“I’ll stay no more on Ireland’s shore so let the music play. For I’m on the road to my own true love, ten thousand miles away.”While it’s true that Dublin is only about 3,000 miles away from New York City, this sea shanty lends not just its name but also its sentiment of expedition to Ten Thousand Miles Away, a revue of songs and poetry devised by collaborative pianist, programmer, and writer Iain Burnside. The song (sung by a sailor about to board a ship for the Australian penal colonies to be reunited with his true love) was a fitting opener for this program, which explores themes of love, emigration, assimilation, and landscape.
The program was presented by Juilliard performers and students from the Royal Irish Academy of Music and the Lir Academy (Ireland’s National Academy of Dramatic Art, at Trinity College Dublin). They gave three performances in Dublin and two at Juilliard; the venture was made possible by a grant from Culture Ireland, an Irish State Agency. Juilliard was represented in the cast by fourth-year soprano Angela Vallone; graduate students Avery Amereau, mezzo-soprano, tenor Miles Mykkanen (B.M. ’13), and collaborative pianist William Kelley; and drama alum Sam Lilja (Group 43).
More than a recital and not exactly a variety show, the 65-minute program—which weaves together 20 songs and 16 poems—was staged by Burnside and Irish theater and opera director Conor Hanratty. The piano and eight chairs were arranged on stage as for a shared recital, though the cast spent little time sitting and their responsibilities extended beyond singing. “While we had designated actors and singers, we were all assigned song and text,” Amereau told The Journal. The entire cast dances and even the actors and pianists sing—an initially “terrifying” prospect for actor Lilja, though not as much of a shock for collaborative pianist Kelley, who has a musical theater background.
In planning the show’s repertoire, Burnside, who is Scottish and is now based in London, sought to “get beyond the lurid green of St. Patrick’s Day,” as he wrote in his program note, to explore Irish and American national identities. Songs by Samuel Barber (an American composer of Irish descent and one of Burnside’s inspirations for the program), John Ireland, Frank Bridge, and various folk-song arrangements were programmed with poetry by Paul Durcan, W.B. Yeats, Seamus Heaney, and James Joyce.
Amereau, an American of half-Irish background, said that her work on the project “threw into sharp relief some of the deeper aspects of our cultural history,” acknowledging the role of the Irish diaspora in the melting pot of American culture.
Kelley, who also has Irish roots, said he had “never felt as at home while in a foreign country” as he did in Ireland. Kelley also found the cultural immersion beneficial to his work on Ten Thousand Miles Away. “Many of the texts for the piece involved uniquely Irish themes, locations, and even words, so it was a great learning experience that our Irish colleagues could give us some local insight to the Irish aspects of the work.”
Brian Zeger (M.M. ’81, piano), the artistic director of Juilliard’s Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts, called the trip to Dublin “really beneficial for our students,” noting “it’s great for them to be able to get even a brief immersion in such a wonderful, important cultural capital.” He added that there are plans for the collaboration to continue.
Lilja said that being in the show reminded him of how lucky he is to be part of the “extraordinary network” at Juilliard and left him with invaluable friendships on both sides of the Atlantic.”