Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Irish Musicians

We have met so many different musicians in the Irish music world. They range from world-reknown professional artists (even a few Grammy award winners/nominees) to adult beginners. If you went through my blog posts over the years, it could read like a Who's Who in Irish music.

These people come from many countries and backgrounds. They have different points of view,  different hang ups, different home environments, different personalities, and different lifestyles. Some travel the world, some are involved in amazing philanthropic efforts, some play their music on the side and have careers in another field, some are full time musicians, some teach music to others, some compose, some believe it's important to remain true to the tradition of the music while others enjoy taking the music and merging it with different genres to make it new…I could go on and on about differences but I really wanted to talk about a couple similarities between the musicians we've met and why I feel blessed to have them in my kids' lives.

Last week at the Teetotalers concert, Kevin Crawford, the flute/whistle player, suggested he might try Paraic's Monday night session this week. He had gigs in the TN then was heading back up to this area on Monday. He messaged me Monday afternoon for session details and said he was in New York but heading down to the Jersey shore (about 2.5 hours away) where he was staying, then would try to drive to the session (90 min each way). He wasn't sure if he'd be able to make it in time for the session but he'd be mapping it out to see.

He made it!

It was a lot of driving in one day. He said he thinks the world of the kids and didn't want to disappoint them. The session was absolutely awesome! The music was great and all the kids (Haley, Dylan, Alex, and Keegan) had so much fun playing music, being together, and sharing jokes with Paraic and Kevin. At one point they all played a set of tunes (one of Haley's favorite sets) the kids learned off a Lunasa CD (Kevin's band…check them out on youtube if you have never heard them) and on the way home Haley said it was the highlight of her night! Dylan was smiling from ear to ear while he played. They barely left their seats in the 2.5 hours they were jamming.

This story illustrates one of the similarities between most of the Irish musicians we've met. They go out of their way to encourage the next generation of musicians. There have been a rare few along the way who don't (in my experience those tend to be the less advanced adults rather than the "icons") but the vast majority have been very supportive by welcoming the kids in sessions, inviting them onstage for a tune, staying after performances to talk or play a tune with them, talking to them in classes, etc… They understand when a six, eight, or eleven year old plays a tune at a session often viewed as "show-offy" it isn't to show off but because they love the tune, it may even be their favorite tune, and think others will join in with them. They teach session etiquette to enthusiastic young musicians gently. They realize getting a chance to play tunes or talk to people whose CDs they listen to over and over to learn tunes from will be a highlight in their life.

Another similarity is their apparent love of the music. Folk music does not make millionaires on the level of famous pop artists…there may be a few who've done extremely well but most simply make a nice living or do it on the side or for fun. Many Irish musicians have a "real" job so they are able to play the music on their own terms or for fun rather than having to change things to appeal to a broader audience. Touring musicians keep crazy schedules driving hours from gig to gig, often stay in people's homes while traveling rather than in fancy hotels, and stay up late after performances to play with the local musicians in sessions for fun. I love the way many musicians do not limit themselves to performing with one group of people. We've seen very few large egos. Many musicians belong to multiple groups, large or small, and perform solo as well and there seems to be a general camaraderie among them when they meet up at camps and festivals where they will enjoy talking and playing tunes with each other after performances.

Lastly, Irish musicians are fun! No matter where we travel, we look for sessions so we can meet with an area's local musicians and listen to their tunes. We have always been welcome. Besides music, sessions include stories, jokes, laughs, and general chit chat. Some of Haley's favorite sessions have been after a day of performance at a festival or at music camp when the performers get together to jam.

I believe experiences with the musicians we've met over the years have helped shape and promote my kids' love of Irish music. I feel blessed to know them and have them in my kids' lives. As a mother trying to help her child navigate her life path, I treasure each memory and kindness Haley has received from different musicians whose paths we cross.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Every now and then my kids are invited to perform with some of their favorite Irish musician. They have quite a few "favorites" so the opportunities have been varied. Sometimes Haley shares the stage with The Chieftains, joins John Whelan's band, is invited to play with Mick Moloney, or plays with her teacher, Brian Conway, at gigs.

