Monday, September 29, 2014

Bethlehem Celtic Classic 2014

For the past six years, Haley and I (and often Dylan though not this year) have attended the Bethlehem Celtic Classic in Bethlehem, PA. It is one of our favorite Celtic fall festivals and celebrates all aspects of culture and heritage from Ireland and Scotland. There is everything from the "showing of the tartan" parade, pipe band competitions, dance competitions, the US National Highland Athletic Championships in the main field, Haggis eating competition, fiddle competition, workshops, a kids area with crafts, and music on a number of stages from the huge Grand Pavilion to quieter, more intimate stages in venues throughout the festival grounds and the main street of town. Add to that vendors selling all sorts of wares from kilts to swords to hand-made jewelry, food from haggis to corn on the cob on a stick, and about 30,000 people and you have one really cool festival.

For a number of years, our main reason for attending was the fiddle competition and hanging out with Haley's fiddle playing friend, Alex and his family. Last year, Haley was asked to perform during the fiddle competition rather than compete (she had already won the under 14 age division four times and had three more years to go). She liked the idea of being able to perform rather than compete because she still had a reason to go and hang out with her friend, Alex, and Livia (who was going for her 1st time) plus Patch and Alanna.

This past spring, John Whelan invited Haley to perform with his band in the Grand Pavilion at this year's Classic. She jumped at the chance….she loves to perform with John as part of his band. After months of waiting, we rose super-early on Saturday morning to drive to Bethlehem so we'd arrive in time to watch Livia compete and Alex perform during the break in competition (he'd won the under 18 age division a couple years and had a few more years to go so performed rather than competing). Livia did a great job and won the under 14 age group.

After Livia and Alex finished, we walked into town for our yearly lunch at the Brew Works. We had the biggest table in the place...table for sixteen, please! Lunch took a really long time but we all had fun.

From lunch, or maybe "lupper" by the time it was over, Haley and I checked into our hotel, she made herself beautiful for the night's performance, and then it was time for rehearsal. She still thinks rehearsal is as good as the performance itself. The band was minus a fiddler, Kathleen, this gig so they had to divide Kathleen's "parts" between Haley and Genna and they had a new flute player, and awesome dancer, Jonathan. They worked hard for a little over two hours putting together the set.

Haley and I rode back into the festival with Genna, had a bite to eat, then watched the Glengarry Bhoys performance. They packed the huge Grand Pavilion tent with more people, unable to fit inside, lined up around the perimeter and had them waving their arms and screaming. Incredible!

Glengarry Bhoys

Haley with D'Arcy, the fiddler for Glengarry Bhoys
The John Whelan performed the final act of the night (9:30pm).  They were high energy and fun with great music, most of which John has written himself. At the finale, John invited Haley's friend, Alex, on stage to play a slow air then join the band for a few tunes.

Here's a little video I took of their first set…

After the performance, everyone walked back into town for a late night session on the 2nd floor of a pub. It was a huge session with a lot of great musicians/performers and ran until the wee hours of the morning…we left around 2:30am and it was still going strong.

Sunday morning, Haley and I slept in a bit then went to breakfast with John and the Srour family. John left to head back to CT for a day of teaching and the Srours took Jonathan (flute player/dancer) to the train for NYC. Haley and I went into the festival to enjoy the day. Haley wanted to see her friend Rose's band Burning Bridget Cleary so we headed to the Grand Pavilion first. Rose asked her to join them onstage for a set during their show and afterward we watched the rest of the performance. 

Haley and Rose
Afterward we walked around the festival, looked at all the vendors' displays, watched a bit of Timlin and Kane's performance…


…and caught a little of Mick Moloney and friends before we had to be at the Highland fields for Haley to receive a scholarship from the Bethlehem Celtic Cultural Alliance. Exhausted after the awards presentation, we walked back into town and headed home.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


This fall is full of changes for our family.

Newt is off to college. Instead of seeing him, I have to make do with talking or texting him daily. The whole family is looking forward to seeing him in a couple weeks on his first visit home.

Dylan is no longer playing football. The time came where he had to chose his music or sports because one took up time he needed for another. He chose music.

