The word Solas is Irish and means "light" or "enlightenment." The Solas Music group was formed in 1991 under the direction of Brian Foley to record, publish, and promote the growing repertoire of Irish liturgical music composed by members of choirs and groups from all over Ireland for use in various kinds of liturgies. This high-quality music was hitherto unpublished and therefore unavailable as a resource to the wider church. This modest aspiration was highly received in many of the dioceses in Ireland, and, since the group was formed, over five hundred pieces have been sent to Solas. From these, a selection panel chose the music used in the three collections available through GIA Publications, Inc.: To You I Pray and Light of the World (both containing pieces suitable for all types of liturgies and seasons); and Winter Solas (music for Advent and Christmas). Together they present a repertoire of over forty pieces of liturgical music suitable for choir and contemporary ensembles ranging in style from contemporary to Irish traditional.
To date there are approximately forty members of Solas Music, though this varies as a flexible arrangement facilitates a variety of commitment levels. The musicians, singers, and composers who make up the group are from different backgrounds; yet, they are united in their love of good liturgical music and their commitment to music ministry.
Meet the composers of some of today's liturgical music from Ireland.
Professor Dierdre Carabine is currently director of the Institute of Ethics and Development Studies at the Uganda Martyrs University. A founder member of the chaplaincy folk group at Queens University Belfast, she has lectured both there and in University College, Dublin, and between all her research she has still found time to compose some beautiful pieces including "De Profundis" and the Carabine Mass Setting both featured on the To You I Pray recording. Deirdre is always happy to receive good quality texts on scholastic philosophy and ethics, which can be difficult to obtain in Uganda. Please send any books that you can spare to her at P.O. Box 5498 Kampala, Uganda.
Brendan Dowd is a religious education teacher at a large Belfast comprehensive college. As well as composing music for worship and reflection, Brendan is singer-guitarist with the folk group Poitin. Recently Brendan married Pauline Smyth, another member of the Solas music group. His compositions published by GIA Publications, Inc., include "To You I Pray" and "Mother Behold Thy Son" (from the To You I Pray recording) and "Arise Jerusalem" and the Artisan Mass Setting (from the Light of the World recording).
Micheal Downes is a master butcher living in Caherdavin in County Limerick. Married with four children, Micheal still has time to complete many beautiful compositions as well as leading the music in his local parish. His pieces include "Make Straight the Pathways," "Christ is Risen," "Lord Open My Eyes," "With All My Heart" (all on the To You I Pray recording), and "Blessed Be the Lord," and "Christ Has Died" (on the Light of the World recording).
Philip's chant "Glory to God" featured on the Light of the World recording is one of the most simple pieces, and also one of the most popular. Philip is from Belfast and is involved in a number of cross-community and interdenominational organizations.
Lorna from Ballygalget in County Down combines her work as a composer with her role as a working mother. She is married to Ned and has three children, Jody, Rachel, and Eamonn. Lorna organizes the folk group in her local parish. She is a talented artist and dress designer and is interested in art, poetry, and literature. Her composition "Lord Take These Gifts" is featured on the Light of the World, a Domhain recording.
Sheelagh Hughes is from Carrickfergus, is married to Brian and they have two children, Marie-Claire and Ciaran. When she is not working at her job as an accountant, or looking after her family Sheelagh helps Solas with her singing, keyboard, and flute skills. Her composition "Lord Our Home" on the To You I Pray recording has been particularly well received.
Paul divides his time between running Maritime Recording Studios and his own career as a solo performer. He has traveled throughout the world and is known especially for his work with Eugene Dunphy in their group, Baccan. A talented guitarist, his piece "Patrick's Voyage" (Light of the World recording) will suit both the advanced musician and the beginner alike, leaving much room for personal improvisation.
Rev. Eamon Martin is diocesan adviser on church music for the diocese of Derry. He combines his work in supporting and encouraging the folk groups and choirs of the diocese with his work as a teacher of mathematics at a large college. He features as a soloists on two of his tracks on the Light of the World recording: "The Lord Is My Shepherd" and "Cry Out with Joy."
Dr. Patricia Matthews organizes the folk choir in her home parish of St. Bridget's, Belfast, as well as teaching at a local secondary school. Her mass setting on Light of the World is one of the easiest for congregations to learn.
A self-employed computer and design consultant, Gerry is responsible for the design of the cover and much of the layout of the To You I Pray and Light of the World collections. His memorial acclamation/chant "My Lord and My God" (To You I Pray recording) has proved very popular. Gerry is married to Catherine and they have a baby daughter, Rachel.
Catherine is a town planner currently working in Belfast. Her instrumental pieces "Solas De" (Peace) on the To You I Pray recording, and "Suaibhneas" (Peace) on Light of the World are widely used in churches of all denominations in Ireland. From a family with a long musical history, her sister Breda also sings with Solas.
A third-year medical student, Ciaran is a very talented and prolific composer. His compositions "My Soul Is Yearning," "Pange Lingua," and one of his mass settings are all featured on the Light of the World recording. Interested in many different sorts of music, Ciaran also features on many of the keyboard accompaniments for pieces by Solas composers.
Sr. Perpetua McNulty is a member of the Mercy Congregation of nuns. Based in Derry, Perpetua works closely with a number of schools helping talented violinists and cellists to develop. Her Pentecost mass setting is the most widely used of all the Solas mass settings (To You I Pray recording), and her lively entrance/recessional piece "Come People, Praise the Lord" is featured on the Light of the World recording.
From a musical family in Omagh, County Tyrone, Siobhan is both an accomplished performer and composer. Her compositions in both the English and Irish languages are used in many churches across Ireland. "Lord We Are Not Worthy," an excellent communion processional hymn and her entrance/recessional piece based upon the Exultet are featured on To You I Pray together with her mass setting. "Solas an Domhain" (Light of the World) is the title track of the second recording from the Solas music group, and another hymn mixing Irish and English. "Molaigi an Tiarna" is also featured. Siobhan is currently teaching in Belfast and is married to Dr. Greg Toner, a Celtic scholar. They have one son, Tom.
Brian is currently Ireland's only liturgical consultant from the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. An architect, Brian has designed some award winning churches, both north and south of the border. He is a member of the diocesan modern liturgical music group, which assists all those involved in modern liturgical music in Down and Connor. A member of the diocesan committee on music in the liturgy, he is also treasurer for the diocesan vocations commission. His pieces on the first two Solas recordings include "These Our Gifts," "We Praise You Lord," the Come in Glory Mass setting, and the Quinn mass setting (all in the To You I Pray collection) and "We Are Gathered" and the Quinn Gloria (in the Light of the World collection).
Catherine composed the haunting piece "I Lift Up My Soul" (To You I Pray) before she was married--hence copyright notices refer to her as Catherine Magee. She has also sung solo on a number of Solas pieces on both the To You I Pray and Light of the World recordings. She teaches biology in a grammar school in Belfast and has a doctorate in microbiology. She is a member of the Down and Connor modern liturgical music group, which organizes a number of seminars each year in her diocese and supports and assists parish groups involved in modern liturgical music. She is married to another Solas composer, Brian Quinn, and they are expecting twins at the moment.
We have all been truly blessed by his marvelous musical and spiritual gifts.
Solas appreciates opportunities to present their style of music at seminars, conferences, and diocesan events.