Loreena McKennitt – Dante’s Prayer

July 24, 2009

Today’s MSMOTD

Loreena McKennitt – Dante’s Prayer

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Ok, this MSMOTD is something special.  Loreena McKennitt has probably had the most significant musical influence on my life of any artist.  It’s doubly special because she’s actually from my area.. One of the few Winnipeg artists who’ve made it internationally (A few others being Chantal Kreviazuk, The Crash Test Dummies, Neil Young and The Guess Who).  She’s actually from a small town outside of Winnipeg, but close enough.  Loreena McKennitt is world-renowned for her lush fusion of celtic/folk and world music.  She accompanies her beautiful voice with piano, harp, accordion and good sized band full of world-class musicians playing esoteric instruments such as the hurdy-gurdy, bowed psaltery, hammered dulcimer and tamboura.  The result is the most beautiful music I know coupled with thoughtful, literate lyrics and poetry.

Loreena McKennitts 1997 album The Book of Secrets.  In my mind, one of the most perfect albums recorded.

Loreena McKennitt's 1997 album "The Book of Secrets". In my mind, one of the most perfect albums ever recorded.

Dante’s Prayer is right up there with REM’s Nightswimming as a song which moves me like no other.  Though I love music with my whole being, few songs bring me to tears.  Both Dante’s Prayer and Full Circle (see below) do this every time.  Loreena takes inspiration for her music from her travels across the world, incorporating ethnic influences from around the globe  (though showing an affinity especially for traditional European and Arabic music).  She also often will use great literary works and poetry for lyrical inspiration.  Dante’s Prayer was inspired by the Divine Comedy and her travels on the Trans-Siberian Railway.

There are many emotional currents running through this song.  It’s a dark song – the pleading words of a soul drowning in sorrow.  But at the same time it’s hopeful and intimate, like a comforting cloak that settles around your shoulders as the melody lulls you into a sense of peace.  I don’t usually pay attention to lyrics in music, but Loreena’s music is an exception.  Her lyrics are always beautiful and poetic, especially as they are sung by her gorgeous, emotional voice.

Though we share this humble path, alone  /  How fragile is the heart  /  Oh give these clay feet wings to fly  /  To touch the face of the stars.

Breathe life into this feeble heart  /  Lift this mortal veil of fear  /  Take these crumbled hopes, etched with tears  /  We’ll rise above these earthly cares.

These words lead into the heart-wrenchingly sorrowful refrain – “Please remember me…” – repeated as the song lifts the listener up from the depths of the melody into the last ethereal, heavenly, mournful choral dirge.  My own song, Angelus, is inspired by, but cannot approach, the brilliance of this masterwork.

(A bit from a documentary about her travels and performance at the mysterious and beautiful Alhambra in Grenada, Spain.  I love her voice)

I wish I could include SO MUCH of her music here, but if you like what I’ve posted, you’ll just have to go and explore her other music yourself.  She has never recorded a bad song.  Each and every one of her 6 studio albums is fantastic from beginning to end.  The Mummer’s Dance, from 1997′s “The Book of Secrets” (same album as Dante’s Prayer) was probably her closest brush with mainstream success.  It actually did well on various charts including #18 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #17 on Billboard Modern Rock.  So well, in fact, that it spawned a slightly bizarre dance remix that was probably most people’s first exposure to Loreena’s music.  Ah well.  You can go check out the video on Youtube.  Anyways, it’s a great song (the version I’ve included below) and is a good example of her slightly more upbeat story-telling songs.  That’s one reason I love her music… She tells wonderful stories.  Sad stories (The Bonny Swans), exciting stories (The Highwayman) and various others.

The third song I’ve included is one that I consider just as beautiful as Dante’s Prayer, though in a different way.  Full Circle is from her 1994 album “The Mask and the Mirror” (another of my all-time favourite albums), and it has one of the most emotional and beautiful instrumental performances I’ve heard.  Reviews of the album never single this song out, but that’s because they don’t know wtf.  The haunting, yearning, sublime sound of an esraj fills this song with a sense of wonder and sends shivers down my spine every time. Her liner notes put the tender, wistful lyrics into perspective:

March 23, 1993 – Morocco … Ramadan; I wake up early to catch my flight home, and at 5:30 a.m. hear men chanting in the mosque, one of the most moving and primitive sounds I have ever heard. They are calling their God. I think, when have I heard this before?

