|Saturday, July 19, 2003
July 19th, 2003
Celtic Spring members are home after a wonderful month stay on the East Coast. Our trip began with performances at the Irish Cultural Centre's 13th Annual Irish Festival at Stonehill College, in Easton, Massachusetts. We flew into Rhode Island a few days before the festival and were surprised to witness a late spring. Rhododendrons and peonies were in full bloom, the air was cool and fresh, and rain was plentiful; quite a welcomed contrast to warm and dry southern California. Fortunately, as the festival weekend arrived, so did summer. The weather changed overnight, and the crowds thronged to the largest Irish Festival on the East Coast. We had been scheduled for only one show on the main stage on Saturday, but the festival found a small stage for us for a Sunday performance as well. Our audiences were delighted with us and we have been invited to perform at two festivals on the East Coast next March.
Immediately upon leaving the festival, we headed to Boston College where we attended the 12th Annual Gaelic Roots Music, Song, and Dance Summer School. We had an incredible week of immersion in Celtic music and we were privileged to study with and listen to some of the best Irish, Scottish, Cape Breton, and New England musicians in the world. We had classes all day, (Patrick complained the first day that this was more demanding than school!),and at night we attended concerts and dances. (After the first day Patrick walked around with a smile on his face, both enjoying his new friends and his teachers.) Seamus Connolly, a great Irish fiddler and director of Gaelic Roots, has given Celtic culture a tremendous gift in gathering so many fantastic musicians in the same place to pass on their musical traditions. Our children loved all their teachers and were especially happy and honored to meet Bob McQuillen, a New England musician who has composed over 1000 tunes, and whose tune, "The Dancing Bear," they regularly perform. Our boys especially liked the McGuire brothers from Sligo, Seamus and Manus, who were not only great fiddlers and fiddle teachers, but were also doctors. We really enjoyed our Cape Breton fiddle teacher, David Greenburg, and I am grateful to him and Doug MacPhee, who taught the piano class that I attended. We were sorry when the week came to an end but we knew that we partook in a special moment in the history of Celtic music.
Our next week was one of a different kind for us. We stayed with my brother and his wife in Rhode Island, and relaxed; we swam in the ocean and lake, went out in their boat, ate ice cream at the local creamery, and had the first non-performing vacation in a long while. I expressed to my brother and his wife, Margo, my desire to take the children to Cape Breton so they could partake in that living Gaelic culture, and next thing I knew we were planning to spend the last week of our vacation in Nova Scotia, Canada.
We had been hearing about Cape Breton for a long while and have even been playing and performing Cape Breton tunes that we had learned at fiddle camps. Cape Breton was settled by the Catholic Highland Scots in the 1800's during the Highland Clearances. (The English took the Highlanders land for raising sheep for their wool factories.) Emigrating to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, the Highlanders took their culture with them and preserved it. It seems that everyone in Cape Breton plays the fiddle and piano, and step dances. We had to see and experience this culture for ourselves.
We first drove up to Maine, spent the night at Tom and Margo's vacation home, and then continued the ten hour drive on the Cape Breton. We arrived at our motel in Port Hood, Cape Breton late in the evening. Morning came to introduce us to the magic of this land: warm and friendly people, tiny towns, one main country road which if you left you ended up on signless dirt roads which could wind you through rugged countryside for hours and leave you right back where you started, beautiful nature, abundant wildlife, and music in all the nooks and crannies. By day we walked in old growth hardwood forests, picnicked on white sandy beaches that we had all to ourselves, and saw moose, bald eagles, and whales. At night we attended ceilis and square dances in remote areas which looked so quiet by day that the transformation was extraordinary. We saw Buddy MacMaster perform at a ceili in the tiny fishing village of Dingwall at the top of Cape Breton. We attended a packed square dance in West Mabou with music supplied by the "young talent." After a few moments of shyness, our children were dancing with the locals and made to feel completely at home and welcomed. They were even invited to Irish dance for everyone. We were happy and surprised to meet up with some old friends from fiddle camp and were recognized by someone that had seen us perform in Texas the year before. In Baddeck, we attended a ceili given by two young women who were equally excellent on fiddle, piano, and in step dancing, and they kept switching back and forth. Later in the evening, they invited Celtic Spring to perform a few sets. Our vacation was drawing to a close and we reluctantly left Cape Breton but intend to return as soon as possible.
We came home full of inspiration after all of our adventures, and a little rusty from not having kept up our daily practice sessions. So, we had to go into what I call "attack mode," and prepare for our next set of performances. (I spent all day, about 11 hours straight, working again at my computer on Celtic Spring business, and the band has had two hour practice sessions every day the last week.) In a few days we pack up again for a trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma where we perform next weekend, and then on to the Long Beach Celtic Festival the following weekend. Such is the life of a band... Happy Summer and God Bless!