Sarasvati ar an tSionna

3 Feb 2017

In what began as a quicky email to see how my longtime musical partner’s Anti-Fracking gig went in Bristol on 2/2, the note blossomed into a synopsis of how my evening evolved on 3 Feb:

i’m just back dis morn (9p-9am gig!)
from a celebration to the goddess of Arts and especially acknowledging and honouring all the Teachers one has had while on earth..

Delighted i was more or less bang on 8pm at the appointed rendezvous point for my lift, we proceeded to pick up S.T. (who had recently been on a trip ‘around the world’ having called in to India, South America, and the like enroute; tough life!)
Shortly after landing into the Irish World Academy at University of Limerick, didn’t we spy neighbour and mighty community Muso (none other had joined me onstage when I played at 2016 Iniscealtra Arts Festival) Tommy Hayes (and son). He didn’t have to, but so graciously brought us around the sumptuous IrishWorldAcademy building
Karima was swooning over the spacious dance studios, and we all were in silent awe 
of the ??? (massive; 25 or 50 or more feet???) mosaic*** of the (river & original great Goddess) Shannon and all her tributaries viewable from several floors of the building -
also Zen gardens in the courtyard, a suspension bridge ‘Living Bridge’ lit up at night;
I brought Feidhlim& Malachaí (they must have been 6+8 yrs of age?) here one lunchtime to catch JohnnySpillane play. John Spillane being my first formal (somehow that word doesn’t quite car with the Spillane?) songwriting Teacher. 
Did a songwriter’s master class another time with Julie Feeney. Learned a lot about being dedicated 24/7 to music (and deriving means to do so) as opposed to (comme moi) having to delegate and apportion musical occupation with childrearing, household running, income lassoing, etc. An enlightening aha moment for me as to why it seems like uphill struggle for some, and like water falling for others. And how to remain steadfast to your (regularly re-checked and updated) goals if one wishes to continue. On whatever path that may be that is.
Met and studied some days with my most wonderful Teacher Iarla Ó Lionáird before even that. Meeting Iarla another few times o’er the years subsequently at Fleadheanna and other cultural / musical / arts-related events in Éirinn was always a pleasure and surprise bonus.
Anyway this Celebration last night/ this morn was the most sublime visit of all.

I’d not been attracted to it to be honest however the first few times i’d gotten notice of it (last week) .. As it got closer and different folks were leaking out different bits of info about it to me, (“i think it’s by donation”, “they’ll be doing it all night long apparently”, etc.)
I still regarded it as a quaint India-themed evening at the University of which doubtless there are innumerable similar events… Not exactly top of priorities these days for me.

From out the blue i got an invitation to check out the Irish Gamelan Orchestra,
from someone I thought had died a millennium ago, Mel Mercier — an Irish musical legend!? So there it was, really going on — a full Gamelan set on the isle of Ireland. OK and again not exactly a burning topic on my mind these days, nonetheless admirable in its random existence, and emm, perhaps just some light advertence from the usual business of my life.
Next I saw a friend just back from being in Africa for all the Xmas tide; big hug! And I’m offered a lift to the Sarasvati event (plus even more info on it)
Finally, i see the thing on Facebook, and decide to see what it’s about thru the FB filter.
Sarasvati being kin of the Arts and all her healing limbs, I realise / finally begin to hear: 
Although it would seem a bit removed from my day to day focus, nonetheless what I AM facilitating at the moment is more arts as ever; restarting (after a decade hiatus) group singing in my home, re-starting private music tuition (via voice) after a break; holding a space for choreographing some elemental movement for the Women’s procession in the centre of Ireland (Uisneach) just before the Spring Equinox a little over a month away [Women of the Four Directions]; thru my ongoing involvement with both the CC and the Anthroposophical Study Group, my connection with clarity and clairvoyant indications are continually nurtured and developing, the overlap of arts relevance and solid spiritual scientific research and experience. 
Lo and behold, it sounds like: a moment out to honour the fruitful impulse in this One, is exactly what the doctor called for! Amplifying the healing accent by the presence of others.

Saraswati (Sanskrit: सरस्वती, Sarasvatī) is the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom and learning. She is a part of the trinity (Tridevi) of Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati. All the three forms help the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva to create, maintain and regenerate-recycle the Universe respectively.**

I spot my acquaintance Dara O’Brien, a strikingly fine featured man I’d met in Cork (by way of introduction from Cobh artist John Adams, whose bloodlines are half-Indian), whom I was informed played classical Indian music on sitar. I’d never yet heard Dara play (I don’t believe in automatically looking on youtube when one meets another musician; I enjoy the organic unfolding of one’s meeting with another mostly!). Also spotted was dear friend (and neighbour) from bygone days Claire Osborne, yoga and deep movement artist based in west Cork; her Authentic Movement work I’d always loved, being taught Amerta movement from longtime mentor Suprapto Suryadarmo. Her partner Ben (a movement and dance man as well; Ben and I had also both been certified as Soaring Crane Qi Gong teachers in Ireland back in the 90s) was by her side. This felt in tune, this was the right place to be.