It is pretty easy for anyone to see the changes in Haley…she is growing up. Her face is maturing…along with the rest of her. Besides the physical changes, she has had a lot of other changes this year.

For the first time since she was seven, she is not involved in an orchestra. She decided she wanted to spend her time doing Irish music. I was initially a little worried about her not having time to make music with kids around her age…since she spends most of her music making time with adults but opportunities have come up in the last six months that allow her to work, play sessions, and perform with her young Irish music playing friends regularly.

Another change has been her violin teacher. We have known for a while she will eventually need a "violin" teacher because her teacher is a violist. Her teacher came up with a solution, after Haley decided against her first idea of a solution. So at least for the next few months, she is working with a new teacher. She enjoys her lessons with him and having someone new to play for has motivated her to practice even more (even using her Dr. Beat without me bringing it out…Miss Gerry would be so happy). I am not allowed to attend her lessons so she has also taken control of her violin education and practice….though she still often asks me to listen while she is practicing or comes and plays for me to show me what she is working on. I don't know what will happen when our time with him is over but for now she's in a good place.

Change #3…I thought we'd be unable for her to continue with her writing tutor due to finances (college) so had come up with a writing program for her myself. This week her writing tutor asked us to visit for tea because she had a proposal for Haley. Turns out she is publishing a book (Christian home schoolers might enjoy checking out the link) and would like Haley to provide the music for her audiobook version. In return, she will continue to work with Haley on her writing.

One last change…hasn't happened yet but is in the works…a new full size fiddle. We are doing a lot of shopping. It isn't easy.

Amazing how God provides so things fall into place. I feel like Haley's entire musical life has been one "accident" or "coincidence" after another. I have to think maybe God has a plan we don't know about because I surely couldn't have planned any of this.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Wild Weekend…at Wildwood

This past weekend got off to an early start.

Haley and Dylan were asked to do three performances throughout the weekend in Wildwood, NJ as part of their Irish Weekend. We drove down late Thursday afternoon to check into our hotel before the kids' first gig on Thursday evening, opening for Derek Warfield and The Young Wolftones.

Haley and Dylan played a great set together then we listened to the rest of the concert. Haley and I walked back after the concert while the boys took the van back. It was a lovely cool evening and I love the atmosphere at the beach so I walked as much as I could all weekend…not hard to do because Tinkerbell went with us and couldn't wait to walk, leave her scent, and smell all the other dogs around the island.

Friday morning Tinks had me up early so I dressed and took her for a long walk along the beach road. We must have walked for an hour. The sun was just coming up and I took some beautiful photos on my phone.

We used to spend a couple weeks camping at the beach every summer back before our trips to Ireland and music camps took up all our funds and vacation time. I forgot how much I enjoy just being at the shore.

The rest of the family woke up when we returned to the room and we all got ready to go out to a pancake house for breakfast. After breakfast we walked up and down the boardwalk. There was an old car show going on so the boys were happy. We took the kids back to the room so they could put on their performance clothing then went down to the festival which was already pretty crowded for a Friday afternoon. We walked around and looked at all the vendors goods, had some food, listened to some music, Haley did some dancing, then it was their turn on stage.

They did another great job. Some friends did a set dance to one of their tune sets and they had a crowd of people talking to them afterward. We escaped as soon as we could because they were hungry and we had plans for dinner at the Lobster House in Cape May…a family tradition at least once a year. We ordered take-out and ate outside on the deck. After dinner we drove back to Wildwood, had some ice cream for dessert, and took a walk in the dark along the beach before retiring for the night.

Our day repeated again on Saturday….early morning walk with Tinks, pancake house breakfast, walk on boardwalk where kids rode a couple rides (weren't running on Friday morning), and festival with performance. There were way more people at the festival on Saturday. Due to a bit of a scheduling issue, the kids were able to perform a little earlier on Saturday so right after they finished their set, we jumped into the car and headed home to drop off the dog. They wanted to try to make it to PA for the CCE-DV Ceili because John Whelan was going to be there to play with the Sligo Six.

