Singing an Irish ballad as an Asian pirate at a Halloween belly dance Hafla

Franklin as pirate playing Irish flute

Tonight, I dressed as an Asian pirate and sang an Irish pirate ballad on stage at Khafif’s annual Halloween belly dance hafla.

Group photo

Three days ago, I would not have guessed I would be playing this small role in the hafla!

Last year

Abby and I had gone to last year’s instance of Khafif’s annual Halloween hafla for the first time, and there was a lot of belly dancing, live music, and food. At the time, I was just a spectator, and hadn’t even gone in a costume (the announced theme was “video games”). I have to confess that it is usually very difficult to convince me to put on a costume for an event, because I don’t like standing out and I like dressing comfortably.

This year’s call for performers

This year, the theme was “pirates”. Abby and I were going again, since she plays music at these haflas as a member of the Balkan Babes.

Three months ago, Jenn, one of the organizers, issued on Facebook a call for performers, both dancers and musicians.

I originally had no particular plan to go in costume, or to play some music at the hafla, but I just happened to notice a guy post:

Well, I'm a folk singer, specializing in Irish and Scottish songs. I can't think of anything "pirate" in the playlist at the moment, but I've got a number of nautical themed pieces.

Since I had become sufficiently interested in Irish music in the past months that I had ordered an Irish flute and expected delivery at any moment, I immediately replied to the guy:

I like playing Irish whistle and flute music; maybe we can come up with some pirate theme together?

Three days ago

There was never any resumption of discussion of the Irish music idea, so I didn’t follow up, since it never occurred to me to want to come up with some kind of solo performance of something.

But then this Wednesday, three days ago, I got a message from Jenn:

I was wondering if you guys were still wanting to play a song or two for us this weekend for the Halloween Hafla? You are more than welcome. Let us know and if so, do you guys know any piratey music. It's been awhile since we last communicated and things might have changed since late July.

Research and preparation

I decided to see if I could quickly find a suitable “Irish pirate” song in order to learn it and get other people to perform it with me, with my playing it on Irish flute (an instrument I did receive in the summer and have been playing, ironically, mainly for French music).

Irish pirate ballads

Out of sheer luck, the very top Google hit for “Irish pirate music” turned up a CD called “Irish pirate ballads”, and also out of sheer luck, I found that the Carnegie Library had a copy of this CD.

The very next day, Thursday, I picked up the CD from the library. I listened to it and identified a song that I liked that really was about an authentic Irish pirate, and decided that I would learn it and perform it on Irish flute. The song was “The Ballad of O’Bruadair”, also known as “Out on the Ocean”. It is apparently about Micheal O’Bruadair, a 17th century pirate and smuggler, who of course eventually was hanged for his crimes.

I responded to Jenn saying that I had found a song, and I asked around whether anyone wanted to accompany me or sing along. I got no response, but figured someone would turn up. I printed out ten copies of the lyrics, which can be found here, with the idea that at worst, I would pass these out and ask for audience participation.

The melody was pretty simple, and I played it several times on my flute to get it down, and also watched a performance of the song on YouTube:

Since I was very pressed for time before the weekend, I didn’t bother to write down the melody in music notation; I thought I had it pretty well memorized. I considered writing it down “just in case”, but never got around to it, despite a note to myself.

Pirate costume

Franklin and Abby

Meanwhile, having decided to perform music at the hafla, I decided that I had to wear a costume also. There was no way I was going to show up without a costume this year, given that I was going to be on stage. After throwing around some ideas, I decided that since I have a karate gi, I was going to wear it, and throw on a red belt and a red bandanna, and call myself an Asian pirate. Abby gave me a chain to wear around my neck also.

At the hafla

The program:


The event began with several nice belly dance performances. (I expect photos and videos to pop up on the event site eventually.)

After intermission

I was supposed to play right after intermission. I had already walked around passing out copies of the lyrics of the song.

Unfortunately, my mind went totally blank as I headed backstage; I had totally forgotten the melody of the song, and had no sheet music to fall back on.

So the Balkan Babes got on stage instead while I tried to retrieve the melody by using my smartphone to look up the YouTube performance I had viewed at home.

Here are the Balkan Babes in action, a photo I took backstage after I had figured out my song (Abby is on the right):

Balkan Babes after intermission

Luckily, I was able to get the melody back into my head with the aid of my smartphone.

My turn

Since nobody was accompanying me, my idea was to get the audience to help out by singing while I played the flute.

I decided to start singing the song myself, to get into “pirate” character and to encourage people to sing with me.

It turns out that this is the first time in my entire life I have sung alone on stage. I hadn’t originally planned this. In fact, I had never even sung this song at home when I was learning it; my whole plan had been to sing it only if someone else was singing it with me, and I was hoping to do a little bit of singing with someone and then being free to improvise on the flute for a while before ending.

Some people did eventually join in a little bit, which was cool, but when I stopped after two verses (of the four in total) to pick up my flute, people thought the song was over or something, and did not continue clapping, stomping their feet, and singing. This was an awkward moment. I decided to just launch into playing the flute, but was too flustered by the context switch, too overloaded with anxiety, to come up with the fancy improvisation that I had intended, and don’t even remember exactly what I did, except I did finish up at the end of a verse.

But I survived!

Apparently Abby was backstage and got a short video clip of me onto my smartphone I had left behind:

The rest of the hafla

There was a lot more creative belly dancing for the rest of the evening, and then the Balkan Babes singing and playing music after the belly dancing was done. Lots of food to continue to eat. It was a fun event; it’s always especially nice to see little kids out there dancing too while watching their mothers perform.


I’m grateful to Khafif for organizing this spectacular Halloween show every year, and grateful to Jenn for reminding me that in July I had thought of playing some music, and for including me on the program at the last minute.

I played just a really tiny role in the hafla, but it was nevertheless a big deal to me. As for all the unplanned mishaps that occurred, well, I’ve learned this year that something unexpected always seems to happen no matter what, and although we can learn from experience (I will never forget a backup plan of a printed score again), the important thing is to just keep going, whatever has just gone “wrong”. The audience doesn’t need to know any of that; all they see is what you make the best effort of doing in the moment.

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