Connie Dover - Great Composer and Singer of Traditional Celtic and American Folk
This page is written to promote the talents of Connie Dover, one of the world's very finest performers of traditional songs, and the composer of some of the most beautiful music of recent decades. Born in the state of Arkansas and raised in the state of Missouri, Connie brings a sweetly sentimental voice of great clarity to her renditions of the choicest Celtic music from Scotland and Ireland's past, as well as the songs from America's own pioneering days. She also writes music of the very rarest quality - refreshing, enchanting and ethereal. But she is an artist who will not often be heard on radio stations, as this kind of music is not today deemed 'commercial'. Yet hers is a talent which I believe far outstrips that of many celebrated performers. Connie Dover is a musician who deserves to reach a wide audience.
On this page I include a brief biography of Ms Dover, and information on each of her five CDs to date. For each CD, I will also include a video featuring one track, to illustrate the kind of music she performs and writes. My selections are all among my favourite pieces, though the choice has been governed in part by the desire to choose tracks with different themes, including some of Connie's own compositions.
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A Brief Biography
True to the diverse origins of her music, Connie Dover can trace her ancestral roots to England, Scotland and Ireland, as well as to Mexico and to the native Cherokee people of America. Developing an interest in traditional music at an early age, she soon began to collect - and then perform - the ancient ballads of the Celtic nations and the New World.
As a professional musician, Connie sang lead vocals with a Kansas based Celtic band called Scartaglen between 1982 and 1994, the year when the group finally disbanded. By this time, however, Connie had already established an independent solo career and founded the Taylor Park Music Company in Missouri to publish her work. Under the Taylor Park label, five CDs of her music have been released.
Although Connie Dover still releases her music under the Taylor Park label, she has also contributed songs to folk and world music compilations on such labels as Sony, Virgin, EMI and Narada. And she has performed at folk festivals, and on television programmes and film soundtracks, garnering music and poetry awards and commendations along the way. One crowning achievement was the day in 2007 she won an Emmy for her work on a television documentary 'Bad Blood: The Border War that Triggered the Civil War'.
Away from the recording studio, Connie has enjoyed the great outdoors and the simple pleasures so often exemplified by her songs. One such activity described on her official website has been the many times she's worked as a ranch cook in the wilderness of Wyoming, camping out with the ranch hands and singing songs round the fire - just as the subjects of so many of her American folk songs may have done one hundred and more years ago.
The Scotsman Newspaper: 'Just occasionally, a voice arrives on the folk scene that is so pure, so beautiful, so magical, that it tells you:this is how to sing a song. Such a voice has Connie Dover.'
The Boston Globe: The finest folk ballad singer America has produced since Joan Baez.'
Kansas City Magazine: 'Heavenly songs bridge the Celtic tradition and the American West. Connie Dover's shimmering soprano is as pure and clear as the Western sky.'
Jon Chnadler, Old West Journal: 'Connie Dover possesses that most rare of instruments, a voice so evocative, so perfect . . . Hers is a universal voice, following the thread of history, so steeped in tradition it conjures images of Scotland, of Ireland, of Appalachia, of the Old American West . . . a consummate singer.'
The Five Taylor Park CDs
The first four solo CDs Connie Dover recorded on the Taylor Park label reflect her love of traditional music from the folk history of Britain and Ireland, and her interest in how this music then influenced new world folk from the days of the pioneers and the migration of the settlers westward across America. As such all of these solo CDs feature a selection of great ballads which span the centuries from England, Scotland and Ireland, as well as songs from America's past, and a liberal sprinkling of Connie's own enchanting compositions.
'Solo CDs' may, of course, not be the ideal phrase, because on any album much creative and technical work goes on in the background and behind the scenes, and on each of these CDs, Connie shares the stage with a number of accomplished musicians on a range of instruments both ancient and modern, including harps and dulcimers, fiddles and uilleann (Irish) pipes. One musician in particular should be mentioned, and that is Scottish folk artist Phil Cunningham, who not only plays a variety of instruments including accordion, keyboard and guitar, but also produced the first four albums.