I think most people who would normally attend were back in Wildwood where we left them at the festival but it was a nice quite gathering like a house party. The kids danced and played music and we all enjoyed the company. We didn't get back home until the wee hours on Sunday morning but had a quiet day at home planned cleaning, catching up on schoolwork, and, for me, reading. The day didn't quite go as planned though because Haley got a call asking her to come help host the session at the Plough. The regular host had called out and Tom needed someone with a melody instrument. She decided it would be fun so she and I spent our evening there.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Whew! What a weekend!

We started our weekend early with a wonderful house concert Thursday evening. The Alt, one of the bands created during a late night at Swannanoa a couple years ago (the other is The Teetotallers), consists of Nuala Kennedy, John Doyle, and Eamon O'Leary. John and Eamon are the two guitarists Dylan always chooses to learn from at Swannanoa. Add to them Nuala with her sweet voice and lovely flute and whistle playing and wow!  Tight vocal harmonies and lively tunes. Amazing!

I think I've said before how much we like the intimate "private" experience a house concert provides and this one was no exception. We could have listened all night and we kind of did. After the concert we popped in our newly recorded and purchased CD and listened all the way home…and it was our listening choice while riding all over the place all weekend.

We had a late night but we were all up early Friday morning. Dylan went off to school then Haley and I headed to the northern part of the state so she could work in a recording studio to lay down a few tracks with Mike for Andy's new Irish clarinet CD. It was a long but fun day!

Working out variations.
They finished up a Donegal reel set then played around with a slow air playing melody and harmony then playing cannon-style. It was pretty cool to listen to Haley play the third "round" of the cannon on her first try especially considering she learned the air very recently and Andy had only decided that morning to try it so she hadn't had a chance to practice.

Laying down tracks.
After the day of recording, Haley and I headed south to Philly. We grabbed a quick dinner then headed to the Irish Center for the Philadelphia Ceili Group's Annual Festival (40th!!!). Friday night is always a ceili in the ballroom and a "Rambling House" concert in the fireplace room. For the Rambling House session there is a host musician, Gabriel, who invites musicians, both local and visiting, on stage to play a few sets with him. Haley enjoyed hanging out with her friends, Alex and Keegan, while they listened to the music and took their turns on stage.

Haley especially enjoyed playing a couple tunes with two musicians from Beoga, Niamh Dunne and Seán Óg Graham and Niamh's father. We saw Beoga in concert one year at the Fleadh in Cavan and they are one of Haley's favorite bands. Niamh has a beautiful voice and is a lovely fiddle player and Sean is great on both accordion and guitar.

Gotta love the microphone eye patch.
Late night number two.

Saturday Haley, Dylan, and I headed back to the Irish Center for another full day of festival. The kids took some workshops on their respective instruments then rehearsed, and hung out with their friends, Alex and Keegan, before their "set" at the festival. The Converse Trio (Haley, Keegan, and Alex) accompanied by Dylan played a lively set in the afternoon. They sounded great!

They also joined Next Generation for their set then ate dinner before a wonderful concert by Fullset…a group of young, dynamic musicians. Their music was great and they put on a very entertaining show.

Late night number three.

I had to drag Haley out before the after-concert session because we had another early morning on Sunday for a fiddle lesson in New York. We carpooled with Livia and Amy so the trip was pleasant and fun, the lesson productive, and Haley, exhausted from her busy weekend fell fast asleep on the ride home then went to bed for short nap before dinner.

Back to school tomorrow.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Let the Fun Begin…or the Storm?

Summer was a whirlwind!

 It was fun, amazing, and over way too soon! I knew it would be that way. sigh.

The last two weeks allowed us to get back into a rhythm with school, catch up on make-up sessions for work, and take a breath before the fall festival season. Today was the start. Haley, Dylan, and I headed to Ship Bottom, NJ today for their annual Irish Festival. This would be the 3rd year the kids played here but last year, as we were getting ready to leave, Haley had a little run in with a toothpick that left her spending the day in an ER and the evening in surgery. (See this post for details.) This morning, however, we made it into the car toothpick-free.

