Jackie o riley and joey abarta
Jackie O'Riley and Joey Abarta.

Step-dancer O'Riley is a brilliant choice for ITMA's Saothar series

Each month, the Irish Traditional Music Archive showcases an artist composing new works in the traditional idiom in a series they call “Saothar.”  Launched in January 2021, the featured artists have included folks like Charlie Lennon, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Jackie Daly, Siobhán Peoples, Carl Hession, Niamh Ní Charra, Shane Meehan, and many others.  The first Yank I’m aware of to participate in this series was the great accordion player Dan Gurney in May 2022.  Gurney, who is well known to readers of this column, had five of his tunes showcased.

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 This month, Jackie O’Riley, another American, is featured.  O’Riley, an old-style step-dancer, is someone I’ve written about quite recently – she was featured on the new album by the group Eight Feet Tall.  Readers may remember that I wrote of her also back in 2019 when she released the quite brilliant dance video project “From the Floor: A Visual Album of Irish Dance Music” with dancing partner Rebecca McGowan.  If you’re a dancer and you’ve not checked it out, it’s a must-see.  Follow this link for more.

 O’Riley is a brilliant choice for the Saothar series.  She’s a superb dancer and has a great sense of the history behind the steps she talks about.  (She does impeccable research.)  For the project, she has composed new steps to three tunes, “Follow me up to Carlow” (single jig), “The Dusty Miller” (hop jig) and “The Artful Dodger” (set dance, composed by O’Riley and her husband Joey Abarta).  Each step is lovely and has great lift and Abarta’s accompaniment is first rate as well.

 But O’Riley’s presentation makes the steps very accessible for dancers.  Each tune includes a video of the step and provides three links, one to a transcription of the steps in Michael Tubridy’s dance notation (provided in PDF format), an interactive score of the tune, and a transcription of the music notes (again in PDF format).

 If you’re a fan of step dancing, this is something you really should watch.  O’Riley is a great dancer and it’s wonderful to see her composing in the idiom.  You can view her contribution to Saothar in its entirety by visiting https://www.itma.ie/blog/saothar/jackie-oriley.

 In other news, it’s time to start planning your trip to the 2023 Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann’s 50th Anniversary North American Convention, which will take place June 29th-July 2nd at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Bethesda, Maryland!

 Hosted by CCÉ’s O’Neill-Malcom branch, the Convention is shaping up to be spectacular.  The weekend will include all sorts of céilithe, performances, sessions, workshops, and roundtable discussions, but it’s the group of people they have coming that will stand out in particular.

 Wander around the hotel over the weekend, and you’re likely to bump into the likes of Joey Abarta, Annmarie Acosta, Lexie Boatright, Myron Bretholz, Dan Brouder, Brendan Callahan, Angelina Carberry, Tim Carey, Keith Carr, Brian Conway, Tina Eck, Kevin Elam, Noel Fahey, Mitch Fanning, Patty Furlong, Seán Heely, Linda Hickman, Dan Kaufman, Agi Kovacs, Donna Long, Ann Lynch Lyons, Billy McComiskey, Sean McComiskey, Zan McLeod, Don Meade, Brendan Mulvihill, John Nolan, Laurence Nugent, Pride of Moyvane Ceili Band (Margie Mulvihill & John Reynolds), Pádraig and Róisín McIneaney, Kate Spanos, and John Whelan, all of whom will be there to present or teach in one way or another.  (You might even bump into me!  I’ll be, leading a panel discussion about Mick Moloney on the Friday.)

 One of the things that will set this convention apart from the Fleadh and other similar events will be the workshops – there are a lot of them and they all look great.  Flute? Fiddle? Banjo? Bodhrán? Or Concertina?  They have you covered.  Want a refresher on session etiquette or a boot camp for DADGAD guitar tuning?  Yep, they’ve got those too. What if sean-nós dancing, harmonica playing, and singing are more your thing?  You’ll find all that there and more.

 In addition, if you are interested in taking the Scrúdú Ceol Tíre/SCT exam (www.sctexams.com), the Convention offers the opportunity.  (The SCT is “a graded series of exams designed to take you as a musician from basic proficiency in tune-playing through to a mastery of the tradition”; according to their website, “completion of the SCT programme serves as a stepping stone towards the TTCT Teaching Diploma Course.”) This is a first, so if you’re interested now is the time!  Visit the website (link provided below) to sign up.  (Workshops in SCT prep are also part of the workshop structure!)

 Finally, the Convention will serve as a launch site for the “Martin Mulvihill Tune Collection.”  From Limerick but rooted in the Bronx, Mulvihill was one of the greatest teachers of Irish music.  His children became fabulous musicians (his son Brendan in particular – a legend in the music), but all of his students (and there were hundreds of them) were uniformly outstanding, with Eileen Ivers, one of the top all time fiddlers in Irish music, at the top of the heap. 

 For decades, Mulvihill’s tune book was THE source for tunes, noted for its great selection and tasteful settings. But Brendan recently revealed the fact that there are, in fact, FOUR volumes of the Mulvihill tune book, and that this soon-to-be-launched “Martin Mulvihill Tune Collection” includes all four.  This will be a huge resource for musicians and Brendan will be on hand for the collection’s launch.  It’ll be a very special moment, indeed.  (For more information about the collection, see www.irishscroll.com/index.html.)

 Hats off to everyone in the O’Neill-Malcom branch who have put so much work into the Convention’s arrangement.  Special congratulations go out to Jesse and Francesca Lee Winch, who I know have been going above and beyond to make this Convention the best one ever.

 This is going to be a joyous weekend for all the traditional music lovers out there.  They way I’m seeing this Convention, is that it’s less about the business of Comhaltas than it is about having a great reason to get together for some serious craic.  It will definitely be a superb time.  For additional details and to register, visit the O’Neill-Malcom branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann www.ccepotomac.org/convention2023.  See you there!