I walked into Powell’s music shop in Galway city yesterday. It’s a shop that’s somehow split in two. The banjo and piano player Brian McGrath appears to run the front part, selling CDs, and the back of the shop seems to be separate, selling instruments, music books, and so on.
So, I walked in and Brian McGrath was standing just outside his counter, cocking his head towards a speaker attached to a beam ahead, and was holding a mandolin and picking out a tune. I recognised the tune. It was written by Brian and Johnny Og Connolly and appears on their Dreaming Up the Tunes CD. It’s the last track I think. It’s in D major but has this terrific switch to A for just a half a bar in the second part. I heard Aine Hensey play the same track on her programme on RTÉ a few weeks ago, saying how she never gets sick of playing it.
Anyway, I shouted out to Brian, who I don’t know, but I couldn’t resist it, ‘Hey, you can’t play your own music in here!’. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised that he wasn’t surprised that someone would say something like that. This is Galway. Maybe every second person that walks in there is a traditional musician.
Refusing to be distracted from his task, he said: ‘I’m trying to learn it again – I’m playing it this weekend.’ And that was that. Galway is Galway. It’s the same place where I hear Dé Danann blaring out from a shop’s speaker, then I turn a corner and see Frankie Gavin walking on the other side of the street; though that didn’t happen yesterday, but twice it has.
I was actually in town to drop JMI flyers off with Maura O Cróinín of the Galway Early Music Festival – which takes place this weekend. We chatted for a few minutes about why Galway doesn’t have a music degree in the university, or even a music school in the whole city. I said I would find it difficult to define what a music degree should contain in the twenty-first century in Ireland, the demands of students would be so diverse. And one could argue that that’s why Galway doesn’t have a music degree, because it is indeed musically so diverse, but it’s more likely that because it wasn’t set up a couple of decades ago, it’s just more difficult now.
Maura said that there had been many meetings about the matter but that it was hard to find agreement with so many contrasting ideas. I suggested that leadership was needed. Maura countered that money would provide leadership. Difficult to argue with that.