The kids played a nice set right after Mass. They included a couple tunes they've composed together. (Their composition "sessions" go something like this…Dylan fools around with a guitar chord sequence. He finds something he likes and plays it over and over then Haley decides she'll add some fiddle on top of it…and poof! They have a new tune.)

Not the best picture but with the bright sunlight behind them it was difficult.
There was a really cool little spot near the stage tent with music notes as part of the bricks. Dylan is a bit camera shy but Haley jumped right on it.

From Ship Bottom, we headed back across the state to Philly. We met Haley's friends and fellow Converse Trio band members, Alex and Keegan, at St. Declan's Well for the weekly Irish music session. The kids love when they get to play with Kevin and Fintan! Dylan jumped in at the end to rehearse with the others for their next stop…a promo appearance for next week's festival, the Philadelphia Ceili Group's 40th Anniversary Irish Festival, on the radio station WXPN with Gene Shay.

We walked the block to the station from St. Declan's. The full moon, clouds, and city skyline all lit up were really pretty…the pictures just didn't do it justice but here's one try.

The station was much bigger than any of the others we have been to. The others were tiny little places with one or two (if they have a couple stations in one tiny building) rooms they broadcast from. This station is in the basement at World Live Cafe and there are a number of broadcasting rooms including a very large room where the kids played. The walls have really cool art all over them and in the main station area, the walls are covered by the signatures of famous people who have been to the studio.

It took some time for them to set up the big studio room with mics. The kids rehearsed and joked around then once everything was set up, they were on air.

Sitting in the studio, we were a little confused as to when they were actually broadcasting but people listening at home said they sounded great.

We left right after they finished to get the kids home to bed. School in the morning! Looking forward to a great festival and a lot more fun next weekend!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Calm...

Our summer was busy….lots of travel, camps, friends, visits, and music. Due to all the travel, I worked long hours every day I was not traveling and unpacked/re-packed when home. Right before we left for Ireland, I had one full day at home…my first since the middle of June.

The past three days, however, we spent all our time at home. I cleaned, organized, weeded in the garden, went school shopping for Dylan, prepared for Haley's upcoming school year, and yesterday we jumped back into school. Haley and I started a new exercise program (while we were gone, Dylan found a great weight machine for really cheap). She spent a lot of time practicing by herself and with her brother for their many upcoming gigs and had a Skype fiddle lesson with Brian to get the "new year" going. (Today she has a special violin lesson with her teacher's daughter.) The weather was perfect so we opened the windows and enjoyed the "almost" fall weather.

Fall has always been my favorite time of year! This year is a little different for us and we are getting used to the changes.

Newt went off to college while we were in Ireland. He was working, going to wrestling practice, and hanging out with friends a lot before he went. Things are quiet without him here and I miss him but at the same time I am excited for him in this new chapter of his life. Either Ritch or I talk or text him every day. He sounds like he is having a good time, working hard at his classes, and happy to be there. Can't wait to visit him!

Dylan started working this summer. He wanted a job at the local grocery store so he filled out a resume then called and called the manager until he was hired. He went to Swannanoa with us and took his first solo flight to Florida to spend a week with a friend but otherwise has been working all summer. He starts 11th grade in a week and will have his driver's license in two months.

I post Haley's "proposed" school program each year so here it goes…

Haley began Geometry in February and will continue. Not quite sure whether she will do Algebra 2 after or Counting and Probability. I'll figure that out when we get there.

Language Arts
Windows to the World
One Year Adventure Novel
Lightning Literature 8 (I have this so figured we might as well use it.)

Almost finished First Form Latin then will begin Second Form Latin.
Rosetta Stone French along with French in Action (
Maybe a little Sign Language??

Haley asked to do American History this year. I have a middle school level syllabus to go with History of US (Joy Hakim) that includes ideas for research reports and projects. Also, Thinking Through the Past by John Hollitz and a large number of supplemental readings/projects (I have an entire bin of books on different periods of American History). The problem with having so many books is we've never made it past the Civil War due to many bunny trails. I hope to keep it a bit more concise this year and get through the whole series.

We are going to continue with Biology…there are so many topics to cover. Last year we spent a lot of time doing things on a "micro" level studying cells and chemistry of life (cellular respiration, etc…), and studying genetics and evolution theories. This year we will hit different topics.

