Monday, December 08, 2014

A Night with Kevin….

It has been a couple years since we have seen fiddler Kevin Burke but on Friday night we went to see him play a house concert at the home of a lady we know from the Philadelphia sessions.

There are moments in our lives when decisions are made that set us on a different path. Meeting Kevin Burke for the first time was one of those moments. It was almost eight years ago when I saw a poster in our local library for an Irish fiddler's concert and took my then four year old Suzuki violinist to hear a "different style of violin music."

I knew nothing about Irish music or Celtic music other than Celtic Woman, Riverdance, or a song we liked on a World music CD we owned. Haley was tiny so we sat in the front. She was enthralled and sat forward listening to the entire concert. The woman sitting next to us asked her up to dance a couple times in the side aisle which she loved. At the intermission they were selling CDs and DVDs. Haley begged me to buy Kevin's "How to Play Celtic Fiddle" DVD. I had already picked her up a CD and was wondering how much money I wanted to spend then the woman, who had been sitting next to us, said to Haley something along the lines of those DVDs being for adults or older people so I picked it up and bought it.

We listened to the CD all the way home and the next morning I put the DVD in the player and left Haley with her fiddle while I went to check email. A short while later I hear Haley's playing along with the first tune. The next day I did the same and put it on the second tune. We continued that way through the whole DVD. Then Haley started playing along with the CD in the car on rides to violin lessons.

Around that time we went to a Suzuki Institute in Washington DC and one morning Haley and I were early to group class and no one was in the room so she started fiddling a tune. The first little girl to walk in the room said she knew the tune and they started playing together. The little girl's mother said their Suzuki teacher teaches a tune a month during group classes at home. It got me to thinking about looking for a fiddle teacher for Haley. She didn't have Suzuki lessons that summer while her Suzuki teacher was away and wanted "new notes" to learn.

I posted a message to the Irish Philadelphia website asking if they knew of an Irish fiddle teacher in the area and was eventually led to Kathy DeAngelo, who also happened to be that woman sitting next to us  and who sold the items at the Kevin Burke concert. She was initially a little unsure about teaching a child who just turned five but once she heard the tunes Haley had learned from the DVD, she was more than happy to give it a try.

So, Friday we went to hear Kevin play and after the concert there was a session. There were a lot of musicians! Toward the end of the session Kevin asked Haley to play Paris Nights (a tune written by Cal Scott) with him. She had played it with him back when she was eight years old during a class at Swannanoa. It was neat the hear the difference now that she is older and on a full size fiddle. (I will post a video later.)

The rest of our weekend was filled with a Trio rehearsal with Patrick to begin work on their new tunes. They move up an age group to under 18 because the boys are older so they need three tunes this year. After the rehearsal we went to the session at Fergies.  Then last night we saw Lunasa in concert. Haley and I were very happy when they played our favorite set for an encore! A fun Irish weekend!!!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Mysterious Ways??

For the past couple years, we have gone to North Carolina to spend Thanksgiving. We love seeing and spending time with all our family. It is a three day long celebration! Last Thanksgiving was a bit sad. We had a memorial service for Ritch's Dad. This year we planned to drive down as well. Until two weeks ago, we were all set to go then things came up and we decided we needed to spend the weekend at home to recharge. It was going to be difficult to get Newt back to college, the drive home on Sunday is always horrible, and I was beat from all the travel with Haley and Dylan the past couple weeks. The next few weeks are filled and I really needed to get the house back together, decorate for Christmas, and catch up here.

After we decided not to go to North Carolina, Ritch suggested we have so much and are able eat turkey any time we want, so why not help feed people less fortunate than ourselves. He brought up the idea one day while I was at work so I set him to work finding us someplace to help. Ritch made a number of phone calls and was sent from person to person until he was finally found out about a church in the neighboring city. He and Haley went there last week, talked to the pastor, and signed us all up to help on Thanksgiving.

When they went on Wednesday night before to help set up for the meals, the pastor told them that a couple months ago, the man who normally plays music for the Thanksgiving dinner  informed them he couldn't attend this year. She and another woman were talking about who else they might be able to get. The pastor told the other woman said she remembered a tiny little girl who used to play fiddle at the local deli for open mic nights and said if she could have anyone it would be that little girl though she had no idea how to get in touch with her anyway.

The pastor told them when Haley and Ritch walked in last week to sign up, she recognized Haley as the little fiddler she remembered (from six years ago) and got chills….God had answered her prayers. Some might chalk it up to a huge coincidence but it seems to me too many things decisions had to be made a certain way and too much had to happen to put us in that church this Thanksgiving Day. The Lord works in mysterious ways!

We all went to the church early yesterday morning to help peel potatoes, set tables, and fill containers with food. There were so many different people helping out from all walks of life. Everyone was friendly and helping with a full heart. We worked all day and the time flew. Ritch and Newt lifted and carried things, peeled mounds of potatoes, and talked with the people coming in to eat. I helped set tables and dished out turkey most of the day. Haley played some fiddle during dinner and helped spoon mashed potatoes (her favorite). We talked to everyone and enjoyed seeing their smiles and giving them seconds or a container to take home.

