I went to Dan O’connel’s for the session aptly titled “Piping heaven piping hell” that takes place at 4:30PM every Friday. It was started by Blacky O’Connell. (No relation I think). It is an incredible thing. There can be anything from 5 to 20 pipers all playing in tune for four hours! Brilliant stuff! If you aren’t a piper, you’re going to hate it! It’s fast, it’s generallyin the keys of D, G, A minor, E minor and sometimes A thrown in just for the craic. It’s also like the greatest hits of piping tunes! I just love it!
- Category Archives Music
I wrote this as the lazy way out because I didn’t want to bring a lot of WAV files back to a local box. I know everything is in artist/album format with plenty of spaces in the file names so this type of thing works perfectly for me.
Of course, you need lame installed.
I hope this helps.
for DIRECTORY in /music/*/*; do
if [ -d "$DIRECTORY" ]; then
for FILE in "$DIRECTORY"/*.wav ; do
OUTNAME=`basename "$FILE" .wav`.mp3;
echo "$FILE" "$DIRECTORY"/"$OUTNAME";
lame $LAMEOPTS "$FILE" "$DIRECTORY"/"$OUTNAME";
I don’t write about my daughter Méabh all that much on any social media including Twitter, Facebook and even this website. Primarily because I respect any need she may have in the future for privacy. I don’t know if I would want to read tweets or Facebook updates written by my parents when I was young. Sure, they might be interesting for me from time to time but would I want others to read them? What about current or perspective employers. Imagine if you searched for Darragh Ó Héiligh and you found a post written by my mother on Facebook thirty years ago. That is a frightening thought.
Anyway, that’s beside the point of today’s post.
I don’t write about Méabh very often but tonight while at the end of a great weekend, I really wanted to write something because it marks the continuation of a journey that I hope to have only started with her. That is the journey of music and performances.
This weekend was the seventh annual Temple bar music festival. I don’t think it was a very good festival this year overall but one part I really enjoyed were the free performances from under 18 groups that were hosted in Dublin’s city hall. These were advertised as family friendly events so I of course bought Méabh. I listen to a lot of music at home therefore Méabh does as well but music is very different when played live so when I have the opportunity to attend a live performance I jump at it. Now that I have Méabh as well, I love bringing her with me. I love being there for her reactions. She is fifteen months young at the moment so possibly too early for some of the strict performances where you can’t make any noise while the musician is playing however, if this weekend was anything to go by she wouldn’t be any bother at all. She absolutely loved the performances. She clapped at the end of most tunes, songs, slow airs and poems and she danced happily along to faster tunes. During a slow air today she even turned toward me and gave me a huge hug for the duration of the tune. There was a collective Aw from the audience around me at that point. I thought that during the poem at the very least she’d get bored but not at all. She stood in the isle looking around.
I love having the opportunity to introduce something that means so much to me to Méabh but the reason that I’m writing tonight is I’m incredibly proud of her for not just sitting quietly during hours of performances but actually enjoying the entire performances from beginning to end. Today we were in the one seat for an hour and a half and not once did she complain that she couldn’t run around on her own or make noise.
By far, for me, the most rewarding part of being a parent is introducing Méabh to something and being there as she gets just as much joy from it as I do.
While writing on Thursday we were on a bus to Killaloe. It’s a small town in the region of Ontario. It was a part of the tour that I was looking forward to. In Ireland we have a town called Killaloe as well. A thousand years ago, this town was the capital of Ireland as it is where King Brian Ború ruled from. In 1014, Brian Ború was killed at the battle of Clontarf while defending Ireland from the Danes. Therefore, it was quite nice to meet people from a town with the same name here in Canada.
We travelled seven hours from Shannon in Quebec to Killaloe and the first sight that greeted us was streets lined with Irish flags, painted stones and scenery that rivalled our own. In fact, one of the people on the bus remarked: “It’s raining, the sky is grey, there are Irish flags and most of the names in the grave yard are Irish. It feels like home”. The people of Killaloe certainly made us feel like we had come home. We got off the bus to a lovely meal and a room full of people whose excitement was tangible. After eating enough for a small army, we were treated to some brilliant music from local musicians and dancers. Children as young as seven sang expertly and local musicians who had spent time in Ireland entertained us with stories and songs. Of course, we couldn’t just sit there all night so we gladly joined in. It was great to play with local musicians again. The quality of music over here is brilliant. I even got the chance to meet with a piper named Paul. He played the Scottish small pipes. Although they aren’t as nice as the Uilleann pipes, I was still delighted to give them a go. I’m quite happy with the tunes I got from them as well. They are played differently to the Uilleann pipes. Instead of the drones resting over your leg, they are suspended by the force of the air going through the bag over your right forearm just below your shoulder. They only have one octave and the wholes on the chanter are tiny. The set I played were in A and they sounded really nice.