She will continue studying music theory and taking lessons.

Leaving this subject to Daddy since he's the artist in the family.

I think that should get us going for the year. I am trying to use less "teacher intensive" material with her so she can be more independent especially when she is home with her daddy on the days I work and provide her with the many projects she likes to do.

Looking forward to a fun fall!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Sligo Fleadh 2014

Wow! What a week we had in Sligo, Ireland for the Fleadh Cheoil (All Ireland festival/competitions).

This year Haley and I traveled with some very special friends of ours, John and Jackie Kelly. We had originally planned to go to Ireland as a family then learned Newt would need to be moved into his dorm and begin college on the first day of competitions. John and Jackie had already booked in the same B&B (Atlantic Haven B&B) and during a conversation where Jackie was fretting about having to drive in Ireland because John's age prevented him from being able to rent a car, I had a brainstorm and asked if they'd like me to drive and they could accompany us (and be our bodyguards).

My spur of the moment plan worked out perfectly. Haley and I had company and John and Jackie were able to enjoy their trip to Ireland without worrying about transportation.

After a wonderful flight, we arrived in Dublin at 5am (Irish time). We picked up our car and headed across the country to Sligo. We arrived at our B&B around 9am and our wonderful host, Thomas, fed us weary travelers a full Irish breakfast and gave us our rooms. I took a nap while Haley took a shower. After I woke and showered we headed into Sligo city on our own to meet Haley's fiddle teacher, Brian, so Haley could practice. Following the practice, we walked around town and figured out where everything was then drove back to our B&B to pick John and Jackie up for dinner. We had to drive in another direction to meet the Illinois kids for ceili band and grupai practice after dinner. It was late and we were beat by the end of rehearsal so went home and to bed.

Thursday morning, we woke to another great breakfast. We decided to take a short drive about 5 min. north to the beautiful town of Mullaghmore…one of the most beautiful places in Ireland!

Haley with John and Jackie in Mullaghmore.

The beautiful cliffs on the sea drive near Mullaghmore.
From Mullaghmore we drove into Sligo city. John and Jackie went to check out the shops in town while Haley and I met Brian and she practiced for 90 minutes. After her practice we grabbed some soup for lunch and sat to eat on a little stone wall. We ran into a number of friends while sitting. I love that part of the Fleadh…seeing all the people we only see once or twice a year. Haley decided to find the Illinois kids to busk for a little while then we drove with them back to their residence for rehearsal.

Busking in Sligo.

After rehearsal we saw a full double rainbow out over the water and took the moment to catch a picture with Haley's friends, Livia and Emily.

We headed back into town after rehearsal where we met up with the music director from Studio2Stage. Anthony had saved Haley a seat at an awesome session. She played for a couple hours and did not want to leave.

I got an emergency call from home around 11pm because there was a problem with Newt's classes at college and I couldn't hear over the phone with all the noise in the pub so I had to pull Haley out of the session and take the call outside…though there was fiddler who stopped her on her way to me and had her play a couple Sean Maguire tunes with her on the way out. After the phone call, Haley's buddy Alex had arrived so we went with them to a very large "kids" session at a hotel. Alex and Keegan plus some kids from Boston and Haley's friend, Benedict, from Scotland (who we've met through this competition a few years ago) were there. The kids played together until I dragged Haley out after 1am.

This year competitions began on Friday and lasted three days rather than the normal two days. The ceili band and grupai ceoil competitions were on Friday. So all day was spent warming up, waiting to compete, and competing. Between the competitions, I took Haley into town to do a sound check for a concert she was invited to perform in with the legendary Irish groups, Altan and Dervish. We had seen Mairead from Altan in New York while we were at Studio2Stage and she asked if Haley would come up on stage with them for a FleadhLive performance on Irish TV and webcast. The sound check took awhile due to the number of musicians going up on stage. We had to rush a bit to make it back for the grupai competition but we made it with time to spare. The kids did a great job playing together even though they had only had a few rehearsals together. The group was small but mighty. Right after the competition we packed up Haley's fiddle and headed back into town for the concert.