We will have our Thanksgiving turkey today and count our blessings as we head into the Christmas season and new year.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Adventures in Boston

One of the coolest things about my children's involvement in Irish music is the amount of travel we get to experience!

I love to see and experience new things but I don't know that we would do so much of it were it not for my kids. If they were into something else like soccer we might see soccer fields all over the MidAtlantic region and with wrestling, we saw a lot of high school gyms. Through their Irish music gigs and travel for competitions we have seen so many new places and met so many wonderful people!

Last week our destination was Boston, MA. Many months ago, Brian O'Donovan from WGBH A Celtic Sojourn saw a video of Haley and Dylan performing on youtube and contacted me to see if they could come up and be a part of his Burren Backroom Series. Boston is a long way away for us and I couldn't really think of a time it would be convenient with a full summer schedule but it sounded like fun and I wanted to experience Boston so I agreed they'd do it sometime but didn't set a date.

In September we were beginning to violin shop. There are a lot of shops in Boston so I figured we'd combine a trip to shop for a new violin with a night at The Burren and Brian gave us a date. Haley found a fiddle she loved in the meantime but by then we were looking forward to going so decided to sightsee instead of shop.

Last Wednesday night Haley and Dylan opened the show for Kevin Crawford and Cillian Vallely, two musicians who fall into our favorite Irish musicians category! They were so excited! We arrived in Boston around 2:30pm, checked into our AirBNB rooms and headed over to The Burren around 4:30pm. The guys were doing their sound check first so the kids headed to the backstage room to unload their instruments then we went upstairs to listen.

Kevin, Cillian, and Patrick sound check.

Once they finished, Haley and Dylan did their sound check then we went into the dining area for some supper. The food at The Burren is amazing. The place looks like an old pub where you'd expect burgers, chips, and greasy appetizers but we had grilled salmon and a tuna steak salad with mango salsa. I do not usually like rare tuna but this was really good. Yummy!!!

After supper, we headed back downstairs where Haley and Dylan sat with Kevin, Cillian, and their guitarist Patrick to work out a set together for the end of the show.

When show time came Haley and Dylan played an amazing set. They performed four sets. Since the show was recorded for later broadcast on the radio, Brian asked Haley some questions after their first set then they performed the other three. The show was sold out and the crowd was awesome!

We went back in to listen to Kevin and Cillian. They do a great show and Kevin is so funny he could be a comedian! After their set, they called the kids up for their encore set together. It was a great night!

On Thursday, we went to see Plimoth Plantation and the Mayflower II. It was a crisp but beautiful day. There were a lot of school children on field trip at Plimoth but we saw everything we wanted to see then headed to the Mayflower which was not as crowded.

Plimoth Plantation

Mayflower II
We finished up our tours around noon then drove to Providence, RI for an appointment. The kids are beginning work on a little project…news about that in a future blog post (maybe in a few months). Haley loved Providence. I think she is a city girl at heart.

We drove back up to Boston and finished the evening with a few tunes at one of the local sessions. We didn't stay long. The kids were tired and we had a busy day planned for Friday.

Friday was our day to see the historic section of Boston. The day was very cold and windy. We parked near the Tea Party Museum but saw a busload of field trip kids heading that way so decided to take a walk first. We walked to see the Old State House and Fanueil Hall.

We went back to the Tea Party Museum. The tour there was very fun! We followed it up with some hot chocolate for the ride to our destination for the weekend. (I am stopping the blog post here because the rest of our weekend was spent working on their "secret for now" project.)

Friday, November 07, 2014


A number of months ago Haley and I were at a house concert where we saw Donie Carroll. We listened intently to his stories about the children at the Mercy Centre in Bangkok. He had recently returned from a visit there and was describing the children and the work done at the Centre to help them. Haley was intrigued so I asked Donie for more information on what he does to help the Centre. He sent pictures and video of the children he met during his visit and asked Haley if she would like to participate in his benefit concert this fall.

That concert was this past weekend. We drove to New York early in the day so Haley could fit in a fiddle lesson then headed into the city for the concert. It was a rainy, windy, cold evening so not the best for driving and walking.

We arrived early for the sound check not knowing exactly what Haley would be doing or who she would be playing with. Mick Moloney greeted us at the door and suggested Haley sit in with his band for the first half of the show. They went backstage after the sound check and worked out their sets and set list. The stage was very small so Haley and Dan had to sit in a back row. They played a number of tune sets sometimes with solo tunes and various combinations of musicians on other tunes. There were some songs as well. Haley was excited to be able to play a duet with Dan Gurney, an amazing young (young compared to me but old compared to Haley) accordion player we've met and seen in concert a number of times but whom Haley has never performed with.

