Irish dancers perform at the St. Patrick’s Catholic Dinner

Irish dancers from St. Augustine Roman Catholic School were invited to perform at the St. Patrick’s Catholic Dinner on Saturday at the Montserrat Culture Centre in Little Bay, and we were happy to entertain during the meal. We had four dancers and they did a great job showing some of the choreography that we’ve been working on for the past few weeks. The boys actually came with the intention of drumming (there was a miscommunication, as they thought drummers would also be performing), but they offered to dance instead and learned the choreography out on the lawn just before we went on stage! They are fast learners, and it helped that they already knew the “words” for the dance, as the girls chant them all the time at school: “Hop forward and forward and clap, and back and back two three…Irish, Irish, one two three, salsa, salsa, one two three.”

The audience seemed to enjoy the performance and it was a wonderful opportunity to show what we’ve accomplished in a short amount of time. The Martin Healy Band was also there to entertain, and Father George led everyone in a sing-along of Irish tunes. It was a beautiful evening, the food was delicious (the duckna was my favorite) and a great way to kick off the St. Patrick’s weekend!

Thank you Father George and St. Augustine principal Claudia Skerritt for the invitation!

I am still looking for a video of the performance, so watch this space for an update.

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“Mommy…I hear a rhythm…get ready to jig to the drums of freedom!”

“Mommy…I hear a rhythm…Mommy…I hear a rhythm…get ready to jig to the drums of freedom!” says the radio ad for Rhythm Night this St. Patrick’s Festival 2014. And that is just what we did.

It was a rocking party at Rhythm Night in Salem last night! The Rude Boys started the evening with some string band rhythms in front of Gary Moore’s. The unique sound of harmonica with conga drum, guitar, and other percussive instruments got everyone bopping up and down and side to side. Then the Volpanics entertained with their repertoire of songs on the steel pans, including some Irish songs, such as “Danny Boy” and “Cockles and Mussels.” However, it was “La Bamba,” Arrow’s “Hot Hot Hot” and King Wallace’s “Dracula” that really got people moving and dancing. The Genesis Steel Pan Orchestra also played in front of Desert Storm.

If you wandered down to Desert Storm, you would have heard the distinctly Montserratian masquerade drumming and found a lively street jam! That is exactly what I did, and I ended up learning some masquerade steps, including the heel and toe, from my friends who are members of the Ladies of Alliouagana masquerade troupe. (They are also Blended Rhythms students!) We made our way through the street, cars honking at us as they tried to get past. Miss Goosey was hovering eerily above my head—does anyone else find her a bit creepy? (See video below.)

Next up was the Martin Healy Band playing some Irish ballads inside of Gary Moore’s. They also played some jigs and polkas that got the Blended Rhythms students on the dance floor for an impromptu jam! We did a bit of a reprisal of our Siege of Carrick dance from the Shamrock Cabaret.

Talk about a blending of rhythms! That’s what Rhythm Night in Montserrat is all about. Check out the video below to hear the eclectic range of beats!

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An evening of jigs, hymns, and ballads at the Shamrock Cabaret

Some great craic was had at last night’s Shamrock Cabaret at the Old Primary School in Salem! The Emerald Community Singers came out in colorful costumes and entertained with some Irish favorites such as “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” “I’ll Tell Me Ma,” and “Wild Rover,” but they also sang some African-themed songs such as “Mama Africa,” and a number of Montserratian tunes such as “Beloved Montserrat” and “Fire Up a Mountain.” As always, they provided a combination of solemn hymns alongside raucously funny ditties, with hips swaying and flags waving. (Is anyone else as mesmerized by the charismatic stage presence of Elizabeth Piper-Wide and Herman “Cupid” Francis as I am?)

The Martin Healy Band from Dublin also provided some tunes, airs, and ballads from their wide repertoire of Irish music. Niall Brosnan (accordion) and Thomas Phelan (banjo, whistles, and vocals) joined Martin (guitar and vocals) and began their segment with a rousing set of polkas called the “Salem Set” that made me wish we had prepared a polka set dance for the show! Next year, for sure.

The Blended Rhythms dancers made me proud! The eight ladies, dressed in black and green, performed the Siege of Carrick to a set of jigs played by the band. They made the best of the tight space on stage, smiling all the way through. We even got the audience clapping along! I also danced a hard shoe hornpipe followed by a treble reel. Thanks to Niall for the wonderful accordion music!

Congratulations to all involved, and thanks to Richard Aspin for organizing the event and inviting Blended Rhythms to participate!

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An Irish/Montserratian encounter at St. Augustine School

What a great event! The Skype call began promptly at 9:30am with the Irish and Montserratian students greeting each other via video chat. Everyone here was dressed in the appropriate colors for St. Patrick’s Day: lots of green, lots of white, and lots of national dress as well (which is a combination of Montserrat’s colors: green, orange, and white). The assembly area was decorated with shamrocks and other Irish-themed paraphernalia.

