Monday, August 04, 2014

Studio2stage 2014

Have you ever seen your child in their element...where they are using the skills they've acquired, demonstrating skills you had no idea they had acquired, learning new skills and are utterly and completely happy doing the work necessary even if it is more than they've ever worked before?

The past ten days I've watched Haley working the hardest she's ever worked in her life while being the happiest I've ever seen her!

A number of months ago, Haley's fiddle teacher, Brian Conway, sent me a link to a website ( asking for young Irish dancers and musicians to audition for their camp with the goal of putting together a full scale Irish dance show in 9 days while teaching the young people about the different aspects of life as touring Irish performers with a dance show.

Brian was aware they were looking for ages 15 and up but suggested I send an email to see if they would make an exception for Haley. I sent the email and Jim Murrihy suggested she send in an audition and they would decide from there. I received an email a few weeks later saying Haley was the 1st musician selected but because of her age they would require her to stay off campus (something I had suggested when I originally emailed him). We were very lucky to have friends, Mike and Norine, who offered us a place to stay only a few minutes drive from the university.

About a month ago, we received a number of files via Dropbox with scores, music, arrangements, etc…of all the newly composed material Haley had to learn. Initially, I was a little worried it might be too much for her with all her other obligations at the time (classical repertoire/technique, Fleadh tunes, Irish lesson music, new and old music for the multiple gigs she had with various other musicians in that months' time, etc…). I learned about that time that Haley was the only "young" melody player accepted for the camp so was also worried she might be overwhelmed having to learn and rehearse all the music for the entire two hour show. They were originally looking for 20 musicians but ended up only choosing four then using the music director, Anthony, on piano and music assistant, Sully, on accordion.

She and I looked at all the music, printed out the scores, listened to the midi's then came up with a plan for her to learn a new tune every couple days while keeping those she had previously learned practiced. Once she had all the tunes down, she began practicing them with the arrangement midi's so she'd have them up to tempo and play them the correct number of repetitions plus know where her melody fit in with the background music. By the first day of camp, she had the music in her head and under her fingers.

(I am hoping Haley posts a blog on this experience because I did a lot of driving back and forth to drop her off and pick her up but did not spend much time at camp with her.)

On Saturday morning, we arrived at the college, got her registered, then took a tour. She met all the people in charge and the other musicians then I left her to rehearse for the rest of the day. When I went back to pick her up, she was so excited. She loved the music director and liked all the other musicians plus had met a number of the dancers. She enjoyed the rehearsals and the music director was thrilled with her hard work and talent.

The Studio2stage young musicians.
Sunday, I dropped her off early then picked her up around 5pm so we could go see Altan in a concert about an hour north in NY. We had a nice supper with Andy, Mike, and Cindy...with an absolutely fabulous dessert while we watched the concert. The concert was fabulous!

During the intermission Haley went up to talk to Mairead, the singer/fiddle player who we'd met a couple years ago in OH. I wasn't sure Mairead would remember her but she did and after the show, Mairead came out to ask Haley to play a couple tunes for the other band members. Haley had a blast fiddling for them (and whoever else came into the room) on Mairead's fiddle!

On Monday, the assistant music director/accordion player, Sully, was to arrive around 3pm so the band rehearsed all morning then I took Haley shopping to look for a second costume because those they had brought were too large for her. We did not have any luck. I took her back to the college in the late afternoon and the now complete band rehearsed until about 9pm. Tuesday was a little shorter day. I made a run toward home where I met Newt for a nice "mother/son lunch" and he brought me some of Haley's shoes and dresses then I stopped at a couple boutiques near home to get some dresses to try as costumes before going back to pick up Haley. The production staff was very excited because the musicians had all the music learned and ready to go. We went through costume possibilities for Haley, picked something, and she was interviewed for the studio2stage musicians' video blog.

