The Book of Secrets, Loreena McKennitt

Posted by AJ Harbison at 4:24 am

Among the smaller of the many benefits of marriage I’m enjoying is access to my wife’s music collection. This past week I’ve been listening to a CD of hers entitled The Book of Secrets, by Canadian songstress Loreena McKennitt. I posted a tweet on my Twitter page about listening to her music on Sunday night, although I misspelled her first name; I classified her style as “traditional Irish music with a New Agish twist.” McKennitt’s website describes her music as “eclectic Celtic,” while her Wikipedia article notes that her music “has generally been classified as World / Celtic music even though it contains aspects and characteristics of music from around the globe and is sometimes classified as Folk music in record stores.”

I’ve enjoyed the CD a great deal this week. The Celtic influence is certainly the strongest, yielding such things as traditional Irish instruments like the fiddle, pennywhistle and ethnic percussion, and songs that are often in natural minor (e.g. D natural minor: D, E, F, G, A, B-flat, C-natural, D). There is also Middle Eastern influence in some of the rhythms and other stringed instruments. But she also uses synths and atmospherics to lend her music a timeless, mystical feel. There are plenty of people who create hacked Celtic music nowadays, but McKennitt stands above the fray with a high-quality and eminently listenable product. I’ve noticed that a lot of the music on The Book of Secrets is pretty repetitious–a progression and melody line will often repeat four times without any variation–but that also adds somewhat to the mystical quality of the music.

Apparently, McKennitt is self-managed, self-produced, and the head of her own record label (called Quinlan Road) which has released all twelve of her albums (The Book of Secrets falls right in the middle of her discography, released in 1997). She’s written original music for several Shakespeare productions in Canada, as well as contributing songs to Hollywood feature films (Highlander III and The Santa Clause) and TV soundtracks (TNT’s miniseries The Mists Of Avalon, Due South, and Northern Exposure). A pretty impressive CV.

Eleanor has several other McKennitt CDs in her collection, besides The Book of Secrets. I have a feeling I’ll be checking them out soon.


"Haydn Go Seek"

Posted by AJ Harbison at 5:35 am

I was reminded again by this article a few days ago that the bicentennial of Franz Josef Haydn’s death is coming up this May–he died May 31st, 1809. (The article, written by Fred Sanders, appeared on Scriptorium Daily, the blog of Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute.) The best line from the article: “Start listening now so you’ll be ready for the big Haydn go seek party.” Sanders mentions that Haydn’s oratorio The Creation was the first piece of music to be studied as a text in the Torrey program and goes on to describe how the students study and analyze it. (My younger brother is a current Torrey student; I wonder if he’s gotten to that point of the curriculum yet?)

The article got me thinking about how little of Haydn’s music I know. Much of his work falls into the movement of Classical composition known as “Böoring” to modern listeners; but I decided that as a composer myself, I should at least make the acquaintance of some of his greater pieces.

So I shall set myself this goal: listen to three major Haydn works, at least twice apiece, during the month of April. One of them will be The Creation, since I was so inspired by Sanders’ article. Now I set you, my loyal readers, this goal: suggest for me what the other two works should be–and/or recommend recordings of those or of The Creation that you particularly enjoy. I know that many of my readers may not have a lot of experience in Haydn’s music; but maybe you can do some research on your own! So, dear readers, bring on your suggestions, and I’ll write about ‘em here in a later post!


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