After the tuneful opening by venerable Indian musical doctors (all the Indian/Irish musicians seem to be doctors here, though not all of medical ilk; again, a serendipitous detail; my first band being called ‘GoodMedicine’, even prior to our first gig didn’t I buy four doctor’s coats at the professional uniforms outfitters near the train station in Limerick; my imported guitarist at the time being with me expressed some trepidation at this bold costuming gesture) — internationally renowned veena player from Chennai, Karaikudi Subramanian christening the evening with a Carnatic recital, together with Karaikudi Krishamurthy (mridangam), we were told next we were to go on walkabout of the building up to the Gamelan room. What interesting serendipity. Tommy Hayes was eager to show this to us on his private tour (just before the official start of the night), but the door was locked earlier. Now we get to make good this desire. I see it all as being not without significance; the so-called Irish musical icon (Mel) is the one who leads us there, explaining that shoes must be removed before entering, and there are specific instructions for how one moves around the instruments, e.g. never stepping OVER the bars (but rather, over the wooden base, which extends out from under the bars) etc..

As many as 25 separate instruments make up different musical ensembles on Bali. Instruments are framed in splendidly carved, painted, and gilded stands. More elaborate and expensive frames have scenes from the Hindu epics carved along their sides. All gamelan instruments are sanctified; some melodies are considered so sacred they may not be played or even hummed without special ceremonies and offerings. Even before a commercial gamelan performance, a priest is always summoned to bless the venue, the musicians, dancers, and instruments, and to neutralize any malevolent spirits which might cause mischief. *

Many of us chose to leave our seats/cushions/beanbags of the ‘stage’ in our stocking feet, leaving shoes happily behind (below?), as we padded up to this cosy new space above… Mel is a master Teacher, making the most of the time (only half hour i believe) quickly explaining how the set was realised and made specially for its intended home in Ireland and brought ceremoniously all the way from Bali / Java; of his teaching all the B.Mus pupils (Music degrees) and how it contrasted to teaching it to the BA.Dance pupils. He asks who would like to play the Gamelan. Some hands go up. Mel starts assigning individuals to chosen instruments, after having explained the two different tunings on each portion of the full set of Gamelan instruments: Pelog and Slendro tunings, one based on five notes; the other being a seven-note scale. My hand goes up only the second time he asks for players. I was in no rush (and I was right). After he has assigned all the raised hands, he juts his chin at Tommy Hayes and Dara O’Brien: “Ye’d like to play too innit?” But of course; thus they stand to the ready also. He began with the metallophone. (Gamelan set is comprised of a number of instruments, most which have fixed pitches. Each gong-like instrument is tuned to its neighbor, making the whole gamelan a self-contained, coherent musical unit, played as a single instrument rather than a collection. Each instrument is tuned to its partner in a slightly higher tone, producing the shimmering, tremolo, so characteristic of Balinese gamelan. Even on an individual instrument, the octave notes may be tuned slightly higher than the matching lower tones. Played together they produce a rich, throbbing sound.)*

Showing very simply how one plays; mallet in one hand, dampening the bar a milisecond after being sounded with other. Next he goes to the ‘nipple drums’ (claiming that’s what they’re called here) . Then the (to my mind/eye, very similar looking, only smaller and more compact) __ [don’t know its name?]. Finally (what most of us would recognise as:)
the gongs. Altho there is an array of gongs arranged (feeling rather like the spinal cord of our ensemble), there are only a couple of players, Tommy being one. 
As he explained with our first volunteer player, another ‘rule’ is, One does NOT stop playing until they are indicated to do so. Thus we are all engrossed in sounding our tone/s, making sure negligence does not slip in to our movements, as he adds next layer by next layer. The final layers are the two gong players. The first choice of placement is a tonic. The final one induced tears (in me anyway). That final impossibly sonorous deep gong played by Spoons T.Hayes himself.