Talk about amazing! The venue had a number of rooms, all full of people standing together in front of stages and the TV show went from room to room so no time was wasted with sound checks and set ups. When we arrived, Haley and I found a hamburger stand to eat then hung out in the backstage area with the other musicians. Haley enjoyed the make-up girl who "did" her hair and makeup for on camera. Altan performed two sets on their own then had Haley and the singer from Dervish, Cathy, on stage for The Sally Gardens. After the song, the rest of Dervish joined them on stage. They performed the Tarbolton Set together, letting Haley take a solo at the beginning of the 2nd tune! Click here for a little video of the performance. Goodness, did she have fun!! The crowd was loud, excited, and appreciative! We left right after the concert so I could get her to bed though we weren't back until almost 12:30am because we had to make our way back to our car and drive the 20 min back to the B&B.

Saturday started on the early side. Haley's solo fiddle competition was at 10am. She went very early in the competition (4th) and she played her tunes perfectly with her usual flare. Unfortunately the judges had other ideas on what they were looking for and she did not place…the risk one assumes in a subjective competition. Over the years, Haley and I have had many discussions concerning the fact that she can only control her performance, not the judging. She was momentarily disappointed/shocked but shrugged, said she was happy with how she played and wouldn't have played any differently, then minutes later was out eating lunch with Emily and Livia joking and laughing. I was so proud of her ability to deal with disappointment. Learning how to not win (graciously) is another benefit of competition.

Immediately after lunch she had to play 1st in the slow air competition. She was not excited to have to play for the same judges but she played her beautiful air like her usual amazing self and ended up with 2nd. After the competitions we ran around to see a couple other competitions and meet up with friends…I liked the newly composed tunes competition (all ages, all instruments, and new tunes…nearly all of which would be neat to hear again). The trio kids did a rehearsal together then we had supper with everyone from home. After supper, we found Haley's friend, David, who we'd met along with his brother, Daniel, at Swannanoa a couple years ago. They played some tunes together with a few other people before they had to move on and allow a concert to be set up in the area.

The Sligo Bound Six in Sligo!!

Haley and David at the Fleadh.
Sunday, Haley's only competition was the Trio Competition with her friends, Alex and Keegan…The Converse Trio. We went into town early so we could watch Alex and Keegan in the Duet competition then the kids warmed up together for the trio. They were awesome together. They smiled at each other and "grooved"…something their trio coach, Patrick, said they needed to do. (While they were in the trio competition, Patrick was busy winning the Over 18 Uillean Pipes Slow Air competition!!) We were  all extremely excited to hear the kids placed 3rd! We went and got their photo together (see the beginning of this post) then we took John and Jackie to dinner and back to our B&B because we wanted to head to Dublin early in the morning.

We woke up really early on Monday. We had a long drive to Dublin then a busy day planned. We drove back to Dublin airport, turned in the rental car, checked into the hotel to drop our bags, then headed into the city on the bus. We had a "reunion" with a few of the people Haley met through Studio2Stage, Michelle, Rachel, and Maurese, at Murphy's Ice Cream Shop. (One of our yearly traditions is ice cream at Murphy's…brown bread ice-cream…Yum!) Jackie and John left us on our own so they could experience Dublin their own way.

We had a really nice visit with the Studio2Stage friends then Maurese showed us how to get to an appointment I had scheduled for Haley to try a new fiddle made by Mick DeHoog. Mick was really nice and the fiddle was lovely….definitely on our list of "maybes"…but we have a bit more shopping to do before Haley makes a final decision. After spending about 90 minutes trying the fiddle, Haley and I did some shopping and went out to dinner at one of our favorite places, Elephant and Castle. We rode back to the hotel after dinner and relaxed before going to bed.

Tuesday morning saw us back at Dublin Airport ready to fly home. Livia and Emily were on the same flight so we had fun waiting. The flight was smooth and the ride home early enough to not hit traffic. Jackie and John were the perfect travel companions. All in all it was a great trip! It was wonderful to see and watch Haley have fun playing tunes with so many friends! She played her best in her competitions, had an awesome performance on Friday night, and came home with a couple medals! She is already planning for next year!