We had a great typical traditional Irish session there. It was like being home.
Afterword, we were introduced to our host family and after a quick beer and a chat we got some much needed sleep. Killaloe is mainly built on top of one really large rock. Not that it’s relevant but it’s interesting. They also get tremors from time to time. The town is home to about 700 people and most have Irish names.
On Friday morning, we played in a primary school. There were two schools within about a minute walk away from each other. One is a public school and the other is a catholic school. I really liked that the children from the catholic school were invited to the public school for our performance. Our instruments were described in detail and we had a minute to play a short example. Of course, as I was playing in a school, I decided to have a bit of fun so I didn’t play an Irish tune, instead I played a children’s song called I’m a little tea pot. It was really funny. That tune was hummed by members of the group for an hour after the performance. It got stuck in people’s heads. The performance in the school only lasted an hour but I was energised by it for the day. I loved that the kids had no inhibitions about clapping along. It was so relaxed.
After the school performance we had a brief tour of Killaloe. The town is tiny so the tour only took about 20 minutes but it was interesting none the less. We heard about how the rail line was only used up until the 1950’s before it was removed. The tour guide mentioned that they could travel from there to Toronto and back in less than a day. Now it takes two days as public transport from or too Killaloe is very poor. The railway track was ripped out in 1986 after the stations was removed in 1960 and in 2004, a student completing her masters in gardening landscaped the area where the track ran through the centre of Killaloe to commemorate the railway. A path now runs over the same route that the track took and a design using red bricks on the edge of the path shows where the rack lay. We also heard about a large fire that destroyed 7 businesses and four houses in 1950. Fortunately, men in that had been drinking in a hotel on the same road fought the fire and successfully bought it under control before any further damage could be done. In 1927 a flood covered the same area with three feet of water.
As you can tell, I’m trying to soak up as much knowledge during my trip through Canada as possible. I am absolutely fascinated by the people, the geography and the history.
After the tour we passed a local radio station and as a few of us expressed an interest in it, we went in to pay the managers and presenters a visit. It’s a small local station with a catchment area of about 100 miles so in many respects, it’s similar to our local station LMFM. It’s a tiny place in the middle of the town. The walls are lined with records, tapes and a few CD’s. They have no computerized repository but a local man has written their station management software which is really interesting. They seem to have similar license requirements compared to our local stations. They are also streaming online so I’ve suggested that they stream to iTunes or at the very least podcast their live shows.
After the radio station, we paid a visit to their local grave yard. This was an unusual thing to do but if you think about it, it was fitting. I have had a real emotive connection to the stories and songs that I’ve heard in Canada. I have often thought of emigrating with my family and I’m still thinking about it. That’s a post for another day of course. It’s one thing thinking about emigrating but it’s another thing entirely leaving your family, your country, your friends and your culture to move somewhere else. I think it’s one of the reasons why I have been so enthralled by the songs and stories I’ve heard over here. People left here when there was no skype, no mobile phones, no Internet and no easy travel. They missed home. They were heart broken. To ease their suffering, and retain their unique identity, they spread the Irish culture. However, most of them dreamt of returning home someday. When they couldn’t, they asked that their origin be marked on their grave stone so that family and friends who came looking would find them. We found McCarthy, McPhail, Riley, Dwyer, Holly, Lynch, Geeran, Murray, Daly, murphy, Flynn, and many many more. The graves were often simple but some grave stones even had transcriptions and prayers in Irish. I get the impression that a hundred years ago, this was a thriving Irish settlement. They lost some of their connections with Ireland but they didn’t lose their identity or culture. Recently, with the Irish gathering, and now the Comhaltas tour, that connection has been firmly re-established and the elation of the 700 residents of Killaloe can be felt clearly.
The songs and stories really meant a lot to me but visiting the grave yard really had an impact on me. Yes, people made a life for themselves here and many of them were successful and have been the foundations of what are now thriving and solid communities but they still missed home. They still wanted to get back to Ireland and when they died, they wanted people know where they came from. Therefore, when everyone had gone, myself and Ken returned to the graveyard with two local ladies so that I could play two slow airs. It was my way of quietly paying tribute to those who left Ireland when there was little hope of returning. We had bought Irish culture to Killaloe and to their descendants but I wanted to bring some culture to their forbears.
