Warming Winter Wanderers
Applications, collaborations and deadlines filled November and pushed us onwards. Adele was in Antwerp, Daithí went to Dublin Castle and the Oriel Traditional Orchestra continued with their rehearsals and performances. Events included the Trad Ireland gathering and Ardee Baroque, while December kept us busy locally with concerts and carol services.
The Oriel Traditional Orchestra had a busy month of rehearsals, workshops and performances. We were particularly delighted to participate in a strings workshop with Beth McNinch of Musici Ireland who was in Ardee for the Baroque Festival. We went from the workshop in the Bohemian Centre, home of the Ardee Concert Band, to Moorehall Nursing Home where we performed for the residents and enjoyed chatting with them. We performed for a fundraising concert for the Louth Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in the Lisdoo in Dundalk. It was a great night that included performances from Jim Corr and Liam Monagher, and Zoe Conway and John McIntyre. We performed a new set of jigs on the night for the first time – ‘Currans Jig’ and ‘The Setting Sun’ were taken from the collection of music from Sliabh Beagh, which formed the basis for Seán McElwain’s doctoral dissertation, for which Daithí was co-supervisor.
The collaboration between music students at DkIT and RehabCare continued and the next phase of the project came to an end with a Carol Service in December. This was the third time that students on the BA (Hons) Music had collaborated with RehabCare to create new songs and the carol concert featured a brand new Christmas song, ‘Coming Home to You’.
The partnership began in 2015 and following the successful Hear Our Voices concert in December 2015, the project went international in 2017 when Space for Everyone led to participation in the Global Science Opera, and their song being broadcast to millions of viewers all over the world. The performers from RehabCare are well known to Dundalk audiences having put on many drama shows, poetry nights and even a feature film at the local cinema. They are currently Artists-in-Residence in An Táin Arts Centre and will take their production of Mother Courage on a nationwide tour in 2020. Meanwhile we look forward to working further with Sandy Sneddon, drama coordinator with RehabCare Dundalk, to publish some of our research findings from the project.
Speaking of research publications, we were delighted to receive our copies of How Popular Music Travels, to which we each contributed a chapter. Adèle focused on the reception of the music of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford in the USA while Daithí's chapter considered the performances of Siamsa Tíre, The National Folk Theatre of Ireland on Broadway as part of a tour of the USA. These papers were initially developed for a conference held at the University of Reims and the resulting publication, for which the research was significantly extended, provides various disciplinary perspectives that 'attempt to contribute to a renewed understanding of how the circulation of goods and people reached a momentum at the same time as states were engaged in an-going process of nation-building-deconstructing-and-redefining, in the 19th, 20th and early 21st centuries'.
Ardee Baroque Festival was a lovely event and we particularly enjoyed the talk and concert on the Sunday. Dr Jimmy O’Brien Moran gave an excellent talk on piping in Ireland in the context of Baroque music and this was followed by a performance by Camarata Kilkenny with uilleann piper David Power. It was lovely to hear the arrangements of Carolan’s Concerto and Sí Beag Sí Mór but a favourite was the Gulliver Suite for 2 violins by Telemann and, in particular, the final movement – Loure of the well-mannered Houyhnhnms and Wild dance of the untamed Yahoos – that was excellently performed. On the Saturday night, the brilliance of the trumpet players Crispian Steele-Perkins and Niall O’Sullivan who guested with Musici Ireland filled the church but a surprise delight was the Suite a Cinque by Pezel.
Adèle was in Antwerp for a series of meetings related to our collaboration in Erasmus+ funded projects. The beautiful city, which we have been fortunate to visit on a number of occasions, still had not entered into the Advent season. It was wonderful to catch up with colleagues who have become great friends and to share ideas on potential projects, agreeing a framework for developing applications for funding and exploring options so that we can continue to work together. Given the success of our STEAM education projects, we are hopeful that this will continue - indeed Daithí was involved in a Creative Ireland funded project with Louth Library Services that concluded in November that brought the science of pollination and biodiversity to life through music, song, dance and art. But there are so many other opportunities to explore and we look forward to doing so.
Trad Ireland held an excellent event entitled ‘Trad Talk: Exploring Opportunities in the Traditional Arts’. Before the formalities, the gathering in the reception area promised much. It was great to chat to old friends and catch up on personal as well as professional stories. It was a reminder of the closeness of a community and the shared interests that bring people together. The attendees were welcomed by founders Tristan Rosenstock and Oisín Mac Diarmada, who gave an overview of the day and the organization. The first panel focused on residencies and it was very interesting to hear from panelists Jack Talty, Úna Monaghan, John Carty, and Danny O’Mahony. Jack was a cast member in the original production of To Stay or Leave (2006) and it has been a great pleasure to cross paths ever since, particularly playing a few tunes together in Glasgow for the Pedagogies, Practices and the Future of Folk Music in Higher Education held during the Celtic Connections Festival in January 2018. John has visited DkIT and was the guest artist for the first DkIT TradWeek back in 2012 while Daithí previously performed and recorded with Danny in Siamsa Tíre.
