Born in May 1961 in Dublin, Ireland. Education: Attended Royal Irish Academy of Music. Addresses: Record company--Polygram/Universal Records, Worldwide Plaza, 825 8th Avenue, New York, NY 10017, website: http://www.polygram.com. Management--Bardis Music Company Ltd., Glenageary Office Park, Glenageary, County Dublin, Ireland. Website--Ronan Hardiman Official Website: http://www.ronanhardiman.com.
Although he has not quite achieved household-name status, composer and performer Ronan Hardiman is one of the most popular and successful musicians to come out of Ireland. Indeed, as the composer of the soundtrack to Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance musical and the composer and performer of a series of Celtic-influenced New Age albums (released under a pseudonym) and two solo albums under his own name, Hardiman has contributed to the upsurge in popularity of Irish music around the world. While listeners across Europe, the United States, and Japan might not be familiar with his name, they have almost certainly heard his music, if only in connection to Lord of the Dance.
One of five children in a musical family, Hardiman was born in May 1961 and grew up in Dublin, Ireland. Although his brother and sisters attended Irish-language grammar schools, Hardiman went to St. Killian's, a school across the street from the family's new home that emphasized the German language. Because of Hardiman's experience, he told an interviewer for the Celtic Cafe website, "I was less drawn into the traditional [music] thing as my brothers and sister were, although we had a family group and used to compete in competitions--competitions that were organized around the traditional exploits--dancing and music." While he had already started to study the piano, Hardiman was relegated to playing the bodhran, a hand-held, one-sided drum, with his family. He joked to Celtic Cafe that even though the piano was the most familiar of all the instruments he played, which included the guitar and tin whistle, he was really "a frustrated drummer! I wanted to give up the piano when I was ten and take up the drums. I was always fascinated by them."
Hardiman's musical development focused on classical music training at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin, where he studied for 12 years. Aside from his formal studies, Hardiman indulged himself in a love of pop and rock music while at the Academy; he started to write his own songs and helped form a band, Boho. However, the group's ambition for a record contract was not realized, and Hardiman went off to college. After just a couple of months, Hardiman abandoned his university education and took a job as a teller with the Bank of Ireland.
Worked at Bank of Ireland
For the next 12 years, Hardiman worked at the Bank of Ireland while slowly building his experience in the music business. He played with several different bands at night and on the weekends in the hope that a record contract might be offered. While Hardiman came close to securing a record contract, his efforts did not pay off. Hardiman grew frustrated with the limitations of playing with a band and eventually decided that working as a composer and performer on his own was more satisfying.
Although he was grateful that his steady job at the Bank of Ireland could finance his interest in music--as well as the opportunity to meet his future wife, Helen, whom he met while they were colleagues at the bank--Hardiman eventually realized that he had enough experience and encouragement to pursue a full-time career in music. He was 29 years old, he recalled to Celtic Cafe, and he thought to himself: "If I don't do this now, I'm going to regret it for the rest of my life. There were plenty of examples in the bank of guys who had all the talents outside of banking hours who never realized those talents and were as a result frustrated and bitter and I didn't want that to happen." When Hardiman was offered a "voluntary redundancy" in 1990 during staff cutbacks, he welcomed the chance to leave the bank.
Success as Composer and Performer
The fledgling composer's instincts paid off; within a few years of leaving his bank job, Hardiman succeeded in gaining several high-profile composing jobs. In addition to writing the music for the Radio Telefís Éireann (RTE), Ireland's National Public Service Broadcasting Organization, and commercial tracks for the Guinness Brewery and Irish National Lottery, Hardiman composed the score for the natural history miniseries Waterways, which aired on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) in the United States. Another breakthrough came in 1996 when Hardiman scored the film My Friend Joe, an Irish movie that depicted the life of a boy growing up as part of a traveling circus. Hardiman started a recording career; under the pseudonym "Shanon," he released Celtic Classics, a collection of both original compositions and Irish standards such as "Danny Boy." In 1997, Hardiman followed the set with Celtic Classics II, which features a mix of traditional Irish and contemporary musical styles.