I played amazing grace there as the first tune. It was the first time I played it since the 25th of May at my granny’s burial. It was quite difficult to play it again because it bought back a day I didn’t handle particularly well but it was fitting.
Last night, we played for a packed hall of 600 people. We were in great spirits starting the performance and our energy carried right through to the audience. They seemed to love it. My favourite solos continue to be Rebecca’s first tune on Fiddle, Anna on harp and Clara on Concertina. All the other musicians in the group are spectacular. Their solos reflect this but these are three of my favourites. In relation to the musicians, I have rarely seen such talent. I’m in awe of some of them. They play such an array of instruments and they have such a lovely style. I have no problem saying this either. I consider myself to be a reasonable piper and an adequate bodhran player but the day I stop learning is the day I’ll stop playing. I’m sure the others in the group feel the same but their standard is higher than I would ever anticipate reaching. Not that I’ll not try but you should hear some of the music that I’ve had the fortune to listen to while on this tour.
We went to a local family home after the performance to socialize with the volunteers and play some music. It was nice to get an opportunity to show our gratitude. We felt very welcome there so I hope they enjoyed our visit.
We’re back on the bus now for a short trip of two and a half hours to the next performance and the next host family. We’re nearing the end of our trip now. I’ll write more in a day or two.
Thanks for reading. Don’t forget to leave a comment on this or other posts to let me know if you’re enjoying them or if you have questions.
Only a few days have passed since my last blog post but we’ve done quite a lot since then so instead of writing a really log update in a few days I thought I’d write a mini post. Well, mini compared to the other posts I’ve written since arriving in Canada.
The last time I wrote we were still in Winnipeg. We left there on Tuesday morning to take a flight to Ontario before driving for three hours to a small town in Quebec called Shannon. Over all, we were traveling for about 9 hours but it was a very relaxed and easy going trip. Now that we all know each other better and we had a few days to relax and recharge the batteries in Winnipeg we worked together very well organizing baggage, getting through security, sharing out hand luggage, collecting baggage at the other end and finally meeting with the coordinators for the eastern part of our trip around Canada. We also met with our new driver and his very new and comfortable bus. It’s one thing that has to be said. The tour coordinators in Canada are very mindful of our comfort while traveling. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t be as well rested and as able to perform every night.
We finally arrived to Shannon at about 10:30PM on Tuesday night and settled in right away with our host families or billets as they are sometimes called. The host family I stayed with had a house on a substantial plot of forested land. The house was nestled in a small clearing right in the middle. It was very obvious that the house was a labour of love as one of the first things we were told was that they had been working on it gradually since 1981. It’s beautiful. All wooden using pine primarily. The living area, kitchen and stairs were very open and the bedrooms were spacious without being over large. It is not a style that I’ve ever come across before. I asked if it was modelled on a French template but they put a lot of ideas together to find a design that fit their life style.
The couple have a fantastic sense of humour. Getting along with them was absolutely effortless. Almost as soon as we met they were relaxed and making fun of us. It’s something that we have often commented about while over here. Many of the Canadians have a similar sense of humour to the Irish.
Quebec is an interesting region. Its official language is French Anyone moving there are provide with free French lessons that although are not compulsory are required for social and employment reasons. What’s really impressive is that within the space of one generation, the people of Quebec successfully transferred their primary language so that an entire generation were fluent. The methods they used to accomplish this were aggressive in the nonviolent sense of the word. They created laws that dictated that local business must be carried out in French, marketing in the area must be in French, and schools would teach using French with optional English classes and all government functions would be carried out in French. They are very strict when it comes to this however, what is even more interesting is the centre of Quebec is now very popular for IT companies. Specifically for an unknown reason for video game developers. As they are not targeting their businesses at the Quebec region, they work around many of the requirements to operate their business using French. In Saskatoon, the property tax goes toward schooling but as I said before, they can elect to direct your money toward religious schools or public schools. If you don’t specify a preference, your money will go toward the public school system. In Quebec they don’t seem to have this choice. All money goes toward French speaking schools and as the region is vastly catholic the same options may not need to be available. The Quebec region is different to Canada in a number of significant ways. Their local government has a four year cycle. Every two years they have an election. One election is for the president of the country and local representatives but the second election two years later is for the local officials. For example, the head of the school board would be elected during this time. In Ireland for example, the executive that is elected in Quebec every four years are not elected by the people. They are appointed by the elected representatives in some cases but ordinarily, they retain their positions for a long time. In Quebec it is unlikely that they will retain their responsibilities unless the people allow it. This is a much more fair system in my opinion. Another very interesting thing I learned about Quebec is they have a separatist party. This party want to negotiate Quebec’s independence from Canada. In forty years they have not been successful but they have come close. During the last referendum they were beaten by a small margin. The referendum wasn’t to vote for Quebec to be a separate state, it was to vote to enter into negotiations toward this goal with Canada. The problem that they may face is Canada has a lot of det. If Quebec separates from Canada, they will need to accept a portion of this det. Strange but this is the first time I’ve heard about this problem. In Saskatoon they either weren’t affected by this financial issue or they weren’t bothered by it.
