Music and Reviews from Clare, Limerick, Waterford and sometimes further afield

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Walk on the Wild Side Tribal Drumming in Ennis

I am the proud owner of a set of hand drums purchased in Lidl a couple of years ago. It is my kind of shop where you go in for a pint of milk and cabbage and come out with a pair of congas and  I find  it quite therapeutic to bang them every now and then .  Happily a trip to Africa is not required  to take my ethnic drumming habit to a new level so this week I skipped choir practice  and headed out to the exotic location of  the Junior Infants classroom in the Gaelscoil on the Gort Road, Ennis  for the Monday night session of Tribal Spirit Drum Workshop with John Bowker billed as 'Ireland's leading drum circle facilitator by no less a publication than the  august Irish Times

I arrive early and John  is preparing his space and setting out his collection of drums .  The drums are all big decent looking wooden drums some with hairy skins and not a sythetic surface in sight. John begins  with some clapping and some simple drumming rhythms as more  people assemble and fill up the expanding circle . At the close more than two dozen people make up the ensemble.  John Bowker deftly leads the group through a sequence of rhythms adding vocal  call and response chants and adding some background colour detail about the equinox  and  reference to Christian calendar feast of Michaelmas and so on.  He is a sofly spoken English man but there are no rowdys sniggering down the back and he is quietly authoritative. .

 Having established the basic rhythms and chants the group break for ten minutes or so. On resuming the lights are dimmed and the circle divides into four groups based on the different rhythms with some auxilliary bells and shakers and the rhythms and chants explored to make a multilayered performance piece. I am surprised at how effortlessly the group pick up the leader's cues and John  is very skilful at keeping the momentum going. Over the two hour period the pace doesn't flag for a moment and that is quite a skill.

First choose your drum
Movers and shakers

It was a very interesting and enjoyable evening. For an instantly accessible musical experience , it would be hard to beat.  The emphasis is on physicaly beating out rhythm but there is a strong vocal element  and  a strong sense of a communal music making experience.  There is a  quasi ceremonial element to the procedings  with lighting of candles and some chanting  and the evening finishes with a ritual bequeathing of good wishes like a prayer .

Drumming sessions take place from 6.30 to 8.30 in Gaelscoil Mhichil Chiosog Gort Rd, Ennis  You are free to join on a per night basis, ideal if like me you are commitment phobic. The rate was €10  or € 6 for concessions. All  instruments are provided. Workshop leader  Bowker manages to leaven a sense of solemnity with a good dose of humour and while I am not ready to do it all again very soon and I look forward to returning to the circle  before the term ends. I recommend a visit especially for anyone involved in music education.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

SyngeSongs for Culture Night

Books and Music Fiona and Cathy
The Lark in the Clear Air  Samuel  Ferguson /trad
'At the grey round of the hill'   Yeats   read by Saoirse Glennon
 Down  By the Sally Gardens  Yeats/trad
Believe Me if All Those Endearing Young Charms Thomas Moore
Two Planxties by  Carolan  Constantin Maguire and Mrs McDermottroe
Boat Songs
       Anach Cuain
       Baidin Fhilimi
Balfe I dreamt I dwelt in Marble Halls from Bohemian Girl
Finale :Just a song at Twilight   JL Molloy

Cathy Desmond- Violin Viola,  Fiona Walsh- piano ,

Guests Tony Murray-Tenor, Saoirse Glennon Actress

At the grey round of the hill
Music of a lost kingdom 
Runs, runs and is suddenly still.
The winds out of Clare-Galway
Carry it: suddenly it is still

Culture Night snook up on me this year and when the day arrived, I regretted not having made some preparation  to contribute to the procedings. So I was happy to fill in at the DeValera Library, Ennis  when  the scheduled performance by two sopranos was cancelled. (One could paraphrase  Oscar Wilde ,  'to lose one soprano.... . ) To fit in as far as possible with the scheduled offering relating to Synge , I chose repertoire that would have been familiar to middle class Dubliners at the turn of the century with some link to the major Gaelic Revival literary figures of the time , JM Synge ,  WB Yeats and James Joyce.  Included were  ballads,  airs and an operatic aria  Fortuitously Saoirse Glennon (who recently played Pegeen Mike in   Ennis Players production of Playboy Of The Western World)  had come in to renew her books and  was on hand to read a poem by Synge's mentor, Yeats and I was joined by tenor and Balfe specialist Tony Murray who sang that most enduring of Moore's melodies, Believe Me if All Those Endearing Young Charms. 

