The impact of COVID-19 has been sometimes invisible. Despite maintaining a near monthly blog before March 2020, we have neglected it over the past six months as we have adapted to the situation and the challenges. However, even though this blog is often about documenting what we do, we also took inspiration from Amy Moriarty’s article in The Irish Times (4 June 2020) about being always doing and requiring time to think in order to truly connect and develop. She asks a number of pertinent questions led by “When did this pursuit of personal development become so deeply entwined with action and doing?”. She reminds us of the creativity of the child and the potential of free time to facilitate greater creativity. Taking a break from constantly doing, we benefited from time to think and reflect and if this leads to doing with a purpose, we look forward to sharing our creations with you in the future. It doesn’t mean that we didn’t also ‘do’ and the leaps that we have taken will have a long legacy. We want to share some of our experiences so that they might help others, provide enjoyment and highlight some of the good things to emerge during a difficult period of time.
The importance of the arts has been highlighted repeatedly during the past six months as people grappled with unprecedented circumstances resulting from government and societal responses to COVID-19. Paradoxically, as well as isolating us, the circumstances have connected us. While we have become more familiar with our surrounding 5km, we have also made efforts to connect virtually with friends and colleagues around the world. During the lockdown we have been incredibly busy with work, initially transferring teaching and other aspects of our work online, but we have also taken some time to ensure that we continue to engage in the arts and avail of the generosity of artists during these challenging times. We have been fortunate to continue to belong to our communities that include the Oriel Traditional Orchestra, Ceolta Sí and Craobh Eochaille CCÉ and Siamsa Tíre, and more broadly participate in projects with our friends in Porto Guitarra and Bando Celta.
Our research has focused on the impact on the impact of COVID-19 on musicking and wellbeing and we have submitted work for peer review in this regard. We could not have done this without the support of the Oriel Traditional Orchestra, who have endeavoured to adapt to the changing circumstances, as many other groups have.
During the initial period of lockdown, the Oriel Traditional Orchestra created and shared four videos. The first of these was a documentation in film of some of the activities of their first two years.
Edited by Paul Hughes, the video included clips from the first performance by the OTO in Dunleer in 2017, performances at Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in 2018 and 2019, and the EPIC awards in Edinburgh in 2019. In a very short space of time, the OTO has grown and developed as a voluntary, cross-border, intergenerational orchestra and we have been delighted to engage with the OTO both as members and as researchers. The OTO have performed our compositions and arrangements and we have been able to document their development for the purposes of learning.
During lockdown, the members of the OTO also created three videos in isolation. The first of these was a composition by Monaghan born piano accordion player and former member of the Siamsa Céilí Band, Brian O’Kane. ‘The Shores of Lough Major’ was the first Brian O’Kane that Daithí learned from Adèle, who had in turn learned it from her former teacher Rory Kennedy when she played with the underage bands in Dundalk. Daithí arranged it initially for the DkIT Ceol Oighrialla Traditional Music Ensemble for a concert featuring and celebrating the music of O’Kane in 2016 and he developed this arrangement later for the OTO. Monaghan County Council also included this in their online celebration of music and arts in the county on 26 June.
The second of the videos was a set of jigs. ‘Eddie Currans’ Jig’ and ‘The Setting Sun’, which was arranged by the OTO by Noreen McManus and Daithí. These tunes were sourced from research on the music of Sliabh Beagh in Monaghan undertaken by Dr Seán McElwain at DkIT, whose doctoral studies were co-supervised by Daithí.
The final video featured two movements of ‘The Oriel March’, a composition by Daithí for the OTO, which was funded by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Edited by OTO secretary Uta, the video included images of historical sites in the Oriel region.
These activities ensured that members of the OTO remained connected during the lockdown and, despite not being able to gather for rehearsals or planned performances, they provided valuable support for each other and plans are in place for further virtual music-making over the summer. A plan has been put in place for a series of online gatherings and rehearsals during the autumn and winter months and we are delighted that pieces composed and arranged by three of the younger members of the orchestra are being shared and learned. We look forward to performing them in 2021.
