Spotlight: Dana Lyn, composer and fiddler

dana-lynSpotlight: Dana Lyn, composer and fiddler

Looking for Lady Gordon–A Suite for Fiddle and String Quartet, the third work on the new Apple Hill String CD, features Dana Lyn as both the composer and the guest fiddle player. Here, she talks with Apple Hill Director Lenny Matczynski about her music.

What was your motivation for writing these arrangements?

I was originally asked to write an arrangement for fiddler and string quartet by Irish fiddler Martin Hayes and the string quartet Brooklyn Rider, in 2011, for a “New Sounds” performance on WNYC. They asked for a second one, and then I did a third myself, and ended up performing those three with the Apple Hill String Quartet. These new arrangements explore the idea of juxtaposing two different styles of music, happening concurrently but independently, and I had the Apple Hill String Quartet in mind while I was creating them. Being a fiddler and a classically trained musician myself, I have opinions about how to write these types of ‘cross-genre’ arrangements! I also wanted to set the tunes in a way that gave them a fuller story, and give them an arc.

Are there some interesting stories or histories about the tunes you chose?

I chose my favorite tunes, really. I favor traditional Irish music from the West Coast of Ireland, mainly the music in Galway and Clare, and most of the tunes are from that repertoire. They are all traditional except for “Looking for the Early Opener”, which is a jig I wrote in 2004. That tune is basically about the hours between 4 and 6 am.

How was the recording and editing process for you?

I always find recording a bit stressful, but this went very smoothly, and I’m very glad that the emphasis was on achieving a live feel. I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist, and I tend to sacrifice excitement for precision, which is not always the best choice! I’m grateful that we had extra ears in the room to keep us straight and to allow us not to have to worry about certain things… When you’re performing and recording your own material, it’s way too much to think about on one’s own. The quartet was also very prepared and present, so I just coasted.

You are a very busy musician with a diverse musical life. What is ahead for you in the next few months?

I’m on tour at the moment with Stew and Heidi Rodewald; we are touring a show that Stew wrote called “Notes of a Native Song”, about the great writer and intellectual James Baldwin. I’m also currently mixing my second album with Vincent D’Onofrio; we have a spoken-word + music collaboration called “Slim Bone Head Volt”. I am halfway through recording my third album with guitarist Kyle Sanna, which is a project that presents traditional Irish music in non-traditional ways; we will be on tour in February and March of this year. I have an artist residency this spring at the Baryshnikov Center, where I’ll be focusing on a collaboration I have with the Irish poet Louis de Paor. All fun things! And then there’s the usual freelancing that I have to do to fund all of the fun things…