Saturday 19 August 2017

Two hearts with one beatAndrea Smith

talks to a couple who crossed the ocean to share their passions for language, culture and drumming

Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

'SOME of the most rewarding experiences I've had in my life have been about stepping over cultural divides, and the fact that I met the love of my life in the process wasn't bad either," says Jennifer Edmond from Connecticut, describing how she met her husband, Dubliner Patrick, at Glencolmcille in Donegal.

The pair were attending an Oideas Gael Irish language and culture week in July 2001, when they got chatting in Roarty's pub, during one of the many social events that week.

"Patrick asked me where I was living, and when I told him it was Kentucky, he replied very sympathetically, 'We've got to spring you'," says Jennifer. "We had some unbelievably good conversations, and I found him to be so much fun and level-headed and smart, without being overbearing and egotistical."

It may seem somewhat surprising that Jennifer was attending an Irish language week, given that she has a PhD in German language and literature, and was lecturing at a small university in Kentucky.

"I was almost into my 30s at the time, and did what I was always recommending to my students, which was to experience a culture through the language," she says. "German culture is very philosophical, intellectual and literary, and I was looking for something a bit more visceral and accessible. I discovered Irish traditional music, and loved the whole tradition of the session and the talking and interacting that went with it."

It was having spent six years living in France, where he worked for an electronic engineering firm designing computer chips, that attracted Patrick to Donegal.

"My French colleagues asked me how being Irish was different to being English," he says, "which made me think a bit more about what it was to be Irish. My mum came across an article about a centre in Donegal that was offering Irish language classes, so I went up and really enjoyed it. I met Jennifer there subsequently, and found her to be very smart, funny and attractive, with a perkiness that was very appealing. The next year was spent commuting betw-een a little town an hour from anywhere in Kentucky and Birmingham."

Patrick was an engineering graduate from Trinity College, and after he left France, he moved to Birmingham to work for an airline, as he had always been very interested in aviation.

This meant that he could get cheap stand-by tickets, enabling him to see Jennifer every second weekend. The pair became engaged that Christmas, and returned to Glencolmcille the following year, already married.

Jennifer was happy to move to be with Patrick, and she also changed her surname from Marshall to Edmond. It was while they were living in the UK that they became hooked on Taiko drumming, which has become their abiding passion.

Having attended a concert given by the Scottish-based group, Mugenkyo, in 2003, they became entranced with the energy and grace of this exhilarating form of Japanese drumming, which is performed on a series of drums that range in size from tiny to colossal.

"It was incredibly good, and we found the rhythms and drumming to be very compelling," says Patrick. "We were fired by the moment and signed up for a workshop for beginners in Scotland a couple of months later. When it came around, we found ourselves driving up to North Lanarkshire, saying, "What the hell are we doing?" and came away saying, "It was fantastic fun, and we have to do more of it."

Having realised that it was marvellous to discover an art form that they could both enjoy so much, the pair continued to expand their experience of Taiko through further workshops in Scotland and Japan, where they trained under both Masaaki Kurumaya Sensei and international Wadaiko artist, Art Lee.

"We went to Japan in 2005 for three weeks, two of which were spent drumming from 9am-5pm every day," says Jennifer. "Taiko is less about muscle and more about flow, and there is a spiritual side that you can buy into, or not. There is such a beautiful, artistic side, and we found ourselves going deeper and deeper into it."

The pair moved back to live in Phibsboro in Dublin in 2005, and Jennifer was offered what she felt was a very exciting job at Trinity, working for the Dean of Research on the research strategy for the college. Patrick is now working for the airline Cityjet, where he is responsible for commercial strategy.

"The small-scale stuff never gets done around the house, because it's all about the strategy," laughs Jennifer. "We decided to set up a Taiko group here, because the choice was to do it ourselves, or only play two to three weekends a year, when there was a workshop available. I tried everywhere and found it really hard to get performing space, but the Axis Arts and Community Resource Centre in Ballymun was very good for coming on board and working with us."

Taiko drums can be expensive, as they come from a tradition of sacred objects, and the group initially played on plastic bins from B&Q, until Jennifer managed to source some reasonably priced drums. With a core group of six serious players, the pair hope to start a new training group this year from scratch and to grow the group organically.

They will be presenting a series of drumming workshops at Axis with Art Lee, from Japan, from March 1 to 4, culminating in a concert on March 4 in Axis, celebrating the connections between the Irish and Japanese traditions. They also recommend that anyone interested in seeing the drumming in action should check out the Kodo Drummers at the National Concert Hall, from February 2-3.

"Audiences have an amazing reaction to Taiko, and it seems to really energise people," says Jennifer. "I'm really happy living here in Ireland, and it has been so fulfilling, continuing this voyage of discovery with Patrick. I consider myself to be fortunate that I stumbled on to him at a time when he was able to come and be with me."

For further information on the workshops, please call 01 883 2100, or visit www.taikoireland.com

Kodo Drummers at NCH from February 2-3. For tickets call 01 417 0000, or see www.nch.ie

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