Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Bodrhan Piano Lounge

Everyone knows where Roundstone is, and that’s mostly because of Malachy Kearns, the world-famous Bodhran maker. His shop sits just outside the tiny, seaside town, and it’s where we spend the morning.

Naturally, the shop is full of the round hand drums, along with every kind of Irish souvenir you can think of. Although the Man himself is not there (under the weather, or out of town, or on a business trip, depending on which excuse you believe) one of his workers is able to show us around the place. His name? Patrick. (“Sure, what else? At one time there were five Patricks workin’ here.”)

The last remaining Patrick takes us through the steps of the process, showing us how the special wood is formed into a circle, and how the goat skin is soaked in lime and stretched across the frame. They put out maybe 1,000 a month, from cheap tourist quality to the professional models, although with only 11 professional Bodhran players in the world that market may be pretty well covered.

According to our Patrick, everyone in Ireland has one of these things, even if they don’t play it. Sometimes it just hangs on the wall as a decoration, where it doesn’t bother anyone. Which is more than I can say for mine.

That afternoon we drive to Clifden, where we check into our spacious accommodations, Abbey Glen Castle. It is a real castle, with turrets and huge wooden doors. It also has a tennis court and a talking parrot, but it’s still a castle. We even had tea at 3:30, with scones and cheesecake, a dangerous tradition.

Dinner is delightful, and we sit near the window overlooking the helicopter pad. (One rich couple arrived that day via heliport while we watched. It was like a carnival ride.) Afterward, we retire to the bar. The piano player, Mary, is about 70, and she knows the music to every song ever written, although not the words. The older guy from Dublin in the corner knows the words.

Mary coaxes, she pleads, she gently urges, and one by one, everyone takes the microphone and gets up to sing. “Sing your song,” Mary will say, “And I’ll follow along.” As if everyone has a song. Do I? I'm not sure what it is.

I do Nat King Cole and Elvis, Dave does some of our stuff, with me and my new Bodhran irritating everyone in the background.

Then Peter sings some songs from the early 1900’s. That’s because Peter is 79 years old. He walks up to the castle twice a week for the singing. After a particularly moving duet, Trudy, one of the girls from Cork, gave him a squeeze and a kiss. I was sure we would be doing CPR. But Peter survived, and soon he strapped on his orange safety vest for the long walk home.

The rest of us spent the evening singing old songs with Dutch tourists and people from Claddaghdun until the wee hours.

This kind of thing may happen somewhere in America, but I haven’t seen it. I wish I would.

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