We had a tour around Quebec City on Wednesday including the old city. Unfortunately it rained quite heavily so we didn’t get to go on foot so I missed a lot of information but I took the opportunity to ask a lot of political and social questions. I’m not surprised at the differences between regions. Canada is a vast country. It doesn’t seem possible that a centralized government could successfully manage a country of this size. Equally, a decentralized government win Ireland when compared to Canada doesn’t make any sense either. We’re too small to need that kind of decentralized governance. That’s only when taken within the context of Canada.
Last night, we played in the Shannon community hall. Again, the audience were wonderful. It’s rare to find such a warm, interactive, interested and knowledgeable audience but in Shannon, with roads like Dublin road and Monaghan road I shouldn’t have been surprised. The room was full of Canadian accents with names like McCarthy, Murphy and Kelly. Fifth generation Irish spoke with voices that I’d associate with the north of the country but accents from Canada. One thing that I am finding very fulfilling and rewarding is listening to the stories and songs from people like William Kelly, a local of Shannon. His descendants left Ireland in 1842 to find a better life during the time of the potato famine. He sang a song about emigrants who had left Ireland and arrived in Canada. It told of their challenges in Canada, their down falls and their successes. I hears stories of Irish workers that prospered and tragic stories of families killed by landslides. I also heard of stories where children survived when their parents perished on the way from Ireland by boat to arrive in Canada. They were taken in by Irish families that had come before. They retained their family names and they spread their songs and stories. Of course, I also heard of the families torn apart when children that got off the boat wondered off alone and fell off a nearby cliff. Such sad and happy stories that I had never heard before. What was lovely was they were from a completely different perspective. In Ireland, we sing songs of emigration and loss but the songs that I’m hearing here are in the same style, from the same tradition but they are about people from Ireland arriving here. What’s even more brilliant is they are passed down to this generation in the same way we pass down traditional music in Ireland today. In sessions and performances. I have no words to describe how proud I am of the Irish who came over here. They survived a journey across the ocean that we can’t begin to imagine, they started with nothing in Canada and not only did many of them thrive, they built a tradition in Canada that has lasted to this day. At one point the population of Quebec was 50% Irish. Now it’s about 3%. Many have died but many have moved to other parts of Canada. Still, the sense of identity and culture is very strong in Quebec. Even though the French culture has become much more dominant.
This morning, Thursday we are traveling again. I’ll provide details in my next blog post. What’s great about today is I got to go for a cycle. The family I was staying with had a tandem so when they learned that I loved to cycle they were thrilled. Phil, the man of the house suggested that if it wasn’t raining that we head out at 7AM. Unfortunately, we only did about 15KM but what a cycle! Phil is a big strong six foot man and without bragging, I’m a lot stronger than I look. We got fantastic speeds even up hill. Phil is a very experienced cyclist so even going through corners at a good speed was no problem to him. The tandem that he has is about 20 years old but it’s well maintained and reasonably comfortable. It gets better! We cycled on a dedicated cycle path. The cycle path was a rail track up to about twenty years ago. It’s therefore quite flat and very mature. It’s a two meter wide path that spans about 64KM. It goes through the heavily forested countryside just outside Shannon town. Parts of It are a little more open but over all, it’s very quiet and isolated. This reminds me of one important point. Shannon smells and sounds fantastic. It’s a blind person’s oasis. The trees, plants and fresh air are like a holiday for your senses. The birds and wild life sound amazing. On the cycle earlier, while speeding at a really comfortable pace through the forest, I was almost high with the exhilaration of the purity of the sounds and smells. The path was quite soft in places as it had rained quite heavily yesterday but this just added to the experience. I doubt there are many cycle paths quite like it.
