When mom and I arrived in New York City, we walked to find a bakery which we saw whilst driving in city traffic. After we got our cupcakes, we walked down Broadway and 5th avenue looking around in a few shops before it was time for the Trad Fest.
The NY Trad Fest is a combination of some of the best musicians and singers in Irish music such as, Mick Moloney, John Whelan, Brian Conway, Pat Mangan, James Keane, Alisdair White, and many more!
When we arrived, I first saw Mick Moloney. My mom and I talked to him for a while and he invited me to a venue which I played with him last year, it was at a church and other than Mick, it included my friend Billy McComisky. I am really excited to attend that gig again this year. After talking to Mick, I found my good friend Jayne, who was to open the show with me and our friend Joanna. We went and practiced along with Jayne’s brother Bram, figuring out the sets we were going to play together. We spent a while practicing before we had to go on stage.
When we walked onto the stage, they were announcing the festival and also Joanna, Bram, Jayne and me. After we had been announced and the stage crew set up our microphones, we were ready to play. We started with a set of a few of my favorite jigs followed by a few great reels, and we finished with some fun, exciting reels. I loved playing with my friends. It is always great fun to play with them in sessions but even more so on stage!
After performing Bram and I spent about one hour selling 50/50 raffle tickets. It was so awesome to listen to the amazing New York musicians play whilst talking with friends.
My favorite act of the night was probably Brian Conway and John Whelan’s duet. They sounded absolutely fantastic and the tunes they played were some of my favorites. Brian and John are two of my favorite solo performers but when they play a duet it sounds perfect! I could have listened to them for hours!
How would you feel if out of a pool of more than a dozen talented musicians, YOU were chosen to accompany 80+ dancers on stage, on camera with professionals from all over the world?
Well, I had to answer that question, this summer in July, when I was selected for a spot at the Studio2Stage camp at Kean College in New Jersey. This year was the very first Studio2Stage and I was to be part of the original cast. Eighty-plus dancers and six musicians including the music director, assistant music director and the vocalist participated with me. The musicians and dancers came from all over the world. . . New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, London and a few from America too. We would spend a little over a week together learning and performing a show for a sold out audience. Here's how I spent my exciting week:
When I arrived at Kean College, I found my way to the building where we had to check in and get our passes for lunch and entrance to different buildings around the campus. All of the other kids stayed on campus because they were all 15 years old and older. However, since I’m twelve, I couldn’t stay on campus. Our good friend, Mike and his wife Noreen, asked if my mom and I wanted to stay at their house, which happened to be only five minutes away from campus.
During check-in I met the music director, Anthony Davis, who wrote almost all of the music for the show. After meeting him, I met Adam and Daniel -- two brothers from Ireland. They were the drummer and guitarists for the band. Our assistant music director, Liam O’Sullivan (Sully), was arriving later in the week. Mom left me there all day to work, but since we were staying with Mike and Noreen, I saw her every night when she came to pick me up.
After meeting almost the whole band, we went to an introduction of the camp where the choreographers, producers and our music director told us what they’d be teaching us and what they’d like us to accomplish in the nine days we had leading up to the show.
I met Ella, our singer from Australia, who was overcoming a cold (laryngitis) she got whilst traveling. We didn’t get to hear her sing, however, she sat in rehearsal learning the instrumentals for her songs.
We rehearsed the music which had been sent to me via e-mail two months before, to learn before arriving at camp. Our rehearsals now would be about learning how many times to play the tunes through. Since it’s a dance show, the music has to be exactly in time with the dancers because that’s the way the choreography was taught.
We rehearsed from about 12pm until maybe 6pm, taking breaks in between to get snacks, water, etc. The college staff provided food for the camp members so the band also ate in between the hours we spent rehearsing. Because of our hard work, we completed the entire first half of the show on the first day. When mom took me back to the house that night, I met Mike and Noreen’s dogs, Jack and Molly who were the cutest little things!
Judging by the first day, our nine days were off to a great start!
After leaving the house at 8am, mom dropped me off at the building where the band rehearsed. Before lunch which was at 2:45, we completed practicing the whole second half of the show.
