By Earle Hitchner
1999 NORTH AMERICAN PROVINCIAL CONVENTION, Parsippany Hilton, Parsippany, N.J., April 8-11.
More than 500 hotel rooms were occupied by attendees of the 1999 North American Provincial Convention, sponsored by New Jersey’s Martin Mulvihill branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. More than 1,500 people came out to see, hear, and play music and to dance, and they certainly got their fill this weekend.
Just outside a lobby bar early Saturday afternoon were a group of musicians playing together informally, including Felix Dolan on piano and John Nolan on button accordion. Meanwhile, the grand ballroom was stuffed with set dancers taking instruction, and workshops were taking place in the smaller rooms of the hotel’s Algonquin area.
Teaching button accordion was John Whelan, who stressed the need to hear a tune all the way through many times over in order to absorb and finally learn it. In the uilleann pipes workshop, Jerry O’Sullivan emphasized that in any choice between rhythm and ornamentation, the latter must go if it interferes with the former. Cavan-born fiddler Tony Smith, Sligo flutist John Dwyer, and pianist Annemarie Acosta — equipped with tapes of various styles of accompaniment — were among the other instructors, whose skill and knowledge combined to attract a solid number of pupils.
RTÉ Radio One’s "Céilí House," hosted by ex-Stocktons Wing member Kieran Hanrahan with uilleann piper Peter Browne assisting, came out from Ireland to tape some of the live music for later broadcast. Besides conducting interviews on site, the two recorded a performance by such Hall of Fame inductees of CCÉ’s Mid-Atlantic Region as flutist Jack Coen, keyboardist Felix Dolan, button accordionist Joe Madden, uilleann piper Mattie Connolly, flutist Mike Rafferty, and button accordionist Martin Mulhaire.
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"The quality of céilí band music was superb, Thursday through Sunday," said Paul Keating, chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Region. "It really showed the music’s strength in the New York and New Jersey area, and that was enhanced by guest appearances from Mick Moloney, Bill Black, Jimmy Kelly, and others. Even the Slievenamon dancers, who came out from Ireland to perform and help instruct, commented on the high quality of the music. And the team-teaching approach we took to dance this year worked out great."
Another convention highlight was the presentation by Joe and Ed Reavy Jr. of a 70-minute video on the musical legacy of their late father, Cavan-born composer and fiddler Ed Reavy, who had lived in Drexel Hill, Pa., for most of his life.
From all indications, Tom Vesey, Jerry Kennedy, and the Martin Mulvihill branch convention committee did a fine job of organizing this weekend, described by one participant as an "indoor fleadh."
CCÉ’s North American Provincial Convention will shift next year (March 31-April 2) to the Hyatt Regency Crystal City hotel in Arlington, Va., where the O’Neill-Malcolm branch will act as host. For further information, phone (703) 759-3718 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.