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Arts and Entertainment

Brendan Tonra: Musician, poet, giver, wit – the real deal

By Susan Lindsay, special to the BIR, February 27, 2014

Early last month, on Feb. 3, Boston lost Brendan Tonra, a 78-year old fiddler and composer of Irish traditional dance tunes. who passed away peacefully at after a short but intense battle with cancer. To his three daughters and their families, it was the loss of a father and grandfather. To his longtime musical partner pianist, Helen Kisiel, it was the loss of a soulmate. To his musician friends in Boston and beyond, it was a loss of a direct connection to the continuum of traditional music of Ireland. To me, it was the loss of an inspiration and friend, because when it came to Irish music and Irish people, Brendan was the real deal. Read more

Mass. Cultural Council honor for BC faculty’s Jimmy Noonan

By Sean Smith, special to the BIR, February 27, 2014

Jimmy Noonan, a faculty member in the Music Department and Irish Studies Program at Boston College, is the recipient of a $10,000 Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship award. The fellowships “recognize exceptional work by Massachusetts artists across a range of disciplines,” according to the MCC website. “These highly competitive awards provide artists crucial validation among their peers and the public. They catalyze artistic advancement and pave the way for creative innovation of enduring cultural value.” Read more

For 60 years, Rita O’Shea Chaplin has been teaching Irish dance, and building a ‘family’ along the way

By Sean Smith, special to the BIR, February 27, 2014

It’s a dead-of-winter Saturday, but things are quite lively inside the German International School Boston building in Brighton where some three dozen students of the O’Shea-Chaplin Academy of Irish Dance are going through their paces.
Three groups of dancers, from elementary school to college age, are spread out in the gymnasium/auditorium, while a fourth group rehearses on the stage. Hard-shoe choruses reverberate through the room as O’Shea-Chaplin teachers scrutinize each group’s progress, occasionally yelling out an instruction or offering a compliment. Read more

Heartbeat of Home’ sweeps Irish dance into new millennium

By R.J.Donovan, special to the BIR, February 27, 2014

“Heartbeat of Home” could rightfully be called “Riverdance” for the new millennium, taking Irish dance to the next level. When the exuberant production makes its East Coast debut at the Citi Wang Theatre from March 26 to April 6, Boston audiences will be among the first to see the show The Irish Mail on Sunday dubbed “jaw dropping.”
More than three years ago, the “Riverdance” team of John McColgan and Moya Doherty had a vision for a new theatrical project, one that would fuse the vibrant rhythms of Irish, Latin and Afro-Cuban music and dance. Ultimately, it would be both a love story showing what happens when these cultures meet and the dream voyage of those who were forced to travel for the sake of a better life. Read more

BCM Fest Thrills 1,100

By Sean Smith, special to the BIR, January 31, 2014

The 11th annual BCMFest (January 10 and 11) drew more than 1,100 people to Harvard Square to see some of the Boston area’s best Irish, Scottish, Cape Breton musicians, dancers and singers. The festival, a program of Passim, began the night of January 10 with the “Roots & Branches” Concert in Club Passim and the Boston Urban Ceilidh down the street at The Atrium; both events were sold out. Read more

A Long Way to Tipperary . . . or to Slane

By Thomas O'Grady, special to the BIR, January 31, 2014

For the past few weeks, I have been thumbing back and forth through a massive hot-off-the-press coffee table book, The Great War: a Photographic Narrative. A project of Great Britain’s Imperial War Museums, the book offers a starkly candid photographic record of the horrific reality of life in the various “theatres” that constituted World War I: the trenches and the battlefields of the Western Front, of course, but also the beaches and the slopes of Gallipoli, the Zeppelin-bombed streets of England, the deserts of the Middle East, and the high seas. For the most part, this gathering of images is not for the faint of heart.
Obviously, the publication of this book anticipates the centenary of The Great War—1914-1918. It thus holds intrinsic interest for anyone invested in Irish matters: More than 200,000 Irishmen enlisted in the British forces and more than 30,000 died in combat. No doubt the next four years will see this under-written chapter of Irish history given its long overdue attention—and appropriate commemoration—by scholars, by the Irish government, and by the general public. Read more

L.A.’s Abarta has found a new home in a place where ‘things are going on’

By Sean Smith, special to the BIR, January 31, 2014

Piper a fixture in local music scene
Coming to Boston represented both a commitment and a leap of faith for Joey Abarta.
By his early 20s, the Los Angeles native was already an accomplished uilleann piper, having toured with the likes of Mick Moloney and Athena Tergis. But if he was going to make Irish music his full-time vocation – and all manner of signposts and tea leaves seemed to indicate this was what he should do – he knew that, as his friends told him, “I needed to be where things were going on.”
New York City was one such place, but an opportunity to go to Massachusetts, and Boston, presented itself, and off Abarta went. Although he’d visited Boston before, and had some contacts in the area, there was certainly every chance that things wouldn’t work out, and he’d have to drag himself back to California. Read more

Leigh Barrett up for challenge in Sondheim’s ‘Company’

By R.J. Donovan, special to the BIR, January 31, 2014

With wit and neurotic comedy, Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” stirred things up when it premiered on Broadway in 1970 following an out-of-town tryout right here at Boston’s Shubert Theatre.
Lacking a linear storyline, it was one of the first “concept” musicals. Written as a series of vignettes focusing on the reality of adult relationships, the show appears to have no chronological order. And unlike many traditional musicals, it steers clear of delivering up a tidy “happily-ever-after” ending. Read more

The grand finale at BCMFest will feature Celtic dance

By Sean Smith, special to the BIR, January 2, 2014

Celtic dance – in both a traditional and contemporary vein – will be the focus of the BCMFest Nightcap, the grand finale for the 11th annual BCMFest (Boston’s Celtic Music Fest), on Sat., Jan. 11.
A grassroots celebration of local Irish, Scottish, Cape Breton, and other Celtic music, BCMFest takes place over two days at venues in Harvard Square. The festival is a program of Passim, the nonprofit folk and acoustic music-oriented performance and education center. Read more

The Murphy Beds: Laid back, but also deceptively elaborate

By Sean Smith, special to the BIR, January 2, 2014

The Murphy bed is one of those quintessential Irish-American success stories, born (allegedly) of romance and determination. As legend has it, San Franciscan William L. Murphy came up with his namesake invention at the turn of the 20th century because it was improper for a gentleman to host a lady in a room containing a bed – which made wooing his intended difficult, since he lived in a one-room apartment. So he devised a special hideaway bed to turn his bedroom into a parlor, got himself a patent, and did very well for himself; the company he founded is still in operation. Read more