Last night was Dylan's favorite night because he was able to sit next to his #1 favorite guitarist, John Doyle, and perform a set. We went to see the Teetotallers perform in West Chester, PA. If you have never heard them, you must check them out. They are three of Irish music's most amazing musicians who decided a couple years ago at Swannanoa Gathering it might be fun to join forces and perform together.

The "Converse Trio" (Haley, Alex, and Keegan) who, along with Dylan, call themselves the "Coffeetotallers" opened the concert for the Teetotallers and got the crowd warmed up with a couple sets of tunes.

The Teetotallers took the stage with their mix of music, song, and fun. Kevin Crawford, Martin Hayes, and John Doyle are amazing musicians and so funny they had the audience laughing throughout the show with their stories and tune introductions. After a standing ovation, they invited the kids back onto the stage with them for a finale set…which they worked out in a couple minutes while thankyous were being given to the people who made the concert possible.

We got some pictures at the end and thanked them for a lovely evening. It was a nice warm up for Swannanoa in a couple months.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Satisfying Saturday

Saturday, my men spent a day together working on a house then planting the beginnings of our garden at home. Haley and I ran all over and had an amazing day together….and it didn't involve any musical performing!

Our first stop for the day was at a food packing event for Feed My Starving Children. Haley has been making decorated violin mutes (check out her webpage here if you'd like to help her with next year's contribution) and donating the majority of her earnings (all except what she needs to pay for more materials) to Feed My Starving Children. In five weeks, she earned $150 for the program!

Haley's violin teacher organizes this event in our area and Haley's heart was moved to help out in her own way. Feed My Starving Children is a program that sends food to starving children in almost 70 different countries and work with partner organizations who set up schools and programs to teach the people living in these poverty stricken areas how to use their natural resources to become self-sufficient. Feed My Starving Children does not advertise nationally and 92% of donations go directly to the food program. Volunteers pack the food to be sent out and 99% of the food is delivered securely.

Once we registered at the event, we were sent to a room to watch a short film on how to pack the meals. A couple of Haley's friends from the violin studio were there so when we walked over to the school to pack, we teamed up with them and their parents to work one side of a table together. Kassie's mom and I added the food to the bags, Anna and Kassie held the bags and checked them for weight, and Haley and Anna's dad sealed the bags and handed them over to be packed in boxes.

The work went quickly and what might have been seen as repetitive and boring was not. Everyone was so excited to be helping people directly and happy to be spending this time in fellowship with one another. In a little under two hours, our table packed 23 boxes containing 36 bags each. Here are the girls afterward….

Showing our number of boxes packed!
Our total volunteer group of 171 people packed over 200 boxes containing enough meals to feed 121 children for a year! After the packing a large group of volunteers prayed over the boxes and got a taste of the food as we left. (It tasted like Rice-a-Roni.)

From the packing event, we drove back to our area to a local Amish farmer's market because Haley's writing tutor has a shop there and she had a friend giving a mini workshop on Lithuanian egg decorating. Haley loves artsy stuff and was excited to participate.

Decorating her egg.

Finished product.
At the farmer's market, we purchased some items for supper then headed home where Haley practiced for a couple hours while I straightened up and cooked. After supper, we went to see some of our homeschool friends perform in a homeschool stage production of Les Miserables.  It was an amazing show. We were expecting something similar to high school plays we've attended but thought this show rivaled shows we've seen on Broadway! The actors and singers were wonderful, there was a pit orchestra performing the music, and the props and costumes were great. Haley said she liked it better than the movie!

Monday, April 07, 2014


We have been attending a lot of sessions lately. The St. Patrick's Day rush is over and April is a somewhat quiet month musically, except for the Fleadh to qualify for Ireland in a few weeks. 

So, Haley and Dylan have been interested in hitting sessions a couple times a week. Dylan mostly so he can drive to them as he recently got his driver's permit. Last weekend and the weekend prior to that we went to the session at The Plough and the Stars in Center City Philly on Sundays and then a different session at Sligo Pub in Media, PA on Monday evenings.

This weekend, Haley and her competition trio had the last of two rehearsals together on Saturday afternoon at Fergie's Pub in Center City then they all stayed for the session afterward.  Yesterday we drove to NY for fiddle lessons with our friends, Amy and Livia, and stayed for a new session Haley's fiddle teacher is hosting at O'Grady's Public House in Yorktown Heights, NY. 