Myt accompanist Fiona Walsh and I we were warmly received by the  Dolores Meaney and staff of the library .  I love to perform in these public spaces and the DeValera Library has a warm accoustic and is a most convivial venue . Occasions such as Culture Night do galvanise us as performers into literally getting our act together and Clare Arts Office are to be commended for putting their weight behind promoting and encouraging this initiative in Clare and I was delighted to play a small part in the local effort.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Trip to 'Brighton' for silver anniversary

It is said prophets are not recognised in their own land . The same cannot be said of playwright Jim Nolan in the South Eastern capital, Waterford. Weeks after his play , the Gods Are Angry Miss Kerr had a run at the Theatre Royal,  his most recent play Brighton  (premiered in 2010) was reprised in the commissioning theatre, Garter Lane in the playwrights home town marking Nolan's 25th anniversary of writing for theatre.
 There was a full house on Saturday night for the final night before the company embark on a ten theatre national tour with the author himself in attendance. 

I enjoyed this production under director Ben Barnes and there were strong performances from Andrew Macklin, Gillian Hanna and Christopher Saul.  I hesitate before committing to a whole evening in the company of a relatively small cast and you couldn't help hoping the malevolent Father Mackey or the octagenarian bottom pincher might make an appearance but the production was sure footed and the writing had plenty of wit and humour to stop you itching for the remote control.  I particularly liked English actor, Christopher Saul's voice which had the resonant quality to it  one would expect from an RSC thespian.

In Brighton, in tandem with the sense of an ode to the the triumph of the human spirit, Nolan returns to  a theme explored in The Salvage Shop, namely  the therapeutic power of amateur music  making. Lily is propelled out of her death bed and  anti social Jack is galavanised by the project of forming a choir. Jack's  appeal to Lily has the same quality as Syvie's speech about the imperfect performance in the local town hall being just as important as a Pavarotti concert in one of the world's best venues, a sentiment which has given me much encouragement over the years. It is the striving is the thing , not the end result which matters.

I was reminded of my visits to Cahercalla Community Hospital in Ennis and of the late Jim Cleary who played his accordion every day until he passed away last year at the age of 93. Even as he belted out  The Bucks of Oranmore or the Stone Outside Dan Murphy's Door in a faltering tempo, I had a sense that there was just as much heart to his performance as any on the  Glór stage and never failed to be moved by his playing, his audience just as important as any at a glittering first night,  

Lily's glee at her initiation into the world of gambling recalled  my own  introduction to the world of yankees and trebles and trips to the betting shop when the tedium of the routine of lab work at a Dublin hospital was relieved by the  daily betting routine around a Cheltenham Race week. What fun!

Afficionados in the audience included local writer and broadcaster Éibhear Walsh and his mother. The Cork based acadamic  tells me that he is looking forward to reading from his  memoir, Cissie's Abbatoir  in the study hall of his old alma mater, De La Salle College for the forthcoming Imagine Festival.   Contralto Anne Woodworth spoke to me about her current academic research project into music and health. We also spotted troubadour Francie White who gave a memorable performance during last years festival and will be performing again this year with Dunmore East guitar supremo Gerry Power. 

Link below to Una Kealy's review for the Irish Theatre Magazine

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Punk Baroque Delight : Dido and Aeneas Cork

The production  of Dido and Aeneas at Cork Opera House last night combined superb singing with innovative staging, inventive orchestration to produce a fresh contemporary take on the English Baroque opera classic.
Originally produced  in 17th century for a London  girls' school, it is  rare gem in that it combines an English libretto and with loads of singable tunes and remains for me  one of the most appealing and accessible works in the genre . Although frequently performed as a concert piece ( my review of  Waterford International Music Festival here) , in this fully staged production, director John O Brien places the action in a Gothic world intensified by the extreme angles of a set of giant geometric shapes which rotate and glide throughout the production combined with projected nocturnal skyscapes.  The lighting is subdued exaggerating the shadows and intensifying the dark world of seething emotion.

