An Irish Christmas at Kylemore – Exploring New Choral Music for the Christmas Season

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Featured Speakers: 

  • Desmond Earley, Artistic Director of the Choral Scholars, University College Dublin
  • Ivo Antognini, Composer, Choral Scholars
  • Lisa Caulfield, Director of the Notre Dame Global Center at Kylemore Abbey, University of Notre Dame

The first of three virtual sessions on the theme of Irish Christmas music and other art forms featured Desmond Earley, the Artistic Director of the Choral Scholars at University College Dublin, and Ivo Antognini, a composer often commissioned by Earley to compose pieces specifically for the Choral Scholars. The discussion was moderated by Lisa Caulfield, the Director of the Notre Dame Global Center at Kylemore Abbey. Their discussion centered around the work they have created together, and how music has become such an integral part of their lives. Both musicians expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to work with each other and create music that inspires both the listener and the performer. Earley and Antognini have collaborated on multiple pieces in recent years, but focused this discussion on the Christmas music they recorded and released on a new album: “Be All Merry”.

To begin the session, Caulfield played a video introducing the Choral Scholars and Earley’s work. This video emphasized the hard work and dedication that Earley has put in to make the Choral Scholars an elite group of singers and his motivation to develop their musical and professional skills. His students expressed his commitment to supporting them in performing their best and infusing meaning into the pieces they prepare. They also highlighted that working with composers such as Antognini is a rare opportunity and one that they treasure.

The conversation then shifted to a discussion with both Earley and Antongnini structured by a series of questions posed by Caulfield. Earley responded to the first question about his background in music by outlining the instruments he has learned and the musicians that he has studied under, leading up to his position with the Choral Scholars. He emphasized that his musical journey taught him the value and complexity of music, and that music holds much more depth than many often realize. This is what he tries to communicate through his work, and he strives to inspire his students to “develop a deep thought process about how music works.” Antongnini also emphasized the importance of the musical process by explaining how he inspires himself to compose beautiful and unique pieces of music. In composing for Earley, he blends the old texts he is given with a modern dynamic to create a piece that opens a new sound world for its listeners. Earley concluded the first series of questions by emphasizing the importance of new compositions to continuously refine the vision of music.

The speakers then spoke about their experiences working together to create the music on the “Be All Merry” album. It was clear that both musicians greatly enjoyed working together and saw the experience as something they will look back on fondly. They especially enjoyed writing the music for this album because of the Christmas theme, the imagery of the Nativity and the redemption of Christ, and the emphasis on light and hope that they were able to convey. After a brief breakout session for participants, the speakers answered questions submitted by the discussion groups about their music and favorite Christmas albums before bidding Merry Christmas and farewell.

Visit the event page for more.


  • Earley has chosen to work with Antongnini because of his ability to write music that opens a new world of sound to its listeners. (11:36)
  • Working with living composers allows a musician to journey to something new and ensures that one is always open to the gift of a new musical perspective. (22:21)
  • Creating music is more than writing lyrics and harmonies, it is about infusing meaning for both the listener and the performer. (22:39)
  • Christmas music provides a unique opportunity because of the Nativity and redemption imagery that can be employed and the importance that it holds for its listeners. (28:16)
  • When making music, talent is important, but hard work and commitment are the most important. (42:04)

  • “The joy we see in the audience is the reason for doing our job. It’s an amazing thing to be able to share such great music, to be able to bring carols old and new, and, for the students, to have that experience of presenting something special for an audience every single year.” (Desmond Earley, 7:57)
  • “It’s about communication. It’s about expression. It’s about creativity. It’s about excellence in performance standards.” (Desmond Earley, 8:58)
  • “Questioning yourself about what music is and how music works leads you on its own journey.” (Desmond Earley, 18:37)
  • “I tried to imagine a sound in my head and if possible, to mix the old chant with a modern harmonization.” (Ivo Antognini, 20:12)
  • “We should always try to engage with the new vision of music that composers are willing to gift us.” (Desmond Earley, 23:18)
  • “I was inspired by the fact that it was such an ancient text and so powerful.” (Ivo Antognini, 25:53)
  • “The rendition of my piece was simply splendid. You can feel the love they put in their performance.” (Ivo Antognini, 33:23)
  • “People think that talent is one of the most important things when it comes to music making, but I have to tell you it’s hard work and commitment and discipline and just sticking with it.” (Desmond Earley, 42:04)

DigestChristmasKylemore Global Centre

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