Compositions by Zoë Conway

Zoë Conway / photograph by John Mc Intyre

Rounding Malin Head [comp. Zoë Conway], reel

Rounding Malin Head [comp. Zoё Conway], reel / Zoё Conway, fiddle

This is my favourite reel that I've composed.  I have to work for many hours to create and finish a tune, but this one wrote itself!  I was a young teenager when I wrote it (in my parents back sitting room), and was hugely inspired by contemporary Irish traditional music at the time, especially using unusual time signatures and beats skipped or added on.  I also wanted to feature the signature short rolls of Donegal fiddling, as you can hear in the piece, which also inspired my dad to think of the title!  

One of the highlights of my musical life was recording this piece for my first album with Bill Whelan on keyboards and Donal Lunny on bouzouki - a magical moment.
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Rounding Malin Head [comp. Zoё Conway], reel [played slowly] / Zoё Conway, fiddle

Ringing the bell [comp. Zoё Conway], jig and slip jig

​Ringing the bell [comp. Zoё Conway], jig and slip jig​ / Zoё Conway, fiddle

I spent around two years performing and recording with Rodrigo y Gabriella and I was so impressed with their practise ethic, often spending 8 hours a day practising.  Their music was so virtuosic and technically challenging, and that inspired me to compose a traditional tune that was really, really difficult.  I also loved learning complex classical violin pieces, and one in particular which weaves around the open E string - 'Preludium und Allegro' by Kritz Kreisler.  I used the weaving idea to create this piece, and the echoing sound the last part makes suggested the name.  I also wanted to double up this part to emphasise it, even though that would not be the usual traditional structure.

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​Ringing the bell [comp. Zoё Conway], jig and slip jig [played slowly]​ / Zoё Conway, fiddle

The Scordisae [comp. Zoё Conway], reel

The Scordisae [comp. Zoё Conway], reel / Zoё Conway, fiddle

Named after a Celtic tribe, this D modal piece is based on the structure of a traditional reel and hinges on a technically tricky line of parallel fifths, at least on fiddle where you have to use the same finger for each set of fifths!

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The Scordisae [comp. Zoё Conway], reel [played slowly] / Zoё Conway, fiddle

The white deer [comp. Zoё Conway], march

The white deer [comp. Zoё Conway], march / Zoё Conway, fiddle

I composed this march style piece while touring around Ireland with the amazing Mexican guitar duo, Rodrigo y Gabriella in the early 2000s.  We did a lot of driving and often stopped to look at heritage sites on the road.  One day we found a herd of white deer and climbed up over a huge fence to have a closer look.  I badly cut my hand and still have the scar, and that crazy adventure inspired the name!  It is in my favourite traditional mode - a lot of my tunes have the same notes.  I also love the strong, slow rhythm of the traditional march.

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Wild strawberry hill [comp. Zoё Conway], reel

Wild strawberry hill [comp. Zoё Conway], reel / Zoё Conway, fiddle​

A reflective piece written originally on a fiddle tuned C#AEA where I wanted to keep the lines simple and clutter free.  The old long lane winding to my grandmother's house in Co Armagh had delicious tiny wild strawberries growing all along it which inspired the name.  Performing this once I got the ultimate compliment from one of my heroes, Martin Hayes, who said it sounded a bit like Bach!

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This tune is recorded on a fiddle tuned to G,DGD'

The horse's tail [comp. Zoё Conway], reel

The horse's tail [comp. Zoё Conway], reel / Zoё Conway, fiddle​

I love trying different tunings on the fiddle when composing, as it brings you to unexpected places.  There is an element of not knowing what you're doing and surprise notes and chords popping out, and you can jump on them and go somewhere you haven't before!  This piece is certainly inspired by one of the fiddle's greatest tunes and one of my favourite pieces - The Hangman's Reel - and also uses classical techniques like ricochet (bouncing the bow) and pizzicato (plucking the strings).  