November 21, 1988 – St.-Benoit-du-Lac, Québec … have just arrived at this Benedictine monastery in the Eastern Township of Québec. It was the first snowfall today, and the brothers were out walking along the long lane as I approached … hooded figures slowly making their way to Mass as the snow fell like blessings. I followed the sound of the bells to vespers.

I have been listening to Loreena McKennitt for as long as I have memory, and it is she who has, in a large part, inspired both my music and my travels.  I hope that you find her work as inspirational and pleasurable as I do.  Leave a message in the comments to let me know what you think!

- Mons

More music from Loreena McKennitt

Loreena McKennitt – The Mummer’s Dance

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Loreena McKennitt – Full Circle

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Further info about today’s MSMOTD

Official Website: http://www.quinlanroad.com/

Wikipedia Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loreena_McKennitt

Featured Review: Dave Franklin’s review of “The Book of Secrets” for Helium.

Support the artist (and me!) by purchasing The Book of Secrets or The Mask and Mirror on Amazon.com.  These are two of my most treasured albums.  You’ll love them.  Unfortunately, only her most recent album, An Ancient Muse, is available as an mp3 download, so look for the individual tracks embedded above on iTunes perhaps.

7 Responses to “Loreena McKennitt – Dante’s Prayer”

  1. The first time I heard the MSMOTD was after I’d interviewed you for that paper last year, and you mentioned this song as the current song to describe your life. I checked it out and have loved Loreena McKennitt ever since.
    The lines you singled out are so gripping (there’s something about stars that really gets to me, and as much as I tried not to, I couldn’t help my eyes pricking a little :) ). I really really liked all of these songs, and I think some new music purchases are in order…

  2. unfortunately i had to get them off iTunes…. :(

  3. Yeah, it’s too bad that a lot of these artists aren’t available through Amazon. Their service is nice because there’s no DRM or anything. Ah well, if iTunes is the only way, then that’s what you gotta do :)

  4. Haha, forgive my ignorance, but what’s DRM?

  5. Oh, Digital Rights Management. So, with some music download services you pay for the song but are limited in what you can do. Can’t burn it to cd, can’t make backups, only on one pc at a time, that sort of thing.

  6. I came to Winnipeg in 1970. I met Loreena McKennitt within the next few years. I joined a small Opera group called The Winnipeg Opera and our choir master was a Peter Calvert.I remember doing a few operettas with Loreena. We were friends and I followed her musical efforts since then. I used to spend many times at the Fort Garry hotel listening to her play different instruments including the harp. I have always loved her music and being somewhat from a Celtic background myself, it was always haunting beautiful music to me. I come from a good mixture for music myself. Norwegian,Swedish,Scottish,English,and the best part. Just enough CREE aboriginal to help me sing as best I could. My mother was from the English, Swedish side and was a very good singer and encouraged me also to sing.I see that we both have been also inspired by Loreena. Music can be a lonely road. God has Blessed what you have accomplished so far.I hope to hear you in person some day. Keith

  7. I was a member of the Winnipeg Opera Co in the 70′s. I took part in the chorus in Carmen. The Co. performed it in english. I have sung in choir since I was 6yrs old, starting at (Regents Park United Churh)now St. Mary’s Road United Church. from 1960-1989. I Sept. 1989 I moved to the BC Sunshine Coast (Powell River) and joined the Powell River Chorus. 1990-1999. I have performed in a mass choir of over 1000 voices at the International Choral Festival known as Kataumixw (Salish word meaning Gathering of Different Peoples) where up to 30 choirs from all over the world gather in Powell River every evened numberd year. What an amazing experience this was for me in 92,94,96 and 98. I moved back to Winnipeg in 1999. There’s more if you’d like know. Liz ps I remember a Keith Hanson from the Opera Co.