Derrane connolly mcgann outside burns library

Boston College's Gasson Hall thronged for Joe Derrane

[caption id="attachment_67129" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Joe Derrane (left), Boston College's guest of honor on Sept. 22, joined Seamus Connolly and John McGann for this past photo outside the Burns Library on campus. "]


(CHESTNUT HILL, Mass.) -- By 6:40 p.m. on Thurs., Sept. 22, I assumed the crowd would be small for "The Genius and Growing Impact of Joe Derrane" presentation from 7 to 9 p.m. inside Gasson Hall here on the main campus of Boston College. Rain, fog, a new venue, and a later start time seemed to be undercutting the turnout for the launch of the fall 2011 Gaelic Roots Music, Dance, and Lecture series.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

But by 7 p.m., all the chairs were filled and more had to be brought in to accommodate the largest crowd ever to attend a Gaelic Roots series event. It was a clear reflection of the high esteem commanded by button accordionist Joe Derrane in his home state and near his hometown of Boston. Much of the night was devoted to a lecture and other commentary, not to the popular live traditional music established in the Gaelic Roots series, so the attendance was all the more remarkable.

The crowd came and stayed and wanted more.

They settled cozily in the spacious Irish Room of Gasson Hall, an iconic Boston College building. It opened in 1913 and over the past two years had undergone a massive renovation to restore the luster of the Gothic-style exterior and increase the comfort of the interior. The podium was set up underneath a large, central, stained-glass window depicting St. Patrick.

Clare-born fiddler Seamus Connolly, director of the Gaelic Roots series and Sullivan Artist-in-Residence at Boston College, opened the presentation with a warm welcome to distinguished guest Joe Derrane, his family, and the audience. Tom Hachey, executive director of the Center for Irish Programs and a chaired professor of history at Boston College, then spoke compellingly about Gaelic Roots and Seamus Connolly's skillful stewardship of it.

John McGann, a professor of strings at Boston's Berklee College of Music and a superb guitarist and mandolinist, illustrated his absorbing comments about Derrane's exceptional craftsmanship by playing examples on mandolin of how he achieves it.

Honoree Joe Derrane then got up to answer some questions that I posed to him about his music. With relaxed eloquence spiked by humorous anecdotes, Derrane spoke about the kinds of music and musicians he encountered during the years he was not playing the Irish button accordion. He also spoke about the formal tutelage he received at the Schillinger House, the precursor to Berklee College of Music. And in vivid detail he described the bustling dance halls and notable musicians, including George Derrane (Joe's brother), Johnny Powell, Johnny Connors, and Billy Caples, during the famed Dudley Street era.

Derrane concluded his responses with a moving tribute to his Longford-born wife of 53 years, Anne, whom he first met not in a Boston dance hall but in New York City's Tuxedo Ballroom around 1952. She had asked him to dance a waltz during ladies' choice. Selflessly and staunchly, Anne Derrane supported her husband's musical pursuits until her death in 2008. There would have been no fabled comeback by Joe Derrane at Wolf Trap in 1994 if his wife had not coaxed him into believing that he could do it.

The evening concluded with a powerful performance by Seamus Connolly on fiddle, John McGann on mandolin and guitar, and surprise guest Dan Gurney on button accordion. Together they played "The Old Copperplate" with Ed Reavy's "The Hunter's House" and Martin Mulhaire's "The Golden Keyboard," a three-reel medley recorded by Derrane on his 1998 album "The Tie That Binds." McGann soloed on "The Prayer Reel," composed by Derrane; Gurney, who received a Harvard University fellowship to study with Derrane from 2007 to 2009, soloed on the reels "Farewell to Ireland / The Beauty Spot / The Flowers of Red Hill"; and Connolly was nothing less than spectacular in performing "Peter Feeney's Dream," the first tune ever composed by Derrane.

It was a night sparking many fond memories and creating a new one for all present. I gave a lecture, but it was Connolly, McGann, and Derrane who held the crowd spellbound with their talent, insight, and generosity. Gurney added significantly to the enjoyment by the audience, many of whom recalled their own good times in listening or dancing to Joe Derrane's music, past or present. One woman carried a collection of old Copley 78-rpm recordings made by Derrane, who autographed some of the disks for her.

Kudos to Seamus Connolly, John McGann, Tom Hachey, Joan Reilly, the Irish Music Center's Beth Sweeney and Jack Kearney, and Dan Gurney for giving Joe Derrane the formal, home-based tribute he deserved.


for the entire fall series of events.

CCE's "Echoes of Erin" tour of U.S.

Comprising a dozen top-notch traditional musicians and dancers, Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann's 2011 North American concert tour troupe will be performing at 7:30 p.m., Oct. 11, at the Mineola Irish American Center, 297 Willis Ave., Mineola, N.Y. (631-698-3305); 7:30 p.m., Oct. 12, Middletown Arts Center, 36 Church St., Middletown, N.J. (732-915-2191); 7:30 p.m., Oct. 13, Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts, Sacred Heart U., 5151 Park Ave., Fairfield, Conn. (203-371-7908); 8 p.m., Oct. 14, Waltham H.S., 617 Lexington St., Waltham, Mass. (781-899-0911); 7:30 p.m., Oct. 15, Rome Free Academy Auditorium, 95 Dart Circle, Rome, N.Y. (315-827-4291); 2 p.m., Oct. 16, Gleasner Hall, Erie Community College's North Campus, 6205 Main St., Williamsville, N.Y. (716-536-0490); 7:30 p.m., Oct. 18, Breen Center for the Performing Arts, 2008 W. 30th St., Cleveland, Ohio (216-645-9844); 7:30 p.m., Oct. 19, Summit Country Day School's Kyte Theater, 2161 Grandin Rd., Cincinnati, Ohio (859-441-7682); 7 p.m., Oct. 20, Sheldon Concert Hall, St. Louis, Mo. (314-534-1111); 8 p.m., Oct. 21, Irish Cultural and Heritage Center, 2133 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee, Wis. (414-345-8800); and 8 p.m., Oct. 22, Irish American Heritage Center, 4626 N. Knox Ave., Chicago, Ill. (773-282-7035).

H-A-Double R-I-G-A-N spells

A great night in Manhattan's Symphony Space on Thurs., Oct. 13, at 8 p.m. There and then, a can't-miss, all-star concert entitled "A Tribute to Harrigan and Hart: The Original Men Who Owned Broadway" will take place. Organized by Mick Moloney, the leading scholar of Irish-American theatrical history and songs, this concert tribute to storied Broadway partners Ned Harrigan and Tony Hart and their musical collaborator David Braham will feature the Green Fields of America (Moloney, Billy McComiskey, Jerry O'Sullivan, Joey Abarta, Athena Tergis, Brendan Dolan, and Niall O'Leary), the red-hot Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks of HBO "Broadway Empire" fame, Dana Lyn, Susan McKeown, John Roberts, Murray Callahan, Chris Simmons, Maureen Murphy, Poor Baby Bree, the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra, and surprise guests. Symphony Space is at 2537 Broadway near 95th Street. Call 212-864-5400 for tickets.c