FolkFire Articles

May / June 1999

  • Dance The Sun Up
  • Poem: The Dance Weekend
  • Bulgarian Beat
  • Mississippi River Celtic Festival
  • A Carbondale Irish Spring
  • FolkFireHome
  • Index of Articles

  • Dance The Sun Up
    by Ken Johnson

    May will begin and end with festive Morris dance! At sunrise on the first of May, about 6 a.m., the Capering Roisters, along with the Pierremont Morris and the Afton Morris, children from St. Louis area schools, will dance the sun up at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Dancing at sunrise on the first of May is a custom practiced by many Morris teams around the world. The Capering Roisters have enjoyed this early outing for over 15 years. The weather is usually cooperative and there is a special early morning feeling to this event.

    Morris dancing is a side of merry old England that few Americans have seen. It is a vigorous style of dance, often performed at seasonal and holiday celebrations. The dancers clash sticks or sweep white handkerchiefs, accompanied by music you can hardly stand still to. Bells strapped to the legs of the dancers sound out the rhythm of their steps. Morris dancers are often dressed in white, with colorful vests or baldrics. This traditional Morris outfit draws attention to the dancers.

    The Capering Roisters will dance again Saturday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. as part of the Missouri Botanical Garden’s "May Day Picnics" weekend (see ad on page 7). This will include performances of the maypole dances with ribbons which were popularized on playgrounds in England by John Rushkin before the turn of the century. The Capering Roisters have been performing Morris dances in St. Louis for about 15 years.

    Morris dancing is an old tradition. Morris dance appears a number of times in the plays of Shakespeare, either as incidental entertainment or in the dialogue of characters. Will Kemp, an actor who worked with Shakespeare, was also a Morris dancer. You may recognize his name as that of a character in the recent movie Shakespeare in Love. He once spent nine days doing Morris dancing from one city to another as a publicity stunt, which was referred to as the ‘9 Days Wonder’. In the last 50 years, Morris dancing has spread to the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, with a few other teams sprinkled around the world.

    The dancers of the Midwest Morris Ale (the word used in England for a gathering of Morris dancers) will perform in the St. Louis area on Saturday, May 29 and Sunday, May 30. Dancers will tour by bus from one performance to the next. All of the dancers and musicians (some 200) will perform together in a "massed dance" event in Tower Grove Park on Saturday and at the Missouri Botanical Garden on Sunday.

    This will be the 19th Midwest Morris Ale. The Ale was last held in St. Louis in 1986. The location of the Ale rotates among those cities fortunate enough to have Morris teams. Recent Ales have been held in Boulder, Colo., Madison, Wis., Ann Arbor, Mich., and Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn. This Midwest Ale will bring teams from Carmel, Calif. to Ithaca, N.Y., to St. Louis.

    A few slots on the Ale performance schedule are still open. Contact Ken Johnson, Ale Chair, The Capering Roisters at 781-2814.

    The Dance Weekend
    (In Memory of Kimmswick ’95)
    by Patrick Morris

    They have come to dance
       The weekend in the field,
    Two feet off the ground
       On the rough plank floor.
    For them a life begins tonight, again;
       Old friends are new tonight, again.
    The old barn gives up memories
       Surprisingly fresh and familiar.

    They have come hundreds of miles, some of them,
       Thinking to leave the ordinary behind.
    Instead, it clings to them and changes,
       Sparkling in the eye and the music.
    The ordinary falls away
       Like sweaters on a warm night;
    The shining faces glow
       With larger-than-life roles and archetypes.

    Tonight we are all from somewhere else,
    Bringing our special magic to the gathering.

    Bulgarian Beat
    Gretchen Tomazic

    The International Folk Dance Association will hold a Bulgarian folk dance party with live music by the National Ensemble Bulgari on Saturday, May 22, 1999 at 8 p.m. at the Church of the Holy Communion, 7401 Delmar Blvd., University City (St. Louis), Missouri. The evening will consist of international folk dancing from many different countries. Bulgari will play two sets of music during the evening, providing authentic and exciting live music for dancing. Beginners are welcome and comfortable shoes are recommended.

    Bulgari (stress on the first syllable) is known for its innovative, fast-paced, virtuoso performances of dance songs and instrumental tunes in Bulgaria’s famous additive meters, as well as its renditions of the highly ornamented, nonmetric songs of eastern Bulgaria. The ensemble presents authentic interpretations of Bulgarian folk music, a rich and soulful musical tradition that reflects old world village life and the intermingling of cultures in the Balkan Peninsula through the centuries.

    Bulgari has made many recordings and has appeared on Bulgarian radio and television. The members of the group are masters and recognized soloists of the instruments that they play and the amazing vocal techniques that have made Bulgarian music famous worldwide. Georgi Doichev is one of Bulgaria’s premier gajda (bagpipe) players. He was for many years principal soloist with the Philip Koutev Ensemble. Radostina Kaneva, the lead singer for the past six years, is from Thrace. She is a soloist for the Bulgarian National Radio and Television Ensemble orchestra. Georgi Andreev, gadulka player (vertical fiddle), is currently the director of the Bulgarian National Ensemble. Dimiter Lavchev, gadulka and tupan (drum) player, has been a soloist for Bulgarian National Radio "Sofia" for 20 years. Georgi Zheliazkov, both kaval player (end-blown flute) and vocalist, is a soloist for the Bulgarian National Ensemble. Anton Tsambov, tambura player (long-necked lute) has been a soloist for the Bulgarian National Ensemble for 15 years.

