‘I feel I must fight for my music, because I want women to turn their minds to big and difficult jobs; not just to go on hugging the shore, afraid to put out to sea.’ ~Ethel Smyth, 1922
What does KC do?
The opportunities now available to women have changed beyond recognition since Dame Ethel Smyth delivered this analysis. A prolific composer, Smyth faced her fair share of adversity in her time, encountering a great number of difficulties in seeking to have her work published and performed. In the years since, we have seen an immense rise in the number of women involved in the world of music. Nevertheless, young female singers (especially those working in classical choral music) still face routine sexism, underemployment, underpayment, and lack of respect. The Korrigan Consort began with the ambition of offering an alternative music-making community for young, professional, self-identifying women within Oxford’s already rich music scene. We specialise in contemporary music and experimental approaches to historical vocal music, with an eye towards uncovering the works of lesser-known composers alongside established repertoire, furthering our mission to unearth and address alternative perceptions of contemporary choral performance. Most importantly, we are dedicated to celebrating the nuances of soprano and alto voices within choral music whilst working to eradicate the gender pay gap between male and female singers. Although this all-female ensemble is certainly not the first of its kind, we see our mission as a nuanced addition to an established gender discourse that we, as twenty-first century singers, hope to expand and develop.
What's in a name?
In the 1911 seminal work “The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries” by W.Y. Evans-Wentz, the author describes the origins of the Korrigan myth: “It is the Korrigan race, more than fairies, (which) forms a large part of the invisible inhabitants of Brittany. In Brittany the old gods became Korrigans, while in other areas of the ancient Celtic world, we find magical beings whose behavior suggests they were originally divine.”
Korrigans come from Breton-Celtic folklore, and form a group of female entities who are associated with rivers and wells. Sometimes they are described as fairy like creatures with beautiful golden hair, dressed all in white. They are also described as dwarvish, gnome-like creatures. They are sometimes even described as demons who despise churches and priests, as it is said within the folklore that Korrigans were important princesses who were opposed to Christianity when the Apostles came to Brittany, and refused to be converted. Historians believe the Korrigans were remnants of an earlier pagan goddess of nature called Korrigan. Korrigan was venerated in Gaul, or modern day France. It is thought the cult of the goddess originated in Brittany and spread to modern day Jersey in the Channel Islands.
Their mythical prevalence is found in the pre-Christian era, which has informed our choice of repertoire – that of naturalism and landscape. Whilst we hope to explore elements of sacred repertoire, such as worship to specific Saints, we hope that this humanistic approach to our repertoire will allow us to contextualise sacred worship, perhaps towards a wider appreciation of the ‘magical’ in all its forms. As argued by Monaghan ‘the persecution of earlier faiths by Christianity resulted in a fierce folkloric enmity between the Korrigans and celibate priests’. Our project, however, hopes to marry the two.