Fergal O’Mahony wrote the last note of the musical Hallowed Ground last week before he took a trip to Marakesh, and less than a day after his return, Fergal very suddenly passed away on September 9.
Shock waves have been sent through the community that this tragedy could strike a 31 year old, especially one so talented and much loved by his friends, family and peers.
I met Fergal through my client Aoife Nally with whom he was writing an original musical, which we workshopped last year with a cast that included Linzi Hateley, Sarah Lark, Kirsty Mather and Hannah Levane. It was immediately apparent that he was nothing short of a musical genius.
This is an abridged version of a full bio you can find on the Cole Kitchenn website:
Fergal began studying the piano from an early age. He attended the junior school at the Royal Northern College of Music and went on to study on the joint course offered by the RNCM and Manchester University, before continuing on a full scholarship at the Cologne Hochschule fur Musik and then the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
As a pianist Fergal performed throughout the UK and Europe as well as appearances in the USA and Kazakhstan.
Having enjoyed playing the music of so many other composers, Fergal decided what he really wanted to do was write music of his own, and make a more lasting contribution to the world of music. A great lover of the theatre, it seemed apt that this be the medium that he should begin to write for.
He was a founder member of the Book, Music, Lyrics workshop (supported by Arts Council England) in 2010 and 2011 and wrote numerous songs and small-scale pieces during this time. His first large-scale piece was the musical Gutter Press, which was completed in early 2012.
I asked Aoife to put some words together about Fergal:
When Fergal and I started to write together we had a shared philosophy that we would write what we’d like to see and not really give a damn what other people wanted.
We found a great sense of play, felt like children in a sandbox, seeing just how high we could build that castle. He was always one for surprises. He was on a one-man mission to fight “predictable music”, while at the same time managing to write tuneful, singable, beautiful songs.
Fergal was so much fun to create with, I would ask him to write some outrageous things and I always thought, surely this time he’ll say no. Nothing seemed to faze him. For one song I gave him a Baroque aria, a 1980s power ballad and an archival recording of a depression era blues singer and said, “It sounds something like that”. He didn’t even blink.
Of course sometimes he would ignore me completely and write something even better than I could imagine. For one of our numbers in Hallowed Ground I casually suggested he write a full on Parisian Apache Tango dance break (as you do). I wasn’t sure we could ever perform it, but I just knew he’d write something ridiculously exciting. He came back with a six-minute virtuosic piece of dance theatre, which could be a show in itself.
He took such glee in playing it too. I was constantly reminding him that there would be a time when other people would have to play his music and he should show some compassion to the pianist. I was absolutely spoiled, when he would drop in with a new song (or “friend” – he always called his songs “old friends”). He would warm up the piano first, generally with a bit of Rachmaninov, or some ragtime or Chopin. I’ve never actually seen anyone play until their fingers literally blurred over the keys. He was an incredible player.
We only performed publically once, but I have to say, as an accompanist he was an absolute joy to work with, the kind of support where you breathe the song together, heaven for a singer. In rehearsals last year we had an impossible task to teach eight singers 29 pieces, in 24 hours over five days. He worked incredibly hard. He would rehearse the singers all day, teach piano to children all evening, and skipped meals and breaks to record tracks for the actors. I think he needed a root canal and was in a lot of pain, but never once complained. I’d walk in and find him surrounded by scores and loose sheets of music flying everywhere.
Anyone else would be curled up in the fetal position giggling softly, but he grinned at me and said, “I want lots of days like this”. I miss that grin, if ever I got stressed or overwhelmed, he would just laugh at me. And I’d have to join in – he had a very disarming laugh, his joy was always contagious.
I believe that when making music, the energy that goes into it is the energy that the cast and audience will feel. I hope everyone who experiences our work will feel the warmth and playfulness it was made with. One of our songs has the lyric “every step a blessing” and it is absolutely true: thank you Fergal O’Mahony for walking with me a while.
Fergal O’Mahony’s funeral will be held on Friday September 19 at St Colmcilles Church, Ballyhackamore, Belfast. A memorial evening celebrating the incredible life and music of Fergal will be held in London in the near future. Details of this will be posted on the Cole Kitchenn website and social networking sites shortly.
The family wish to pass on their gratitude for the love and amazing support they have received.