Clare Byrne - Music & Dance

IN MY BODY a lifelong dancer, choreographer, and performance experimenter. A close partner with sound, silence, and word.  IN MY MIND a writer, a new songwriter. All my effort and ear is bent, twanged toward overlapping arcs of listening and creating. The songs: others, mine, mine, others. I’m taught by them.  IN MY HANDS instruments, new crafts to navigate, maps to decipher, landscapes and laboratories of unending allure and resonance. New loves, old loves. I’ve been dancing to them since day one. Now a new, brave, bewildered musician. I’m going deeper in.

  • causeways of the mind

    Venice is approached by water.

    To get there, dive deep into that great lagoon late at night. Like you are an outrageous heron with long golden beak, insouciant toss of head, glossy oiled streaming feathers, wetly dark with glints of amber and jade. Nose under and past all the slumbering pilings, lapping murk. Emerge deep in the interior along the Grand Canal. Climb up the wet glistening launch into one of the great palaces, wiped and abandoned, saved of all memory but for apparitions wisping in stripped leggings and capes, off to duels and operas in nearby cerebrums.

    Make a nest of antique rags in a corner – a real safe place – with the sound of the night water lapping the marble moorings, light flickering in from street lamps on stone, marble, faded abstracted frescos, and the slow sinking of the house and the city becalming you. Later, slip back into the black water, and swim out past the last lobes and bridges. Move out onto the great lagoon. Find the edges of the lagoon. Go beyond.

  • high and low

    I’m hiking on Via Serra di Musanego, in the Apennines, looking west at sunset, through an olive tree, out at the North Mediterranean, and thinking of something Annie D. says:

    “I have always been sympathetic with the early notion of a divine power that exists in a particular place, or that travels about over the face of the earth as a man might wander – and when he is ‘there’ he is surely not here.” – Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

    A fine collection of literary and musical loves present or conjured up here in my last week in residence at the Bogliasco Foundation: Annie Dillard and her quintessential pilgrimage –  also C. S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia, also Joan Armatrading, Rush (listening to 2112 in particular), Pink Floyd, Dar Williams, and various incarnations of Bob Dylan and Nina Simone. Divine powers indeed. And the land itself and the sea itself here which I move up, down, and into so urgently in my creative wanderings – resonates in my work. I want to get high, high up in the mountains, and down low, low toward those wild dark waves. I want to get as high and as low as I can get.

    C. S. Lewis’ characters cry, in the last battle “Further in, further up!”

    There is, truly, urgency like that, in all of us, I believe, and most of the time we don’t know how to handle it, what to do with it. But the spirit wont to pour, and pour, and pour – like the waves crashing over the incredibly particular and individual formations of rock here on the Ligurian coastline. It lathers over us rocks like a good scrubbing, unchecked emotion over our textured bodies, Bailey’s over ice. Spring is here in Bogliasco already. I set off for a week of travel – Venice, Assisi, Florence – then home to Vermont.

  • Over the moon

    My trip with Stefan to the west side of Ireland was: too short, just right, scantily prepared, charmingly improvised, and luny. When we headed over toward the west from Cork –  Stefan handling the whole other-side driving situation, manual car to boot, with aplomb – we stopped in Macroom for a farmers’ market. A lovely young woman selling olives strongly suggested we not skip West Cork. We bought a mass of extraordinary olives from her, most of which were sadly left in the rental car when we returned it ad hoc and haste the last day. I hope someone ate them. So, we didn’t go right to Killarney National Park as loosely planned, but detoured south to the Beara Peninsula and ended that rainy weekday night in Kenmore where we found ourselves passing the night most hospitably at Crowley’s Pub. Peter Crowley found out I was working on some songs, went upstairs to get his guitar, handed it to me and said, play something if you want. We passed around the guitar for the rest of the evening. That was really fun.

    I knew the ocean coast would be beautiful. But I was stunned by the high lunar landscapes just inland. The size and depth and height and width of Ireland –  how does such a small island do it? Especially the depths – Ireland is deep, deep, deep. Plummeting mountains, ridges, cliffs sans trees –  a new experience for forest-clad Vermonters. Breathlessly low down in those deep valleys – houses perched like the sheep and goats. We even saw one unicorn eating an apple from a tree. Really.

    The next night, in Dingle, we stumbled on another cold rainy weekday night into John Benny’s Pub where we were rewarded with such luck to hear Eilis KennedyGerry O’Beirne, and John Benny play a couple hours of traditional, folk/pop music (they tore apart Joni Mitchell’s Carey like a blazing brushfire). I was amazed by all of them but particularly inspired to hear Gerry O’Berne on guitar. The brilliance and inventiveness and breadth of his artistry on that instrument.  I listened with ears and mouth open: pure musical nutrition.