I'm not sure how the conversation came about, but during a break, Adam, Daniel, Anthony, Ella and I started talking about animal movies. Adam told us about a movie called, Slappy the Seal.
Randomly, Anthony said, “Sully the Seal," which was a playful dig at Sully, our assistant music director.
“I could photoshop that!” I said. So, I did!
All of us had so much fun the rest of the day, rehearsing, talking about animal movies and more.
We finished rehearsal at around 6pm and I went to an Altan concert in New York with Mike, mom and our friend Andy, who plays Irish music on the clarinet. The concert was at a restaurant and inside was a stage so you could eat while listening to music. Altan, an Irish band featuring Gaelic lyrics, sounded great! After the concert, I met Mairead, the vocalist and fiddle player for the band, backstage. I met her a once before when I was in Dublin, OH while I was performing with the John Whelan Band and it was nice to see her again. She asked me to play for her and I did, using her fiddle. She invited me to play with her band and another band during our upcoming trip to Sligo, Ireland. I was excited at the invitation which gave me even more to look forward to on our August Ireland trip.
I had photoshopped Sully the Seal, as mentioned above early Monday morning and showed it to everyone at rehearsal when I arrived. They loved it! At the break, we printed out the picture and left it on Sully the assistant music director's chair as a welcome gift for him to find later in the day.
After taking our small break, Aidan Garvey, one of the choreographers, stopped by our rehearsal room to listen to us play for a while. He choreographed “Breaking Loose”, the hornpipe-reel set which we were practicing. He even danced to it while we were playing which was a lot of fun!
Shortly after, Sully arrived, he plays the accordian and was accompanying me in a duet for the show.
Sully enjoyed the photoshopped picture, and since I did quite a good job with that, I was to be the official photo-shopper for the week.
My next project was inspired by the band playing their take on a Lady Gaga song called “Just Dance” while the dancers were doing an Irish-Jazz dance. I would put Sully’s face onto a picture of Lady Gaga!
We ended the night by rehearsing for another few hours, perfecting the first and second half.
The next morning, we worked with the whole band and ran through the whole show. It sounded amazing, even though there were only six of us minus a voice for the moment. Still keeping it secret from Sully, I showed the rest of the band Sully Gaga, my newest photoshop. After finally printing it out, we showed Sully. He was such a good sport and loved it! Since it was so much fun, I photoshopped Bobby, one of the choreographers on Gaga.
At the break, we visited the dancers to see how they were doing. We were impressed. I could’ve stayed and watched them for the whole day!
After practicing for hours we took a break and watched the dancers rehearse again. The building they danced in is sectioned off. Every choreographer has their own room. The first choreographer we watched was Aidan then Miriam and Rachael, Bobby and lastly Chris. They were all amazing.
Later in the day, Sully and I worked on our duet while the rest of the band worked on other numbers. I learned all of Sully’s favorite variations on the tunes. Together we were playing melody. It is important that every melody player is playing the same variations when playing in a duet or a band.
To break up all the hard work, I photoshopped Sully’s face onto Michael Flatley from Lord of the Dance. If you look closely in the photo, you can find a few of the other band members as the female dancers.
After lunch, a couple of us walked with Sully and sat at a table in the middle of the campus. He answered our questions about being a traveling musician with dance shows like Irish Celtic and Riverdance. He told us about different cultures he’s encountered and all of the different places to which he has traveled.
After rehearsal, we went to the Lu’au, which the producers of Studio2Stage put together for us to take a break from the rehearsal stress and all of our hard work. It was a chance to kick back and be a bit crazy.
I had promised Bobby I would paint his nails at the Lu'au as a joke. He didn't believe me but I brought my nail polish to the Lu'au anyway. He was a good sport and let me paint his nails, then convinced Aidan to let me paint his nails too.
Sully dressed up in a grass skirt, coconut bra and a lei to please the producers. It was funny!
A bunch of the dancers did a dance-off that was cool to watch! I had so much fun and took a bunch of pictures with my friends Mackenzie, Courtney, Martin, Caroline, and even some of the choreographers.