We are delighted to continue to engage with Craobh Eochaille CCÉ and Ceolta Sí down in Youghal. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to visit in recent times but they continue to do great things. One standout project early in the lockdown was their decision to distribute their recent CD, Oidhreacht Eochaille, to older members in the community. The album includes compositions and arrangements by Adèle and Daithí, including the song ‘McGrath’s Clock Gate’, composed by Daithí inspired by conversations with John McGrath. The initial project was proposed by Youghal Comhaltas and financially supported by Cork County Council’s Municipal District Arts Development Fund in 2018. The distribution of the CDs was made possible by local postmen Aidan Daly and Denis McCarthy who have been delivering the traditional music to rural households, while Youghal Meals on Wheels distributed the CDs to urban households where people are cocooning.
Mayor of the County of Cork, Cllr Ian Doyle stated:
“A lot of hard work went into the making of this wonderful traditional music CD. Now thanks to the collaboration of the many different agencies involved in the Community Response Programme, from An Post to Meals on Wheels and the kindness of Craobh Eochaille, these songs are now bringing cheer to Youghal residents who are required to cocoon at home for the time being. It’s a great story of community cooperation. I know there were many people involved in bringing this CD to fruition, too many to mention individually, but well done to each and every one of you for bringing such joy in these testing times".
Youghal CCÉ also contributed to the Cruinniú na nÓg programme in Cork and we were delighted to be a part of their video, recording a few tunes with other members of the group. One of the videos released on the day was of Adèle’s composition, ‘Lighting Capel Island’. It was inspired by the beautiful view of the island from the fabulous beach in Youghal. We look forward to visiting Youghal again in the future and taking a walk along the beach. In the meantime, you can support them by purchasing a CD and we are delighted to record some new videos for the branch that will become part of their initiative to continue to facilitate learning online in a post-COVID-19 environment.
We have been very fortunate to visit Porto on a number of occasions in recent years. Daithí first visited for a conference on Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2011, while together we visited in 2018 when we also performed at the historic Curso de Música Silva Monteiro and we have been delighted to work with the team of teachers there on an Erasmus+ funded project engaged in STEAM education. We have also visited the wonderful music shop Porto Guitarra on a few occasions and joined in some of the music-making there. The proprietor Agostinho Tico Rodrigues has been a great friend and we were delighted when he invited Daithí to participate in his lockdown project. Conversa de Quarentena or Quarantine Conversation challenged more than 25 musicians from 14 countries to respond to a musical idea recorded by Tico. The resulting 28 compositions were released daily in May and June. Daithí was number 8 and you can have a listen here:
Our visits to Porto have reminded us of the connection of Europe to the rest of the world and Henry the Navigator dominates the park. Our experience of music in Porto Guitarra has underlined the close connection between Portugal and Brazil, also evident in language, food and other aspects of culture. We were fortunate to visit Porto Allegre in 2014, in part to perform at the International Society for Music Education Conference with students from Dundalk Institute of Technology. While there, we engaged in a number of other performances and met with fantastic musicians including the bands The Irish Fellas and Bando Celta. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Feira Medieval was presented online and we were delighted to participate. We were interviewed by Renato Zingano Velho and the programme was edited by Caio Haag. You can check out the programme here:
In preparing for our participation, we decided to focus on music that Adèle had composed in Brazil notably two polkas from our album A Louth Lilt entitled ‘Porto Allegre’s Dream 2’ and ‘A Brazilian Adventure’. Bando Celta have also recorded two of Adèle’s polkas, that were dedicated to them and can be heard here:
Our friends in The Irish Fellas have also recorded a tune by Adèle, which you can listen to here:
Some of our other adventures also made it into the programming of online activities during COVID-19. Finding Fochabers was screened by An Táin Arts Centre, Dundalk on 7 May. An Táin Arts Centre created a new off-site based programme to run during this unprecedented time. Director Paul Hayes noted 'We might not have a building, but we have a wealth of local talented performers, artists, musicians, and creators who we will connect with the wider community'. There was a great response to the short film with some lovely comments on Facebook. Directed by Xian Wei Desmond Ooi and Daithí, Finding Fochabers documents our experiences in the North East of Scotland where they participated at the Celtic music festival Speyfest. It reflects in particular on Daithí’s engagement as a researcher over a number of fieldtrips with the history and culture of the area and his response through creative arts practice. 'Finding Fochabers' highlights the legacy of a local musician and teacher, James Alexander and older fiddle traditions of composer William Marshall, who is buried near Fochabers and includes new instrumental and vocal compositions by Daithí. The documentary film provides a medium through which a creative artist can present new composition in context, engaging with ethnomusicology in a digital sphere by creating new possibilities for performance and composition and develops the concept of 'Performance as Research.'