The fifth CD was recorded in Missouri with the musicians of the Kansas City Chamber Orchestra under the direction of conductor Bruce Sorrell, and features not Celtic and American folk, but Christmas music. Nine carols and sacred songs are performed, some of which are well known and some of which are less familiar. In many respects, this is not so very different from the previous albums - carols owe at least as much to the folk tradition as they do to classical and religious influences, and instruments such as the hurdy gurdy, tin whistle and bagpipes combine on this album with the more typical sounds of the modern orchestra.
The Five Songs and Videos
To introduce Connie Dover's music, I have created five video slideshows. In these videos, I have selected one track from each of Connie's first five albums.
I hope the videos provide an enjoyable experience - this is the first time I have ever put together a 'musical slide show' of this kind, so I hope and trust that the videos play well. I have been limited by the availability of public domain images to include, but in time I hope to be able to refine and improve them.
All music is better when played with a good sound system, but music with a clarity such as this, especially so. Certainly I would say these pieces of music are much better when played on a good system with decent speakers, than when played on a computer with built-in speakers. But I hope that the videos reveal sufficient of the quality of Connie Dover's music, to encourage visitors to this page to explore further and discover more of her work.
CD1 - Somebody
- The Baron of Brackley
- On Castle Rock
- Lough Erne's Shore
- Jack of Diamonds
- An Air for Mary Tipton
- O'er the Hills and Far Away
Recorded in 1991, this was Connie Dover's first solo CD, and it set the style and standard which was to be maintained in subsequent releases. The formula is this - she sings the best Celtic songs and cowboy songs, and intersperses them with a handful of her own beautiful compostions, a few instrumental pieces, and one or two spiritual songs. It's all performed with a superb voice, great backing musicians, and Phil Cunningham's professional production. Three of the first four pieces on this CD are traditional songs from Ireland and Scotland, including the title song. And 'O'er the Hills and Far Away' is likewise an ancient song - it dates back more than three centuries, though with many versions of the lyrics recorded over the years.
From America comes the well known and pretty 'Shenandoah', a great folk song from the early 19th century. 'Jack of Diamonds' is another, rather livelier American song, albeit with a melody influenced by an older Scottish tune.
Quite different is 'Cantus', which is an extraordinary piece blending a 14th century Latin carol with ancient Irish poetry. The lyrics are translated from Latin and Gaelic and set to new music by Connie. It was an internet sampler of 'Cantus' which first introduced Connie Dover to me - 30 seconds was all it required for me to investigate further.
Several tracks here demonstrate the abilities of Connie as a composer or arranger, and two are entirely her own work. First there is 'On Castle Rock' - a very attractive instrumental air, named after the volcanic rock on which Edinburgh Castle stands. But 'An Air for Mary Tipton' is probably my favourite of all Connie's own compositions. This is a stunningly beautiful piece of music she wrote in honour of - and as a dedication to - her maternal grandmother.
The Story behind the Video : Rosemary's Sister
By 1939, the Nazi regime in Germany had been rapidly building up its military might over many years, to the point where its progress was hard to resist. When World War Two broke out, the German army rapidly occupied much of Eastern Europe, before sweeping west through Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, Norway and France. Britain alone remained free. But at this time, Britain was ill-prepared to take on the might of the Nazi regime.
The best that was possible was to defend her shores. This was done with great success in the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940. But even after this battle effectively ended German plans to invade, bombs continued to rain down on British cities in an attempt to crush the spirit of resistance. For eight months Britain came under a constant aerial bombing attack by day and by night - cities burned and the buildings were reduced to rubble during a period known as the blitz. Months passed with scarcely a single day's respite, and many thousands of civilians died. And it wasn't just piloted aircraft either, because in 1941, the first of Hitler's terror weapons, the pilotless V1 'flying bomb', was launched against London.