We’re now on the bus for a seven hour trip. I’ll write more in a few days.
Thanks to everyone in Shannon for making our time there an unforgettable one. You truly live in one of the nicest parts of the world.
A whirlwind of epic proportions is the only way of describing the past five days. Since the last blog post on Tuesday, we’ve gigged in four venues in four different areas, we’ve travelled at least 11 hours by bus, we’ve stayed in homes that range from modest houses to border line mansions and a hotel that must win the award for the most badly organized building in the world, we’ve had disagreements but over all great fun. Most importantly, we are really enjoying Canada and we are loving the Canadian people.
On Tuesday, after the last blog post, we went to the cathedral that would host our show. As it was an unusual setting for us, we thought it would be a good idea to check it out beforehand. We decided to make a few changes to the plans. We moved the piano around and got rid of the stage. The wholly family cathedral in Saskatoon was only build three years ago. From the outside, it could quite easily be mistaken as yet another industrial building right in the middle of the industrial centre of Saskatoon. The only difference is its large spire that can be seen from a reasonable distance. The inside of the cathedral is quite different. Although the walls don’t have the same long lasting solidness found in Irish churches, you certainly get the impression you have walked into a cathedral when in the main room of the building. The main church area is a massive round room with high ceilings, very decorative stain glass windows, custom art work and a sizeable alter. I know so much about the cathedral because the host family we stayed with were very proud of it and therefore took great pleasure in describing the room in detail. In fact, I even know that outside the stain glass windows is a glass solar energy collector. I also know that a few months ago one of the stain glass windows fell in on the quire area and a replacement window had to be acquired from the maker in Germany. I’m rambling. Sorry. The point I was trying to make is although this wasn’t a typical cathedral, it still had the same acoustical attributes. This means that for playing the pipes without amplification it sounded great however playing with a group of eight musicians, it was a little difficult. I’ve encountered this a few times. When there is a lot of echo in a room, musicians need to be very careful. They need to sit closer together and they need to listen carefully to what each person is playing or the sound will become muddy. Fortunately, although it was a bit of a challenge, the sound engineer that is traveling with us handled the situation very well.
On Tuesday evening, we went to a local session. There were at least thirty musicians there. Some from Ireland, Some from Canada but all playing traditional Irish music. Unfortunately it was quite hard to hear everyone in the session but the standard was great. I really enjoyed talking to people who had come over here a year ago or fifty years ago. They all seem to say the same thing. The quality of life is great over hear but the winters are very cold and harsh. I love hearing the people that have been here for fifty years that still have their local Irish accent. I also like that they get to go home once a year mostly. It was fantastic to hear locals finding people form our group that lived in the area that they left behind. The thrill they got from speaking to people from their home town was sad in one way but rewarding in another. It was nice to be able to bring a bit of home to Canada for some of the people that moved here.
After the session on Tuesday night there was no time to be particularly social. The objective was to get to bed and get as much sleep as possible before getting up at 6AM on Wednesday morning to get to the cathedral to be interviewed by a local Saskatoon television station called Global. Fortunately, I didn’t have to answer any questions. All I had to do is play a few times. The program ran for 2 hours and we were needed for a total of about 10 minutes in that time. However, there was quite a lot of planning and organization required when we were off camera.
You might think that the rest of Wednesday was spent relaxing after that early start. No. Not at all. I had work to do as I was getting dozens of calls from Dublin and by 12:30PM we were back in the cathedral again helping the sound engineer get things set up. We finally left around 5 to get something to eat before the show started at 7:30. By the end of the performance I was absolutely shattered. In fact, during the harp solo in the first half, I nearly fell asleep on stage. Still, we had to go to a pub afterword to play a few tunes and talk to the locals. I say we had to. That’s not really accurate. Of course, we had a choice but the host families had been so good to us it would have been very rude not to go out after the show.
Thursday, we departed Saskatoon to travel to Regina. That was only a three and a half hour trip so with the opportunity to catch up on some sleep on the bus I was in great form for the rest of the day. The venue in Regina wasn’t as flashy as the cathedral in Saskatoon but it was a fantastic place in terms of sound and layout. When we started playing, the audience warmed to us instantly and every single one of us had a great time.
There was no late nights on Thursday after the performance. It had been a long few days so we were all very happy to get to a bed and try to catch up on some sleep. Again, we stayed with host families from the area. We stayed with a family that lived about five minute drive from the venue. On the drive there the lady of the house warned us that the dog was quite protective. That was a tad under stated. The dog was very obviously vicious toward anyone he didn’t know so they unfortunately had to lock him away for the night.
