Celtic Woman

Re-examining old tastes


Back in high school I used to listen to some songs by Celtic Woman, an all-female Irish group. I uncovered an old favorite recently and had another look at this group. Three things haven’t changed:

  1. I don’t actually like any of their individual voices.
  2. Some of their arrangements are just too good that I can overlook #1.
  3. I lost interest in them because Hayley Westenra joined them.

One thing has changed: I now think their performances are a disgrace.

Side rant on Hayley Westenra

NZ has at most five recognizable musicians or musical groups (probably closer to two in modern times). Hayley Westenra used to be one of them and I’m glad she’s now irrelevant. I strongly dislike her voice and everything she stands for. Maybe she sings beautifully, but at the same time all her songs are soulless, and I dare say her talent is unremarkable. Usually I’d stop here, because music is just music these days, and you can’t judge a person based on their music. But there are many exceptions to this, and I think as a former teenage star Hayley is one of those exceptions. Her beginning defined her. The way her career progressed, and the nuances of her performance: they still capture that flawed beginning. Is Hayley a good singer? A good role model? A good person? I think these are all related. It is also hard for me to dismiss the time she so casually butchered one of the national songs of my birth country at the World Games.

What changed?

Having learned more about recording and acoustics from dabbling in home recording, I realized this time round that one of my favorite songs When You Believe wasn’t quite right: the performance is lip-synced. Lip-syncing is common but we’re not talking 50%. We’re talking 100% lip-synced. The soloist Chloë Agnew is not producing any sound for the audience to hear. It gets worse. The whole choir behind her, and the instrumentalists including the flutist are lip-syncing and miming too. So more like, the performance is 5000% lip-synced. The whole song is a basically a prerecording with fancy clothing and exaggerated choreography. Who the actual fuck does that? Could you enjoy a concert knowing that was happening?


I’m not saying that Celtic Woman didn’t have talent; they clearly did. I’m not saying that all their songs within all their concerts were complete prerecordings; most of Hayley’s singing was probably live at the least. Still, it’s disappointing to realize that Celtic Woman happened to be one of the worst offenders in the industry.



Music Spotlight: Duruflé’s Requiem

According to the TED presentation, The transformative power of classical music | Benjamin Zander (which I can recommend if you’re craving a bit of emotional inspiration), the purpose of music is simply to make us feel something. Not all music has a well defined purpose, but the topic of this spotlight does—it’s a requiem.

If you learn nothing else from this post, remember this:

A Requiem is a celebration for the dead.

Where did requiems originate from?

Requiems are inspired by the Requiem Mass, a Catholic liturgical service. Composers began to use the texts from the Requiem Mass simply because of the dramatic character, but these works are not performed for services (they’re too long and have no liturgical relevance). Even though a Requiem may have limited genuine religious value, it’s still interesting to note some of the context.

A Requiem Mass is offered for the repose of the soul or souls of one or more deceased persons. It is frequently, but not necessarily, celebrated in the context of a funeral. In Catholic funerals, the Church seeks firstly to offer Mass for the benefit of the soul of the deceased so that the temporal effects of sin in Purgatory may be extinguished, and secondly to provide condolence and comfort for the deceased’s family and exhort the latter to pray, along with the Church, for the soul of the departed. [Adapted from Wikipedia]

Maurice Duruflé

The piece is simply titled Requiem so we call it Duruflé’s Requiem. The composer was a notorious perfectionist who would even touch up his works after they were published! That’s something that speaks to me strongly. It is difficult for me to describe or categorize Requiem. Some might call it arabesque music, others might even say it’s impressionist music (a controversial term—”conveying the moods and emotions aroused by the subject rather than a detailed tone‐picture”). It definitely incorporates themes from Gregorian chants.

Personal significance of Duruflé’s Requiem

My overall reaction to hearing Requiem was at first, and still is, I can’t believe music like this exists. I’ve sung Gregorian chants and other Requiems before. This isn’t even close to anything else I know. Musically speaking, there are so many time changes in the music, and yet it has this fluidity due to its Gregorian inspirations that transcends standard time. Difficult to count through, I cannot imagine myself being able to master playing the organ part within a lifetime. There’s also so much diversity and richness of emotion over the various ritual texts. Even the disinterested observer would not be able to write it off as “the same old religious music.”