As if this was not enough, Mel is going around the room, adjusting the lights (turning on new ones, while turning off others; it becomes very Hygge indeed)
And for the final stroke, somehow I must have had my eyes closed, or was refocusing on where my mallet was striking, but there in the centre of the very small (now being apparent) room were about seven young people, mostly girls and one guy, all moving/dancing to the orchestra. Being recently alerted to my role in facilitating the Women of the Four Directions procession, and being drawn to movement being my priority, as opposed to music, I felt quite viscerally my dance body antennae upright itself and unfurl from its slinky doze. Mesmerised and ushering an even more rightful layer do the dancers contract, undulate, breathe and essence individually. A couple of couples make some contact improvisation and I feel as if we’ve given birth to this new element among us, feeling proud as Mama Hen. Yes, time and material reality melted and sighed into surreal beauty and living poetry at this point.
Eventually of course, I see Ben (playing -as instructed- up till now) though still seated behind his instrument, begin moving with the other dancers. As my own body asks me why am I not allowed to converse in my native language of movement/dance as well, I also see Karima moving even more dynamically, now standing behind and quite distanced from the metallophone she’d been assigned. With interest I observe my own process of timidity, self-consciousness, negating propriety of self, and other self-censoring impositions upon myself. Only the smallest movements begin unfurling in mine own body, of which would gain momentum and volume with time, however the inevitable then is imminently proximitying…

In that small delicately lit carpeted and otherwise empty room, was an impromptu pre-embryonic Gamelan orchestra birthing the soul clockwork of sound (which reached far beyond the auditory nerve, nor even of that +the optic nerve) being produced together by a dozen or so strangers and acquaintances, surrounding a belly of silent and youthful bodies moving in pulse to the tone and beats, and all the while our audience growing less on the ground, and more numbered standing, some with cameras on the go… As was stated earlier onstage downstairs, in the music of the Indian culture there is an expanse, and a space. There it is. that space in between time. That time in between space.

“I hate to be the one to say this but” heralded the beginning of our end by Mel. And finally we made our way back down to receive the next offering on the (apparently a movable feast and apt to be remolded by all present) program. Like a handsomely dimpled Shiva, charismatic and sincerely warm Praveen Patiballa played his beautiful flute for us; Liam O’Brien from Miltown Malbay reinspired and roused us with concertina tunes from the Irish tradition, later joined by his Indian Music Teacher Mattu Noone on the Sarod. Tommy Hayes next joined Matthew as eclectic duo “An Tara” which means ‘the space in between’, auspiciously clocking in at round midnight. Who designs these things? The marriage of Mattu’s joyful Sarod and Tommy’s incomparable percussion created an Indian-Irish journey of sonic euphoria, every title explained with friends or soon-to-be friends referenced.

I was wrenched out of the worship that evening about eight hours prematurely (it might have been 1am) by our lift (who had to work next day), right at the point that Dr. Helen Phelan began presenting a plainchant odyssey to the River Sionna (the Shannon), with Russell Brown dancing the part of Sionna; thru the mythological cycles of our beloved Erin the green, this was too close to the vein; the only way I could exit in peace was to know that in not knowing we know all. (Translation/frustrated artist’s way of saying: aargh!! Just THIS last thing OK? It so resonates with what I am involved with currently as well. On the same artistic and cultural wavelength). Blessing was it already to have Been immersed as much as till then. The headdress of our plaintive voice marking the space (back on ground floor stage) was a creation myth in itself, being composed of the 7 hazelnuts of knowledge and the feathered plumage of native wild birds.. I really had to fasten a stallion’s blinkers on me to gather my bits and pieces and leave promptly with the others. (Dara O’Brien would play next of course as well. O well) 
Of course I was over the moon to have been enabled to take a sip of this elixir at all (seeing as how I was already convinced up till the day itself that I’d pass on it). I know that for anyone remaining until 9am, there would be a breakfast beyond all description, and of course the artistic offerings would I’m sure reach supra-orgasmic heights. Looking forward to hearing recounting soon. It was my hour to depart for the time being then. At least me faithful guitar Mairtin hung out near the altar for some of the time we were there, next time we may get the chance to share something of some description too. Hoping my humble offering of a Brigid’s Cross made couple days prior would appease and please the odes of Sarasvati, I pray that her nourishment will feed me when bare and destitute or as needed thru 2017. Hup!

Mahalo agus míle buiochas to Matthew Noone (dir)
& all at (or not of) the Irish World Academy who were responsible for 
this event to occur. Go ndéanfaidh maith daoibh go léir X

Peneleapaí 4 Feb 2017

* from Balix.com
** from en.wikipedia.org
*** from ul.ie ~ the following info is on the venue, when i was looking for info (like its precise dimensions) on the breathtaking Sionna mosaic:
The Irish World Academy of Music and Dance (2010) provides courses in both Irish and classical music and dance. The building is characterised by a variety of building materials, a gold tower, and inside a magnificent mosaic of ‘Sionna‘ by Desmond Kinney. Lunchtime concerts, to which members of the public are welcome, take place several times a week each semester. The Academy is another example of one of the many projects on campus supported by The Atlantic Philanthropies.

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