Haley trying out a different instrument.
Band rehearsal

Wednesday was the first run-through of the entire show with musicians and dancers. From now on, the musicians would rehearse on their riser on the stage and the dancers would be moved from their rehearsal building onto the stage as well. It was a very long day. Haley was there for 12 hours with short breaks for lunch and supper. I only saw the very end of rehearsals when I went to pick her up but everyone was excited it went so well and they were a few days ahead of schedule. You can just see the top of Haley's head and her eyes in the group selfie they took afterward.

S2S group selfie!
Thursday morning, we arrived early so they could film the "studio" part of their project for Friday. Afterward, Haley went off to rehearsals. In the evening, they ran their first dress rehearsal. It was another long day but after all the rehearsing there was a Hawaiian Luau for everyone complete with food, costumes, and games. I picked Haley up really late, around 10:30pm. She was so excited about everything she'd done all day.
On Friday, the entire group went by train into NYC for a "Mission to Manhattan." I went along as a chaperone and was able to observe the performers interacting with each other. What a great group of young people! We rode the train into the city then walked to Bryant Park for the first part of the mission. They performed a number together, musicians and dancers in the park. Afterward the dancers were split into three different groups. One group, our group, went to Times Square to perform a number for the camera, another group went to Union Square, and the third group to Washington Park.

Haley and Sully playing for the dancers.
The Times Square crew.
Heading back to Kean University after the mission.
The groups all arrived back to the college at different times and our group was back first so they had some down time waiting for the others. After supper it was more rehearsal time until about 10pm.

Saturday was probably the longest day. Music rehearsals and dress rehearsals all day long with short breaks between. I went to get Haley at 10pm but we didn't get out of there until almost eleven. Everyone was very excited about the upcoming show the following day. Sunday I didn't see Haley all day. I dropped her off in the morning for rehearsals and the rest of her day was filled with hanging out with her new friends, getting made up and dressed, and heading over to the show. 

We arrived early for the show and thank goodness we did! It was packed in the lobby of the theater! They had video with each performer's face running over and over with music. The show was fabulous! I was amazed by what they were all able to accomplish in only nine days!  I had seen a few of the dances each night I went to pick up Haley but I was blown away...everyone in costume performing their best with showmanship and smiles all around! 

Haley was absolutely beautiful. She walked the stage making cute faces and bouncing/tapping to the music during her solo. It brought tears to my eyes…my baby out there "owning the stage." She fiddled for the majority of the show (with an occasional break during a song or part of a dance) and she didn't miss a beat, kept the melody going, when Sully had mic difficulties and had to step off stage for a short time. 

Here are a few pics of Haley with her fellow staff members after the show. She was so excited with the performance but at the same time sad to leave her friends. There were "good-byes" and hugs all around, pictures taken, contact information exchanged, and check-out to do before we left. Haley stayed awake (on adrenaline, I think) talking and replaying her experiences to me the entire 2 hours home. I cannot even put into words how much fun she had…she never complained about having to play for so many hours each day or said she was tired. Every morning, she woke up full of energy and excited to have another day. I am so grateful to the staff for taking a chance on her and giving her this opportunity.

She now wants to be a performer in a show someday at least for a little while. She enjoyed the camaraderie and cooperation involved in putting together a show and seeing the results.

We are glad to be home…something we have not been much this month. Our next adventure begins in a little over a week when we head to Ireland. Haley is hoping to see a couple of her Irish friends, especially Sully, at the All Ireland in a couple weeks!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Swannanoa Gathering 2014

The very first day of Swannanoa Gathering, the work-exchange folks were asked to introduce ourselves and tell everyone our favorite place. My response was Yellowstone National Park because of the amazing, beautiful geological structures and wildlife but for Haley, Dylan, and I, our favorite place to "be" is Swannanoa. It is an exhausting week of music and friends. From the family reunion atmosphere of the very first day's registration/sign-in to the sad goodbye's on Friday night and Saturday morning, we have a blast seeing old friends and meeting new ones.

This year's Swannanoa Gathering was especially fun for the Haley and Dylan due to the large number of kids their ages. Haley had a lot of young people in her fiddle classes who had friends and siblings in other classes which led to a dinner table full of friends at every meal and a gaggle of kids at the evening events. Dylan also had friends to hang out with so I rarely saw him during the week except at meals when he'd check in before joining his buddies, when we happened to see him at a session, or during the dances when he was either on stage with the band or out on the dance floor. He mostly kept in touch with me through text messages.

