Lynn Gleason believes that without Irish choir Anuna, there might be no Celtic Thunder or Celtic Woman. Here Lynn explains how she first started following the choir and why it means so much to her.
Writing this piece has been particularly difficult for me. Anuna was the original vocal group that performed in Riverdance back in the mid 1990s. This how I discovered Anuna. At that time, I had been performing in various choirs for about 6 years. Prior to that, I had been trained by my mother who was also a choral singer. I have a very bad habit of losing people when I talk about Anuna because I tend to slip back into my training and forget that not everyone has had the same training or experience. I apologize in advance.
The story of Anuna began in Dublin in 1987 with Michael McGlynn and a few friends. My journey as a fan (read Anunaphile) began in Beverly, Massachusetts in 1996 with myself and my friends. We had all seen Riverdance on PBS and (all of us being in the school choir) instantly decided that we wanted to do something like that. We even started our own group which kind of ended up being a precursor to Celtic Woman. (That’s right…we did it first and Celtic Woman has Anuna DNA.) This is the power Anuna has. How they do it is hard to put in to words, but I will do my best.
For myself, the strongest attraction to Anuna was not just that they were a choir, but they were an Irish choir. I mean truly Irish in their sound and identity. There had been choirs from Ireland who sang mostly the traditional Continental European fare or poorly arranged versions of standards like Danny Boy or Galway Bay. No one sang in Irish Gaelic or sang anything that predated the Gregorian period. This, to me, is the most unique feature about Anuna and the reason that I am as passionate about them as I am.
My own Irish heritage has always been so important to me and I knew, through reading the history and the mythology, that there was more to Ireland’s history and identity than the Potato Famine and the Troubles.
I feel that Anuna’s music breathes new life back into the ancient soul of Ireland. Michael has taken a number of pre-Christian and early Christian texts and written the most magnificent settings for them. (Anyone who knows jewels knows that the setting is the key to the sparkle.) He has written a couple of settings for poems by the pre-Christian Irish poet/bard Amergin Glungel. Invocation of Ireland (on which Michael sings lead) and Wind on Sea (traditionally known as The Song of Amergin and sung by Michael’s twin brother and co-director, John) are so powerful in their execution that the listener truly does find themselves transported to another land in another time. Amergin’s words with their powerful imagery and Anuna’s living spirit combine to give these pieces a sound and feel that is at once fresh and unimaginably ancient.
My favorite early Christian selection from Anuna has to be Michael’s arrangement of the Gregorian piece Media Vita. The song may be a standard in the traditional Gregorian repertoire, but this arrangement is neither traditional nor standard. The archetypal homo-phonic Gregorian sound is only occasionally employed in this piece. The rest is just pure Anuna. The layers of melodies and harmonies that Michael weaves into all of his work really make even the most somber traditional pieces come to life. In the case of Media Vita, he had to tinker because there are no female voices in Gregorian chant nor are there harmonies. It is those haunting harmonies and counter melodies that are the hallmark of the Anuna sound.
Not to be ignored, of course, are the contributions of John McGlynn. He originally joined the group as Production Designer. While he is still primarily responsible for the look of the choir from performance attire to lighting to the publicity photos and cover designs, he has added another element to the group’s sound.
John brought a folk element in when he joined that has become an integral part of the Anuna identity. John and Michael have written arrangements for traditional Irish songs like Siuil A Ruin as well as the John Denver classic Annie’s Song, both of which where feature in Anuna’s first PBS special Celtic Origins in 2007. (They are also on the companion CD.) John is also a singer/songwriter and has shared some of his own work with Anuna. Songs like If All She Has Is You, In Your Eyes and Swimming in the Barrow were all performed on the 2007 US tour and John’s song The Fisher King is possibly the most haunting track on Anuna’s Deep Dead Blue.
It is clear that my passion runs deep. I am hooked on Anuna. I am at the point where I am pushing Anuna to teenagers. I am a menace to choral societies! Jokes aside, they are truly spectacular. Anuna has done so much for choral music and for Irish music. Like I said, without them, there would not be Celtic Woman, and maybe not even Celtic Thunder. (Psst…their Dulaman is just Anuna’s version slowed down.) When you think about how many lives have been touched by these two groups, these are lives that have been touched by Anuna as well, however indirectly. I think it is time they got the credit that is due to them.
In closing, I want to thank Pat for giving me the opportunity to share this with the readers of Irish Music Forever. I would also like to very publicly congratulate Anuna on 25 years of breaking boundaries and changing all the rules. May you have many more years to come! And to the readers, if you would like to know more, you can visit Anuna at www.anuna.ie or Like them on Facebook.