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

Monday, November 18, 2013

Bach to Bacharach: A Week in Waterford

There was lots to enjoy in Waterford this week, e Here is a roundup of what I heard over the last seven days. There were at least as  many events again that I missed. The Van Brugh Quartet were guests of Waterford Music Club and there was ballet and Broadway musical numbers in the Theare Royal.

Sunday. Twin Cathedrals The splendid organist, Cecilia Kehoe played Bach's G minor Prelude BMV 541 in the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity following 12.00 Mass. It was  a busy morning for Cecelia as she was on duty earlier at the Christchurch Cathedral organ.Next week you can hear her accompany the visiting Waterford Male Voice Choir  at 12.00 Mass at Barronstrand St.

In the afternoon, the  master fiddler, Martin Hayes  was in Garter Lane with accompanist Dennis Cahill. I like Sunday  afternoon events especially in Winter when a reluctance to leave the comfort of home on dark cold evenings is a deterent. The mood was somewhat reverent for the much lauded fiddler generally agreed to be the doyen of the  lilting Clare fiddle style. I can never hear jigs and reels without longing to see some  feet to add  dancing dimension to the tunes. Speaking of feet-Who needs a bodhran player when you have  two strong feet.  Martin Hayes provided his own percussion accompaniment by stomping both of his to  the beat throughout the entire set relenting  only for  the slow airs. It wasn't an enhancing effect. He was preceded by young Tramore fiddler, Rebecca McCarthy Kent accompanied by John Grant.  With both duos, I found myself pondering on the role of the guitarist accompanists in Irish traditional music. Cahill was always subservient to the fiddle. offering a  distinctive sparse chordal drone accompaniment.  Even in jazz, the accompanying player is indulged with the occasional solo moment .

Malcolm Proud
Monday :  There was more  Bach at the Good Shepherd Chapel as part of the Mondays at the Chapel, series under the auspices of WIT Music Department. Malcolm Proud , a major player in the international early music world played a Partita (E minor) on Harpsichord. and all for free. What a shame not to see more of the music students in attendance.

Wednesday: No Bach at the Wedenesday night Ukulele Club at Downes Pub. but the mix was eclectic  This is early days for the club, which is open to beginners and improver uke players. Fancy having a go.? We will lend you uke and teach you three chords .  More details on the Deise Ukes facebook page

Friday : The Barrack Street Concert Band paid homage to the ouevre of Burt Bacharach with a gala concert at the Theatre Royal. This was by any standards an impressive production. The  large concert band provided the music. Guest vocal soloists Red Hurley and Kathy Nugent added the lyrics . Hard to believe that it was Kathy Nugent's first performance at the Theatre Royal. There was a charming children's choir and musical director, Mark Fitzgerald  paused in his baton duties to offer a lovely instrumental version of Alfie on fugelhorn.  (Oddly enough there was just one duet as an encore.)  Bravo Mark and BCB. So proud of ye!

Gig of the Week
Further on down the Mall, it was cheering to see two new ventures opening this weekend.  We were greeted by owner Trevor Predergast for a post show beveridge at  new tapas bar The Olive Tree and a  decent live band, Thank Funk were on the platform at the official re-launch of the Reginald Nightclub.  The band made up of music students from WIT were energetic but were let down by a lack of resolution in the sound system. Another way of saying -It was too loud. But I would say that wouldn't I There was a mix of age groups as punters looked in to relive their younger Gig dancing days.

Saturday: We started the week at one cathedral and finished it another. Both were designed by the same 18th century architect John Roberts  Saturday was devoted to the beguiling melismatic world  of early chant and song at a workshop facilitated by Hannah Fahey of vocal group Sionna . The event was part of the Cathedral Arts programme at Christcurch . Music though is  all about context and I felt the event would have benefited from being a attached to a  liturgical matins or evensong service.

      Gig of the Week The Songs and Music of Burt Bacharach Barrack Street Concert Band at the Theatre Royal

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Music Education Matters: Putting Music on the Curriculum

Students in Ennis NS at their first violin lesson 

I was privileged to be invited to offer some thoughts on the state of music education in schools and my article appeared last month in the Irish Examiner . You can read the full article here .

The Journal of Music posted a link to the article and added some further comment, picking up on the reference to the suggestion that the GAA school sports programme might offer a useful template . You can read that piece here. Here is the link to the GAA website outlining their schools programme

The Journal of Music points out that there is a national programme of music education launched in 2010 -Music Generation. While I am aware that the programme is being rolled out, I did not refer to it as I am commenting on what I see in my own experience. In the four counties I have recently worked in, there is no Music Generation programme . In Clare, there has been much discussion about the application process and two exhausting and unsuccessful applications  and another pending but as yet no funds. The process of pitting counties against each other in rival bids to secure funds seems to me unseemly and counterproductive.

At the initial briefings on Music Generation in Ennis, it was stated that music education in state primary schools would not come under the Music Generation umbrella. I note from statements by the Dept. of Education, that that approach has softened and indeed the Department is now saying that Music Generation programmes can happen in schools . This is a response from the department press office on a query relating to music education provision in schools

    '  Music Generation, through its work with Music Education Partnerships, co-funds a range of access programmes, including programmes that can happen within primary school. Instrument banks are also funded. Music Generation is currently a philanthropically funded organisation, but the Department of Education and Skills will begin funding it on a phased basis from 2014. 

Applying to Music Network for funds for instrument banks in my experience is not straightforward and again pits schools against groups such as local  brass bands and private music schools. In Ennis,  applications to the Music Capital scheme by two primary schools were turned down whereas a private music school was granted funds for new instruments.

While it is encouraging to read of pilot projects here and there happening in schools,  there is a danger though that by passing the responsibility, the government can use Music Generation as a convenient excuse for not funding a basic music education for all primary school students.