We left Regina on Friday morning to travel six and a half hours to Manitoba. We had a few delays at the start but we arrived there reasonably on time. The venue in Manitoba was quite similar to the venue in Regina. The sound system was absolutely top of the range and the stage was very comfortable for all the performers. Again, the audience on the night were very warm and appreciative. I even played around with them during my solo. I love interacting with an audience and I love when the audience interacts with me. It makes the performance much more enjoyable.
After the show on Friday night we met up with our host family. They drove ten miles to their 1000 acre farm. Yes. I said 1000 and they said their operation was very small in comparison to most. Their house was a mansion. Their basement had a bar in it the size of my house! The son’s room was cavernous and the walk in shower was the size of two large showers. Their small car had a 3.2 later engine and their large car had a 6.6 later engine. They considered themselves working class but the wealth they demonstrated without trying to show off was incredibly impressive. On Friday morning we got up early to have a quick tour of their farm. It’s a funny thing about Canada. Their old buildings are at most about a hundred and thirty years old. In Irish terms that’s very young. However, a church that is in the locality was one of the oldest structures they knew of but to us it was quite ordinary. Don’t get me wrong. It was a lovely little church and it’s fascinating the way things are done in relation to creating small churches every few miles with very small grave yards. The host family we were staying with were the Lee’s. They were able to show us that the majority of their descendants had been buried in the grave yard a few miles away from their house. Even relatives that travel away generally prefer to come back to be buried in the local grave yard. It’s not exclusive to one family either but I think the idea of having several small grave yards dotted around the country side is to keep the plots small while keeping the churches and the grave yards accessible to the locals. It’s interesting.
We left Manitoba on Saturday morning at around 9 AM and we were here in Winnipeg by 12:30. The organizers had asked us to teach locals who had an interest in traditional Irish music. For the first hour and a half I taught the pipes. Well, actually I didn’t. I was meant to teach the pipes but no one showed up. Two people came to listen to the lesson. A husband and wife. The wife played the bodhran and the husband played the guitar. I decided to ask them to play a few tunes with me. I spent the time teaching them about rhythm. I was thinking that if both are playing backing / rhythm instruments it would be useful to show them that playing together will make the melody players life a lot easier and it will make the tune sound a lot cleaner. The second lesson I gave was on the bodhran. I had four participants at a beginner level. Again, I tried to teach them to make their beats simple, only let one bodhran player run with a tune at a time and never try to overrun the melody.
The performance in Winnipeg was as enjoyable as the previous two. The venue was a little different. At the start it felt like a barn but as the night went on I really began to like it. The equipment there was absolutely incredible. Over kill isn’t the way to describe it. They had five foot high bass bins, separate mixers for front of house and monitors and a complicated EQ system run through a laptop. I should also say the mixers were all digital. The system was at least thirty thousand Euro worth.
In Winnipeg we are staying in a hostel / hotel. It’s a weird place. The building seems reasonably new but the design is absolutely senseless. Absolutely nothing here makes sense and just forget trying to get breakfast in the morning. They have stuff there but it’s all over the place. It’s a comfortable room but really not organized well.
We will spend a few days in Winnipeg. The dancers are teaching today but we all have a day off on Monday. Tuesday is another day of traveling so I’ll update you again next week.
One final note, my pipes don’t like the Canadian weather. The air is very very dry so the reeds aren’t handling it very well.
I’m here in Canada with Comhaltas for a tour around a number of cities for the next two weeks. I’ll try to write a few blog posts as we get around with the aim of capturing some of what is happening.
Let me give you some background. I’m here with a group of 15 artists comprising 8 musicians and four dancers. We come from all parts of Ireland and the first time most of us met was during the first practise. In fact, I wasn’t at the first practise as I was out of the country at the time so I didn’t meet the others on the tour until July.