While the staging is impressive, the most innovative aspect of the production  is in the treatment of the orchestration.  There is no need to book a ticket near the front if you like to peer into the pit. The curtains open with the musicians on stage in gothic costumes elevated from their usual position in the pit to taking on the role of  all singing, dancing players . The original string orchestration by violinist Marja Gaynor is rejigged for a  salon ensemble of violin/viola, clarinet/sax. accordion and cello all performed theatrically from memory , quite a feat.  The baroque elements are mixed with other genres in the musical cauldron and there is a strong whiff of Klezmer with the high clarinet and sax lines. The tango treatment of one of the numbers reminded me of the orchestration of Roxanne in Baz Luhrman's  Moulin Rouge   It is a tight ensemble piece with eight players in total.  Cara O Sullivan looks suitably regal and also sings role of sorceress as an altar ego. It is lovely to hear two local divas of international standing with Mary Hegarty playing Belinda.  A punk looking Catrin Johnsson  completes the  coven . Simon Morgan recently seen in Opera in the Open (my review here)  sings the role of  heart breaker Aeneas , the jaunty sailor and spooky spirit, the latter a device requiring him to sing while operating a ghostly ventriloquists dummy .
All elements old and new combine to produce a theatrical delight that should work really well on the festival circuit in medium sized theatres with flytowers.

Irish Times Review here

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Busking in Ennis in aid of Ennis Musical Society

Today I fulfilled a long held ambition to busk in my home town. I overcame my inhibitions and joined collectors of Ennis Musical Society who were fundraising for their forthcoming production of The Sound of Music.  We played selections from the shows. I note that Bruce Springsteen did a spot of busking in  a public  park Boston this week as he was dropping a kid off to college.

'Fiddling'  Busking with Geraldine of EMS

This will be my last post for some time. Over the last two years I have enjoyed recording the arts events that I have attended and participated in but for now I will be concentrating on my teaching projects.

Bluegrass, Broadcasts and Ballyporeen Choir on Tour

Billy McCarthy conducts an interview

Pickers session at The Spinnaker

  • Terry takes the floor

Alice and her Ukulele

Maith an fear thú Frank 

Flute solo

Guesting with Margaret and Claire at Killea Church

Some of the best radio broadcasts I heard this week came from Bluegrass festivals. On the national station I loved the easy rapport Sandy Hersch and Niall Toner had with their good humoured guests on their joint broadcast from Omagh. There were some wonderful regional American accents and who knew there was a bluegrass scene in Italy. Can it really be 17 years since the Bluegrass Festival weekend was inaugurated in Dunmore East.  In honour of the occasion, WLR stalwart Billy McCarthy conducted his morning radio show from Azurro Restaurant in the South Eastern fishing village. Having connections here , I listened with keener interest than usual to this mid morning broadcast and indeed went along to watch the final segment of the programme being recorded .  Producer Jennifer Long  assembled a delightfully diverse range of genuinely local voices to  broadcast on the ether on a gloriously sunny morning.  Many of them familiar,  they included local restauranteurs, a publican, Tidy Town folk, a  lifeboat man, local history experts, singers, bluegrass musicians , divas and sailors and a celebrity chef.   McCarthy's easy and understated interviewing style concealed what a consummate performer he is. It was a refreshing change to have a morning show presenter who does not use guests as a foil for his own witticisms . McCarthy knew many of his guests which added  a depth to his dialogues but he drew interesting information from all his  relaxed interviewees.   This was the sort of programme local radio can do so well and it would make a good audio snapshot for the archives of the local history group.

The bluegrass  festival was great fun as always although portable floodlights and metal fencing did cast a forbidding  shadow this year, a necessary evil it seems. My favourite sessions are the informal jamming sessions and the Spinnaker seemed to be the best spot for casual musicians to turn up and join in some action. The Molly Hicks  in Azurro were fun . Having done a round of the village pubs,we finally escaped up the hill to Hayes Pub, Killea  known locally as Aggies where we have enjoyed many a convivial singsong and tonight was no exception  with Tipperary -Waterford rivalry  set aside for the visit to the pub by the Ballyporeen Church Choir  with their director Mary O Gorman on their Summer outing. Considering that Wikipedia gives the population of this Tipp village as being 300,  the 15 strong choral contingent represented a very significant proportion of the population. Moreover the proportion of tenors and basses would be the envy of many choir directors.  They sang and danced with  Eamonn Breathnach acting as MC, aided and abetted by Mary Mahoney, Shane Walsh , Terry Butler and myself on fiddle  The many singers took their turn with gusto and some were quick to add a step here and there and all joined in the choruses.  It was late when the ensemble boarded the minibus and as we know .. 'its a long way to Tipperary'....

My report on another night in Hayes Pub Killea is here.