Heritage: “Artists Without Walls” at Lehman College

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Niamh Hyland
Niamh Hyland

How It’s New York: Some of the best performers in town performed at New York’s Lehamn College, with many you’ll know from the Irish American Writers and Artists Salon.

How It’s Irish: This was a celebration of Irish heritage, with Irish performers including Niamh Hyland and author Peter Quinn.

Charles R. Hale moderated “Artists Without Walls” and reports on a fascinating night of music, literature and heritage!

Thursday night I moderated an event at Lehman College called “Artists Without Walls.” Artists Without Walls evolved from the notion that while it is important we honor our own culture and heritage–mine is Irish–I believe the more we adopt a multicultural approach, including collaboration between various cultures, races, religions and ethnic groups, the greater the likelihood that creativity and innovation will occur and flourish. Thus, “Artists Without Walls,” is a state of mind where there are no barriers between cultures or barriers to innovation.

The first presentation at Thursday’s night’s event combined the talents of Irish born singer/songwriter Niamh Hyland and two musicians, Anand Gan and Arthur Lamonica.  I first heard Niamh when she “wowed” a crowd during this summer’s Joe Hurley’s OurLand Festival at Lincoln Center (read about that Festival here) with a stirring rendition of Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More.” Demonstrating her versatility and wide range, Niamh sang the blues, stylizing two tunes with smoky overtones and emotional punch. The songs “Harder They Fall” and When the Moon Hangs Low” were co-written by Niamh, Anand and Arthur.

Peter Quinn
Peter QuinnWidely known as a novelist and historian, Peter Quinn has appeared in many documentaries, including Ric Burns’ New York: A Documentary Film, and he’s received an Emmy for co-writing the TV documentaryMcSorley’s New York. (Read a review of one of his books here!) He is also one of New York City’s preeminent political historians. But on this night Peter played it for the laughs. The former speechwriter—he was the chief speechwriter for two New York governors, Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo—dazzled the audience with his knowledge of Bronx history and his rapier like wit. His best line? Hard to choose, but I liked, “My Bronx born wife studied abroad…St. John’s in Queens, NY.” Parochial humor at its best.
Tara O'Grady

Tara O’Grady
Tara O’Grady, fast becoming a big hit on the New York musical scene, followed Quinn. How does one describe Tara’s music? When I read Nashville composer and producer Chris Donohue’s description of Tara I thought he’d nailed it. Of Tara he said, “Visualize a Celt in the Cotton Club.”
 Tara sang two tunes, the Irish traditional “Danny Boy,” which she gave the Billie Holiday treatment, followed by a tender song she wrote about her grandmother, “Goodnight Nora.” With good reason, Tara was recently honored as one of the “Irish Voice’s Most Influential Woman,” an award presented by Ireland’s Prime Minister. If you have a chance to hear “Lady T” perform, jump on it.  She’s that good.
Actors

Actors Rachel MacRae Bouton, Octavia Chavez-Richmond and Brendan Ryan
Playwright, novelist and poet John Kearns, whose novel-in-progress, Worlds was a finalist in the New Century Writers’ Awards and whose poem “Transmigration of Soul” was a finalist in the 2012 James Hearst Poetry Contest, followed Tara. John introduced three actors, Octavia Chavez-Richmond, Brendan Ryan, and Rachel MacRae Bouton, who performed a scene from his play, In the Wilderness, in which a promising female student has skipped school without a note and is sent to the guidance counselor. At the meeting her male teacher betrays his feeling by getting more upset than perhaps is warranted.  The acting perfectly captured this tightly written scene from John’s very compelling work.  In the Wilderness had a highly successful four week run in New York earlier this year (read our review here!)
Ralph William Boone

Ralph William Boone
Ralph William Boone, a lecturer at Lehman College, closed out the first half of the program. Ralph William, who has appeared nationally in numerous musical theater productions such as Man of La Mancha and Show Boat, began by referencing the evening’s theme “Artists Without Walls,” eloquently speaking of Paul Robeson, a heroic figure who was known for pushing though barriers, regardless of the consequences. Ralph William followed with a powerful rendition of a song that is closely associated with Robeson, “Ol’ Man River.” After a stirring rendition of “Ol’Man” I had no idea how Ralph William’s second song could rise to the heights of his first, but it did. He followed “Ol Man River” with “This is the Moment,” a song from the musical Jekyll and Hyde. An inspirational performance from an immensely talented man.
Christopher Armstrong, Darrah Carr and John Redmond

Christopher Armstrong, Darrah Carr and John Redmond
Dancer Darrah Carr and her accompanists, accordionist John Redmond and dancer Christopher Armstrong opened the second half of the event.  Darrah’s website opens with words that perfectly fit the concept of Artists Without Walls: “I source from two genres—traditional Irish step and contemporary modern dance—and provide a meeting place for the cultures of Ireland and America.” And that was dynamically demonstrated Thursday as she and Christopher, together and separately, performed Darrah’s vision of dance called “ModErin,” combining New York modern dance with Irish step dancing.  An exciting performance with rousing accompaniment from John Redmond.
Liam O'Connell

Liam O’Connell
Liam O’Connell has been performing at open mics and colleges throughout the East Coast for several years. I first heard Liam sing on a street corner after attending one of Tara O’Grady’s gigs. It was something right out of the fifties; except it wasn’t Doo Wop it was Hip Hop, Irish-American style. Overcoming a technical glitch that robbed him of his musical accompaniment, something that might have thrown many entertainers for a loop, L One Crackeriffic, as Liam is known, jumped in and lit up the room, dishing hip-hop-a-cappella. As one person in the audience said, “This is the kind of rocking Lehman needed.”   
Tara O'Grady, Malachy McCourt and Niamh Hyland

Tara O’Grady, Malachy McCourt and Niamh Hyland
Malachy McCourt, no stranger to any Irish cultural event, closed out the evening. Malachy who has a long of list of successes in television, movies and the publishing world, was born in Brooklyn, but his family soon moved to Ireland where he was raised. He touchingly told of his impoverished childhood, which was filled with misery. Listening to Malachy you quickly realize that this is a man of great wisdom and wit, a survivor who at every turn in life has found his way forward.  And Malachy’s wit was very much in evidence, keeping the audience in stitches as he segued from one funny story to the next.  The evening ended with Malachy calling singers Niamh Hyland and Tara O’Grady up to the mic. Together they led the audience in a song many of us have often heard Malachy sing, “Will You Go Lassie Go.”  A great ending to a grand evening. 
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Copyright 2012 New York Irish Arts