RECAP – Salon Concerts Chicago Presents – Words, Music and Song in the Library of the Irish American Heritage Center
The Salon Concerts Chicago presented a series of lectures, readings, musical performances, and introductory classes as part of the cultural content of the July 9-10, 2016 Irish American Heritage Fest at the IAHC. The programs were held in the south room of the Library on the Center’s second floor, opposite the Tea Room. Both days featured a full lineup of presenters starting at 1PM and continuing until 6PM. The south room was arranged in a classroom format, with seats facing the south wall, with enough space in the southernmost end to accommodate a sound system, a lectern, and several chairs used by the various presenters.
Both days commenced with readings of short stories and excerpts penned by members of Anam Cara, the Center’s creative writing circle. Their writings were full of life, humor, and touching moments, displaying a great deal of craft and sensitivity.
Saturday featured musical performances by two groups from the Academy of Irish Music, which teaches young people to create arranged pieces out of traditional melodies, employing harmony, dynamics, and rhythm in a manner akin to orchestral music. The early group included young performers while the later group consisted of its most senior members. The young group brought zest and energy to their performances, while the older performing group displayed their maturity with a gentle, almost tender sound at times before launching into dance melodies. The younger group performed on Sunday at the conclusion of the program as well.
Saturday also included popular songs of the early 1900s performed ably by Eamonn McDonagh accompanied by Joe Cullen. Their material was chosen in particular with a mind to the 1916 Easter Rising and its aftermath, and contained many songs that would have been in popular circulation at the time. Eamonn sang with power and great feeling over Joe’s expert piano accordion accompaniment. Eamonn also gave a stirring reading of the 1916 Proclamation of Irish Freedom on Sunday.
Also on Saturday, there was a performance of traditional Irish dance music on the uilleann pipes and fiddle by Patrick and Karen Cannady accompanied, by Steve Ponisciak on piano. Their performance included material collected from Chicago’s community of immigrant traditional musicians. The performance featured strong rhythms, “lift,” moments of lyricism, and sweetness, all enabled by the interplay between the chanter, fiddle, and piano. On Sunday, Patrick also gave a presentation on the workings and history of the uilleann pipes with a demonstration of some of its repertoire. The audience was keenly interested, as most had never seen the instrument in person.
Both days featured the imaginative and dramatic storytelling of local Seanach Tim O’ Sullivan, of Killarney. Tim regaled his audience with larger than life stories of Saint Patrick and pre-Christian Ireland, recitations of W.B. Yeats poems, and songs.
Novelist Arthur Cola also gave readings of his work and presented on his latest project, a complex novel with interwoven plot lines about 19th century life around Doonagore, Clare.
The program for both days also included a short introductory class to modern Irish Gaelic presented by teachers from Na Gael, the Center’s Irish Language program.
Also on both days, a group of thespians gave dramatic readings of letters and speeches contemporary to the 1916 Rising, including writings from many of the Rebellion’s ringleaders. Highlights included orations from James Connolly and a letter from Countess Markiewicz.
Sunday featured a fascinating demonstration of Irish harp music and a presentation on its history and traditions by Marta Cook. Marta performed several pieces from famous Irish harpists and composers of the 17th and 18th centuries.
The various presentations, performances, classes, and recitations kept an audience throughout the day, with people coming and going, and the Library was never empty. The audiences would come in, linger a while, leave, return, and the schedule was varied and paced in a manner to encourage this. In conjunction with a book sale and ongoing genealogy activity with Brian Donovan in the Library’s other room, this kept the Library very busy throughout the festival weekend.
Many thanks to: Leah Joyce Steele, Noel Rice, Mary Moore, Theresa Choske, Kathy O’Neill, Karen and Patrick Cannady, John Halliburton, Elizabeth Ellis, Virginia Gibbons, Na Gael, Meg Buchanan, and Gene Cooney for their support, time, and dedication in making this event happen.