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‘Different drums, different dances’

Cara Herron

BEAVER CREEK – Around here, it’s not hard to find people who march to the beat of a different drummer. It’s not likely they do it as well as the Trinity Irish Dance Company though, in their new production, “Different Dances, Different Drums.” This Irish music and dance extravaganza pairs Trinity’s championship step dancing with the thunderous Celtic beat of Different Drums of Ireland. These two ensembles unite on stage for the first time ever in this production, bringing together two of Ireland’s most prestigious art forms in a show steeped in history and tradition. Founded in Chicago in 1990, Trinity Irish Dance Company is the birthplace of progressive Irish dance. The group has achieved critical and commercial success and is widely thought to be the originators of the innovative Irish dance style featured in hits such as “Riverdance.”

The Company’s 22 dancers have earned international acclaim along with 22 Irish Dance World Championship titles.Trinity’s Artistic Director Mark Howard crosses dance and cultural boundaries while maintaining a high regard for old traditions. Howard uses a form of story ballet to tell the ancient and modern history of the Irish people through dance. In this production, the dance reaches new heights with the live accompaniment of Different Drums of Ireland.Roy Arbeckle, the founder and leader of Different Drums, started drumming more than 20 years ago, using music as a vehicle to bring people together in his native Northern Ireland. In a time of violent political unrest, Arbeckle felt a responsibility to use music as a vehicle for encouraging talking instead of fighting.”It was very symbolic to bring a Lambeg drum, an instrument of the Protestants, together with a Bodhran drum, an instrument of the Catholics,” said Arbeckle. “There is a school of thought that if you change the music a society listens to, you can change the society. I felt bound as an artist to pick up on the sensibilities of my community and disseminate them through music.”And that he did. Arbeckle took the two symbolic instruments and brought them together to create a unique and hugely popular production centered on the two drums, each representing its own place in society.

Representing the Protestants was the Bodhran drum. Pronounced “bow-ron,” the Bodhran drum’s name comes from the Irish verb bodhr which means to deafen. It is a round drum with a wooden frame and an animal skin head. This type of drum is thought to have originated in the Middle East more than 1000 years ago. It’s not clear when the Bodhran came to Ireland, but best guesses claim it first appeared in the 17th century. The Bodhran drum is commonly played by hand or with a single headed stick. However in Irish Music, a double-headed stick is often used. The musician strikes the drum in an up and down fashion with the stick creating a very fast, complex, continuous rhythm. This sound is especially suited for Irish traditional music and if done well, imitates the sound of Irish dancersThe other drum, the Lambeg, is closely tied to the Catholics in history and represented their community on stage. The name Lambeg is a generic term like Kleenex, or Band-aid. Its name is thought to come from the first time the drum was played with canes at Lambeg, an area near Lisburn, just south west of Belfast.Considered the loudest drum in the world, the Lambeg descended from the European military snare drum used to signal troop movements and tactics over the noise of battle.



The Lambeg is a large instrument, 3′ across the head and 2′ deep. It weighs 35-40 pounds and is typically made of oak. It is played on a stationary stand or carried by the drummer using a neck harness. It is played with two whip-like canes, one for each side. Using these two metaphorical drums, Arbeckle took his musical message around Ireland and to the states, playing for very prestigious audiences including President Clinton. Eventually however, the peace process started gaining momentum in Northern Ireland and the novelty of Arbeckle’s efforts waned a bit. As an artist and a musician, he started searching for his next endeavor. In 1998, Arbeckle and a few other members of Different Drums had occasion to spend a week with the renowned Kodo drummers of Japan. Arbuckle was inspired to continue bringing different sounds together in the spirit of diversity and synchronicity. New instruments join the Lambeg and Bodhran on stage now including the African Diembe drum, a rhythmic engine of sorts, a high-tension snare and various other percussion instruments from around the world. With their new and expanded sound, and a new reinvigorated purpose in mind, it wasn’t long before Arbeckle found his next collaborative partner in the acclaimed Trinity Irish Dance Company.”I met Mark (Trinity’s artistic director) in Milwaukee at an Irish Festival. Under the Northern Lights we found ourselves dreaming and scheming about how we could bring our two groups together to create something really special,” said Arbeckle. “We’ve had dancers spontaneously join in with us before in the past, but we have never worked closely with a specific group. Nothing was ever choreographed or scripted like it is for this.”

The show opens with a drum piece featuring three large drums, some of the largest drums in the world according to Arbeckle. He describes the piece as a thunderous start to a varied and exciting presentation. Both Trinity and Different Drums perform independently for some pieces, but they come together often, too. “I’d have to say my favorite piece in the show is ‘Black Rose.’ It is the newest piece and we haven’t fully explored it yet. That makes it exciting for us as artists,” said Arbeckle. “The Trinity dancers are really fantastic. They can do more with their feet than we can with our hands. They use both on the drums in Black Rose.”The two groups are just a little more than half way through this maiden U.S. tour, and Arbuckle feels it’s the beginning of something big. Be one of the first to see it at the Vilar Center Thursday at 7:30pm. To buy tickets, call 845-TIXS (8497) or go to vilarcenter.org. Vail Colorado


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