In March of 1996, Hardiman was approached to create the music for a dance performance being planned by Michael Flatley. Flatley, an American of Irish descent, had formerly been the lead dancer in the show Riverdance, which modernized traditional Irish step-dancing and popularized it around the world. Now with his own dance troupe, Flatley was looking for a composer to write the score for a dance performance piece, Lord of the Dance. With his long-standing interest in Celtic rhythms and string of successes writing soundtracks, Hardiman was an obvious choice for the project, and he quickly developed 15 tracks to accompany the story that Flatley had outlined. Lord of the Dance had its premiere in Dublin on July 2, 1996, and it soon became a theatrical sensation with 21 sold-out performances at London's Wembley Arena. Eventually, the show enjoyed sold-out performances around the world, and the Lord of the Dancesoundtrack sold 1.5 million copies.
The phenomenal success of Riverdance and Lord of the Dance signaled the renewed popularity of Celtic-influenced music and culture in the 1990s, and Hardiman benefitted from the trend. In 1998 he was able to fulfill a long-standing ambition to record an album of his own compositions, released under the title Solas, a Celtic word meaning "peace and joy." With a combination of Celtic, classical, New Age, and contemporary sounds, the ten compositions on Solas were difficult to classify. As Hardiman told Billboard upon the album's release, "I didn't set out to do something deliberately Celtic. I wanted something with a high emotional content." Selling over 200,000 copies around the world, the album was especially popular in Ireland and France, where a remixed version of the track "Heaven," with vocals by French singer Barbra Scaff, reached the top ten on the singles chart.
By now married, Ronan and Helen Hardiman lived in Dublin with their daughter, Ali, and son, Sam. The composer continued his string of commercial successes with the 1998 release of Feet of Flames, a recording of a special performance of Lord of the Dance in London's Hyde Park. Subsequently, Flatley toured with the Feet of Flames show, which featured some new songs from Hardiman. In September of 2000, Hardiman released a second album of original compositions in the United States, Anthem, with the European release planned for February of 2001. Although Anthemcontained the Celtic sound that Hardiman had previously offered, the album also demonstrated a contemporary outlook. As Hardiman told Billboard in October of 2000, "I've always been very pop-oriented as a songwriter. But I love incorporating ethnic rhythms and classical ideas into the discipline of the four-minute pop framework."
After an unlikely early career as a bank teller, Hardiman has succeeded in fulfilling his lifelong ambition to compose and perform his own music. Although he maintains a low profile, continuing to live and work in his native Dublin, his work has become well known to international audiences from Japan to South Africa to the United States. With performances of Lord of the Dance rebroadcast continually around the globe, Hardiman has gained recognition as one of the most successful composers and performers to emerge from Ireland.
by Timothy Borden
Ronan Hardiman's Career
Worked at Bank of Ireland while pursuing music career; wrote television and movie soundtracks, 1990s; composed soundtrack for musical Lord of the Dance, 1996; released solo albums Solas, 1998, and Anthem, 2000.
- Selected discography
- As composer
- Waterways (soundtrack), Hummingbird, 1995.
- Lord of the Dance , Polygram, 1997.
- Solas , Polygram, 1998.
- Feet of Flames , Polygram, 1999.
- Anthem , Polygram, 2000.
- As Shanon
- (Composer and performer) Celtic Classics ,Honest, 1995.
- (Composer and performer) Celtic Classics II ,Honest, 1997.
- Broughton, Simon, et al., editors, World Music: The Rough Guide Volume 1, The Rough Guides Ltd., 1999.
- Billboard, June 10, 1995; April 25, 1998; October 28, 2000.
- "Exclusive Interview with Ronan Hardiman," Celtic Cafe, http://www.celticcafe.com/Music/RonanHardiman/anthem1.htm (September 5, 2001).
- "Ronan Hardiman, Composer," Lord of the Dance, http://www.lordofthedance.com/shows/team/the_team_lod.htm (September 6, 2001).
- Ronan Hardiman Official Website, http://www.ronanhardiman.com (September 5, 2001).