Sessions are all so different from one another…each has it's own regulars and rhythm. Some sessions we've been to have only had 3-4 musicians while others have over twenty. Some have large crowds of people coming in to listen while others might be in someone's kitchen with only the significant others of the musicians in attendance. Sometimes there are visiting musicians from other states or countries who drop into a session and change things up a bit or new musicians looking to listen and learn more than play. 

Haley has been attending sessions regularly since she was five years old. She has always been welcomed by the regular musicians and made to feel part of the group. Now she is one of the "regulars." Some people might think it crazy that my little girl knows the bartenders and waitstaff by name and feels some of her BFFs are male musicians in their 30's-60's. When they are playing music, age doesn't matter, they have a common bond and purpose for those few hours of the session. 

I love taking her to sessions because she gets to practice tunes she wouldn't normally play during a gig, tunes she's learned over the years but doesn't play regularly. She also gets to learn new tunes especially when visiting musicians join in. She has a whole repertoire of tunes we don't have names for because she picked them up while playing in a session somewhere.

We have attended sessions all over the United States and in Canada and Ireland. When we travel one of our first searches is to find out where there might be a session. When she performs for festivals or attends a camp we find sessions full of professional musicians playing for fun. We've met some really awesome people along the way and heard some of the best music at sessions.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Weekend Ramblings

We actually didn't ramble too much this weekend! We had some nice time at home to get the house cleaning done and relax. In between our time at home, on Saturday Haley and Dylan played a nice, small, cozy gig at an area nursing home for a St. Patrick's Day party in the memory care unit. About ten people, residents and their families, were in attendance. (I didn't take any pictures to protect the privacy of the residents.)

One resident from the assisted living area of the nursing home came to listen because she loves Irish music. She told the kids about all the Irish bands she'd been to see then told them they were just as good as the best she'd seen. So cute! She talked to them between sets and was very excited.

While they were playing an upbeat tune set, an elderly man in a wheel chair started moving around like he was trying to get up. Initially I thought he was trying to leave because one woman had left when they started playing saying she didn't have any interest in Irish music. LOL The elderly woman sitting next to the man turned and tried to help him. I though they were both going to fall but a nurse rushed over and asked him what he needed. Turns out he wanted to dance so she talked him into dancing in his chair and she and the elderly woman held his hands while he moved his feet to the rhythm. It was wonderful to see them touching someone's life and making them a little happier. Haley looked right at him and played for him while he danced.

...And because we get antsy staying home too long, we decided to go to the session at Plough and the Stars…actually it was Dylan's idea! This has never happened before. Dylan will go along with us to a session sometimes grudgingly and sometimes happily but has never been the one to suggest a session unless he's at Swannanoa where he sessions until the wee hours but Dylan got his drivers permit on Saturday and wanted to drive. The boy is so excited to drive anywhere, he will spend 4 hours playing music just to have a chance to drive! Ha!

Some might think it dangerous to allow a brand new driver to drive on the highway and in the city but he is confident and makes very good decisions while driving. The day before he drove us halfway to the nursing home and all the way home in traffic. He has been driving our vehicles around our driveways and on our property for a couple years. If he is going to be my chauffeur for the next six months, he needs to be fearless about highway and city driving!

We had a nice surprise at the Plough when Haley's buddy Keegan showed up with his pipes! His mom took this picture and posted it so I took it off Facebook. Dylan was sitting across the table from them and didn't make it into the pic. Haley and Keegan made plans to meet at another session tonight! These two share an amazing passion for Irish music!…and rarely smile in pictures while playing now that they are older.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Haley's First Day of School…kinda

On Friday, Haley had a wonderful experience spending an entire day at school demonstrating and teaching Irish music to the middle school students at a rather large public school in PA. We met the music teacher at this school at Paraic's Monday night sessions. She plays flute and tin whistle and is learning Irish tunes. She thought it would be a nice program for her students and the rest of the school in honor of St. Patrick's Day so she asked Haley and Paraic to come to the school for the day.

They started the day with the 6th grade orchestra and another music class observing and taking notes. The orchestra students had learned the tune Drowsy Maggie. Haley took the lead in giving them some hints on how to make their reel sound more "Irish" by adding in some ornamentation and downbeats. The orchestra director had written the tune on the white board so Haley wrote her and Paraic's suggestions into the music, demonstrated, played with the students so they could practice then they rehearsed together.

