so much to look forward to in the future. So much that you're doing right now. That's absolutely amazing. It's really inspiring to talk with you Ruth. Thank you, Diana. And that's the say, thank you for the wonderful trainings, because as I say, after all these years and playing the Harp, I'm really, it's just, you know,

Stephanie in a completely different path and it's much more satisfying as a musician, you know, and I would pick and choose whatever public performances are, whatever I have in Ireland. Now they have a national salmon day as, as you know, the famine in the 1840s, you know, the population was halved many arrived in the States. And of course,

Joe, Joe Biden is descended from Irish ancestry, but we have a national famine day in may. And I'm thinking not this vape, cause we COVID have things shut down, but that I might do something for the following year. And my, my father lived on a farm down in Dingle, a lovely part of the Southwest of Ireland. And he lived in his parents' fault.

They kind of be the agent of the Lord fender. You had to land or to big landlord in England, a lot of the time. So he'd leave his estate and that hands off as agent and they're in the 1980s. So my grandparents bullshit in 1920, the agent fed off to engender and Ireland became independent, which anyway, this is a long way of saying that in the 1980s,

when my uncle and my cousin were doing some work around the farm, they filed, they filed all these Cockle shells underneath the paving. And there were wondering<inaudible> through the sea. And then they later filed a huge big cauldron, like kind of, you know, lady Macbeth that kind of, you know, which is called rum. And they realized,

of course it was going back to famine times when people were starving, whatever that they use up fish chef come from shells, you know, and shell fish in this big culture to feed the locals. So I thought maybe I might go down to my uncle's farm where my dad grew up my late father and go down and either my own composition or something else,

you know, maybe play and connect with my cousin and just get, you know, get in touch with all of that. Oh my goodness. All, all your stuff coming together, your creative, your community, your activism awareness. Thank you. Oh, beautiful. Well, thank you for spending this time with me. Thank you for staying up so late.

Pleasure. My pleasure. Thank you, indeed. I can't wait to just hear all of your stuff all over again and then all the new stuff as well. Okay. Thanks for your time.


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