This year also marks thirty years since the use of a set dance to the tune of The Blackbird by Siamsa Tíre, modelled on the steps of North Kerry dancers collected by Fr Pat Ahern and others. Due to COVID-19, Siamsa Tíre cancelled their summer season, the first time since 1968, and the theatre, which was opened in 1991, lay silent (see also O’Donoghue, 2020). However, members of the Siamsa Tíre community came together to create a special video that celebrated this dance, which is a core part of the repertoire of the company. Daithí first learned this from his dancing teacher Patricia Hanafin and performed it in the production Ding Dong Dederó with Siamsa Tíre, as well as many other occasions.
Returning to the conference circuit, albeit virtually, Daithí presented a paper at a conference organised by the Association of Ethnomusicology in Turkey entitled Music/Dance and Identity: Timbres of the Danube. Presenting on Siamsa Tíre, he engaged with the expression of regionality in folk theatre. It was wonderful to share the session with Saman Panapitiya from the University of Visual and Performing Arts Ethnomusicology Department, Sri Lanka. Some of the examples from Dr Panapitiya’s presentation mirrored so closely the work of Siamsa Tíre and reflected the use of worksong and folk dance as folk art.
Huge credit must go to all of the healthcare workers and frontline staff and Adèle contributed to the Irish Doctors Choir and Irish Doctors Orchestra’s performance of a performance of Handel’s Founding Hospital Anthem celebrating 275 years of The Rotunda Hospital in Dublin. A wonderful video with images of the Hospital through it’s history can be viewed here:
With all of our travels and adventures, it was nice to explore our locality further over the past few months. We were inspired by the ‘Know Your 5k’ initiative from the Heritage Council and National Museum of Ireland which invited people to share discoveries and insights about the hidden heritage of their locality. Walking on the roads near our home, we enjoyed taking some photographs, which we edited together. Through the resources available online, including articles in the Journal of the County Louth Archaeological and Historical Society and old maps, we were able to learn more about the area. We developed two contributions. One was about Charlestown Cross and the wonderful variety of built heritage and stories about the area.
The second was about the wonderful structure that is Roodstown Castle. The Castle is a prominent feature in the surrounding landscape. Its excellent state of preservation gives it added stature and it provides an excellent example of a tower house in Ireland.
For both videos we composed and recorded music to create the soundtrack. There is reference to the harmonium playing in the church and the melodeon playing and singing of the mumming and wren traditions which inspires our soundtrack, comprised of two of our own compositions, Charlestown Cross and Charlestown Cheer, which are performed on harmonium and accordion respectively. For Roodstown Castle, Adèle evokes the regal sounds of the past, imagining the music of the Tower House.
It is remarkable to think of how different things are from the summer of 2019, when an estimated 750,000 people attended Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Drogheda. Daithí continues to work with Dr Kevin Burns on a project related to music and tourism in Louth and, in September, presented a paper at the symposium ‘Festivals and the city: the festivalisation of public space’ on the use of public space during the Fleadh in Drogheda. The study is important to document and assess the success of the event so that future events can benefit from the experience gained and the learning achieved. You can watch back the symposium here:
Engaged, as we are, in research into STEAM education and also working in interdisciplinary contexts, we recognised the role of the arts not only in the well-being of society but also in finding ways forward towards recovery. As Conrad, Parsons and Weng (2020) noted:
Part of the challenge we face is learning to ask the right questions, which, when answered, will help prevent another pandemic. We don’t just need a vaccine for the disease. We need an interdisciplinary approach to diagnosing and treating the conditions that enabled it to proliferate in the first place.