'Rosemary's Sister' tells the story of two little girls whose home is hit by one of these flying bombs during the dark days of the blitz. To accompany the song, I have included images of the time, and the children who were caught in the midst of a nightmare world. The fifth image of the sequence shows a V1 flying bomb, or 'doodlebug'. The song was composed by the Welsh musician Huw Williams. It may not be the most typical of Connie Dover's songs, set as it is in comparatively recent times, but 'Rosemary's Sister' is a heart rending and evocative piece, which suits her talents admirably.
CD2 - The Wishing Well
- In Aimsir Bhaint an Fheir
- Laddie, Lie Near Me
- Hugh the Graeme
- Siuil a Ruin
- Where Shall I Go?
- Ubi Caritas
- Willie of Winsbury
- The Colorado Trail
- The Wishing Well
- Summer Before the War
Connie's second CD was released in 1994, with a similar blend of Celtic tunes and songs from America's pioneering history, plus a few of her own compositions - a delectable mix executed with real feeling.
Perhaps Connie's voice is best suited to those gentle ballads such as the very pretty 'Laddie Lie Near Me' and 'Willie of Winsbury', two traditional and attractive songs from Scotland. (At 8 minutes 27 seconds, 'Willie' is also the longest recording on any of these albums, but it's 8 minutes 27 seconds well spent). As with her first CD there are two American works. Both of these are cowboy songs; one is a traditional song, 'The Colorado Trail', while the other is a more recent composition, 'Where Shall I Go?', by Bill Staines.
If 'Cantus' represents the most ancient of musical traditions on the first album, so 'Ubi Caritas' performs a similar role on this CD - a beautiful blend of words from 9th century Gregorian chant, with a fresh melody by Connie Dover. The combination works perfectly. And 'Rosemary's Sister' - the song featured above - also has a correlative piece on this CD; 'Summer Before the War' is another really nice, evocative composition by Huw Williams, set in the months leading up to World War Two.
But perhaps Connie saves the best till last. The title song, 'The Wishing Well' is certainly the piece in which Connie's voice is at its most emotionally expressive, a truly beautiful work, with lyrics adapted from an Irish poem. The melody is entirely her own.
The Story behind the Video : Weston
In her album notes, Connie Dover relates that this instrumental piece was named for a 'beautiful Missouri River town which is home to many dear friends'. I have selected it to feature on this page for two reasons. Firstly, 'Weston' is a beautiful air - along with 'Mary Tipton' on the previous CD, I would suggest it is one of the finest instrumental pieces on these five CDs. Secondly, this is Connie's own original composition, and as such I think it demonstrates convincingly that her voice is only one part of the talent she brings to the world of music.
I must admit that I have no knowledge of Weston, other than the information revealed in Weston Missouri, which is a webpage devoted to the town. I also have few images of the region around the town, but the music has a tranquil tone, so I felt a collection of images of wild flowers from around the world including the American countryside, would be appropriate. I hope that these images will compliment the melody, the main theme of which emerges after about 34 seconds.
CD3 - If Ever I Return
- Fear an Bhata
- Lady Keith's Lament
- Peggy and the Soldier
- Ned of the Hill
- The Holland Handkerchief
- La Fontaine
- Mally Leigh
- Who Will Comfort Me?
- Shady Grove
- Miss Lillian Williams
- How Can I Live at the Top of the Mountain?
'If Ever I Return' was the third CD by Connie Dover, and it was recorded at Phil Cunningham's studio in a village in Scotland in 1997. The album, as ever, contains tender and attractive ballads which date back at least to the 19th century or earlier, but there are one or two notable 20th century pieces too. Like 'Mary Tipton', 'Miss Lillian Williams', is an instrumental air composed by Connie in honour of a relative - in this case her paternal grandmother Lillian Williams Dover, who raised ten children (including Connie's father) in Arkansas during the depression years. Lucky relatives indeed to have someone like this to immortalise them with such music!
