Wednesday 12 December 2018

Childhood sweethearts still in tune

After nearly 43 years of marriage, musicians Evelyn Grant and Gerry Kelly are still having great fun together

Evelyn Grant and Gerry Kelly met through the Irish Youth Orchestra. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Evelyn Grant and Gerry Kelly met through the Irish Youth Orchestra. Photo: Caroline Quinn

Andrea Smith

Evelyn Grant met Gerry Kelly in 1970, and the first thing that struck her was his "awful lime green shirt". "He has hideous taste in clothes," she laughs. "After we married, his grandmother said, 'Would you not lay out his clothes for him, Evelyn?' but I knew he was a lost cause."

Happily, Evelyn could see beyond the shirt and says that Gerry's sense of 'divilment' and fun personality won her over. At the time, they were teenagers attending the inaugural Irish Youth Orchestra course in Rathnew, and while flautist Evelyn was there with her sister Brid, cellist Gerry had his twin brother Chris and two younger brothers in tow.

"I remember spotting this very attractive, vivacious, strong-willed young lady and I said to myself, 'Being shy is not going to work here'," he says. "It was also clear that Evelyn knew her own mind, was extremely well-read and was a fun-loving person."

Gerry and Evelyn wrote to one another after the course ended and met when he came to Dublin for his lessons at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. "I loved getting the letters before school and reading them upstairs on the bus, while having a sneaky smoke," says Evelyn.

It is unsurprising that Gerry (65) and Evelyn (62) are so musical as each had a parent who was a music teacher. In Evelyn's case, it was her mum Teresa - her dad Owen worked with the OPW. In Gerry's case, his dad, TC Kelly, was a well-known composer and arranger. He was music master at Clongowes Wood College, which meant he and Gerry's mum Mary lived at the school, which was probably handy considering they had six boys of their own. "We grew up in the grounds of the college, and there are a few astute people who can sense the 'Jesuitical' influence on me," he laughs.

At 19, Gerry headed to Germany to study with French cellist Paul Tortellier at the Folkwang Hochschule fur Musik, Theatre und Tanz.

During this time, he wrote to Evelyn, proposing marriage. "I thought it was daft," she says, "but my mother thought it was a great idea. There are five of us and I'd say she thought, 'That's one of them off my hands'."

Evelyn and Gerry were married at 19 and 22, respectively, at Clongowes, after which the bride went off to join her new husband at the Folkwang Hochschule.

Upon their return in 1978, Gerry took up a position as lecturer in CIT Cork School of Music, and taught there until 2009. Evelyn also taught there for 28 years, and completed a Masters in community music followed by a PhD on social inclusion in music education. About the move to Cork, she says, drily: "As a Dub, I never saw that one coming."

She and Gerry have four children, all of whom are professional musicians. Jean, who was born while they were in Germany, plays harp, Stephen is a percussionist, Eoghan plays trombone, and Fiona plays the flute. All of them studied in London, and all but Stephen still live there now. "The birth of the children has been the highlight of our relationship," says Evelyn. "We get on great with all of them, but they've been put in the shade by the arrival of our first grandchild, Rose, in January 2017. She's Jean's baby with her Mexican husband, Jorge Romero. We're completely besotted, and have to have our daily Skype or Viber session."

Another highlight has been the music projects they've worked on together, although they confess to both being very bossy with one another so they keep the roles very separate. They formed the Cork Pops Orchestra in 1991, which provides a music entertainment service ranging from wedding quartets to orchestral concerts for schools. The orchestra's concerts for schools in City Hall, Cork and UCH, Limerick, are their biggest annual project. PR guru Gerry is a freelance cellist, promotes musical events, manages the Cork Pops Orchestra and manages and plays in the RTE lyric fm quartet.

As well as performing with the quartet and directing the orchestra, Evelyn presents Weekend Drive on RTE lyric fm (Saturday and Sunday, 4pm), which she loves. "I also really look forward every year to presenting the morning talks at the West Cork Chamber Music Festival," she says. "They are informal conversations with some of the artists and we love meeting the people behind the amazing performances."

The pair say that it's great to be with someone adventurous, although Evelyn confesses to getting alarmed when she sees a certain look in Gerry's eye and he says, "I've got a great idea." He feels the same: "I live with someone who is passionate about everything she embarks on, and this used to be worrying as I knew that neither rhyme nor reason could stop her," he says. "I have developed strategies for dealing with it, but it's not in my interest to divulge them."

Evelyn says that when you've been married for almost 43 years, there are different phases, but she's really enjoying this particular stage. It's very comfortable and easy going, and they still have great fun together.

"I tell Gerry that he drives me crazy, but it's like water off a duck's back. He's very generous and good humoured, and he brings me my breakfast in bed every morning. It's just tea and toast, but that's a service worth holding on to!"

The West Cork Chamber Music Festival runs from June 29 to July 8.

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