Irish dance and song cherished with “I Lift My Lamp”

The Coralville Center for the Performing Arts will hold the first of a series of events with “I Lift My Lamp.” The collaboration of Coppers and Brass with the Champagne Academy of Irish Dance is meant to celebrate immigration through Irish music and dance.



Pedro Barragan, Arts Reporter

On Nov. 15, the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts will present “I Lift My Lamp,” the first of a series of performances that celebrate immigration.

 “I Lift My Lamp” will consist of a series of Irish performances, combining music from Coppers and Brass with the dancing of the Champagne Academy of Irish Dance.

 Coppers and Brass holds a firm place in the folk music scene in Iowa City. The groups consists of Tara McGovern on fiddle, Joseph Dutcher on Bodhran, Frank Claudy on flute, and Keith Reins on guitar — the latest of the instruments to transition into Irish music. 

 “All of us have been playing Irish music in this area for a long time,” said McGovern. “Keith, Joe and I were in a band together for about 15 years. Keith and Frank have played together.”

When reached by the Coralville Center for Performing Arts about the project, she saw that the topic at hand was too ambitious for a single presentation.

“When they reached out to us this time, I went into a meeting with Evan, the director, we talked about how we want to present songs and stories about Irish immigration but to make it in a way that isn’t tone deaf to the issues of immigration. We realized what we wanted to do was much bigger and we wanted to do a series of events,” said McGovern.

 The specific focus of this series is on Irish immigration, taking the title “I Lift my Lamp” from a line of American author Emma Lazaraus’s poem, “The New Colossus,” which is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.

 Kirkwood Community College History Professor David McMahon will be reading the O’Driscoll poem to add historical context to the acts. Being a historian, McMahon explained his interest of Irish culture in American history.

 “I’m a footnote to the proceedings, appropriate for a historian to be, to add some context,” he said. “One of the things I’m impressed by is the trans-Atlantic connection between Ireland and the United States of America. It’s almost like an electrical current that goes back and forth.”

 Trea Champagne, director of the Champagne Academy of Irish Dance and the only certified Irish dance teacher in the state, will bring some of her students to the show. Champagne spoke about how although the Irish arts community may be small in Iowa City, they are well connected.

 “It’s a very small community. There aren’t too many Irish dancers in Iowa and when it comes to cultural programs of this nature, we know each other,” Champagne said. 

Related: Opinion: What I learned about myself and others in Ireland

 McGovern and the rest of the performers took plenty of inspiration from renowned Irish-American composer Ed Reavy, who is well known for his music, despite being a plumber by trade. This is mirrored by the show’s performers.

 “That same sort of thing is reflected in our group of people,” McGovern said. “We’re all people with various professions. We have a veterinarian, a victim advocate, a safety manager, a food service assistant, a family medicine physician, an art curator, a corporate trainer, and orthopedic surgeon. We just come together for our love for this music.”

McGovern expressed the personality that is established by the performers, which can be seen by newcomers to Irish music and dance. 

“What you see on our stage, even if you haven’t seen Irish music or dance before, is different people expressing themselves through tradition.”