Every day was full for both the kids. Haley began the day playing melody for Donal Clancy's guitar class then took the final half of Advanced Scottish fiddling with Brian McNeil. Her afternoon was taken up by Advanced Irish fiddling with Liz Carroll then either swimming with friends, practicing, or sometimes a potluck workshop. Dylan slept in the 1st period of the day (he had really long nights) then took two guitar classes and a banjo class. He spent his afternoons hanging out with friends. After dinner every night there were either concerts or dances followed by sessions until one was too exhausted to keep their eyes open. Haley played until after 12:30pm and even made it until 3am one night. I think 2am was the earliest Dylan turned in.

Haley playing with the instructors for the ceili dance.

Dylan adding his guitar skills to another ceili band.

Haley watching Eiligh while her parents performed in the instructor concert.

Haley says the "magic" at Swannanoa happens after midnight. The very first night Haley was playing in an "all fiddle" session with three of the fiddle instructors. They were harmonizing, varying tunes, and taking turns playing. It was definitely magic. Another "magical" moment for Haley was playing with Liz Carroll in a session.

It often seems like Haley is surrounded by male fiddlers so getting a chance to share tunes with a talented lady fiddler is a highlight for her. Dylan's camp highlight was a performance with his guitar "idol," John Doyle, during the student showcase.

Our days before and after Swannanoa were pretty fun, too! We travelled to Bristol, TN where we were entertained by our friend Tom and his wife, Connie. Tom showed us around Bristol and invited Haley and Dylan to join his band for a gig. He and Connie own a small cafe in town with delicious home-made food called Memory Lane Cafe so we had lunch there one afternoon and they took us for a picnic and private session at a local dam with a park.

Lunch at Memory Lane Cafe in Bristol, TN (Check it out if you are in the area…the pimiento cheese burger is awesome!)

Bristol, TN at night.
Haley and Dylan joined Sigean for a gig.
Picnic and session at the dam.

The water and fog coming in after the dam was opened.

After Swannanoa we went to Chuckey, TN. Our friend, Mary, runs the Quaker Knob School, a small music school for the local children. She invited us to stay with her so Haley and Dylan could give masterclasses to a few of her students. The 24 hours we spend there involved a session, lots of kids, and music.

On our way home we stopped in Elk Creek, VA to visit Haley's fiddling friend, Kitty, and her mom, Noel. They have an absolutely beautiful house on the top of a mountain with the most amazing view. The drive was a little scary…think Ireland…one lane dirt road up a mountain with drops on one side. Ugh!

We only had about 15 hours there but the kids filled the time. We had dinner at a local Mexican restaurant then Noel drove us around to see the area. We saw a lot of deer and farm critters. Once back at the house, the kids picked berries, saw the chickens, sheep, and jammed together sharing tunes back and forth. The girls baked and iced a cake for dessert before bed.

Berry Picking.

Fiddle jam.

Cake baking.
It was a great trip but we were glad to get home…if only for a little while. We are off to the next adventure!

Friday, July 04, 2014

Keeping the Love Alive

Haley is often afforded opportunities that help keep her love for Irish music alive and well. This week she had a concert to attend which featured a couple of her favorite Irish musicians, Kevin Crawford and Cillian Vallely. Kevin and Cillian have been playing together for years. They have a wonderful rapport with each other and with any audience along with their amazing talents on their instruments of choice. They played in a house concert at the home of friends who often host such concerts.

There is really no better way to experience Irish music than a house concert. You are up close and personal with the musicians hearing their instruments acoustically and interacting with them. We hung around after the concert because Haley was hoping to play a few tunes with the guys and she wasn't disappointed. She kept us out until after midnight playing tunes and listening to songs sung by others who had stayed.

