“The communal room is full of women and young children. One child is playing on Mary’s keyboard and another is walking up a slide backwards. Several others are engaged in running, catching, pushing and the general business of play. They are aged between two and seven years. Most of the women have small babies in slings or in their arms.
There is a clear leader in the group, Anna, who welcomes me first, shakes my hand and introduces me to the other women. She also announces it is too cold in this room (it is!) and that we should go upstairs.
Mary wonders if it might be too small but Anna assures her it will be fine. We all climb the stairs to a small but warmer room. All the women start gathering up the chairs and assembling them into a circle. Slowly, others start arriving.
Mary begins by playing on the keyboard without verbal announcement and people join in singing a warm up as they settle in their seats. As the room is small, there is not a seat for everyone and several hang by the door, popping their heads in to sing or just observe. Some men have now joined. Mary continues in this way through three songs and praises them for remembering the tunes from last time.
One song involves a partner song with ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’. During this the African participants continue with this song only, and begin singing in harmony, going through all the verses.
The atmosphere changes in the room, becomes solemn and passionate. One lady adds a descant improvisation. All of the children recognise the seriousness and sit transfixed, joining in on the chorus. Several singers close their eyes. Mary takes a background role, adding keyboard chords softly in the background.”
Observations at Song Seeking workshop at the Direct Provision Centre Emo, County Laois