There was a lot of exchange back and forth as the students took turns asking and answering questions and talking about what their school is like. Students at Gaelscoile d’ide Primary School in Fermoy, Co. Cork told the students at St. Augustine about some of their favorite hobbies, such as hurling (an uniquely Irish sport), and about what a typical day at school is like. They also sang some songs and said some prayers.

The St. Augustine students talked about their Irish surnames—Rhonda Allen spoke by herself about her Irish surname and her interest in cooking. The students spoke some of the Irish they have learned recently, and they also sang some songs.

The dancers did a wonderful job demonstrating what they’ve learned over the past two months! They were focused and took it seriously and the céili dance looked beautiful. It was hard to know what the Irish students thought, but I’ll bet they were impressed! (See video below.)

Then the masquerade dancers demonstrated what they do, with their elaborate and colorful costumes and rousing drums. The dance is definitely similar to Irish dance, but also extremely unique.

Finally, the steel pan orchestra played a few songs. As a novice panner, I can say that these children are really good. It’s not an easy instrument and it takes a lot of teamwork to make it all work together!

Congratulations to all involved, and thank you to Graham Clifford (of the Irish Independent), Mrs. Claudia Skerritt (St. Augustine’s principal), and all the teachers at both St. Augustine and Gaelscoile d’ide Primary School. Hopefully this connection and friendship will continue!

Here are some visual highlights from the morning:

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St. Augustine students sit quietly as they wait for the Skype call to begin. They are wearing beautiful colors today!

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Graham Clifford of the Irish Independent newspaper sets up the Skype call on his laptop.

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The young students wave hello to their new friends in Fermoy, Co. Cork, Ireland!

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Irish dancers take center stage!

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Space was tight, but this was the most successful “waves” we’ve ever done!

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The masquerade dancers show what Montserratian traditional dance looks like—Teacher Sarah Allen describes it as a combination of Irish and African movements, but emphasizes that it is uniquely Montserratian (distinct also from the masquerade dances of other nearby Caribbean islands).

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Herman “Cupid” Francis explains to the Irish students the history of steel pans.

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The students give an impressive performance on the steel pans!


Successful rehearsals, ready for performance!

Yesterday we had some great rehearsals. First, students at St. Augustine had a general rehearsal in the afternoon for the Skype call they will have with students at the Gaelscoile d’ide Primary School in Fermoy, Co. Cork, Ireland:

The pupils will share how they prepare for St. Patrick’s Day and will begin developing friendships with students in Ireland.

Among other things, the Pupils will sing to each other, recite poems, exchange St. Patrick’s Day cards, dance, dress in national wear or green and white outfits.

Five different newspapers in Ireland, with a combined readership of one million people, have been and will be covering the event: ‘The Irish Independent’, ‘The Irish Examiner’, ‘The Evening Echo’, ‘The Avondhu’ and ‘The Corkman.

Graham Clifford, feature Writer and Broadcaster working with the Irish Independent Newspaper and ‘The Observer in the United Kingdom is on island to lead the coverage for the newspapers.

The school was decorated with lots of St. Patrick’s Day accessories as well as the cloth from the national dress. It looks very festive!

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The girls were really focused and practiced the choreography we’ve been working on over the past few weeks. I think the Irish students are going to be impressed!

In the evening the adults had dance and drumming rehearsal. We were sharing the space with the Emerald Community Singers while they decorated the hall for tonight’s performance (more green, orange, and white!) so it was a bit crowded, but we made it work. We were able to rehearse on the stage and work on some of the finer points of the Siege of Carrick céili dance that we’ll be performing. After many repetitions, collisions are now at a minimum and everyone is looking much more comfortable.

The Emerald Community Singers and Martin Healy Band will be the main acts (and the band will be providing live music for us!), so it promises to be a great show. The ECS is always entertaining—a fun combination of singing, dancing, and comedy.

We then went outside to the basketball court to go over some drumming patterns. It wasn’t easy without Dominique, but luckily I had recordings of previous classes for reference. Once we get started, it sounds pretty good, and we get tighter as we go along. I think we can manage a simple, basic presentation of what we’ve learned over the past couple of months, especially if we can convince one of the members of Jalikunda African Band to lead us (they arrive on Thursday!).

St. Patrick’s Festival really kicks in today—from now until Monday, March 17, the week will be jam-packed with events. Ready, set, go!

Last class at St. Augustine before performance time

Apologies for the lack of photos or videos today, but we have been too focused on rehearsing for the upcoming performances to pull out the camera!

