Food and Music and Dance! Matthew Allen

Music Blog 3, 16th June 2012

Food and Dance

Eating – on this trip food becomes elemental and functional, a tool to support the work. At 8 a.m. I have to put something in my stomach to have energy for the morning. This is done with my roommate the venerable Prof. Andy Howard and predictably involves cold cereal and tea. At 9 a.m. upon arrival at the Burren College I grab a coffee in the café and a carrot cake or any pastry-like thing available. I often catch my music crowd Andy, Nate, Tyler and Hilary here on their way up to the castle tower. At noon, all I know is I have make a beeline to put a lot of something in my stomach and have energy through the afternoon. Martina and Anne who run the Café usually have some kind of casserole or enhanced potato special and some variety of soup (the Irish almost always puree their soup so you can’t identify any particular vegetables, but it’s invariably fabulous). The café fills up around 12:30 so we strategically finish our morning session about 12:25 to avoid the line. Around 3 or 4 p.m. I’m realizing that I’m dragging and chastise myself that tomorrow I have to eat a bigger lunch. At 6 p.m. comes dinner – I’m so beat I hardly notice what it is that I’m having, whether it’s a cheese tomato sandwich back at the apartment or a sit down dinner in one of the pretty decent restaurants in town. So far we’ve been to a seafood place where the food was ok but the servers hadn’t really mastered the idea that a host might want to check in on your diners once in a while. We would have grown cobwebs in that place had we not finally enacted the diner’s last resort – get up and start to walk out. That got us the check, finally. And an Italian place which was several notches higher on the dining experience totem pole, with great food and Italian servers who solicitously kept a close eye on our needs, punctuating every flowing sentence with some kind of Mediterranean honorific transporting us momentarily away from the foggy drizzle to a sunnier southern world.

Dancing – Thursday night the College arranged a bus to take our music crowd over the mountain to Vaughan’s pub and dance barn in Kilfenora for a ceili dance experience (the visual art concentrators worked in their studios this evening – we’ll all be going on this dance excursion again during our third week here). You pull into Kilfenora and all is quiet on the one main street of the town. The Kilfenora church yard up at the top of town contains a unique collection of Celtic high crosses, marginally protected from the elements under a massive transparent latex canopy, and a few steps in the other direction is the Burren Centre Museum. Culturally, the town is home to the Kilfenora Ceili Band, one of the oldest and most revered dance bands in the entire country, and in what will surely be Kilfenora’s main distinction to some, a plaque on the wall of a nondescript house on the main street testifies that the town served as the set for the filming of the Father Ted series from 1995-98. Mr. Aidan Vaughan, a champion set dancer, teaches ceili dance lessons at 8p.m. before the dance proper begins at 9:30. It was a good thing we had that lesson. As we stood around waiting for the music to begin, Hilary Lahan showed us some pretty impressive Greek folk dance moves, and we introduced ourselves to the members of a different student group who had also come for the dancing. I have always been a total failure at this kind of folk dancing, because I can’t remember sequences of choreographic instructions (“Swing your partner left!” “Go around the world!” “Get me a sandwich!” etc.) and I get really dizzy at even the suggestion of spinning or swinging. But Aidan explained things so well and patiently that I found myself stepping and even rotating with my partner without cutting her off at the knees or ending up collapsed in a heap on the floor. That was during the lesson – for teaching purposes Aidan has some flashy software on his computer that allows him to slow down the tempo of the music track without decreasing the pitch, so we were able to practice the set dance figures at a reasonable pace. Come 9:30, the veteran local dancers began to gather and soon took the floor. All bets were off as the tempo picked up precipitously. They launched into a dance which featured “battering”, an Irish cognate of Appalachian clogging, a gorgeous kind of rhythmic improvisational conversation between feet and floor. Aidan invited our class up to join the dancers for the next number, at which point I hid behind a column. My students were far braver, and indeed better prepared than I: Andy Cavacco has a lot of experience with New England contra dance, and Nate Hunt and Tyler Matayoshi combine a natural grace with a felicitous lack of restraint – they were out there flying. As for Hilary, she was mixing up the Greek and Celtic moves in a marvelous fashion and the locals were I think enjoying us as much as we them. 11 p.m. came far too soon; our bus driver pulled up and we were off over the hill home. One of the art students from a different school, a crackerjack dancer who appeared to be feeling the effects of a pint or two, turned around and proposed to us that the following evening we should meet and progress sequentially through the five bars of town. I said, “If you could find seven more bars, you’ll have a twelve bar blues.” After a painfully long silence, Tyler bless his heart came to my rescue: “That was a joke.” (For the non-cognoscenti, a bar is a rhythmic-mensural unit and the twelve bar blues is a musical form. And incidentally, Andy and I have been very proud to see our group of Wheaton students showing maturity and good judgment with respect to alcohol). The bus and driver, immune equally to my attempts at humor or the lumpen proletariat’s ignorance of same, carefully worked their way down the switchbacks of Corkscrew Hill and we were home, eight hours away from my next bowl of cereal and tea. – M.H.A.