In the morning, I got up very early for our Mission2Manhattan. The whole Studio2Stage crew traveled on subways to New York City to perform a flash mob. We traveled in different groups. I was with Chris' group along with Sully and we played the music for one of the numbers for our show called 'City Jam'. It resembles a group of kids getting together after school or on the weekend to practice step dancing together on the streets until their plans take a turn and a hip-hop group crashes their party. Eventually the two groups become friends and combine step dancing with hip-hop. It looked really cool!
After getting back from NYC, I got together with my friends Mackenzie, Stevie, Sean, Grainne and Caroline and we hung out until dinner.
Later that night after rehearsals, I had a costume fitting with Mary Bridgette, the designer for all of the costumes for the show! Mom and one of the producers, Michelle, went to my costume fitting. The building in which the costumes are kept is where some of the dancers ice their feet after a long and tiring day of rehearsals. The dancers who were icing their feet were friends that I met at lunch a few days before, so I showed them my costumes and they loved it! Shortly after, Michelle had me go to the room where the producers and choreographers were having a meeting to show them my costumes too. They also loved it!
Before going to bed that night. I made another photoshop called "Studio2SpiceGirls". I put the three male choreographers and two music directors' faces onto each member of the Spice Girls. I kept it a secret from everyone. It was going to be revealed tomorrow.
Last day before the show! Dress rehearsals, sound checks and chaos. We worked in the auditorium with the stage. It was a huge stage, and since our band was fairly small, we were put on a tall riser towards the back so the audience could see not only the dancers, but us, too!
The hardest part was figuring out timing issues and costume changes. Ella’s dresses were beautiful! The dancers costumes were so detailed and pretty! Everything looked great! We didn’t get many breaks in between rehearsals, but the producers put together a great surprise for us. After lunch, we went back to the theater and watched our surprise. It was a video of good luck wishes from many famous Irish dancers and musicians such as the band from Irish Celtic and a retired band member from Celtic Women. It was an exciting and wonderful surprise which everyone enjoyed! Before going home, I showed the choreographers and music directors the Studio2SpiceGirls picture. They thought it was hilarious and couldn't stop laughing.
I was so excited, I could barely sleep because show day was tomorrow!
The day that everyone had been waiting for, show day, had arrived! Each hour brought more excitement than the last. We ran the show through about 3 times.
I was talking to Michelle after our last rehearsal before dinner. Since the stage lights can make you look really washed out and white like a ghost, Michelle told me I had to get a tan. So, after dinner, I went to Miriam and Rachel’s dorm where Rachel used a self tanner lotion on me while Miriam did my makeup. Then, I walked with my friend Mairead to the theater for one more rehearsal before the show.
There were camera men recording during the rehearsal because we had a documentary being made for the parents who lived in far away places such as Ireland, Scotland, London and New Zealand. However, the parents who were there could pre-order the movie to have for showing to other members of the family who couldn't make it to the show.
After two hours of waiting around with friends in the dressing rooms, it was show-time!
Everyone was very excited! The producers tell you to smile and give more energy during rehearsals. I always smile, even during rehearsal, because I love what I’m doing. But, once you’re on the stage and the crowd is cheering, smiling comes naturally. The producers don't have to remind you. In front of an audience, once you start smiling, you can’t stop. That’s how I felt during the whole show!
Listening and watching your hard work come to life is such a joy and I loved it so much. Even after just the few days the cast spent together, we really became one big family.
During my duet with Sully, I was so happy to be on stage doing what I loved! I definitely could see myself playing with a show like Riverdance or Heartbeat of Home in the future because performing is what I enjoy doing.
After the show, I found mom, dad and also Mike and Noreen. We took pictures together and I also took more pictures with the friends I had made throughout the week including Anthony, Sully and the rest of the band! As I went to the dorms to turn in my meal card and my ID pass, I stopped and took a few pictures with Bobby and more friends.
I will definitely be attending Studio2Stage next year because it was one of the best, most thrilling and electrifying experiences of my life!