Columnist Daniel Neely, with banjo, is among those performing at a Saturday afternoon session in Astoria, Queens, in August 2018. With social distancing now the norm during the global pandemic, groups are using apps like Zoom and Acapella that permit musicians to connect. PHOTO BY PETER MCDERMOTT
Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely
When it rains it really pours, doesn’t it? Covid-19 coronavirus continues to be a major issue for traditional music (and music in general) and it seems the best we can do during this incredibly challenging moment is persevere with fortitude and be understanding, as the world reacts to this crisis.
Last Friday, word came from Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann headquarters in Monkstown (comhaltas.ie) that the 2020 All-Ireland had been cancelled. Despite being an expected decision (and the right one), it came as a regrettable shock nonetheless for the countless young people who had spent months preparing for the Fleadh, and for the many volunteers and local businesses that had worked so hard to prepare for the event.
In a press statement, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann’s Director-General Labhrás Ó Murchú, who up until the decision to cancel had been made was in regular, informed contact with provincial and regional officers, wrote: “It behoves us all to do the maximum necessary, as flagged by the Government, to ensure the health and wellbeing of all our people in this emergency. Cultural and artistic activities in the future could prove to be a positive antidote in helping people who have suffered so much during the crisis.” The decision to cancel was welcomed by Joe Connaire, Chairman of the Fleadh Executive Committee in Mullingar.
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Although a window of hope was left open that “elements” of the Fleadh could happen later on this year “with a view to making a contribution to morale and economic regeneration,” no decision has yet been made and would depend entirely on the pandemic situation. However, Comhaltas is “cognisant of the need to look beyond the pandemic when morale-building and economic restructuring will be essential [and] it will be expected of Comhaltas to demonstrate leadership and initiative in this regard.”
Shortly after the decision came down from Monkstown, Comhaltas’s North American Provincial board (www.ccenorthamerica.org) met via teleconference to discuss how to move forward with policy directive recommendations. Given the CDC’s Guidelines that restrict group assemblies for the next eight weeks, the board elected to cancel the Convention scheduled to happen in San Francisco April 16-19. The expectation is that Convention won’t be rescheduled for later in the year, but that it will return next year as expected, when the Provincial board looks forward to full participation. (Anyone with questions about the Convention can reach out to Provincial Chair Frankie McCormack [[email protected]] or its PRO Paul Keating [[email protected]]).
However, the most impactful news on local readers came on Saturday morning, when Comhaltas’s Mid-Atlantic board met with representatives from the Parsippany Hilton, the intended site of this year’s Mid-Atlantic Fleadh (one of the two North American qualifiers; nyfleadh.com), and made the independent decision to cancel the Mid-Atlantic Fleadh, again in line with travel restrictions mandated by federal, state, and local authorities. (At the time of writing the Midwest Fleadh, North America’s only other qualifier, has not yet been cancelled, however an announcement is expected early in the week.)
The Mid-Atlantic Region quickly sent out a message to its membership announcing that the Regional Fleadh had been cancelled and to alert those who had already registered that registration fees paid online would be refunded via PayPal, and that registration checks mailed in would not be cashed. It was also announced that the Parsippany Hilton has agreed not to enforce cancellation penalties and that anyone who had already booked their room(s) should cancel directly through Hilton. Folks experiencing issues cancelling should contact Fleadh Chair Tom Vesey ([email protected]) or Fleadh Co-Chair John Reynolds ([email protected]) with their cancellation confirmation number.
So that’s the big news at the moment. Though, if there’s a silver lining to this situation, it’s that self-quarantining hasn’t slowed down creativity. People are having the craic posting great videos to social media of themselves playing tunes, either alone, or with groups using apps like Zoom and Acapella that permit musicians to connect and create together, while maintaining the physical distance required at this time. It’s a novel way for people to stay connected and to keep the music moving. Then, last Friday the company Bandcamp (bandcamp.com), a site on which many, many trad musicians sell their albums, waived their fees on all album download & CD sales for the day, a significant move that proved to be a real boon for artists, many of whom are cash strapped now that all the gigs are going. So the music is finding a way and hopefully that will continue. It’s a morale building time for everyone, so we gotta stick together!