The last few months Haley has had more opportunities than ever before to work on her Irish music with kids closer to her own age. Previously, she'd do a once a month kids' group session or practice once or twice in a year to do a trio in competition but since January, her trio has practiced more often, performed together in a number of gigs, and worked with other young Irish musicians from our area to raise money to go to Ireland by doing a number of concerts.

We are always on the look-out for opportunities for her to meet and play with other young musicians interested in Irish music. So a few weeks ago when I received a message from a woman who runs a CCE branch and Irish music school in Illinois asking if Haley and her friend, Livia, would be interested in joining some of her under 12 kids in a grupai ceoil and a ceili group in competition in Ireland, I consulted Haley who was very excited to give it a try. They sent her recordings and videos of the music which she learned. Then yesterday the teacher and three of her girls flew here to get to know our girls and arrange/practice the music.

Our visitors arrived about 10am, unpacked instruments, and got straight to work. They worked altogether and other times broke off into small groups of girls playing the same instrument. They worked off and on all day long and between practice "sessions" played games, ran around outside, ate meals, and played with our chickens. The girls hit it off immediately and you'd never know they only really just met (Haley had a workshop with two of the girls, Sophia and Lexia at the North American CCE convention in April but didn't have much chance to get to know them). They sounded like girls who have known each other and played together forever. Each gave her best to learn the arrangement and contribute to the group.

They had an after dinner practice session then the girls put away their instruments for the evening and played outside until dark then inside until called for bed. We piled two big air mattresses in the living room with the couches made into beds for them to all sleep in the same room. One little girl fell asleep  early when she laid for a minute on a mattress. The others went to sleep at various times throughout the night.

We all woke early. Livia was the first awake so she helped me make blueberry muffins with fresh blueberries from our garden. The girls ate then dressed and took out their instruments for another practice session before they had to leave to head back to the airport at 10am.

It was a whirlwind visit but amazingly fun! The girls made new friends and have their music ready for competition next month. We are looking forward to it!

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The Graduate

 I am now the mother of a high school graduate. Wasn't the picture below taken just yesterday?

Now look at them….

We celebrated by inviting family and friends to a Southern pig roast on Saturday. The weather was perfect. Daddy used his home-made pig cooker for the first time and his barbecue was delicious! Newt and his friends played volleyball in the yard. We are fortunate for the wonderful young men and women Newt has for friends.

Newt will be heading to West Virginia University next month. He is planning to study nursing. I will miss him so much. A few weeks ago I took him down for his college orientation and sat in the rooms listening to people talk, fluctuating between being excited for him and all the opportunities he will have and wanting to cry thinking how much I will miss not seeing him every day.

I am happy to call myself his mom.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Following the Passions of the Gifted Child...

The past few months there has been a lot of discussion on The Well Trained Mind forums about the interests and activities of children and how far parents are willing to go to allow their child to follow those interests or participate in certain activities. On the Accelerated Learner Board, many of these discussions have centered around gifted children who have what can be called a "passion" in a particular area due to the extremely high level of interest, time, and energy they devote to their activity. There seem to be two "camps" of parenting occupying either end of a broad continuum regarding children's activities and a whole range of those in between.

On one side of the continuum are parents who have decided the main focus for their family is time together as a family. This may be a purposeful decision made as part of their parenting philosophy or it maybe made out of necessity due to lack of resources...mainly time, money, or a family situation that limits participation in activities (maybe due to having a new baby, younger children, or taking care of elderly relatives). Sometimes both parents work and their time in the evenings is time to unwind with the family rather than shuffling this child in one direction and that in another.  Maybe there is only one family car or running all the time is too stressful for the family. Some people prefer their time at home or have children who are not interested in outside activities. Others feel the need to protect their family from the stress of running around and feel their child's time is better spent in free play either alone, with siblings, or with neighborhood children. Whatever the reason(s) for their decision-making, these families tend to chose no activities for their children, an activity all the children are able to participate in together, or limit each child to one activity.

