Monday, 21 May 2007

Review: 16th Annual Chris Langan Traditional Irish Music Weekend

The first blog posting is a summary of my May 18-20, weekend in Toronto at the 16th Annual Chris Langan Traditional Irish Music Weekend. Read about Chris Langan here. The featured performers are listed here. Check them out, quite an impressive array assembled for this weekend.

I arrived Friday night on the train from Ottawa, and soon after was registering at the Tranzac club on Brunswick St, very near the Spadina subway stop. It’s in a neat area, busy with shops and restaurants, so getting food quickly is easy. That’s important, because except for the ‘full Irish’ excellent breakfast Sunday morning served up at the Tranzac, they don’t serve food there during the weekend, AND, there is SO MUCH MUSIC going on all the time, there is little time for messing about on the sustenance end. The full weekend pass is $95, and gets you into the works.

Friday night had an informal, laid back feeling, stage concert from the beginner level session musicians, up to the top talent (e.g. Ena O’Brien, Deborah Quigley, and many, many, others). It was a lot of fun, and great music. After the concert, there was a session in every available room in the joint, at least 3, probably 4. That includes the showers, upstairs. The what?? Yeah, the showers! Great acoustics, even if it is a tiled bog. The sessions are going till 3am so I hear. I got out of there at 2am Friday night.

By 10am Saturday I had to be there for the Beginner whistle workshop with Charles Jevons. The instructor was very good, very patient and supportive of us newbies. He gave great tips to us. Workshops are $20 each, and they are 2 hours, and they can go longer if everybody is happy with that. Pretty decent deal if you ask me, particularly if your instructor is imported from Ireland and possibly an All Ireland piping champion, the premier make of quality flutes, or the like.

At 1:30pm I attended the Beginner Uillean piping workshop with Ray Caldwell as the instructor. I do not have pipes, but I paid for the pass, so I was going to see what the beginners get for a piping workshop and see what I could learn. It was very informative, and even the lone pipe-less attendee was well respected for being there wanting to learn. This is one thing that this weekend exudes, the importance of acceptance and GIVING. This is obvious from the frequent tributes throughout the weekend to the man the weekend honours - Chris Langan. A man who I learned is deeply revered and missed for his giving nature and huge contribution to Irish music. After hearing so many moving tributes to Chris, I felt deprived that I never met the guy. Anyway, Ray gave great advice to the students and again was very patient with everybody, very understanding, and a great piper.

One of the piping workshop students and I hung out for supper, and just made it to the Gala Concert in Trinity St. Paul’s Church. This is a great venue, and also where the baroque performance group Tafelmuzik perform, so it is really a great acoustic space for traditional music (padded pews!). We were assured to not miss the concert for any reason, and I can see why. This concert was amazing. One incredible performance by either a single or duo, or trio, after another. World class. This was of course followed by sessions until 3am or so back at the Tranzac, now with these world class musicians sitting in! So, it was really a great day.

Sunday morning was that great breakfast included in the weekend pass (or $10, can’t be beat), followed by seminars on historical aspects of Irish traditional music and flutes. This was followed by a series of informal performances on the stage by conference attendees, including the imported guests, and mostly concentrating on Uillean pipes. It is primarily a weekend of piping, but they have expanded it to be, essentially, all Irish traditional instruments. Even after this concert, Brian McNamara gave some of us a treat to hear him play more on the pipes (off stage), and then people headed over to Dora Keoh’s pub for….another session! I had to go get the train.

All in all, I highly recommend this weekend as an Ontario based getaway trad music weekend for ALL levels of playing. It was very easy to meet everybody, no matter how famous they are, everybody was very nice, and it was very inspirational. New friends were made. It was a laugh. Thanks to the Chris Langan committee for making it a memorable experience.


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