The concert ended late in the evening then we stuck around to talk to the audience members and musicians. We headed home around 11pm but hit an hour delay going through the Lincoln Tunnel so it took longer than expected to get home. Since it was the end of Daylight Savings Time, I decided to call it a draw…hour wasted in the tunnel balanced out with the hour gained.

Sunday we woke a little later than usual since we had arrived home around 2:30am the night before. Haley got up and practiced a bit before we headed into Philly for the second fundraising concert of the weekend. This concert was the 27th Annual St. Malachy's Fundraising Concert to raise money for the school run by St. Malachy's. Again, the band was Mick Moloney and friends.

We arrived early for a delicious lunch and sound check. Mick had driven down from NY with the Irish Consul General who is wonderfully down to earth and friendly. We liked her immediately and enjoyed her stories during lunch. She was very interested in getting to know the musicians and Philadelphia Irish community.

Haley and her buddy Paraic performed with the band through the concert. They played many of the same sets they had done the previous night and then some additional guests provided songs of their own. The concert was wonderful and the fundraiser a huge success! We enjoyed a nice reception afterward where we were able to talk to everyone. We drove home rather than go to the Sunday night session because Haley insisted she had more practicing to do. We got home and she practiced.

Haley is very interested in being able to use her music to help people. When she was really little, around six years old, she saw a commercial for St. Jude's and kept asking to go there and play music for the sick children. I called the local children's hospital but was told she'd have to be sixteen before she'd be allowed. Since then she's been able to play at a number of different fundraisers in the local and broader community and also helped raise money for a fundraiser using her decorated violin and viola mutes. (

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Converse Trio Re-Shoed?

For the past three years, Haley has competed in a trio with her friends, Alex and Keegan. The first year  while playing in a session, they decided at 10pm the night before the trio competition to pick a couple tunes and compete the next morning. It took them until sometime after midnight to come up with tunes they all knew (the Super Mario Bros theme song seemed to be the only thing they could come up with for awhile) and they went with it. The judge told them afterward they all played amazingly well but they weren't "together" in their variations. (The point of a trio being to be in sync with every note and variation in the tunes.)

The following year, they planned ahead. The rehearsed a couple times in the months leading up to the MidAtlantic Fleah so they had their tunes together and their variations worked out for the most part. Keegan's pipes teacher, Patrick, met with them the night before the competition and helped them work out a few kinks. They took 2nd in the under 15 age group. They all wore Converse sneakers and called themselves The Converse Trio. It became a bit of a joke but the name stuck.

This past year, they were a little more serious. Patrick, offered to work with them more regularly. They picked tunes early and rehearsed about once a month in the 4-5 months prior to the competition. Patrick worked with them without us parents in the room. They had a lot of fun working and playing together. They performed a few gigs together with Dylan backing them as well. They placed 1st at the MidAtlantic competition in under 15 and the judge told them she would buy their CD when it came out. We all went to Ireland where they placed 3rd. It was the highlight of Haley's trip!

We came home from Ireland and the following month the Converse Trio plus Dylan were asked to perform at the Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival. They rehearsed and arranged their music. They put on an excellent set! After their set, a man at the bar called them over. He told them he works for Converse and would like to create custom Converse sneakers for them all. We weren't sure what to expect but they gave him shoe sizes and on Friday four boxes with shoes arrived at a friend's home for the kids.

They are awesome!

Haley and I picked them up and yesterday gave them out at our joint rehearsal/Studio2Stage viewing party. Look at all those smiles!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Haley's Blog...

Back in August, I posted my take on Haley's participation in Studio2Stage, a camp where they put together an Irish dance production in nine days featuring 85 dancers and 5 musicians from all over the world. Here is my blog post from August.

Haley just uploaded her post about the experience on her blog Tuneful Journeys. Here is a link to her new post.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

New York Trad Fest 2014

Imagine many of the best of Irish music (and other traditional music styles) in the New York area all in one venue on one night! That's New York Trad Fest and heaven for my young fiddler!

Haley and I arrived in NYC early in the afternoon. We walked to the Cake B*ss Bakery for a delicious snack. Haley loves to watch the TV show for ideas on cake decorating. (I think one of her other dream jobs besides fiddler or make-up artist is baker.)

After we found a quiet place to enjoy our desserts, we walked blocks and blocks stopping into different stores to try out make-up with mini-makeovers or look at knick knacks or clothing. We saw Rockefeller Center, Times Square, and Radio City Music Hall.

Some sites we'd rather not have seen like the naked cowboy at Times Square…okay, he wasn't completely naked but it was disturbing nonetheless.

Haley and three of her young fiddling friends, Jayne, Joanna, and Bram, opened the show as representatives of the next generation. We usually only see these kids once or twice a year so it was nice for her to re-connect and share some tunes with them.

What followed was a wide selection of musicians playing Irish, Scottish, and Bluegrass music for hours! The crowd was lively and the venue, Connolly's Pub adjacent to Times Square, was really neat. We stayed until nearly midnight and there was still music going on.

If they have a 3rd annual New York Trad Fest, I'd highly recommend it!