On the other end are the families whose lives revolve around their children's activities. These families might have children involved in multiple activities or with a very high level of involvement in one. They might cart children off in a different direction nearly every night of the week or juggle the activities of multiple kids going different ways on the same day. Many want their children to experience as many different activities as possible to find what interests them most or make them well-rounded. Sometimes these families have a child or children who are extremely talented in one area. These parents do things others might find extreme or ridiculous such as driving hours away for lessons, moving across the country for a certain coach or program, or spending their family vacations providing their child opportunities in camps or competitions.

Kids around the world are involved in all types of activities...sports, music, dance, drama, technology, academic areas, debate, etc.... The majority will be average at their chosen activity or show different interests at different times in their lives. Even among the gifted population some kids are generalists with a variety of interests and levels of involvement while others have a smaller focus area.  A small minority will show extreme talent in a given area. These are the outliers. Besides demonstrating more facility and learning more quickly than their peers, these kids tend to drive their own interest. They practice or study/research a topic for hours at a time. They enjoy spending their "free" time noodling by themselves or engaging with others who have a similar interest. Their intense focus and interest can best be described as a "passion."

A parent who does not have this type of child may not be able to fathom interest and drive so strong in a child because it falls outside their realm of experience. They might view the parent as pushing their child or will respond they are more interested in their child being "well rounded" than allowing them to focus on only one thing...but what if your child has no interest in being "rounded" and can only see themselves as an arrow pointed in one direction? How does one parent that child? How far does one go to support this type of child and their area of passion? How does a parent set limits on what their family is able to do for their child? Where does a parent find the resources to assist their child in following their interest, help them get to the next level, or find outlets where they can share their interest with others? How much time should the parent allow their child to spend on their area of interest? Should the parent work to make their child more well-rounded?

These are the types of questions that tend to come up now and then on the WTM accelerated learner forum. The answers are as varied as the children they involve.

Here are some of my thoughts on these issues...

-I let my child's involvement guide what I am willing to do. Haley puts in the work to practice, listen to pieces, compose her own music, research, asks to attend sessions, etc… so I feel a certain responsibility to help her when I can by finding resources, paying for lessons, driving her, and making sure she has equipment on par with her abilities.  What I am willing to do has grown along with her level of involvement. Sometimes what once might have seemed ridiculous to me gradually became the best choice for our situation. For example, when she first started fiddling, a local teacher met her needs but eventually we had to travel hours away to find a higher level teacher.

-In our family there are limits to what we are able to do because we have three kids who all need my time and resources. Each has different needs, interests, and levels of involvement in their interests. With Haley, the amount of time and money spent on travel and lessons has gradually increased. If someone had told me eight years ago what I'd be paying now, I would never have believed them or thought it possible but at each level, our family has found a way (sometimes a creative way) to make things work. Luckily, the increases with Haley have been offset by decreasing needs, especially in the time department, with the boys who are getting older, doing many of their activities through school, learning to drive (and wanting to drive themselves), and now one going to college…this has hurt the family resources area but we'll figure it out. Dylan has a similar interest in music so many times he and Haley do things like performances and summer camps together which makes things easier.

-I involve my child in the decision making process with regards to her area of interest. When a major decision needs to be made we discuss the pros and the cons of each possibility. I listen to her ideas and needs as she sees them rather than assuming I always know what is best or driving her in a certain direction because I think it is the right one. Haley plays more than one style of music and recently relatively big decisions needed to be made on which is more important to her right now…time travel still not being a possibility and all. She had to decide what to do about orchestra. Continuing meant giving up some opportunities to play Irish music. I researched all possible options of different orchestras and when their concerts and rehearsals were held and together, we listed the pros and cons of each. In the end, the decision was hers and it was a well thought out, informed decision based on all our research and discussion.

-I make an effort to find friends for her with similar interests. These friends aren't always her age and it isn't ever easy because there are no kids in our immediate area playing Irish music (or classical music at the same level). Anything Haley does with others involves traveling at least 45 minutes and up to 5 hours or more. Recently she has spent more time with kids closer her age (and closer to us…45 to 60  minutes away rather than 3-5 hours). They have been working together to raise funds to travel to Ireland, playing together in competitions, at performances, and in sessions regularly the last couple months and it has been a lot of fun for her. Haley was also offered an opportunity to work in a music group for the Ireland competition with girls her age who live mid-way across the country from us. They sent her the music, which she learned, and will visit to rehearse together, which will be a blast. The benefits of getting to know and play others with similar interests is always worth the effort involved.

