The Litany of the Saints: Musical Quotations and Influences in the Music of Tommie Potts.

The Litany of the Saints and 'The Morning Dew'


With that digression into ‘new’ notes, we leave our ‘Neapolitan Folksong’ example with its evocative motifs and turn to the quieter work of Gregorian chant for further instance of outside influence at work within Potts’ music.  

There are several instances of references to “monks chanting” and “ecclesiastical music” in Potts’ speech (Ó Súilleabháin 1987, Chapter 7).  A further reference is found in the letter that forms part of the introduction to his manuscripts:

It is having in some way a sense of infinity, utterly serene and humble of course and this is to be found in some of the greatest music: in some of Bach and Cesar Franck, for example, or of Beethoven of the last quartets…. You find it in the music of the Mass, when the “alleluia” traces its’ pattern of sound on the last vowel saying nothing yet saying everything.  [Potts MSS, p.V see Ó Súilleabháin 1987]

This letter was written to the piper Paddy Maloney in 1972.  It was, however, in a letter to me dates July 1985, responding to several specific queries concerning his music that the following information emerged:

As a young boy, my father (R.I.P) often brought me to church and I was always attentive to the various ceremonies performed there.  In those days, for instance, there was the Confraternity or Sodality (of the Sacred Heart) which took place monthly.  It was always well attended: some members wore ecclesiastical vestments and were most proficient in their chant – Latin responses as, for instance in the Litany of the Saints: this was always with organ and choir accompaniment.  I will never forget this experience.  In fact, Mícheál, a variation of mine in the ‘Morning Dew’ reel is from the chanting: ora-pro-nobis and ora-te-pro-nobis of the above.  [Potts Correspondence, item 12 see Ó Súilleabháin 1987]. 

Having located the ‘Litany of the Saints’ in question (see Illustration 22) I asked him to mark that part of the reel as contained in his own manuscripts (page 51) which had been influenced by the chant.  His response indicated that the influence might be detected at the opening of the third part, and also that the additional responses, ‘parce nobis Domine’ and ‘te rogamus audi nos’, had interested him musically.  Illustration 21 show the part of the manuscript marked by Potts in response to my query, while Illustration 23 is a transcription of the appropriate section of the piece as performed by him on the ‘Domestic Tapes’.  The fascinating thing about this example is that what appears to be a coincidental synchronisation of motifs between his setting and the chant, is identified by him as something of seminal importance.  Illustration 24 shows the only possible motivic relationship in question between the chant response and that segment marked by Potts in his manuscripts.  It should be noted from Illustration 22 that while he brackets a two-bar stretch he also places an X mark over the stave in such a way as to cover five notes.  These are also the notes that correspond with the –ora-pro-nobis response.

illustration 21

Illustration 21. Pott’s ‘Morning Dew’ – the manuscript marking indicating the section influenced by ‘The Litany of the Saints’ (Ó Suilleabhain 1987, p.318)



illustration 22

Illustration 22.  ‘The Litany of the Saints’ with the responses marked from The Holy Ghost Hymnal 1926, pp134-156 (Ó Súilleabháin 1987, p.317)


Video 5. ‘The Litany of the Saints’. ‘Ora Pro Nobis’ at 65 seconds

Available to view at the YouTube URL:


illustration 23

Illustration 23. Potts' 'Morning Dew' (third part) as performed on the domestic tapes


Furthermore, this five-note segment is precisely the point in the two-bar stretch marked by Potts that deviated from the traditional model before moving back into phase with it in the manner noted in earlier examples.  The central role played by the ‘ora pro nobis’ motif in moving out phase with the model is also shown in Illustration 24.  The connection between this motif and ‘The Morning Dew’ reel is made even more obscure by the fact that it appears in tonality other than that of the reel.  That is to say, if the notes of the motif had occurred in the reel as F sharp, E, F sharp, G, rather than B, A, B, C, then the connection would be more easily discernable – although only if this had been pointed out beforehand.  All of this information is a further indication that Potts, in reaching out for new motifs and ideas, is able to take his own meaning out of borrowed material in such a way as to integrate it into his settings at a deep level of musical consciousness. 


illustration 24

Illustration 24. The 'ora pro nobis' motif in Potts' 'Morning Dew' shown here in the context of 'phasing'