MUSIC AND HISTORY IN IRELAND AND THE UK APRIL 3-11, 2010
During my Spring Break from teaching psychology at Whittier College, I visited my daughter in Cork, Ireland, where she is teaching at the University College Cork. After three days of seeing the campus, her friends, and live music, we flew to Belfast, Northern Ireland for two days to check out the music scene there. We only found one concert, but we learned more about the history of the conflict there, and stayed near a great disco. We then went to Oxford, England, for two days, where she presented a paper at an ethnomusicology conference. Here are some of things that I learned and experienced on the trip.
I flew from Los Angeles to London on Saturday afternoon April 3, arriving at Heathrow Airport Sunday morning, then took a short flight to Cork. It seemed perfectly normal to be in London and then in Cork, since I had visited Cork and other cities in Ireland in July of 2006. Normally I canÕt sleep on a plane, and have jetlag for several days, but I took some melatonin (which is what your brain stem releases to put you to sleep) and was able to sleep for two hours on the way to London. I then read the paperback Getting to Yes by leaders of the Harvard Negotiation Project, which emphasized the importance of identifying common interests instead of defending positions.
My daughter met me at the Cork airport, and after dropping my bag at her apartment, we walked around the town and campus. Since it was Easter Sunday, most places were closed. I then took a two-hour nap, and was able to stay awake until bedtime, then amazingly did not have any jetlag all week! Taking melatonin helped me sleep through each night.
After dinner at her apartment, we went to a pub where we heard traditional Irish music, then another pub where they usually have folk songs. But that night they were commemorating the Easter Monday uprising against British rule in 1916. The Irish leaders of the uprising were executed, and the negative reaction was one of the factors leading to the establishment of the Irish Republic in 1920. This night a trio was singing patriotic songs, and the audience was singing along. My daughter was surprised that the many young adults in the audience knew the words to all of the songs. It was hard to understand the words (which is often true when I listen to songs, even without the Irish accent!), but I heard IRA many times which referred to the Irish Republican Army.
The next day we decided to take a bus to Kinsale, a picturesque town on the coast noted for seafood restaurants. We had to wait an extra hour for the bus, since it was on a holiday schedule, so we explored St. Fin BarreÕs cathedral that had some nice stained glass windows. The organ had been moved to be closer to the choir, so the pipes were sticking up through a hole in the floor instead of being mounted on a wall!
Kinsale was the site of a monastery in the 6th century, a Viking trading post by the 10th century, and a Norman walled town in the 13th century, reflecting the history of invasions of Ireland. In 1601 the Spanish helped the Irish keep the English out of the harbor, but the English won the battle at Kinsale anyway and ruled Ireland for three centuries. We found most of the restaurants closed since Easter Monday is a bank holiday. The town was touristy, with a harbor full of yachts instead of old fishing boats, but it was interesting nonetheless. We walked two miles around the bay to see Charles Fort that guarded the entrance to the bay in the 17th Century. The wind was strong and cold, so we took a taxi back to town, then rode the bus back to Cork.
That evening we had dinner with three of my daughterÕs friends, then went to a pub where we heard blue grass music. In the back of the pub it was hard to hear the music above the conversations, so we moved up front when another group left.
The next morning my daughter finished preparing her presentation for the conference Saturday, while I read the last chapters of the fifth fantasy novel in Robert JordanÕs Wheel of Time series. After lunch we walked up the hill to her office in the music building, which had been an old monastery. There was a beautiful view of the river and city from the window. We walked down the hill, across the river, through the campus, and back to town.
We had dinner with one of her friends, and were joined by another friend at a pub where we heard traditional American jazz songs. My daughter knew the sax player from other music events.
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND
Wednesday morning we flew to Belfast and checked into a very nice Bed & Breakfast near QueenÕs University. We walked around the University, and explored the Botanic Garden next door. It had a conservatory with beautiful bright flowers, and another building of tropical ferns. It also had the Ulster Museum, which contained an exhibit on the conflict in Northern Ireland called The Troubles.
The conflict in the 20th century had its roots in prior centuries of English domination and Irish rebellion. When the Irish Republic was created in 1920, six of the nine counties of the province of Ulster were carved out and remained part of the United Kingdom, which consists of Northern Ireland and Great Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales). Those counties had a majority of Protestants who wanted to remain part of the UK, and a minority of Catholics who wanted to be part of the Irish Republic. The Protestants included Scots-Irish whose ancestors came from Scotland when the English confiscated lands and established Plantations in the 17th century.
While the two groups are Protestant and Catholic, the conflict is not about religion but about which group is going to be the political minority -- Catholics in a Northern Ireland that is part of the UK, or Protestants in a Northern Ireland that is part of the Irish Republic. Armed conflict between the Irish Republican Army and the British Army began in 1969. There was a ceasefire in 1994 but a few instances of violence have occurred since. There still is a wall between the Protestant and Catholic working class neighborhoods, with gates on the streets between them that are locked every night.
We took a bus downtown, and found that the huge old City Hall had a special exhibit on the Titanic. The Titanic was built in Belfast, then sailed from Cork on its maiden voyage to the US in 1912. It was the largest cruise ship at the time. It was claimed to be ŌunsinkableĶ and had only half as many lifeboats for the number of passengers. It struck a large iceberg and sank, killing 1517 of the 2223 people on board. The survivors included 60% of all First Class passengers, 42% of Second Class, and 25% of Third Class who were in the lower holds. My grandmother knew some of the people who died. There was a US Senate investigation and a media frenzy that led to improvements in cruise ship safety.