-I advocate for my child and help find resources. At 12 years old (today!!!), she does not know all the possibilities or where to find every resource she might need….though she is getting better and better at this as she gets older. The internet has been my most often used resource but involvement in the community of people with a similar interest, attending events (for us this has been concerts, fundraisers, festivals, etc…) and getting to know/talking with people runs a close second. Even though I advocate when I need to, like making sure a performance is not too long, she has enough rest, or the sound is set up correctly, I also give Haley opportunities to advocate for herself and make connections with people in safe environments so she will be able to be her own advocate as she gets older. For example, this year she had an idea of a way to volunteer at camp to help pay her tuition. Rather than sending emails to the director myself, I encouraged her to send an email to him explaining her idea and asking if he would allow her the opportunity to try it.  I felt it would be a good learning experience for her to take the lead on something, put her idea out there, and learn to handle the success or disappointment depending on the director's decision. She did it and it worked out for her in a positive way.

-My child is allowed to spend as much of her free time as she wants with her music but she also needs to receive an education, for my comfort and to have a backup plan. Injuries happen and interests can change. Homeschooling gives her more free time than she'd have if in school but she still has educational requirements each day in math, reading, history, science, and foreign languages. Even if she decides to pursue music as a career, she will have the benefits of a strong educational background. I also encourage her other interests…right now those are writing and crafting.

-When life gets really hectic and I feel like I am barely keeping up with our family's schedule, I check in with Haley to gauge her stress level. Right now she has multiple gigs each week (it's festival season) so she is practicing more plus her regular schedule of lessons and school. Also, some of her closer friends are finishing up school and attending area sessions so she is asking to go to those as well. The other day in the car I asked her thoughts on all we had going on and if she needed a break. She enthusiastically declared she loves everything she is doing. If she had expressed the need for less, we would have figured out where to cut back.

I probably had completely different ideas on these sorts of questions five years ago and in another five years I will be able to look back in hindsight and see if we made good decisions. Our lives are always evolving through our experiences and as my daughter gets older she takes more and more control over her life and music.

I would love to hear how other parents deal with these issues at different stages in their children's lives.

Click on the picture below if you'd like to read the rest of the posts on this blog tour!!!!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Fun Gigs!

It might be difficult to imagine a 2.5 hour drive and chilly rainy weather would be part of a really fun day! 

Haley and Dylan were asked to be part of a "Next Generation" showcase at the Penn-Mar Irish Festival in Shrewsbury, PA. The drive was really long but we shared a ride with Keegan and his mom, Lynette. The weather was chilly and drizzly but there was a huge tent over the stage area so we only got wet now and then. Haley, Dylan, Alex, Keegan, along with Mikey McComisky and Austin Smith, took turns playing tunes in duos then played a few sets all together. They sounded great even though we got there a little late and they didn't have time to rehearse together! The future of Irish trad is in good hands!

Haley's best buddy, John Whelan, was performing later in the day so we all took a walk in the rain with him to get some hot drinks then went back to the stage area to hear another band, Irish Blessing, which includes the Srour Family and Genna Gillespie. Genna and the Srour boys are amazing musicians/dancers and wonderful people. I am so lucky to have these people involved in my kids' lives. It was great fun to listen to their music and watch their dancing! Alex, Keegan, Dylan, and Haley had fun talking, eating, watching the bands, and dealing with the rogue mascot.

John asked Dylan to accompany Genna, Jonathon, and him in their set. Dylan has played session style with John before but this was his first time on stage with him. He did a great job! Gotta love his shoes!

Haley joined them for some tunes at the end of their set…

Our good friend, Ed Quigley's granddaughter, Brynna, who Haley has danced with at local ceilis did some dancing during their sets….she's awesome! Look at the height she gets on that leap!

Here's a video of their final set of reels during the show.