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Murmurations: A Song Cycle

murmurations a song cycle

Sadhbh O’Sullivan and Sharon Murphy of Embrace Music have written a cycle of three pieces of music reflecting and drawing upon the breadth and depth of loss experienced by older people and those living in residential care, known to them through their work as music and health practitioners. Supported by KCC Arts Service and IHF, the project title refers to heightened feelings of empathy and the synchronisation of the collective experience since March 2020. 

An Invitation to Listen by Niamh Fitzpatrick, Psychologist and Author

More than a year has passed since the word ‘Covid’ came into our consciousness and became part of our everyday lives, infiltrating our cognitive, emotional and experiential worlds.  The presence of this virus in our midst has altered how we live, changing it beyond recognition, so that we now look back at our lives in amazement at the carefree way we went about our personal, working, and recreational lives in a world pre-Covid.

It’s safe to say that when we became acquainted with the word Covid, we also became intimately connected with the word loss, for this pandemic trails devastation in its wake, bringing loss and grief on an enormous scale, impacting every stage of our lives, from birth through to death. We’ve seen loss of life; loss of income; loss of community; loss of connection. Also, loss of routine, identity, and innocence. Loss of freedom, loss of choice. Even a loss of the rituals around death and dying, surely the cruelest one of all. 

The emotional impact of loss isn’t confined to sadness; grief can bring rage, resentment, loneliness, frustration, anxiety and despair. You could say that it’s a messy affair. One of the important truths about loss is that when it comes to our emotions, we cannot ignore, run from, deny or mask them. We must turn towards our feelings and face them. Because with grief, it’s not about getting over it, it’s about learning to live with it, accommodating the loss we’ve experienced into our lives and finding our way to live with the pain of that loss. This involves acknowledging, accepting, adjusting; it’s about being an active participant in our own grief. 

Another important truth about loss is that there is life after loss; we can laugh, love, and live again after we experience loss in our life. It can take time of course, but it’s important to know that hope has a huge part to play in grief, for we don’t remain forever stuck in the howling, raging pain of loss. Rather, we can grow our lives around loss, and in time we can feel human again. Altered. And with a new found perspective. But capable of feeling joy and love again, capable of feeling alive once more.

With three songs / pieces which broadly tie into these themes of loss, acceptance and hope, Murmurations: A Song Cycle explores our lived experience of loss through the medium of music, gently inviting us to lean into the feelings experienced as we live through this pandemic and the loss it brings.

Music’s universal language connects us, our shared experience thwarting Covid’s continued attempts to keep us apart. Murmurations: A Song Cycle invites you to be together in song, to feel your feelings of loss, to consider the potential for acceptance and to catch a glimpse of the possibility of hope. 

 Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine

Murmurations : A Song Cycle 

Blackbird’s Lament was inspired by the folk tradition of lamentation as an expression of grief. It takes its title from the heightened collective awareness of birdsong that arose during lockdown. Aiming to give voice to the lived experience of older people throughout the pandemic, it draws heavily upon exchanges shared via WhatsApp group messages, Zoom chats, phone conversations and Facebook comments. In writing the text, Sadhbh recorded a voice memo featuring a selection of what she felt to be their most poignant words. Out walking with those words in her ears, she allowed the sentiments to percolate in her mind before putting pen to paper. 

The Dawning is a minimalist piano piece intended to represent the inherent loneliness of the grieving process and the slow journey towards the acceptance of loss. The central motif was developed by Sharon in 2016 in response to the death of her father, and was revisited in the context of the palpable complexity of loss during the pandemic. Taking inspiration from Arvo Pärt’s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten, the piece – while a melodic and relaxing listen – is always travelling towards the final low note, symbolising both the ending of a life and eventually, peace for grieving loved ones.

Better Days to Come, the final song in the cycle, was written to be accessible to community choirs across Ireland who have been so deeply affected by restrictions. It is intended to be anthemic, and emblematic of a rising feeling of hope as we slowly emerge from the pandemic. The lyrics draw subtle inspiration from some of the songs that have brought comfort to our own choir members throughout this time The Voyage, Oh What a Beautiful Morning, Edelweiss, We’ll Meet Again, Whispering Hope and Hard Times Comes Again No More. The sheet music is freely available for all choirs and groups to use, and can be accessed by contacting [email protected].


Music & lyrics composed Sadhbh O’Sullivan & Sharon Murphy
Performed by:
Anna Sweeney – violins
Sadhbh O’Sullivan – vocals & acoustic guitar
Sharon Murphy – vocals & piano
Engineered, mixed and mastered by Alvin Sweeney
Birdsong recordings: Seán Higgins

Dominic Campbell, our Arts and Cultural Engagement Officer commented:

“During the pandemic Embrace Music and Irish artists have brought comfort to many isolated people in care. Like front line staff and personal carers, these artists have been impacted by the experience as the crisis lengthened. Embrace’s three interlocking music pieces reflect beautifully how we all may, during a lifetime, move from offering care to seeking care. How we find it in relationships, amongst the chorus of other people. May we be able to achieve this as harmoniously as their music.” 

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