There have been three rehearsals. One in June, The next in July and the final one in October during the weekend before we left Dublin. Each rehearsal lasted an entire weekend. As there have only been three rehearsals, they have been very long and very intense. Each time, we stayed in the Cultúrlann. This is essentially the head office or the base of operations for Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. If you don’t know what Comhaltas is, I suggest you google them. However, to summarise, they are a voluntary group with the goal of promoting Irish culture. This includes but is not limited to Irish music and the Irish language. Staying in the Cultúrlann was itself an experience. It’s an old Georgian building that has been extensively modified to fit the purposes of Comhaltas. Inside, there are various teaching and practise rooms, an auditorium and even a public bar that hosts sessions at any time of the day. In case you start to equate Irish music with the selling of alcohol, nothing could be further from the truth. In act, most sessions were held around the open fire outside the bar area. Children, young adults and older more experienced musicians all had a place and the standard of music was brilliant. If you are around Dunlaoghaire or Munks town I suggest you go in for a few tunes. Sorry. I’ve ventured away from the point. The rehearsals were intensive and very hard work but because of the very friendly and helpful staff, the environment was relaxed and homely. I was dreading spending a weekend away from home. Not because I didn’t want to leave home but mainly because I didn’t want to have to work all weekend after working all week. Fortunately, each rehearsal was a pleasure even though they were very challenging and a lot of hard work. During the second rehearsal but actually my first, we recorded a CD for the tour. This was a huge challenge for me because three hours after practising with the group for the first time, I was thrown into a recording studio with the expectation that I would sit in with the group and put down the tracks there and then. They were very intricate arrangements with precision a high priority so I had a lot to learn and very little time to learn it in. It’s not something I’d like to do again but I’m happy with the result.
The second rehearsal for me but the third for the group took place just before we left for Canada. Saturday for example, we practised for a total of 14 hours with a two hour break. By the end of it we we’re all physically and mentally exhausted. On Sunday, it wasn’t much better, we were up at 8:30AM, had breakfast at 9:00PM, met at 10:00AM, practised until 12:30PM, had a briefing until 2:30PM and then practised again until 5:30PM. Fortunately we had a break until 7:30PM when we attended a reception for VIP guests before we performed at 8:30PM with a break until 11PM. Of course, after performing, we said good bye to our family and friends and then sat down to have a bit of a chat with people from the group. However, we left the Cultúrlann at 3:30 to go to the airport. So, Sunday was never ending.
We got to the airport and checked in without any major issue. However, this is where things got really interesting. We were scheduled to depart at 7:40AM on Monday morning on a flight to London Heathrow. However, due to a reasonably bad storm in Dublin, the flight was delayed by twenty minutes. When we got to England we were also delayed by another 10 minutes because there was an issue with the spot our flight was scheduled to take on the run way. By the time we stopped, it was 9:30. By the time we got through the very busy and large London Heathrow airport, it was 9:45. Our flight to Calgary in Canada was scheduled to depart at 10:15AM but unfortunately, unknown to us, the gate closed on this flight at the very early time of 9:15AM. There was absolutely never any chance we would have made this flight. The result was that we missed it and had no choice but to book on an alternative flight. Unfortunately, this wasn’t as easy as expected. There wasn’t enough free capacity on the flights going to Canada that day so we had to split into three groups.
I was lucky enough to be in group one. We flew from Heathrow to Toronto and then from Toronto to Saskatoon. It took a total of 11 hours flying time with a stop over time of 2 hours but it wasn’t bad at all. In fact, it was less than our scheduled travel time for various reasons.
Group three had to fly a few hours later from Heathrow to Vancouver, then Vancouver to Calgary and then from Calgary to Saskatoon. Their total travel time was about 18 hours.
Group three flew from Heathrow to Vancouver and then from Vancouver to Saskatoon. Their travel time was also 18 hours.
Not ideal. In fact, it was one of the worst things that could have happened. However, it could have been worse. In fact, it was! Luggage should have followed us from Dublin however for some reason, it was delayed getting from Dublin to Heathrow so it didn’t get to Saskatoon until Group two and Group three got there at 12:30 local time this morning. We are still waiting for two cases and a harp to arrive.
We met with our host families and finally got some much needed rest at the end of it all.
Today has been quiet so far. We’ve been getting information about tomorrow’s performance, following up on misplaced luggage, learning a little about Canada but more importantly, we’ve been taking it easy after three particularly stressful and tiring days. We are playing at an informal session tonight with some Irish people that have moved to Saskatoon so I’m really looking forward to that. Tomorrow is when things will get serious again with a television appearance, sound checks, a practise and a performance at 7:30PM.
Irish traditional music lovers came to life in Drogheda two weekends ago from the 29th to the 1st. of December during the 17th annual Drogheda traditional music festival.
The organizers and the Drogheda arts centre invited musicians from all over the country to entertain at a number of official performances and sessions during the weekend. These performances were well attended and very enjoyable. All venues were very comfortable and there was great respect shown to the musicians during tunes and songs. It was commented by a few musicians on Saturday night that the audience in Drogheda was one of the best they had ever played for.