Jack highlighted how, as traditional artist-in-residence at University College Cork, the experience reinforced the research he had undertaken for his PhD, while Danny noted the opportunity to work with a wide variety of people. John reflected that his residency in Sligo, still in its early stages, provided a motivation. Úna was able to draw on a variety of experiences and urged artists to apply – a common theme across the morning and something that led nicely into the second panel on support streams.
Paul Flynn (The Arts Council), Sharon Rollston (Music Network) and Marie O’Byrne (Hawk’s Well Theatre) provided three quite different perspectives on supports that exist for traditional artists, highlighting in particular the diversity of funding and supports that exist. We have been fortunate to benefit from and be part of projects that are funded through a variety of sources but it is always useful to learn more. Paul Flynn’s comments that Irish traditional music reacts to its place and time and his encouragement to take a risk and be innovative resonated with some of the ideas we have been working on. Given our own focus on local arts practice, in Louth and elsewhere, it was very interesting to listen to Marie O’Byrne’s comments on moving towards commissioning local artists rather than focusing on touring groups. Such an approach can nurture a local ecosystem for Irish traditional music in a different way to the pub session and aid professional artists in what, as O’Byrne highlighted, is a niche market. Sharon Rollston’s positivity towards composers in Irish traditional music and the inclusion of composers in current and forthcoming Music Network tours reinforces our own belief in the value of composition, which relates back to Paul Flynn’s initial comments in the session.
A highlight of the day was undoubtedly an interview with Martin Hayes & Steve Cooney chaired by Aoife Nic Cormaic, recorded for broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1’s The Rolling Wave. Reflecting on their own experiences, Hayes and Cooney shared valuable insights, warnings and conversation starters. Steve, who has facilitated workshops in Youghal and Dundalk with us, called for a Charter of Rights for traditional musicians, calling on those present to be more aware of what they are signing when engaging in professional work. He noted the social responsibility of professional artists and the need to look out for younger performers embarking on a career in music.
After lunch, Dr Steven Hadley from NUI Galway gave a challenging presentation entitled ‘Audiences, Culture and Democracy: Big ideas for interesting times’. Highlighting factors such as the closure of pubs as part of a cultural change, he contrasted the democratization of culture with cultural democracy. Highlighting reports dating back to 1978 and Towards Cultural Democracy by the Council of Europe, Hadley highlighted examples of arts policy in England that resonated strongly with the Irish experience. His was a valuable ‘outsiders’ contribution to a discussion involving mostly friendly faces, although a later panel involving Alistair Anderson (England), Sauli Heikkilä (Finland), Jamie McMenemy (Brittany) also developed an international perspective.
The next panel discussion chaired by Orfhlaith Ní Bhriain with panelists Edwina Guckian, Breandán de Gallaí and Sibéal Davitt focused on dance. This panel provided possibly the most disparate views despite stated agreements. It was interesting to hear the dancers, so often neglected in previous discussions (apart from those focused solely on dance or, in the context of NAFCo where dance has had an increasingly prominent presence) and the inclusion of a panel of dancers was welcomed by the dancers. However, it did raise a question regarding the limited inclusion of song, although Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh was prominent in the final panel.
Cormac Breatnach and Toner Quinn were also part of the final panel, considering the future for the traditional arts. Toner was prominent all day during question sessions and his article in the Journal of Music subsequently is a worthy read. Cormac, who was name checked by Steve Cooney in the earlier interview, represents a very creative individual in Irish traditional music and certainly somebody who inspired Daithí in my formative years embarking on writing tunes. Overall it was difficult not to reflect on the Crossroads Conference and wonder where this gathering would lead. The next phase for Trad Ireland, a survey developed by Jack Talty, an external researcher with the organisation, which will inform a report seeking to examine the challenges, opportunities and supports currently available to traditional arts practitioners in Ireland.
While the conversation will undoubtedly continue, so too does the music and our own research. The Oriel Traditional Orchestra performed in the Monaghan Arts Network Christmas Concert in the Garage Theatre in early December. Drogheda Comhaltas has a fantastic Christmas Concert in St Oliver’s Community School and the Carol Service in St Brigid’s Church Dunleer was a wonderful evening with the church choir joined by the children’s choirs from Dromin and Philipstown, local singer Pat Roche and young violinist Pietro Pizzo. The choir in Louth are busily preparing their Christmas Carols for a busy Christmas period. We are looking forward to participating in a variety of musical activities over the Christmas and look forward to continuing our adventures.
Commins, A. (2019) 'An Irish Opera on an American Stage’: Charles Villiers Stanford and his Music in America', How Popular Culture Travels: Cultural Exchanges between Ireland and the United States. Eds. Sylvie Mikowski and Yann Philippe. Reims: EPURE 2019.
Kearney, D. (2019) 'From Tralee to Times Square: Siamsa Tíre on Broadway', How Popular Culture Travels: Cultural Exchanges between Ireland and the United States. Eds. Sylvie Mikowski and Yann Philippe. Reims: EPURE 2019.
Kearney, D. ‘The Classroom as a Space to Make Voices Heard’ with Sandy Sneddon at European Sociological Association (ESA) Sociology of Education Mid-term Conference on Education and Empowerment, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan, Italy, 12th and 13th September 2016.