Party Pieces is just one of many classes that are run in the Newry U3A. This year, thirty five people have signed up for this class, that comes under the title Participative Arts. According to recent studies, Participative Arts can have a very positive impact on the mental well being of those who participate, in terms of increased confidence and self esteem, feelings of accomplishment and achievement, and the discovery of new aspects of themselves. This participation can also counterbalance the well-being difficulties associated with loss and attending grief. Further impact for people who engage in the performing arts, include the improvement of memory skills and the sheer enjoyment of learning and performing.
There are also positive results for the whole community when older people give something back in terms of performance: It helps to break down negative attitudes towards ageing, offers meaningful social contact and support. Initially, our group sought only to perform for the class, but as confidence grew we wanted to share with others what we had learned. During the past two years, the class visited and performed in Newry Arts Centre, Crossmaglen, Ballyholland and Bessbrook Community Centres. We are always part of the U3A social afternoons and we have also performed in the Ulster Hall as part of Kaleidoscope’s Imagine Arts Festival, where we have been invited back again this year on 20th of October. Radio Ulster intend to make a recording of the activity and it will be broadcast in their programme “Time of Our Lives” on Sunday 11th October at 2.00pm.
There are five ways to achieve mental health well-being: Connect, Take Notice, Keep learning, Be active, and Give. I have no doubt that Party Pieces U3A ticks all those boxes.
Here are some of the participants of Party Pieces and the stories they can tell us about it.
Louis O’ Donnell
Louis joined the U3A 10 years ago and attends New Age Kurling, Gentlemen Singers and Acting Up, in conjunction with Kaleidoscope and Party Pieces. Three years ago, while waiting to go on stage to perform in a play, U3A member Joe Morgan stood up in the dressing room and recited a poem to relieve the anxiety and nervousness people were feeling. Louis says that at that moment he knew there was a wealth of talent among the members of the U3A, and he wondered about finding a platform on which to explore and share this talent: a platform that would be non-threatening and fun. John Doyle, in accordance with U3A thinking, said “Why don’t we form a group of interested people?” And thus it was that Party Pieces was formed.
For Louis, the formation of Party Pieces brought back memories of growing up in a pub in Crossmaglen. Louis says that this pub closed at 9 pm, but locals were only coming out at that time, so the pub door was closed and they would all head to the kitchen, the furniture would be pushed back and the dancing would begin! Louis’ parents were great dancers, but no one could play music. So he became the sole music provider, singing old time songs for waltzes, strictly in time because “If you didn’t, you were in trouble!” he says. He used a large full sized biscuit tin, not the half sized you get now. He used a wooden spoon to beat out the three-four time rhythm, and when ‘music’ for sets like the Gay Gordons and barn dances was required, Louis would lilt it. So from the age of five Louis had been performing in the home kitchen, not only for neighbours but also for the many American and Scottish visitors who called in. Before he went to boarding school, Louis’ aunt bought one of the first keyboards in the area. She formed a local band and allowed Louis to sing while she played during the break at the dances.
Louis says that Party Pieces has brought him right back to his childhood. He thinks that the affirmation and encouragement, as well as helpful suggestions that members are offered, make Party Pieces invaluable to the participants.
This particular class is unique in that it is not being offered in any other U3A. Louis has seen many people, like his wife Geraldine, blossoming, becoming confident and accomplishing things they never thought possible. Last January the Newry group visited the Crossmaglen U3A group and performed for them. There, Louis sang a song that he hadn't sung since childhood, a song about his father. People were so delighted with all the performances, that Louis thinks that there is a desire now in Crossmaglen to start up their own Party Pieces group, no doubt with a little bit of help from the Newry group!
The fact is that, like many other retirees, Louis felt cut off from the mainstream of things when he retired, he felt he was no longer needed. Now Party Pieces has given him a new lease of life: a life with fun and accomplishment, which he wants to share with other people.
Lilian joined the U3A three years ago and has attended the iPad, Yoga and Ladies Choir classes as well as Party Pieces. She loves singing in the choir and loves to sing at the Party Pieces group. Singing in public is not new to Lilian, as she has sung at various functions, including fundraising for multiple sclerosis. All in her family have guitars and they like nothing better than to gather and sing at parties, just for the fun of it. Lilian says she also plays the accordion, which she learned while in a band as a child. She particularly loves ballads, songs that tell a story. But her goal for this year is to learn some more upbeat songs, which she says will challenge her to learn and remember the words.
