Andrew Ferry, of McCafferty School of Music, sits patiently with his parents Geraldine and Brian, an appearance on local radio imminent.
Andrew has been singing since he was 8 years old, this will be his 5th appearance at the Derry Feis - forget the grades and everything else - this is the highlight of his calendar year.
For his Mum Geraldine, a self-confessed ‘Feis Mammy’, it’s often more nerve-racking for her than it is for him, she sits beaming as he prepares to go on air, at 12 years old he’s the image of cool, calm and collected.
For Pat McCafferty, the Music Secretary of the Feis, this is what it’s all about: the Feis is an event, a generational event, something not just for individual performers but whole families. He points to the enduring quality and pedigree of the competitions, the variety and the few ‘sparks’ that have managed to not just light up the Feis but various stages throughout the world.
He reminds me, enthusiastically, that many of this year’s selection of adjudicators are in fact former winners at the Feis, a fact of which he is quite rightly proud. Over the next five days and across three venues, the city will be awash with budding talent: singers, dancers, musicians and dramatists. We may catch a short but vital glimpse into the city’s cultural future.
Swarms of parents and extended family, armed with their (appropriately priced) Feis programmes will be there no doubt urging each and every one them on. As Andrew limbers up and I stop prattling on, we are both struck by the sound of one Rachel Xu (of McGinley’s School of Music) an amazing talent of a mere 12 years also.
Having already appeared on TV before, a live radio slot must be like a walk in the park.
Her mentor, a certain Ray McGinley, is a doyen of the local amateur drama and music scene.
Ray (or Mrs. McGinley as I deign to call her) is a formidable lady, infinite in her wisdom and knowledge of the Feis. She’s seen it all - she’s been going this since she was four years old. As I stood listening to that girl, so young and so innocent, as she eased through the often difficult strains of ‘Danny Boy’, in the vast space that is the Millennium Forum - it became perfectly clear to me, once more, what the Feis is all about: quite simply, devotion to the art in its purest form, an appreciation of the spirit of amateurism and a celebration of all levels of ability - her voice was an absolute delight.
The Journal will have further coverage of the Derry Feis on Friday.