The Grammy Award winner's cultural highlights cover everything from Japanese animation to Hamilton and sculpture

Acclaimed musician Rhiannon Giddens is one of a stellar cast who will be taking part in ELEGY, a concert dedicated to Covid-19 victims, which will be streamed live from the National Concert Hall tomorrow night (Friday July 17th, 8pm). Others on the bill include Chamber Choir Ireland, Iarla O Lionaird, Francesco Turrisi and Claire Duff and the concert will be broadcast live on RTE Culture.


I saw recently the Studio Ghibli film Spirited Away and it was delightful from beginning to end. It's one of those movies I had been hearing about for years, but never got around to watching (I see about five movies a year, it feels) but I'm so glad I finally did! Great movie for kids too but I would have watched it on my own easily.  Hayao Miyazaki is the director, and he has an uncanny ability to pull you into to these fantastical worlds. Also, his kids act like kids, not little adults, and are smart and brave, even when faced with the vision of parents being turned into giant, greedy, pigs. 


When I first started out with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, you could count the number of black banjo players on two hands, with a couple of fingers left over. Thankfully, nowadays that's changing rapidly, and more people know of the African American roots of the banjo. Jake Blount, one of the new generation, has just dropped "Spider Tales", this powerful collection of roots and old time music, unflinchingly reminding us all of the black and indigenous co-creation of this music that is now perceived as so white. On top of being wildly intelligent and knowledgeable, he's also a killer musician and it's an incredible combo. 


From RTÉ Radio 1's Weekend, an interview with Mark Patrick Hederman

I've been reading The Boy in the Bubble by Mark Patrick Hederman, Abbot of Glenstal Abbey School, right down the road from me here in Limerick (and makers of the best butter in Ireland, in my opinion!). It's a really interesting meditation on education, and what it means to put the child in the centre. I've been thinking a lot about just that thing as we have been coming through lock-down and homeschooling - there's always so much to learn. 


Well, I'd be lying if I didn't say I have already given Hamilton, the acclaimed musical about one of the lesser-known "founding fathers" of the United States by Lin-Manuel Miranda, a spin on Disney+. I know the soundtrack quite well as my children became obsessed with it, and I saw it very well done live in Chicago. Full disclosure: I have issues with some of its portrayal of history (including giving a bit more 'woke' cred than credit was due to historical figures). But there's no denying its lyrical brilliance and connection to a very modern multi-cultural New York, and the performances (particularly Leslie Odom's) are riveting, and captured beautifully on film.  And yes, the kids loved it. 


I don't have a TV (although Home School Hub streamed on this spring was worth the TV license alone) so it'll have to be Netflix- my children and I thoroughly enjoyed The Letter for the King, a six episode series that is perfect for kids and parents to watch together.  Set in an imaginary medieval kingdom and aware of the fact that medieval doesn't mean exclusively white, it's a well-written romp that follows the hapless Tuiri and his friends as he tries to deliver an incredibly important, yes, letter for the king. Each episode ends on a cliffhanger, ripe for binging, but i made the kids wait til the next day and it was well worth drawing it out over a week. And a little lesson in delayed gratification was delivered at the same time as the letter. 


Denise Chaila live at the National Gallery Dublin for the #Courage2020 series

Hard to say these days - so much is online - Loved the Other Voices' Courage series - they did an amazing job all around. 


From The Ark, sculptor Helen O'Connell talks about her work

I'm getting to know more of the artists that are around this lovely country as I'm no longer travelling. A wonderful artist in Bray that I've recently met is Helen O'Connell, a stone carver.  Stone is a notoriously difficult medium, and every different kind needs a different touch, but she always finds the beautiful form waiting within the block. Go to her website to see the incredible shapes, inspired by the natural world, and she's a part of a current outdoor exhibition at Ballymaloe House, the perfect social distancing appreciation of art! 


Stageit and other streaming platforms


The next big thing seems to be coming every other day these days! Of course, I've been getting to know the streaming software quite a bit these days - StageIt was a very cool experience when I did a live stream earlier this summer, allowing the artist to see comments from the audience, and allowing the audience to tip in real time.  We all gotta change with the times and musicians need the outlet as much as folks need a bit of live music in their days...