The Irish dance class learned a final piece of choreography so that they will know all the same pieces as the other schools. Now all schools (St. Augustine, Brades, and Lookout) know the same snippets of choreography so we can easily stitch something together when we all meet up next week at Salem Park on St. Patrick’s Day. The girls showed noticeable improvement this week with keeping straight lines and avoiding collisions, so things are looking good!

We will have a sort of “dress rehearsal” at St. Augustine on Wednesday morning when a film crew from the Irish Independent comes to the school to take some footage of the dancing. The students will actually be Skyping with an Irish language school in Ireland, so it will be a bit of a transatlantic encounter! I wonder if they will be impressed by our Caribbean-style Irish dancing?

The St. Augustine dancers will perform at the St. Patrick’s Catholic Dinner on Saturday March 15, and then again on St. Patrick’s Day itself when they join up with the other schools.

In other news, unfortunately Dominique has had a family emergency and had to leave Montserrat a week early this morning, just as the festival kicks off! So we will need to improvise without him. I will try to lead the final drumming classes as best as I can (we’ll see how much drumming I’ve learned myself!) and we plan to still have some drumming students perform during the festival activities.

We’re all sending thoughts and prayers to Dominique and his family from Montserrat during this time.

A successful blending of rhythms at our last day at Brades School

It was our last day at Brades Primary School this afternoon, and we joined the drumming and dancing classes again, like we did last week. First we had to get a hang of the rhythm again and get our energy up. It is Friday, after all! The girls needed a little push before we started hopping around.

We reviewed the céili dance from last week, which we hope to perform on St. Patrick’s Day at the afternoon Slave Feast festivities in Salem. The choreography is looking good, and it’s a good combination of Irish dance with some movements created by the students themselves. The drumming is also sounding tight!

Stay tuned for more about St. Patrick’s Day performances! We will definitely be there, but the details have yet to be confirmed.

Also, next week there will be a workshop during our usual slot at Brades School with visiting artists Jalikunda (West African drum/dance troupe, with members from Senegal and the Ivory Coast) and Oliver Mtukudzi (from Zimbabwe). It will be interesting to see what they perform and teach the students, and how it differs from what they’ve been learning the Blended Rhythms workshops!

A whole slew of rhythms at Lookout Primary School

This afternoon was all about rhythm (more so than usual) at Lookout Primary School. The drumming class reviewed every rhythm we’ve learned over the past couple of months, and the students remembered them well! We also had a reprisal of “Dracula” from last week.

The dance class was small this week, but very concentrated. These girls at Lookout are some of our most creative and focused students. They are always adding their own twist to the steps and choreography, and they are always interested in breaking down the footwork so they can learn it properly. Their hard work does not go unnoticed!

We focused this week on sean-nós steps, including the basic step and heel/toe steps. We even put together a simple choreography, using the steps to move around the room and dance together in a circle. I explained where sean-nós comes from (the West of Ireland) and that it’s a older style that is more rhythmic than the céili dancing we’ve been doing lately.

It was an afternoon all about rhythm!

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St. Augustine students not only dance Irish, but they speak it too!

Today we had a special visitor at St. Augustine’s during the younger girls’ (grades K-2) class: Father George from St. Patrick’s Church in Lookout stopped by to watch the class, so we had an audience! The girls did a great job showing him the “Cotton Eyed Joe” dance they’ve been working on for the past few weeks.

I was also thrilled to see that some of the girls are practicing jumps from Irish dance, and jumps that I’ve never even shown them! I’m not sure where they saw “quivers” and “scissors,” but they were doing them! Very impressive.

This week I gave them a short lesson so that they can learn a few Irish phrases, but I was surprised to find that they already know some! They didn’t know how to say “hello” (“dia dhuit”) but they do know how to say “thank you” (go raibh mait agat”) and “Happy St. Patrick’s Day” (“Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit”). That last one was new to me, so, you see, I’m learning from them too!

The older (grades 2-6) girls worked on their performance piece since we have a couple opportunities to show off our new skills during the St. Patrick’s Festival…which is fast approaching! We still need to work on our straight lines and working together as a team, but overall things are looking good.

Here are the younger girls practicing their skips and kicks:

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Dancing and drumming blend together at Brades

Yesterday at Brades Primary School was the first time that we had truly “blended rhythms” when the drummers played for the dancers! The dancers started with a warm-up around the room to get used to the new music, and it only took a few minutes for everyone to get a hang of it. The rhythms are essentially exactly the same, but the drums just sound a little different from the Irish fiddle and accordion 🙂

Putting the dancing and drumming together was a great experience. Not only do the rhythms blend surprisingly well, but the students (both dancers and drummers) seemed to focus more, since they knew they were relying on each other for the collaboration to work. And they also seemed to feel a bit more pressure with a new audience!

And the dancers learned, of course, to always bow to (or otherwise acknowledge) their musicians after dancing.

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