    Now I’m into my first week in Italy, settling into a new rhythm of Mediterranean waves. More song-writing rolling in.

  • Live in Killeagh

    Well, for three weeks, I’ve been able to say “I live in Killeagh” too – all because of Jessica Bonenfant Coogan and her husband Hughie Coogan who are launching Greywood Arts, a new multi-disciplinary artist residency center in the village Killeagh, near Cork in Ireland. So thrilled to see this massive longterm project of theirs take flight.

    I’m a bit reluctant to leave Greywood and Ireland  –  but I hope to come back soon! What a lovely and productive time it has been. Killeagh is a small village; the Greywood residency house is right on the Main Street, so as I worked up in the third floor studio I could look out and see the Dissour River flow by next to the house; watch the weather (always changing! a bit cold for February, too, though cherry blossoms were out), passersby on the street, and churchgoers of St. John and Virgules Catholic Church just across the intersection. Great to wake up before sunrise, drink lots of tea, work through mornings and afternoons, cook meals in my own little kitchenette at night, or step out to The Thatch Pub next door for hearty dinners and a pint. I took walks up into the moss and ivy-coated oak and piney Glenbower Wood. My time there was very focused, very quiet time. Monastic. I had my new electric guitar, loop pedal, yoga mat, weights. I ran scales, vocals, yoga-d, ballet barred, hunted through journals from the last five years, created melodies for prose, wrote new verses, made dance phrases for song verses, extracted stories – and then linked some of what I had amassed into a sequence for the open house showing. There’s no shortage of song material. The question is if and how to use it all.

    Lovely to do the Greywood open house last week – hundreds of people from the area streamed through the three-story house, as deep as it is tall, and a bunch of lovely folks found their way up to the third floor where I got to run my sequence twice and glean some feedback too. In such a small space, it was wonderfully interactive, especially with children jumping into the mix! Children shape and change context in an instant, if you are open to it. I’m not sure exactly what I have as I head to Italy, but it’ll be good to look it over on video. The question of what exactly it is I’m shaping it all into is still in the air. Happily I don’t need to figure it all out, yet. Or really ever.

    Magical to be at Greywood at this moment in time, when the house is in a process of transformation –  all hands were on deck: volunteers Stephanie Guillette, a friend of Jessica’s from CT, her partner David, and Colm, a longtime resident of Killeagh, were also working with Jess and Hughie on the house in prep for the open house. I would come down from my rustic garret artist studio under the eaves and see new things each day: wallpapering, painting, sealing, flooring installed and varnished, movement of furniture, and displays of some of the treasures of the house. A particularly special moment to sit down for an amazing Irish Sunday brunch cooked by Jessica with a roast bacon from Hughie’s mother the day after the open house in the newly furnished living room.

    I’m wrapping up my time in Ireland – already midway to Italy! I’ll continued combing and culling and dancing and songwriting at the Bogliasco Foundation near Genoa. Stay tuned.



  • Good to be here

    Ireland: good to be here. Green, green on walks at dusk. Getting somewhere with the Song and Dance Man project. I’m rather surprised: I seem to be making songs and dances. Have a bunch of stuff I will keep pursuing, though not sure what I think about it. But – doesn’t matter at this point – time to just make, just do do do. Looking forward to showing what I’ve got thus far as part of an open house here at Greywood Arts this Saturday. If you are in the neighborhood, come by – tea and goodies will be served, and the impressive ongoing vision of this place will be on first and full display. I’m loving being here in every way.

    Went to see a singer-songwriter in Cobh last week, Loah –  talented artist of Irish-Sierra Leone descent. Genuine, generous, beautiful songs. She had a wonderful presence and performed impeccably. Complex, multi-influenced, Joni-Mitchell-like songs. An intimate show at the Sirius Center in Cobh –  old yacht club turned art gallery right on the bay with steps leading down to dark cold tossing waves and a huge expanse of water, in which the Titanic last ported. The sea! The Irish sea. I thought – “where I am now is why I want to stand looking out on New England coasts in the first place “-  to feel for this place, across the ocean. Big and toss-y this sea, with a full-ish moon radiating it out the big windows of the Sirius Center. Cobh –  just my kind of place, a nitty gritty seaport town, a slightly squalid fun town. All the streets fan up steep hills from the harbor, tiny cobblestone streets, with a huge cathedral nestled in the middle. It’s lit up at night with a clock tower presiding over the wharf and pub scene below. I smile here in Ireland walking here alone – backroads, towns and cities. I like being invisible, hidden in journey, seeing the fronts and backs of places, and people being themselves.

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