    For more on Bulgari including details of the group’s U.S. tour, performance reviews, and more information on the Bulgari CD, Latitudes LAT 50613 from Music of the World, POB 3620, Chapel Hill NC 27515 (888) 264-6689 see the Bulgari Tour Web Site ( maintained by Doug Sears (and to whom thanks is owed for the above information). The photo on the right is from the cover of their CD.

    2nd Annual Mississippi River Celtic Festival

    May 7 - 9, 1999

    There has been, over the last few years, a huge resurgence of interest in Irish traditional music, culture and dance. Performances of shows like Riverdance and concerts by groups like the Chieftains and the Boys of the Lough play to sold out crowds. Classes teaching ceili dancing and traditional step dancing are full and the internet is filled with new groups about Irish music, dance and culture.

    In Ireland, traditional music was a part of everyday life and was an oral tradition. Tunes and songs were passed from player to player and were seldom written. While that has changed, it is still possible to find and be immersed in traditional music to a far greater extent than is possible in America. Often, in this country, someone wanting to learn must rely almost completely on recordings unless they happen to live in one of the few places where traditional music has maintained a presence. Hence the popularity of events like the Augusta Heritage Workshops Irish Week held each year in West Virginia.

    Traditionally uilleann pipers have come together for a weekend of music and teaching in an event called a "Tionol." A tionol consists of informal get-togethers and music "sessions", workshops and lectures. Frequently there is a concert which highlights the more advanced players in attendance.

    Tionols have been held, using this format, on both coasts of America but nothing was being offered in the Midwest. With the renewal of interest and the number of musicians wanting to learn the music and it’s history, it seemed the opportunity was there to bring a tionol to the Midwest.

    Several local players of the Irish uilleann bagpipes met in 1997 to plan a tionol for St. Louis. In talking with others, the need became clear to expand it beyond the uilleann pipes and offer workshops in some of the other traditional instruments. Out of this came the First Mississippi River Celtic Music Festival.

    From the beginning, the purpose has been to bring together some of the outstanding musicians in the field of traditional Irish Music in a format that would allow opportunities to learn from these masters, not only in a classroom setting, but on a one-to-one basis. A second major objective was to bring the music and traditions to the community as a whole, in the form of a concert showcasing these masters and their music.

    (Past-tense schedule omitted as irrelevant)

    A Carbondale Irish Spring

    The weekend of April 30-May 2, 1999 will bring the "Luck of the Irish" to Carbondale, with the third annual Southern Illinois Festival of Irish Music and Dance. This year’s festival includes Friday and Saturday evening concerts in Shryock Auditorium at Southern Illinois University Carbondale with nationally and internationally known musicians and Irish step dancers. Saturday’s festivities include a Celtic Fair to be held on Main Street and South Illinois Avenue from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors can also attend Dancing at Lughnasa, by Irish playwright Bryan Friel, at the Jackson County Stage Company, Friday or Saturday evening, or Sunday afternoon.

    The Friday night concert will bring back the energetic dancing of John Timm and Heather Donovan of The Celtic Foot Force. Friday will also feature a quartet of exceptional Irish musicians: Paddy Keenan, one of the foremost Irish Uilleann pipe players, flutist Larry Nugent, guitarist Dennis Cahill and fiddle player Sean Cleland. Also returning to this year’s festival will be the gifted vocalist Connie Dover, whose beautifully haunting melodies will be accompanied by renowned bouzouki and guitar player, Roger Landes. Rounding out the evening will be Southern Illinois’ own Celtic musicians, The Dorians.

    The all-woman Irish-American group Cherish the Ladies will raise the roof of Shryock Auditorium on Saturday evening with their foot-tapping renditions of Irish traditional music. This six- member ensemble has been hailed by The New York Daily News as "one of the foremost Irish traditional music groups in the world." Tickets for both concerts are available at (618) 453-2787.

    Celebrate Baal Tinne (May Day) with a Celtic Fair celebration of Irish and other Celtic traditions. Celtic arts and crafts, vendors of Irish merchandise and food, a Children’s Village, poetry and literature readings, Irish films, and discussions of Irish history, theater, art, music and genealogy will be held throughout the day at no cost. Storyteller and folklorist Joseph Sobol will delight the young and the young at heart with his magical stories and his music from Celtic lands. Many of the musicians and dancers from the Friday night concert will conduct Irish music and dance workshops for a nominal fee. A mini-workshop on Celtic Spirituality will also be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Bridget Edwards and Frank Hall from Bloomington, Indiana will lead a workshop on an Introduction to Irish Set Dancing (Irish social dancing) on Saturday morning, following with a more intense workshop at the Susan Barnes Dance Studio on Sunday afternoon. Bring the whole family to Carbondale for this May Day weekend. x

    For workshop information or registration, call the SIUC Division of Continuing Education at (618)536-7751. Information about the festival is available on the Internet at: Lodging information is available from the Carbondale Convention and Tourism Bureau, (800) 526-1500, or at: