Niamh's Musings

Join Niamh at home and on tour... the people she meets, the music she loves and the turns in the road.

Monday, February 12, 2007


In the heady set-dancing year of 1988, I accompanied the Brooks Academy Set Dancers to Paris to teach the Paris Set to members of the Association Irelandais – now 20 years later, I’m back with them, but this time to do workshops in singing. It was really lovely to catch up on old friends, as I had been out of touch with the set dancers for years (and extremely unfit).

We were free during the day on the Friday, so myself and my old buddy Irene strolled down from Gare St. Lazare towards the Madeline Church, and enjoyed the amazing spectacle of the very expensive designer shops on the way, including Dior, Gucci etc. – we didn’t really stop to browse as we were aiming for the Orangerie – it wasn’t open for another hour so we walked around by the Seine, chatting and catching up on old times. Finally we were able to go into the view the Waterlillies, which were absolutely beautiful – and deserved the wonderful building specifically built for them, in the Tuilleries Gardens. Downstairs we discovered to our surprise that there were many more wonderful paintings to be seen, some Renoir, early Picasso, Manet, Van Gogh and many more – it was a great experience and is on my list for the next Paris Visit, and this time I’ll book a ticket online. We strolled back up the Gardens and had lunch downstairs in the Louvre, where we discovered a food hall, and had a huge choice. I left Irene to meet a friend, and strolled back towards the Hotel, resisting any temptation to shop.

Later that night we went to the venue, where we were having a concert. As Graham was not with me, I was to sing unaccompanied, which gives me great freedom, as I can choose what I like and in which key I feel like singing. The concert started off with the wonderful 4 Star Trio, beautiful music which had my feet tapping. Con O’Driscoill, Johnny McCarthy and Pat Herron are a great team, and Johnny’s compositions are beautiful. Unfortunately no songs were sung, which is a pity as they have such a collection of songs. I’ll just have to wait a while before I can hear them again, in concert or for a dance. I sang a few songs, and then up got Paul McGrattan on Flute, Des Cafferkey on whistle and flute, and John Blake on guitar (even though he’s a flute player too) – they played a really nice set, and considering John and Des had only met minutes before they played great together. I sang a few more songs in the second half, and the night was finished by the Coyne Brothers, unfortunately they ran out of time so we didn’t get an opportunity to hear Aodhan, Mick’s son, play or sing. I was very well behaved and had a good night’s sleep before the mammoth day ahead.

On Saturday, we got up early, and arrived at the School before 10. After Coffee in the kitchen, we trundled over to our class room. Everything I needed was laid on, and Francoise was there to assist me. To my delight, all 15 singers could sing really well. Some had travelled for miles to be at this weekend. Some local singers have a regular Tuesday meeting with a lovely Belfast girl called Caoimhe, so they already knew what it was all about. The morning flew and after a wonderful lunch with all the other teachers, we had another 3 hours. In that time we learnt 8 songs. I headed back to the Hotel and met up with the Coynes, We all had dinner together, and had coffee in the pub next door to the Hotel. Mick arranged with the proprietor that we could play music and we ended up having the whole pub to ourselves – with wonderful tunes from Paul McGratton, John Blake, Richard Lucey and the Coyne Brothers. Meanwhile the Four Star Trio and the set dancers danced the night away at the Ceili which was excellent by all accounts. I stole away at a reasonable hour as we had more the next day.

Sunday and we started a little later. We had another excellent morning or singing and I was very impressed with them all. At lunch, everybody was together in the school canteen. There was a presentation by Avril Armstrong thanking the Brooks Academy, and all the organisers especially Diane – who organised Champagne and a big cake with the Irish and French flags on it. There was a little session with lots of people doing solo tunes – a lovely afternoon.

We made our way back to the Hotel, changed and headed back out to Carr’s Irish pub and Restaurant, where I met many old friends – the food was wonderful and a gorgeous session started afterwards lead by Mary MacNamara and Vincent Blin. But tiredness got the better of me and we left around midnight. But it was a great end to a lovely musical weekend in Paris, and the music is alive and well, and in excellent hands thanks to the organisers.

We were heading home on Monday, and there was so much to do and see, I chose to do nothing but relax in a long bath and stroll down through the shopping area. I dearly want to go back to Paris, it’s a magic city. Thank you to the Brooks Academy and Association Irlandais for a great weekend.