It is important that we maintain open minds to find questions as well as answers and to fully explore the creative potential of everybody, something that can sometimes be unlocked through participation in the arts.
There have been a number of excellent articles in newspapers and other media about the role of the arts and social media has been filled with wonderful examples of creativity and music-making. Richard Boyd-Barrett TD called for a debate in the Dáil on the impact of those working in the arts but it highlighted how the arts impact on everybody and had a prominent role during lockdown in making life bearable and enjoyable. Deputy James O'Connor also highlighted the importance of the Arts in the Dáil with specific reference to Brú na Sí. The challenges of teaching music online was documented by Michael Dervan in The Irish Times (20 June 2020) and included quotes from one of our research students. It captured some of the experiences that were part of our experience that was part of the process that led to some of the items presented in this blog. We have been involved in developing resources with both the OTO and Brú na Sí that begin to engage communities in a virtual space and our teaching for this academic semester is online. Challenges remain but we have benefitted from engaging in some courses and workshops over the summer that allowed us to develop our knowledge and skills for greater and more successful online teaching. This is the journey we now continue.
Corcoran, Mary. 2020. ‘Bringing music to cocooning citizens in Youghal’. Evening Echo, 22 April 2020. https://www.echolive.ie/corknews/Bringing-music-to-cocooning-citizens-in-Youghal-a1e41bf2-2e8e-452b-a2da-d3c7458afdea-ds
Conrad, Kathryn, Cóilín Parsons, and Julie McCormick Weng Science and the humanities in the time of pandemic: better together, The Irish Times, 1 June 2020. https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/science-and-the-humanities-in-the-time-of-pandemic-better-together-1.4261769?fbclid=IwAR3jVUrg7SGBzfpqqGi2WJnOIuCk03b16eKT6_zMHJFi5ctz_WkG8LlsD14#.XtVMk1C49M8.facebook
Dervan, Michael. 2020. ‘Remote music teaching: ‘We have to do it. We have to find ways’ The Irish Times. 20 June.
Kearney, Daithí. 2020. Forging the Dance: The Expression of Regionality in Irish Folk Theatre’ Symposium: Music/Dance and Identity: Timbres of the Danube, Association of Ethnomusicology Turkey, Bursa, Turkey, 4 October.
Kearney, Daithí and Kevin Burns. ‘Come Enjoy the Craic: Locating an Irish traditional music festival in Drogheda’, Symposium: Festivals and the city: the festivalisation of public space, University of Westminster RGS-IBG Symposium sponsored by the Geographies of Leisure & Tourism Research Group. 1st September 2020.
Moriarty, Amy. 2020. ’When did pursuit of personal development become so entwined with doing?’. The Irish Times, 4 June. https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/when-did-pursuit-of-personal-development-become-so-entwined-with-doing-1.4263062?fbclid=IwAR1fjlWOUWjo-idenhtOTSxbiacYRR-g58pjqh1QmsUO6y6gzN_k_JWYH5M
O’Donoghue, Anna. 2020. The National Folk Theatre of Ireland, Siamsa Tire celebrates blackbird dance step. The Irish Examiner, 20 May. https://amp.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/lifestyle/culture/the-national-folk-theatre-of-ireland-siamsa-tire-celebrates-blackbird-dance-step-1000676.html
Panapitiya, Saman. 2020. Folk Arts Associated With Agro Life Style and Performing Arts of Today in Sri Lanka. International Symposium: Music/Dance and Identity: Timbres of the Danube, Association of Ethnomusicology, Bursa, Turkey, 4 October.