'Who Will Comfort Me?' has some of the most evocative and poetic of all the lyrics on these albums. It is another composition which is entirely Connie's own - a song of passion decrying the destruction of the natural environment in the American West. In my opinion it is one of the greatest of conservation songs.
Listening to the song selections in the videos, you may be forgiven for thinking all of Ms Dover's repertoire is gentle and slow - even mournful. But on this album are two more lively jaunty songs - 'Mally Leigh' from Scotland, and 'Shady Grove' which hails from the Appalachian Mts, USA. These two songs give the album a nice change of tempo.
Arguably the most beautiful piece of music is 'La Fontaine'. Not content with just English, Latin and Gaelic verses in her song selections ('Ned of the Hill' featured in the video here includes some Gaelic verse), Connie Dover sings this French folk song with lyrics which date back at least to 1704. The gorgeous melody is yet another which has been composed by the artist herself.
This CD concludes with 'How Can I Live at the Top of the Mountain', an Irish folk song, to which has been added an instrumental air composed by Phil Cunningham. A final flourish of Scottish bagpipes closes the album.
Ned Of The Hill
The Story behind the Video : Ned Of The Hill
My selection from this CD is 'Ned of the Hill', a beautiful song from Ireland sung partly in Gaelic and partly in English.
The song is a traditional ballad which tells the story of Edmund Ryan, who was an Irish aristocrat at the time of the Battle of the Boyne, fought between the Protestant forces of King William III of England (also known as William of Orange) and the Catholic forces of the previously deposed King James II. James was attempting to regain his throne with the help of Irish supporters. The battle, in Northern Ireland in the year 1690, led to the final defeat and exile of James, and the cementing of British rule in Ireland under William.
Edmund Ryan, nicknamed 'Ned of the Hill' after the hilltop on which his birthplace Knockmeath Castle stood, lost his lands in the aftermath and became an outlaw, or a rebel leader (depending on one's own viewpoint). Legends grew up about him similar in style to those of Robin Hood. He was hunted by the authorities after the killing of a tax collector, and ultimately he was murdered for the price on his head. Tales of this event suggest his assailant was not aware that Ned Ryan had been pardoned just days before.
Although the song 'Ned of the Hill' is very old, many versions have been developed over the years. Incorporated into the melody of Connie Dover's rendition is an instrumental air from Scotland named 'Hector the Hero', and this is undoubtably the best version I have heard. For the video I have used images of the countryside of the British Isles, most notably from Ireland.
CD4 - The Border Of Heaven
- The Blessing
- Sweet Betsy From Pike
- I am Going to the West
- The Sailor Cut Down in his Prime / The Streets of Laredo
- Lord Franklin
- An Spailpin Fanach
- Last Night by the River
- The Water is Wide
- Wondrous Love
- Winter's Night
- My Dearest Dear
- Brother Green
'The Border of Heaven' was a CD produced in the year 2000, and it is aptly named, for many songs on the album have a quite angelic feel to them. One track exemplifies the common theme of uniting the music of early America with the ancient music of the British Isles from which many American songs were derived. Certainly, the melody of 'The Sailor Cut Down in his Prime' will be very familiar to many, though the lyrics may not be. This is a poignant 18th century folk song about a dying sailor, and I think Connie's version is perfection itself. The melody later crossed the ocean, where it was fashioned with new lyrics to become one of the best known of cowboy songs - 'The Streets of Laredo'. Both versions are sung one after the other on this album, illustrating perfectly how folk music may adapt and modify over the ages and in different cultures. The American version is a duet with Skip Gorman.
'I am Going to the West' is almost entirely Connie's own creation. The melody and lyrics were written by her, with chorus lyrics adapted from an Alabama folk song. Although the song is less than 20 years old, it sounds every bit as 'traditional' as any on the album. 'Last Night by the River' is another of Ms Dover's compositions, and shows the versatily of instrumentation on her albums - inspired by a Shoshone love poem, the song features a whistle crafted from the wingbone of an eagle.