I believe that if we rely on extra curricular model of music tuition without the involvement of the main players in education , the primary school system,  it will continue to be accessed by the homogenous pool of students,   not too different from the group that would avail of private music tuition in any case. To quote my own closing remarks in the Irish Examiner.  'If Ireland wants to forge a common culture of participation in the arts, we need to put musical activity on the curriculum in more than a token way for all our students and not just a chosen few.' 

Related articles  A  Quality Music Education only reaches a minority of students in British Schools, an Ofsted report has said

Α  response

An inclusive approach to developing a School Orchestra  Cathy Desmond IAYO Newsnotes

Monday, November 11, 2013

Mighty Mighty Wexford !

I've been many times to the Wexford Opera Festival but this year I saw it from a different perspective as correspondent for The Irish Examiner. My roundup of the 62nd season is here 

Impressive as the main productions were, there was loads to enjoy at the  fringe festival. I saw two of the short works which are terrific value at €25 and if you don't like them are not going to detain you too long. The one act comedy, The Sleeping Queen by Irish composer, Balfe was given a quirky Glee Club/ Horrible Histories treatment and was pleasant enough if not compelling.

 I loved Richard Wargo's Loser's.  Director, Conor Hanratty  created a familiar stage set for the tale of small town Irish life in the 50's that is right out of the  amdram world of John B  Keane complete with pictures of the Sacred Heart and Pope John. In this work, Wargo had worried less about setting Friels' text and the results were   more engaging than his setting of Winners, an earlier work based on of another  Friel story. 'I grew up with the music of Puccini and Britten and the theatre of Rogers and Hammerstein' said Wargo when I spoke to him briefly after the performance  and all those elements can be heard to in this work. The pair of settings, Winners and Losers known as Ballymore should make a very suitable work for an Irish company.  This work was one of my highlights of the festival. I was  sorry to miss Back to  Titanic, a nostalgic selection of music played on the ill fated liner. It featured Kelley Lonergan, a young singer from Clonmel one of the rising stars of the Irish operatic scene. I interviewed Kelley and hope to bring that interview on a later post.
Author Eoin Colfer 

The short works were again staged in the Presentation School Hall. This space leaves me cold. I don't find it convivial The seating is not comfortable and the view from the back of the hall is not great. I have seen local musical societies work harder to make this sort of space work. Temporary tiered seating is surely worth considering and why not a  display of old programmes and posters to liven up the foyer / school corridor.  Without the short works going on in Whites as in former years, that hotel does not  appear to be the lively festival hub it once was.

The weather was mixed this year. Racegoers had to brave the rain and wind but there was a lovely fine evening for the opening fireworks. The poetic litany in Eoin Colfer's launch speech must have included every denizen of the town and is powerful stuff. You can hear it in this link here. 

There is no doubt that Wexford do what they do very well indeed.  It might not have the heat of an Aix en Provence but it does have charm and a great range and breadth of events. I met many patrons from overseas who travel here year after year drawn by these elements . Some I spoke to expressed alarm about  the bringing forward of priority booking dates for the 2014 festival.  Prices for the main productions may not be high relative to London prices at €100 or so  but are relative to other arts experiences in Ireland.  Whether they can attract sufficient Irish patrons to ensure the near capacity houses they need to be viable will be a challenge.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Superior Scottish Ensemble at Christchurch

Southern Tenant Union Folk are  back in Ireland for  a hectic week long tour.  Above is the Scottish ensemble's appearance on the Late Late Show, that made me sit up and pay attention. I saw them last night at Christchurch Cathedral, Waterford.

The six gentlemen dressed smartly  in suits made an impressive tableau gathered around a retro style microphone. The sound was an inventive  blend of  bluegrass with other styles.  20th century film music is cited as an influence and there is a strong seam of Cuban roots music in there too. The playing is highly accomplished and the vocal blend is satisfying. The songs are intelligent, thoughtful, tending to the dark side,  many with a  political edge.  'If we only sing songs about whiskey and riding box-cars, we're finished said chef d'équipe , Pat McGarvey. You can hear his interview on the Andrew Marr show below.

At the close  the band abandoned their altar position and moved to stand and sing among the pews. It was thrilling somehow to hear musicians without the veneer of amplification however subtle. Given that audiences for live music in Waterford are sometimes less than 50, maybe we could have a little more wireless performance practice.

I am not sure whether it was the acoustic or the Scottish accents, or the amplification, but I struggled to catch the spoken introductions.   But I am very glad to have seen them. It cannot be easy travelling the length and breadth of Ireland on the darkest days of Winter.  If they were disheartened by the paucity of the attendance scattered in the pews, they didn't show it. They are brave to undertake it and worthy of our support. Tour dates are below.

Venue Notes : Christchurch is a very  elegant 18th century ecclesiastical space. With the organ pipes gleaming under the bright lights of crystal chandeliers, it didn't seem quite an appropriate setting for the style of performance, even when as well executed as it was last night. PR seemed minimal . I couldn't find a reference in local press and I learned of the gig from a poster  in a local café. 

Thur 7th Nov Bangor Town Hall, Bangor, Co Down
Fri 8th Nov Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford City
Sat 9th Nov Seamus Ennis Cultural Centre, Naul, Co Dublin
Sun 10th Nov Murphy’s Bar, Thomastown, Co Kilkenny
Mon 11th Nov Crane Lane Theatre, Cork City
Tues 12th Nov St John’s Theatre, Listowel, Co Kerry
Wed 13th Nov Allihies Copper Mine Museum, Beara, West Cork
Thur 14th Nov De Barras, Clonakilty, West Cork
Fri 15th Nov Carnegie Arts Centre, Kenmare, Co Kerry
Sat 16th Nov Upstairs At Dolan’s, Limerick City