It is with heavy hearts that Rob, Greg and I return from our brief stay in Dublin and even briefer stay in Stockholm. We left last Wednesday to meet our new Dublin-based client, Comhaltas (short for Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, pronounced coal-tis kyol-tory air-in); a government funded non-profit that promotes and preserves the tradition of Irish music and dance. In the coming months we will be redesigning their website, so they invited us over to kickoff the project and get a taste of what it is they do. We had it in our minds that this would be a nice little trip, but I can honestly say we were all stunned at just how deeply moving it proved to be. Very few times are you able to get this much from a client meeting.
We knew it was going to be a whirlwind of a trip, five flights (two of which would be quite long) in five days, but we were fortunate to have great weather and great company for the entire stay. Our client was kind enough to put us up for our two nights in one of the rooms at Comhaltas (which occupies a large building containing rooms for guests, a theater, pub, and mess hall). After a quick bite, the three of us laughed in the face of exhaustion and jumped on the Dart to head into town. We met up with Ms. Jen (thanks again for everything!), who helped us make the most of our limited time. We ran around the grounds of Trinity College, made a quick stop at the Book of Kells before they closed up, and had a jaunt around Merion Square followed up by a few pints at O’Donoghue’s (the Guiness really is much better over there). We grabbed some food at the Ely Wine Bar and, after some prime photo ops, jumped back on the Dart to catch the last seisiún (Irish for “session”) at Comhaltas before everyone left for the Fleadh in Letterkenny. Man, I wish we could’ve gone with them.
On Friday, we met with Comhaltas to discuss their website and the redesign we will be performing. At night we joined everyone at Comhaltas and the musicians at a local pub to celebrate and give them a good send off to the Fleadh. This was the point in the trip that truly left us speechless. After dinner, and after already playing every night for the past month, everyone took out their instruments and began another seisiún. These people live and breathe this music. They truly love what they do, and their affection for it is contagious. The thing that really blew us away is how these sessions aren’t deemed entertainment so much as just a communal gathering. All I could think is how if six or so people just started playing like that in a bar in Philly, the crowd gathered around would be 10 people deep. But, most people there just went on with their conversation and drinking, barely batting an eye. They weren’t playing for an audience so much as themselves and for one another.
The music itself was wonderful. All of the musicians were seasoned and energetic, which of course made it all seem so effortless. Seeing how much of a cornerstone this tradition is in the musicians’ lives made the music that much more infectious. In much the same way as when I was a child I thought that all Japanese people knew some form of martial art—I mean no offense, it was merely childhood naivety and media influence on a young boy’s mind—I couldn’t help but feel like a strong majority of people there knew how to play one (if not more) instruments. Perhaps it was because everyone we came across at some point picked up a stray instrument and joined in the seisiún. When sitting next to a seisiún taking place, you can’t help but feel like you want to join in and grab an instrument yourself. It had a profound impact on us all, so much that I feel compelled to look into the local Philadelphia chapter of Comhaltas.
After the pub closed, we headed back to Comhaltas to steal a few hours of sleep before an early flight to Sweden (with a connection through Helsinki). We arrived in Stockholm late in the afternoon and once again fought off exhaustion to experience a little bit of the city. As luck would have it, we wandered into many of the places recommended to us: Gamla Stan, The Stockholm Culture Festival, and the Absolut Icebar (we stayed in the Nordic Sea Hotel, so we couldn’t help ourselves). I wish we had more time in Stockholm, but my overall impression was one of awe: the design of everything, from chairs to the airport to the simplest of signs, seems fully considered and executed. It’s like an entire city focused on usability! Although, it does wear on the senses a bit when everyone you pass seems so impossibly beautiful, tall and slender.
Even though it was a whirlwind trip, we crammed a lot into a small bit of time and managed to make it out to nearly all of the places some of you kind folks recommended. We are very excited and honored to be a part of this project, and already looking forward to finding a way to return to Ireland. It is a rare occurrence to be able soak in so much of what a client really does and there is really no way we could have garnered as much information and emotion about the culture and tradition of the music had we merely read about it or listened to a few CDs. This trip has already proven invaluable for pure research and understanding, and for that we are completely grateful to our new friends at Comhaltas.
As you can imagine, we walked away with quite a few photos. You can see most of mine in my Flickr set, European Adventure, and Greg’s in his set, Dublin & Stockholm. Some others will be popping up in my Daily Photos. Also, Greg and I took some low quality video (yay!) from the sessions on both nights, all of which you can see on YouTube. If you are curious to hear some more of the music we were delighted by, you should check out the Foinn Seisiún: Traditional Irish Session Tunes (from the iTunes Music Store).