Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely
For the past couple of weeks there’s been a lot of gloom in this column, so this week I thought I’d try write something optimistic. I put out a call to a bunch of musicians and dancer friends and asked them what they were up to in this “Splendid Isolation” (to borrow the title of Brendan McGlinchey’s popular reel). This, to get a sense of how they’re spending their time but also to perhaps inspire readers in this really challenging moment.
Piano player and composer Carl Hession was the first to respond. Turns out he’s been work on his YouTube channel, where he’s posted close to 120 videos, include 75 of his own reels and a few that feature him playing in concert with Frankie Gavin and Joe Derrane. There’s quite a bit there to see and some breathtaking performances, including a recent one of Hession, Paddy Keenan, Dermot Byrne, and Frankie Gavin playing with the National Concert Orchestra. Check them all out at tinyurl.com/CarlHessionVideos.
Just before heading out to clean his garage, fiddle and accordion player Damien Connolly took a minute to tell me he’s been reaching out to friends to talk about music and to find out about their top 10 trad albums. (I sent him mine, it was a challenge picking!) He’s also been taking time to work on his C#/D box playing, which is cool to hear, coming from such an accomplished musician: “I've been enjoying slowing [tunes] down, trying out new finger patterns (for new ways to play ornaments), getting super frustrated, taking a breather, and then....BAM it works. Damien 2.0. Well, not exactly, but it feels good to gain fluency over some small tiny ornament that I couldn't do 1/2 an hour before.”
Caitlin Warbelow, fiddle player from the Broadway show “Far and Away” who is the session host at Mary O’s in NYC, messaged to say that she’s been hosting a virtual session with her Mary O’s gang. “[The sessions] are silly and we're still figuring out the tech, but…just in three meetings, the community that existed in the physical Mary O's has already coalesced, everyone is playing along at home, interacting with each other while the live broadcast happens, and chatting to us as well. The leader schedule is full for the next month (two leaders each, twice a week) and those leaders are working with each other ahead of time to put together music from afar. It's rather magical. Good stuff happening during a bad time.”
The sessions are hosted on her Tune Supply website every Monday and Thursday at 8 p.m. She’s got Kyle Sanna & Isaac Alderson on the 30 and Kevin Crawford & Cillian Vallely on April 2. You can check them out and sign up for updates at tune.supply.
Composer, concertina player, and Builla bandleader Niall Vallely reported that he’s been “teaching online, cleaning the house, and cutting the grass.” But few weeks ago, he released a music video for Macha (tinyurl.com/MachaVallely), a piece of his, that’s definitely worth checking out. Also, he mentioned he and his brother (and neighbor) Caoimhín have a couple of online concerts coming up, first one on April 1st through “Club Weltenklang” (tinyurl.com/ClubWeltenklang) and another on April 4 for the Duncairn Arts Centre’s “Virtual Cabaret” (www.theduncairn.com) – something to check out!
Ian Lynch, of the Dublin ballad group Lankum, will also participate in Duncairn Arts Centre’s “Virtual Cabaret.” “Since going into self-isolation upon returning home from the States,” he wrote, “I have taken to recording videos of myself singing songs and sending them to friends most days. I have also been working on my radio show, “Fire Draw Near” on Dublin Digital Radio (listen.dublindigitalradio.com/home), and started planning a song history podcast, all while trying to stay healthy, sane and exercised!”
And exercise really is a key at this point, right? In addition to teaching a full teaching load, now done on all manner of video conferencing platform (and small groups on Zoom), Harp player Eileen Gannon teaches group exercise. “It is what keeps me not only physically but mentally fit, so I am teaching those on Zoom as well. It's a funny mix of people I know from the gym and Irish musicians from everywhere!” Eileen now has her online classes up and running on Facebook and she’s trad-friendly, so if you’re looking to get your blood flowing check her out at tinyurl.com/WorkoutWithEileen.
Speaking of exercise, what are the dancers up to? Surely, this situation is affecting them intensely as well? To learn more, I reached out dancer Jackie O’Reilly, who said she’s been “spending time going through all the videos of steps I've collected over the years and working on dances that I've wanted to either learn or re-learn,” and has plans, with her dancing partner Rebecca McGowan, to do a live, free watch party of their utterly brilliant video “From the Floor.” Great stuff!
For dancer and musician Danielle Enblom, it’s been a time “to slow down and reevaluate who I was without all the external noise and validation,” and she feels this time will allow her to let go of unhelpful anxieties and refocus her attention on what motivates her. But she’s also been keeping busy “learning new tunes and steps just for fun,” and grooming projects she’s been working on, like “The Bad Neighbors Rhythm Project” (with Anna Colliton) and posting short dance tutorials at thestepcollective.com. She’s also working on and recording interviews for her podcast Tradicle. Learn more at (www.danielleenblom.com).
However, the one thing I’ve noticed musicians doing the most is posting tunes online, either as single posts or streaming. Tony DeMarco, for example, has done a couple really great couple of live streams through his Facebook page, where he plays tunes and talk history & tradition. Also, if you’re setting dates in your calendar, keep Wednesday April 8, 4 p.m., open for a solo show from Liz Hanley. Liz is a beautiful fiddle player and singer, and I’m sure will offer a rich show with lots of variety. You’ll be able to find it at www.facebook.com/lizhanleysings. (You can also reach out to her there about online fiddle and vocal lessons!) Hey, and Liz’s rock band Frogbelly And Symphony just released a single and music video for their song “Benjamin Went Fishing.” No, not traditional music, but the video throws off some stromg 80s MTV vibes and might bring a smile to some readers faces.
Some of my favorite posts, though, are the ones where truly great musicians put up a single tune. It allows one to really dig in and enjoy a single, beautiful moment. Carrick On Shannon-based flute player Mick Mulvey has been doing just this and it’s brilliant. Mick, who throughout this is taking time “to reflect and be thankful for small mercies,” has posted a few tunes to his Facebook page with his son Matt playing guitar. “I’m keeping them spaced and fairly brief,” he writes. “Don’t want to bore people!!!” Definitely not boring, Mick – keep ‘em coming, they’re great!
One final note. I reached out to fiddle player Dana Lyn, and her priority was to mention TrickleUp, “an artists helping artists network,” where she’s a donating artist. It’s a subscription based service that raises small amounts of money from lots of people to distribute to artists affected by the Covid-19 cancelations. It’s is a good, organized idea and a bit of light in this noteworthy time. Learn more at www.trickleupnyc.org.