The next two class periods she and Paraic played some tunes and did a question/answer segment with different classes. The kids had some great questions and were extremely well behaved and polite. We then had a nice lunch brought in. Haley was curious to see what it was like to walk the halls of the school on her own so she did. The music teacher also took her around to the lunch room, which she said was "really loud and crazy…with kids throwing oranges," and another classroom so she could see what it was like. As lunch was ending she and Paraic stood outside the auditorium and fiddled for the kids walking the halls because not every student was able to fit in the auditorium for the "show" later in the day.

They did another class with the 7th and 8th grade orchestra who had learned Tripping Up the Stairs. She and Paraic taught them how to slur notes together into the down beat and add a couple ornaments to make their tune sound more "Irish." They asked the cello section, who were playing harmony, to begin playing the tune as a little intro before the rest of the orchestra joined in. They rehearsed it a couple times before class was over.

The final class period the students filled the auditorium. It was a really big school with a large auditorium but still teachers had to sign up because not every student could fit. We even added a couple extra rows of chairs in the front. It was full of students. Haley and Paraic played a set together then they played along with the 6th grade orchestra.

6th grade orchestra

Then they performed with the 7th and 8th grade orchestra.

7th/8th grade orchestra

Haley and Paraic played a tune for a couple dancers who went to the school while they took turns Irish dancing. (I had a really hard time getting a picture to come out not blurry.)

Haley and Paraic finished the program by played two more tune sets together. As the orchestra students packed up their instruments to head to their buses a number of girls took pictures with Haley and made friends.

Haley and I jumped in the car right after school to head about 30 minutes away because Haley's string ensemble, PRYSM, was playing with members of the Philadelphia Orchestra to open their "Harp Play In." They performed Vaughn William's Variations on Dives and Lazzarus.

Haley playing her small solo section.

Here's a picture of all the harps on stage. There were over 20 harps playing at once….some concert pedal harps and others smaller lever harps. It was beautiful music!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

March Madness Continued...

I was going to wait until after this weekend before posting about all the fun Haley is having this week but there is too much to wait so I will break this week up into two posts. Sunday evening Haley got a message asking her to come out and play with her buddies, John and Darin, session-style for a fundraiser for Philadelphia Councilman James Kenney at The Plough and the Stars. We met Councilman Kenney at the Plough a little over a year ago and last year he asked Haley, Newt, and Dylan to play some Irish music at a Philadelphia City Council Meeting in honor of Irish heritage and St. Patrick's Day.

The venue was crowded with fundraiser guests almost to bursting. Haley and the guys could barely hear themselves play but Councilman Kenney and some of the other guests come over now and then to listen. They had a lot of fun together and the food was delicious. There were also performances by Irish dancers and a pipe and drum corp (that was really loud!).

Haley and Darin

Haley, Darin, and John

Pipers and drummers from the balcony
Tuesday, Haley played with the South Jersey Irish Society dancers again (the same dancers she performed with last week at the nursing home) for a Senior Luncheon. The dancers did some set and ceili dances and for some of the ceili dances had audience member volunteers come up to try them out. Haley worked the CD player for the dancers and while the dancers rested, performed tune sets throughout the show. She even joined the dancers for The Haymaker's Jig (one of her favorites).

Dancers doing a set dance.

Haley joining the dancers to do the Haymaker's Jig.

Fiddling around.

I had to add this one in because I like it.
Wednesday (today) Haley and her harp playing friend, Emily, were invited to perform for a different church's luncheon. Someone at the church noticed an article written in the newspaper mostly about Emily but mentioning Haley after the girls both took 1st in Ireland last year at the All Ireland competition and they asked them to perform for their group.

I have to include these photos because it is a really neat blast from the past. Here are Haley and Emily performing for the first time together when Haley was six years old and Emily was seven. So cute and little…probably playing "Summer, Summer" together.

Here they are today looking so much more grown up but in almost the same poses. Time sure does fly. We are so blessed for Haley to have such a large group of wonderful kids in our area who love Irish music like Haley does. It is fun watching them grow up together.