The sessions were also very well attended by listeners and musicians alike. With credit to the organizers, for the most part, they organized sessions in very centralized and very friendly venues.
I was very fortunate to make it to most of the performances and sessions during the weekend. As Drogheda has a particularly weak traditional Irish music scene, I relished the opportunity to play in my own area for a change.
I have voiced concerns in the past about the lack of traditional Irish music in Drogheda. There is nothing I would like more than to be able to go somewhere local for a few tunes in the evening. For over ten years now, I have ventured to Dundalk, Dublin, Carlow, Limerick and Cork regularly to get my regular fix of tunes but my motivation and determination has just kicked up a gear. There is nothing I would like more than to share the pleasure I get from music with my daughter. I want her to know the opportunity, freedom, enjoyment and relaxation playing music with a few friends can provide. Unlike me, I would like her to have friends that she can join with that have similar musical interests in her own area. The Drogheda traditional music festival is a great way of promoting this tradition in our little corner of the country. It highlights Irish music and brings people together. However, in my opinion, there really isn’t enough exposure given to local musicians. There are some really talented people in Drogheda but they spend all of their time playing music in other parts of the country. These people need to be encouraged to play at home and to highlight the talent that we have locally. Instead, the organizers continue to bring musicians from other parts of the country completely overshadowing our home grown talent.
I mentioned the central locations of the sessions earlier but this of course can have a down side. One of the sessions was in a very nice Italian restaurant called divine. It was a reasonably nice venue but as the session started at around 3PM, Emma and I decided that while we were there we’d grab a coffee and a sandwich. For a coke, a coffee and two sandwiches I paid over €19.50! Now, I’ve paid a lot for a coffee in a really nice hotel in Dublin city centre and I’ve thought to myself that it was a tad on the expensive side. However, that was a really expensive hotel right in the heart of Dublin. Divine is a reasonably nice place in the basement of the Drogheda town centre! It’s far from nice enough to pay nearly twenty quid for a very small lunch! It wasn’t even a nice small lunch! I had to send the wrap back because it was made so badly and Emma’s sandwich had a tiny bit of chicken and a huge amount of onion! Now, my aim here is not to put down a valuable local business. My aim is to maybe make the point that if the aim of having sessions in restaurants is to make them more family friendly then perhaps more family friendly restaurants should be picked. At the very least, their prices should have been discounted ever so slightly for the weekend. In the session that started earlier that day, one of the organizers actually strongly suggested that I go directly to the later session as there wasn’t enough room. Again, if you don’t have room for more than three musicians in a session, that’s a bad location. It’s a nice restaurant there across the road from the art centre but on a Saturday afternoon when it’s busy, maybe it’s not the best venue to get musicians into. That happened twice actually. On Saturday night, the same person who is an organizer of the festival suggested that I should wait until some musicians left before joining the session. As I said earlier, I’ve travelled extensively around Ireland. Not once have I been told that there wasn’t enough room for me to join into a session. It made those around me feel very uncomfortable that a local man would suggest that. I was actually asked later on Saturday night by a visiting musician that I have met at different festivals in the past few years if there was some kind of ill will between me and the organizers. She thought that she picked up a “negative vibe”. I’d like to say here very openly, nothing could be further from the truth. I have nothing but respect and admiration for them. I would love to see more people taking part in this festival and I think they have done an exceptional job. I have a lot of constructive feedback for them and I think there’s a lot of room for improvement in this festival but none the less, I have nothing against any of the organizers.
I have to say, I absolutely loved listening to Donal O Conor, Paul Meehan and Martin Meehan playing in the Tholsel. I arrived late because a session ran on a bit long but as soon as I got there I was drawn in by the tunes. Some lovely slow airs, a few strange tunes with lovely time signatures and a few of nice upbeat jigs and reels. I had Méabh on my knee for the whole time and although two weeks ago she wanted constant entertainment, she was fascinated by the musicians and the music. She couldn’t see the musicians from where we were because her eyes wouldn’t have been that developed but she was so content when they were playing. I was delighted! I danced her on my knee throughout the entire performance and apart from a small squeak during a slow air by Donal, she was very quite and happy. They even said hello to her during one of the tune introductions. She loved Nell Ni Chronin’s singing on Friday night. So she has good taste!
I’m really looking forward to next year’s event. Marcella from the Drogheda Art Centre has suggested that I put a submission together for consideration by the organizing committee. I’m already thinking of what I should include in this.