How it’s New York: The concert was held at the Irish Arts Center, and Lyn is based in New York.
How it’s Irish: Lyn and Sanna use traditional Irish music to tell the story of a fragile coral reef.
A ceilidh organized by Jacques Cousteau: That’s probably the best term to describe the April 13 premiere party and concert for The Coral Suite, the latest album from fiddler Dana Lyn and guitarist Kyle Sanna.
About 40 people crowded into the intimate, comfortably worn setting of the downstairs Donaghy Theatre at the Irish Arts Center for the show.
The Coral Suite is what might best be described as a concept album: the setting of tunes against the storyline of a fragile, delicate sea kingdom. One often thinks of Irish music in the setting of the cottage hearth, the pub, the parlor or the country crossroads, but as the soundtrack for the story of a coral reef is something decidedly new. And it works. It definitely works.
Lyn’s haunting, intricate fiddle playing, complemented by Sanna’s fingerstyle playing, is suited to telling the story of an undersea world increasingly threatened by pollution and climate change, particularly sobering with the news that a substantial chunk of the Great Barrier Reef may never recover from a massive die-off.
The Coral Suite is Lyn and Sanna’s third album as a duo, following The Great Arc and The Hare Said A Prayer. It is also the second album that asks the listener to reflect on the fragility of ecosystems and species; a portion of the album sales from The Coral Suite are being earmarked to coral reef and marine life protection projects.
For Sanna, that evening’s performance was a homecoming of sorts. He recalled how in 2002, as a musician just starting to get into Irish music, he had seen Lyn perform at the Irish Arts Center.
[pullquote]The Coral Suite is what might best be described as a concept album: the setting of tunes against the storyline of a fragile, delicate sea kingdom. One often thinks of Irish music in the setting of the cottage hearth, the pub, the parlor or the country crossroads, but as the soundtrack for the story of a coral reef is something decidedly new. And it works. It definitely works. [/pullquote]
This was by no means an elaborate production. The stage was decorated simply, with a series of lightboxes, all fronted with Lyn’s own artwork of coral, anemones and sponges. And on the back curtain, there were projections of animation – also based on Lyn’s artwork – of whales, manta rays, dolphins and sea turtles.
Lyn and Sanna got the show started with a few warm-up pieces from their older albums. At this point in the show, it felt as if we were bobbing along on the surface of a musical sea.
And then the stage lights dimmed, leaving only the light from the light boxes, and the Coral Suite set began in earnest, starting with the haunting melody of “Dear Irish Boy.” The effect was much like leaving the surface of the sea and sinking slowly down into the depths. From there, Lyn and Sanna moved through the pieces, one after another without a break as each song segued into another: “A Bunch of Keys” for a school of parrotfish, “The Green Field of Woodford” for a pod of dolphins at play, and “Sporting Nell” for a ray out-swimming a shark.
In between the various jigs and reels came a few “Aqualudes:” a couple of eerily modernistic improvisations with lots of string scraping. A classical detour with Bach’s “Gigue: Double” was particularly well-done.
The final number of the evening was “My Mind Shall Ne’er Be Easy,” used as the song of a sea turtle swimming out into the ocean to find another reef. Perhaps the turtle’s journey may be seen as a parallel to what so many Irish families have experienced over the generations: the leaving of the homeland in search of something better.
It took a few moments for the audience to come out of its trance at the end of “My Mind Shall Ne’er Be Easy,” likely a testament to the strong hold that the melancholy slip jig had over the listeners. And the applause was loud and enthusiastic.
We await with eager anticipation what new places Lyn and Sanna take the listeners next on their ongoing musical journey.