We checked the Time Out guide for tourists, pamphlets and newspapers at Queens University, and more pamphlets at the Belfast Welcome Center to learn about music events. But we only found one during the two nights that we were there. It was a concert of classical music at a church by the waterfront. So we walked there and found the music very beautiful.
My daughter needs a normal amount of sleep, while I usually need only five and a half hours. So she went to bed while I went to the disco that was three blocks from our Bed & Breakfast. I always try to find a place to stay that is in walking distance of dance clubs! The disco was called the Top of the Bot, and was upstairs of The Botanic Inn that is popular with students at nearby Queens University. As usual I had a great time, developing a rapport with others who appreciated my dance moves.
Thursday morning we were picked up by a Black Taxi for a tour of the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods that were involved in The Troubles. The driver talked about the conflict, and took us to the Protestant neighborhood where we walked around to see more than a dozen murals about the conflict that were painted on the ends of row houses. We then drove to the wall, and saw many things written on the wall. It reminded me of the Berlin Wall and also the wall along the US-Mexican border in Tijuana. We crossed to the Catholic neighborhood and saw a shrine by the wall showing photos and names of Catholics killed by the British Army since 1920, then a section of wall containing murals about conflicts in Ireland and elsewhere around the world.
After that we took the Titanic Boat Tour which went out to the former island (now filled in and attached to the shore) where the Titanic and two sister ships were built. The buildings were gone, but we could see the dry docks where the ships had been launched. A developer has bought the land to build housing now. One of the sister ships served as a hospital ship during World War I, and the other was sold for scrap, so neither was a cruise ship.
That night there was no music concert, so we went to see a comedy troop perform at the ornate Opera House. It was called ŌGive My Head Peace,Ķ and was about political figures relevant to Northern Ireland. I didnÕt understand all of the references, but I appreciated the fact that the audience was able to joke about politics indicating that the tensions had decreased.
That night I returned to Top of the Bot, where I again had a great time. I met a group from New Zealand as well as local students.
On Friday we flew to London and took an hour bus ride to Oxford. We checked into dormitory rooms at St. JohnÕs College, then walked through downtown to the Music Department of Oxford University. It was adjacent to the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments, where a reception was being held for the British Forum for Ethnomusicology conference. The collection had many historic examples of Western musical instruments, including a wall of flutes, a wall of saxophones, etc. The display included two saxophones built by Adolpho Edouard Sax who invented the instrument a little over a century ago. In the music building there was a Gamelan concert, comprised of many Indonesian instruments such as metallophones, xylophones, drums, and gongs. Later at St. JohnÕs college there was performance of Zimbabwean Mbira (Thumb Piano) music and Middle Eastern music.
My daughter went to her room to rehearse her presentation, and I walked half a mile north to look for a disco in an old church that was recommended by my LetÕs Go Europe guidebook. The place was closed for remodeling, so I stopped at a nearby cafe and asked a young clerk where the discos were. He said downtown on Queen St. so I walked there. Along the way I passed a truck selling Doner Kebabs like I had in Turkey so I ate there!
I initially found two discos on Queen St. Usually they are easy to find by hearing the dance music and seeing the crowd or id checkers outside. The first one had many people sitting at tables drinking and talking and apparently no one interested in dancing on the tiny dance floor. So I went to the second and found very few people there. But the music was good so I started dancing anyway on the empty dance floor and a few others started dancing too. I soon left, and found another place with a crowd down an alley. It was called the Cellar and had live music by the Souljazz Orchestra. It was too crowded to dance while they were playing, but when they left, the crowd thinned, and recordings of the group were played. Then I could dance and had a great time.
The next morning we had breakfast at St. JohnÕs dining hall, and met a couple of graduate students studying ethnomusicology. While my daughter went to conference sessions at the Music Department, I went to the Ashmolean Museum across from St. JohnÕs College. It had artifacts from ancient times through the 19th century from around the world. The exhibits stressed cross-cultural influences, with useful descriptions of each time and place. I took a hundred photos, which indicates how interesting it was. Many museums will allow photos without flash, since the flash fades paint.
I walked to the Music Department and met my daughter for lunch, then went to hear her presentation at the conference, which was based on her research on musical creativity in Finland. According to her interviews with musicians, traditional teaching emphasizes playing music the correct way without making any mistakes. The fear of shame inhibits risk-taking and creativity. In the folk music department at the Sibelius Academy in Finland, exercises encourage people to get over this fear by performing in a community in which everyone initially shares embarrassment. Her talk was well received, and several people told me that they liked her journal articles.
While she attended additional conference sessions, I walked back to the Ashmolean Museum to see the rest of the exhibits, and took another hundred photos!
That evening we attended the conference banquet at St. JohnÕs, and we talked with a group of musicians from Portugal. Then there was a party with dancing where I met several others attending the conference.
RETURN TO LOS ANGLES
Sunday morning we had breakfast again at St. JohnÕs, and the dining hall reminded me of HogwartÕs dining hall in the Harry Potter movies. A friend sitting with us told us that the dining hall scenes were filmed at Christ Church, which was near the Music Department! Other scenes were filmed at a school in Scotland. We walked down to Christ Church to find out if we could see inside, but it was closed until that afternoon. We walked back to St. JohnÕs to get my luggage, and walked to the bus station where I took the bus back to LondonÕs Heathrow airport. I spent the entire bus ride talking with a colleague of my daughterÕs, and we also had lunch together at Heathrow before taking different flights.
I had to change planes in Chicago, so flying back to Los Angeles was much longer than the flight from LA to London. I was too tired to read, but not sleepy enough to sleep on the way to Chicago. From Chicago to LA I had a long conversation with another passenger. I was tired waiting for the airport shuttle to pick me up and circle the airport again, so I was exhausted by the time I got home. I had been awake for more than 25 hours.