Eoghan Desmond is one of the newest members of Chamber Choir Ireland, having joined the Bass section earlier this year. However, he has had a long relationship with Chamber Choir Ireland, dating from his participation in Composers in the Classroom when he was only 17 years old! Here he tells us a little about himself.
I’m Eoghan Desmond. I’m a 28 year old singer and composer from Cork, currently based in Dublin. I started music when I was about 4/5 years old in the Cork School of Music, where I studied music theory, the french horn and later the organ. I also played the violin at school but I was never much good at that!
I sort of became a singer by accident – I was always pretty good at the singing aspect of my music theory classes, so when I was 9 years old I joined St Fin Barre’s Cathedral as a treble, and I’ve never really looked back! I moved to Dublin in 2008 to join Christ Church Cathedral and study for a BA in Music and then an MPhil in composition at Trinity College, Dublin.
When I finished in Trinity I moved down the hill to St Patrick’s cathedral and started taking my singing a lot more seriously, mainly because it was the only thing I was qualified to do that I could actually make any sort of money from – and it’s a lot more enjoyable for me than the idea of the 9-5 grind… It also leaves me plenty of time to get composition done.
In my spare time I try to do non-musical things to maintain a bit of “life work balance” – drinking coffee, tinkering with fountain pens and frequenting Antoinette’s bakery – a gluten free café just around the corner from the National Concert Hall.
What were your first interactions with Chamber Choir Ireland?
Chamber Choir Ireland and I actually go way back to 2007, when I participated in the Composers in the Classroom Scheme, which was just revived this year. I’d been dabbling in composition since I’d been about 7 or 8, and this was a great opportunity to actually have something performed. I wrote a pretty bad setting of the text Kyrie Eleison, but at the time I thought it was the bee’s knees, and hearing the Chamber Choir singing it alongside all the other student pieces really gave me a lot of drive to pursue music seriously, rather than just having it as a hobby. I became a lot more interested in composition and in contemporary music, and it was actually my discovery of Donnacha Dennehy’s music that made me want to study at Trinity.
After my masters I took a year or so off composition, just to re-organise my musical priorities a bit, and after about 6 months, started depping with CCI. This re-ignited my interest in choral composition and the first piece I wrote after college was Mother Goose Melodies, which won the 2015 O Riada prize at the Cork Choral Festival, which has kind of started to grow legs. Chamber Choir Ireland performed the follow up, More Mother Goose Melodies last September at the Composing the Island festival. Both of those have been published by Sulasol, and there’s a third in the pipeline, so watch this space!
What else are you working on outside of CCI?
My main focus at the moment is my PhD in contemporary sacred choral music, which I’m doing at the University of Aberdeen with Dr Phillip Cooke. I started in September of last year, and it’s been great to be very focussed on composition again, with a specific end goal other than competitions or calls for scores. I also run an all-female vocal ensemble, Dulciana, with whom I’m particularly interested in programming music by female composers. We do one concert a year of only music by female composers, and then scatter it liberally throughout the rest of our programmes. It’s really important to me to actively seek out some of the more neglected female composers from history, because a certain amount of tokenism goes on – it’s somehow ok to do some Hildegard, Strozzi and Caccini and say you’ve done your bit to correct the massive gender imbalance present in the canon. Fortunately things are a lot better these days for female composers than they were only a few decades ago (it was assumed that Rebecca Clarke was a pseudonym for a male composer, for example, because a woman couldn’t possibly have written such good music) but you still hear horror stories about how female composers are treated.
How have you found Chamber Choir Ireland’s repertoire?
I can honestly say I’ve never disliked a programme that I’ve worked on with CCI, but a real highlight was last year’s performance of Les Noces as part of the Stravinsky in Focus event in the NCH. It’s up there with the most challenging choral repertoire I’ve ever had to deal with but musically it was also one of the most rewarding. I was only disappointed that we only got to sing it once!
What is something unusual about you that people might be surprised by?
In 2012 I performed the entirety of Erik Satie’s Vexations, a piano piece in which you repeated a cell 840 times. It took about 18 hours (starting Feb 28 and finishing Feb 29) and I played through the night, taking 5 minute breaks every 105 repetitions, and 30 minutes to have a meal and a shower at the 420 mark. I didn’t have a huge audience in the room with me at all times, but I live-streamed the whole thing, and at one point there were 5000 people watching online! It was a pretty amazing experience but my right shoulder hasn’t been the same since. I’ve thought about repeating it on another leap year but I’m not sure my body would let me…
What is your earliest musical memory?
I have a very vivid memory of being about 4/5 and refusing to go to bed until my older sister and I had heard Zadok the Priest one more time… Some things never change I guess!