I performed this piece for the first time at the Willie Clancy Summer School fiddle recital and it was a heart-stopping moment performing for a room full of fiddle enthusiasts! A fun piece!
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The horse's tail [comp. Zoё Conway], reel [played slowly] / Zoё Conway, fiddle​

This tune is recorded on a fiddle tuned to G,DGD'

Ómós Sheamuis [comp. Zoё Conway and John Mc Intyre], march and slip jig

Ómós Sheamuis [comp. Zoё Conway and John Mc Intyre], march and slip jig / Zoё Conway, fiddle​

Myself and my husband, John Mc Intyre, composed this set together when our two young children had just fallen asleep one night and silence had fallen on the house.  We wanted to write a piece in honour of one of Ireland's most loved poets who had just passed away and the admiration that so many people had for him, from artists to farmers, was just immense.  We wanted the piece, instead of being a lament, to be strong and uplifting and the march into a slip jig just seemed right.  The very first time we performed the piece was part of 'Inish' festival on Inishboffin, and sitting in the tiny audience unbeknownst to us, was Seamus' daughter.

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This recording features the slip jig part of the piece, played slowly.

Ómós Sheamuis [comp. Zoё Conway and John Mc Intyre], slip jig / Zoё Conway, fiddle​

The Caledon line [comp. Zoё Conway], jig

The Caledon line [comp. Zoё Conway], jig / Zoё Conway, fiddle

A very traditional sounding, 3 part, melodic jig named after an old trainline near my mother's home house in Middletown, Co. Armagh.
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The Caledon line [comp. Zoё Conway], jig [played slowly] / Zoё Conway, fiddle

Faoiseamh a gheobhadsa [I will find solace], song / words by Máirtín Ó Direáin ; music by Zoë Conway, John Mc Intyre

I composed the music to this beautiful Máirtín Ó Direáin poem as part of a collaboration with my husband John Mc Intyre on guitar, renowned Scots Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis and her husband, bouzouki player, Eamon Doorley.  We took Irish language poetry and Scots Gaelic poetry and made songs out of them for an album entitled 'Allt' - a amazing project to undertake!  This was one of my contributions, but this one in particular seemed to resonate with many people across the world, and is now my most well known piece!  The metre, the sentiment of the poem and the powerful use of Irish language made it a joy for me to compose this one - he talks about going home to the west, to be with his own people, walking along the beach morning and evening and that's where he'll find his peace.  The melody is based in a traditional Irish idiom, but the arrangement is more contemporary and takes influences from popular, classical and Indian music.

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About Zoë Conway

Zoë Conway / John Mc Intyre
Zoë Conway / photograph by John Mc Intyre

Zoë Conway effortlessly combines a background steeped in Ireland’s rich aural music tradition with a strong founding in classical music. She has toured worldwide and has appeared in many prestigious concert halls including Carnegie Hall, New York, The Kremlin Palace, Moscow and The National Concert Hall, Dublin. Her versatility as an instrumentalist has allowed her to perform across a broad range of genres, from guest soloist with world renowned orchestras, to touring with Riverdance and working with mainstream international acts such as Rodrigo y Gabriella, Damien Rice, Lisa Hannigan, Nick Cave and Lou Reed among others.

She has recorded on major film soundtracks including award winning Float Like A Butterfly (Samson Films 2018), Artemis Fowl (Disney 2020), Finding You (Red Sky Studio 2021) and Riverdance: The Animated Adventure (Universal 2021).

Zoë tours regularly with her husband, John Mc Intyre on guitar, and the duo have been described as “simply one of the best folk duos on the planet” (BBC).  They have released two recordings to date - the newest release is a superb collection of live European performances, Live in Concert, released in spring 2017. Their debut duo album, entitled Go Mairir I Bhfad (Long Life To You), received a glorious 5 stars from The Irish Times.

Presented by Treasa Harkin, February 2021, with thanks to Zoë Conway.