Her rendition of the story of 'Lord Franklin' and his ill-fated crew of adventurers, and of Lady Franklin, who was waiting at home for news which never came, is hauntingly sad. Many of Connie's choicest songs do have a mournful, albeit beautiful, quality to them, but as with the previous album, this CD also features upbeat numbers such as 'Sweet Betsy from Pike', 'An Spailpin Fanach', and 'Winter's Night'. Before ending this review, I must mention two other favourites; the hymn 'Wondrous Love', and the achingly sentimental 'My Dearest Dear'.
The Story behind the Video : Brother Green
During the American Civil War, many Irish immigrants sided with the southern states and fought for the Confederacy. However many tens of thousands also fought for the Union Army forming entire regiments incorporated into the so-called 'Irish Brigade'. So just as Americans were fighting Americans, so Irish were fighting Irish, sometimes carrying their own green banners. At the Battle of Fredericksburg, it was said that the 24th Georgia Infantry saluted their Irish Brigade opponents with cheers - before being obliged to open fire and gun them down.
The song is a traditional Civil War folk song, albeit adapted by Ms Dover and set to a melody arranged by her and derived from the song 'Barbry Ellen'. It is a melody, I would suggest, which comes not merely from the 'Border of Heaven', but from the very heart of Heaven. To accompany the song, I have used authentic images from the Civil War, commencing with portraits and family scenes, and proceeding to battlefield scenes. I should point out that the video concludes with quite graphic images of dead soldiers.
CD5 - The Holly And The Ivy
- The Christ Child's Lullaby
- The Holly and the Ivy
- The Huron Carol
- Coventry Carol
- In the Bleak Midwinter
- O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
- Silent Night
- Auld Lang Syne
Whatever one's religious beliefs, one can appreciate beautiful music and beautiful words and a beautiful story, and undeniably all of these apply to Christmas carols. The gentle and peaceful nature of the words and the simplicity of the melodies, all work together to produce a very moving and evocative experience when a songstress like Ms Dover performs.
It was clear to me in her renditions of tracks such as 'Wondrous Love' and 'Who Will Comfort Me?', that this lady's voice was suited perfectly to singing songs of praise, and so it was to be welcomed when, after an eight year break from CD recording, 'The Holly and the Ivy' was released in 2008. This is an album of carols and seasonal music, and - though different thematically - it more than maintains the standard of Connie's four previous recordings.
The album includes some of the best known of carols, such as the title song, 'The Holly and the Ivy', 'O Come, O Come, Emmanuel' and 'Silent Night'. Some of the most ancient of songs are also to be found here; 'The Coventry Carol' is dated to 16th century Tudor England. And 'Torch!' has even earlier origins - it tells a traditional tale and the melody is a 15th century French dance tune.
Perhaps of particular interest is the 'Huron Carol', an old song with French words composed by a Jesuit priest Father Jean de Brébeuf in the 17th century, and set to the melody of a 16th century French folk song. In this version Connie combines both the original French verse, and verses translated into English. The carol adapts elements of the Christmas story into concepts which would have been understandable to the culture of the Huron Indians who attended the priest's mission in Ontario. Instead of a stable and shepherds paying homage, we have a bark lodge and hunters, and a baby dressed in rabbit skins.
The CD ends as all Christmas and New Year celebrations should end, with the great anthem of togetherness, 'Auld Lang Syne'.
In The Bleak Midwinter
The Story behind the Video : In The Bleak Midwinter
Featured here is the well known carol, 'In the Bleak Midwinter'. The words of this carol are derived from a poem by Christina Rosetti written in 1872. Early in the 20th century the words were put to music on several occasions, most notably by Gustav Holst in 1906, and by Harold Darke in 1911. Both versions regularly feature near the top in polls of 'Britain's favourite carol'. The Holst version is probably best known (and my favourite) and that is the melody to which Connie Dover sings here.