I had the ‘privilege’ of singing Duruflé’s Requiem for its actual written purpose, in dedication to our own choir member who had taken his own life. Although he was simply a loose acquaintance, I had just started to enjoy interacting with him under a different context to our less-than-cordial past. Our preparation and performance came near the height of my dissatisfaction with our choir. I cared nothing for our group on a personal level, and, while supposedly being the best permanent choir in town, I held our work ethic and lack of attention beyond notes and ego-based environment in absolute disdain. Eventually I did quit and no longer wished to pursue one of my former dreams of joining the national youth choir, which somehow I’m sure I was capable of doing. It’s funny, but I just do not gel with musicians.

Naturally, singing the Requiem was not about me. I put everything aside to do my best in this celebration for the dead. It didn’t matter if I was performing alongside others for whom this was a mere formality. It didn’t even matter if I made mistakes, which remarkably I didn’t. My sincere and brave presence was required, and that was it.

Requiem is a damn sophisticated work. There were many parts I didn’t fully appreciate in context until I bothered to examine the translation of the Latin. Whether you understand the words or music or not, just imagine listening to it as a parting celebration for a hypothetical person, and then it will start to make sense. Not all of it, but some of it will speak out powerfully.


Duruflé’s Requiem is set in nine movements. To provide context, I’ve included small excerpts with translations for each movement. I encourage you to read along while listening to it.

I. Introit (entrance)

Requiem aeternam
dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Eternal rest
give to them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.

II. Kyrie (Lord, have mercy)

Kyrie eleison,
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.

Lord have mercy on us,
Christ have mercy on us.
Lord have mercy on us.

III. Domine Jesu Christe (Lord Jesus Christ—offertory)

Domine Jesu Christe, rex gloriae
libera animas omnium fidelium
defunctorum de poenis inferni

O Lord Jesus Christ, King of Glory,
deliver the souls of all the faithful
departed from the pains of hell
and from the deep pit.

Tu suscipe pro animabus illis,
quarum hodie
memoriam facimus,
fac eas, Domine,
de morte transire ad vitam

do Thou accept them
for those souls
whom we this day commemorate;
grant them, O Lord,
to pass from death to the life

IV. Sanctus (Holy)

Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth,
pleni sunt coeli
et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis!
Benedictus, qui venit
in nomine Domini.
Hosanna in excelsis!

Holy, Lord God of hosts.
The heavens and the earth are full of Thy glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is He Who cometh
in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

V. Pie Jesu (Pious Jesus)

Pie Jesu Domine,
dona eis requiem sempiternam.

Gentle Lord Jesus,
grant them eternal rest.

VI. Agnus Dei (Lamb of God)

Agnus Dei, qui tollis
peccata mundi,
dona eis requiem sempiternam

Lamb of God, Who takest away
the sins of the world:
grant them eternal rest.

VII. Lux aeterna (Eternal light)

Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine,
cum sanctis tuis in aeternum,
quia pius es.

May light eternal shine upon them, O Lord,
with Thy saints forever,
for Thou art merciful.

Requiem aeternam
dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Eternal rest
give to them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.

VIII. Libera me (Deliver me)

Libera me, Domine,
de morte aeterna,

Deliver me, O Lord,
from eternal death

dum veneris judicare
saeculum per ignem.

and Thou shalt come
to judge the world by fire.

Tremens factus sum ego et timeo
dum discussio venerit

I quake with fear and I tremble
awaiting the day of account

Dies illa, dies irae,
calamitatis et miseriae,

Day of mourning, day of wrath,
of calamity, of misery,

Requiem aeternam
dona eis, Domine,

Eternal rest
give to them, O Lord,

Libera me, Domine,
de morte aeterna,

Deliver me, O Lord,
from eternal death

IX. In Paradisum (Into paradise)

In Paradisum
deducant Angeli in tuo
adventu suscipiant te Martyres
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.
Chorus Angelorum te suscipiat,
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere
aeternam habeas requiem.

May the angels
receive them in Paradise,
at thy coming may the martyrs receive thee
and bring thee into the holy city Jerusalem.
There may the chorus of angels receive thee,
and with Lazarus, once a beggar,
may thou have eternal rest.


At the time of writing, this one is my favorite recording of Requiem available on YouTube. It’s a very difficult work and I feel some of the other performances are a bit off.

Further reading

Full text and translation.

There’s even a whole Honors thesis on this. The Duruflé Requiem: A Guide for Interpretation