Speaking in particular about Party Pieces, Lilian says that she enjoys being among so many talented people. She actually loves to stand up in front of the group to sing because she feels they are like a family who want the best for her and are interested in her performance. She emphasises that the group help by not only telling her what she might do to make the performance better, but also by always being ready to praise her effort. Lilian has made many new friends and linked up again with old ones.
Lilian’s son Christopher passed away some years ago and after he died she felt unable to sing for a long time. She also felt it too painful to talk about him. Now, with the singing and the friendships she has made, she feels freer to include him in her conversation, knowing that these people care about and have an empathy for her. This has helped to ease and heal some of the great sense of loss she has experienced. Lilian’s beautiful smile and her songs full of stories, always touch the hearts of everyone in the Party Pieces group.
Eileen joined the Party Pieces class last year. She decided to join because the rest of her family would always sing when called on at a gathering, while she often lacked the confidence to join them and would always end up feeling out of it. At first, she didn't know what to expect from the class and wondered if she would fit in. Eileen has always liked poetry and can recite a poem if requested. The first poem she ever recited in the class was “My friend Kate” which she had heard at the Bard of Armagh. The group were very appreciative and Eileen says she began to grow in confidence after that.
She then decided to write her own poems, the first being “The bus pass” which was an immediate success because everyone could relate to it, especially to the fact that the bus driver did not remark that she was too young to be using a senior smart pass. Since then, she has written other poems and is always in the process of writing more!
Since joining Party Pieces and Acting Up, Eileen says she has overcome her shyness and lack of confidence with a new belief in herself that she didn't think possible. She still feels nervous when the group go to perform in Community Centres, but afterwards feels exhilarated for having achieved something she never thought she could do. It is the friendship and support of the group that makes all this possible.
Margaretta joined Party Pieces last year because her good friends Phyllis Crawford and Eileen Burke invited her along saying it was great fun. She was very apprehensive about joining the group because, even though she was comfortable enough singing in Dromalane Choir for over 15 years, it was going to be quite daunting to stand up and sing on her own. But she overcame her doubts and sang on her first night with the group. They were loud in their praise and her confidence began to grow.“In singing you can portray nervousness,” she says, but at this stage she feels she has overcome that to a great degree. Nevertheless, she is still a bit nervous about going out to perform in any of the residential homes, but she sees it as a goal to achieve this year.
Music and dancing have always been part of Margaretta’s life: Her father had his own band, The Oriel Danceband in Castleblaney, her birthplace. He taught himself to play the violin and taught her and her two sisters to sing in harmony. One of the songs her father taught them was “Poor old Joe. ” Subsequently Margaretta taught her husband Feidhlem that song and they sing it in harmony as their party piece. She was a member of the Musical Society for many years, until family and work pressures caused her to leave. She is still connected to them but in a smaller way, and she has also been involved with set dancing in Carrickcruppen for over fifteen years and is passionate about it. She and the family are proud that her son David was on the Kileavey set dancing team that won the All Ireland Senior Score this year, 21 years after he had won the junior Score for set dancing.
At the last Party Pieces class, instead of singing she went to the piano and started to play. Everyone started to sing along immediately. The lovely response from the group was so rewarding for Margaretta that it was an incredibly happy way to end the evening. She still feels a little apprehensive as she comes in through the door for Party Pieces, but she always feels fulfilled and happy she has achieved something worthwhile as she leaves. She says “ I may come in tired, counting the cost of coming out for an evening but I always go home in better form because of the people there, who are so encouraging and so glad to see you.”
October 20th: Imagine Arts Festival in Ulster Hall - all day. Free bus available.
Come and support Party Pieces group!
October 21st: Talk on Diabetes by Sally Griffin 1pm - 2pm
Oct 30th: Lace making Talk by Frances Hamilton 1pm - 2pm
November 9th: U3A Memorial Service in Sandys Street Presbyterian Church. 2pm - 4pm
November 11th: Cruse Bereavement : Talk byTerry Mulholland 1pm - 2pm
November 17th: 7 30pm. Newry Town Hall: Accolade Newry Choir (which includes many U3A members) also Open Arts Community Choir and Russian speaking Community Choir in concert at close of project “Sing a song, Reach a hand, Find a friend”
Dec. 18th: Closure and end of term Social. Arts Centre 2-4pm