This combination of Gustav Holst's music and Christina Rosetti's words, makes this in my opinion the best and most evocative of all Christmas carols. 'In the Bleak Midwinter' may not be a children's carol, and it may lack the jingly jolliness of some carols, but it is a truly poignant and moving piece.
Predictably (though maybe somewhat unimaginatively), I've set this music to scenes of winter, snow and blizzards.
A Live Performance and an Interview With The Artist
I decided to download this extra video by LCarter.dot.com because it offers the chance to see Connie Dover in concert with a song not included on any of these five albums. It features also a brief excerpt from an interview in which she tells something of how she first developed a liking for traditional music.
Connie Dover's future is for her to decide. My only sadness is that she has not yet released more albums.
There is, of course, a vast reservoir of Celtic and other folk songs from the Victorian and earlier eras, and many many beautiful and evocative songs from America's history which would benefit from her attention, and many more carols and hymns too. I'd love to see her tackle more French music, and also some of the great Welsh tunes such as 'The Ash Grove', and English anthems, including the well known song which provides my 'username', 'Greensleeves'. But whatever Connie Dover does in the future, her voice and compositional skills deserve the widest possible audience, and I hope through this page to introduce just a few more people from around the world to her talents, so as to increase the audience which appreciates this kind of music.
Connie Dover On Amazon
The Connie Dover Website
- Connie Dover Home Page
Visit the official website to learn much more about this artiste, and to read reviews and the lyrics of all these songs. Also learn about upcoming events involving Connie, and hear brief clips of songs. One can also order CDs and MP3s at this site.
Connie Dover On Amazon
A gift to sing with lucid sweetness is a gift to be cherished. But there are an awful lot of good singers out there. A rarer talent perhaps is the ability to compose great melodies, and to write great lyrics. Although much of Connie's work has been to perform the music of others, often she has interpreted and adapted these songs in enchanting ways, and she has shown a really tremendous talent for writing her own original music - examples of this are to be found on all of her five CDs featured here.
Everybody has their favourite singer or songwriter. Why is this talented (and attractive) lady mine? It's all here on these CDs. There is the superb song selection with gentle, heartfelt lyrics and timeless melodies. There is great instrumentation and musical arrangement which makes these versions of traditional works the best I have heard. There are crystal-clear vocals of the highest standard which allow every word she sings to be understood. And then there are her own astonishingly beautiful compositions of instrumental airs and poetic words. It's exactly the way I feel this kind of music should be performed to best effect. She is the best in the business.
Connie Dover On Amazon
The yellow musical notes section dividers which have been used here are reproduced and very slightly modified from an idea by 'homesteadbound'. My thanks for the use of these dividers.
Connie Dover On Amazon
I am very indebted to Wikimedia Commons for images which have been used on all of these videos. For the video of 'Ned of the Hill' I have also used PhotoEverywhere images and freeirishphotos images. I am also grateful for these. For the video 'Brother Green', I have used pictures from the Library of Congress - an institution with a great and extensive collection of early American photos. Without all of these free images it would not have been possible for me to present videos on a page such as this.
Above all of course, my thanks to Connie Dover, the musicians on the recordings, and the Taylor Park Music Company. All her CDs can be purchased via this page's Amazon links, or direct from Taylor Park.
Connie Dover On Amazon
Other Pages You May Like ...
- 30 Favourite Christmas Carols
The history of 30 of the best loved Christmas carols, with video links or presentations of all
- My Desert Island Discs
If ever I were to be stranded on the hypothetical island of the radio programme Desert Island Discs, these are the 8 records I would choose, as well as my answers to other questions posed by the show
All My Other Pages ...
I have written articles on many subjects including science and history, politics and philosophy, film reviews and travel guides, as well as poems and stories. All can be accessed by clicking on my name at the top of this page
Please feel free to quote limited text from this article on condition that an active link to this page is included
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