Sunday, June 21, 2009

A New Chapter...

Every so often, I feel as if we are opening a new chapter in Haley's musical life. Lately, we are turning those pages very quickly. Yesterday, Haley had her first lesson with Brian Conway. He heard Haley play at the Fleadh and asked if he could teach her. I found out that Kathy had him in mind for Haley at some point but couldn't figure out the logistics since he lives 2.5 hours away.

He told us that he wasn't taking on any new students and was allowing his student load to drop off by attrition but when he heard Haley play, he couldn't pass up the opportunity to teach her.

We had to drive in pouring rains which caused traffic and accidents making our 2.5 hour drive into a 3.5 hour drive. We were a half hour late for the lesson and Brian had a wedding to attend so was only able to teach her for about 45 min. In that 45 minutes he gave her so much information. He gave her exercises for practicing techniques, bowing specifics for jigs, went over a new tune with her, and played her 2 other reels to think about for Ireland. He doesn't know her will probably be a bit surprised when she has them learned by the time he sees her again.

If only we didn't live so far away. I feel that he has so much he can teach her and she will soak it all up like a sponge. Our summer is crazy busy with camps, weddings, and Ireland.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


We had a long, exhausting, but wonderful and exciting day at the MidAtlantic Regional Fleadh competition. I had signed Haley up for the competition because her fiddle teacher thought it would be a good experience for her with kids playing music all over the venue and she would get to hear other young Celtic musicians plus get some comments on her playing from the judges.

I should have guessed we'd have a good day when Haley was practicing in the cafeteria (there were kids all over practicing their tunes on different instruments) and people were stopping to listen to her. One woman stopped then came closer and listened then said, "There are going to be a lot of scared competitors when they see you today."

When we went to the hall outside the room where the competition was, there was a group of 5 older girls gawking and commenting on Haley and her little fiddle. I overheard another mother talking to someone with her and caught part of her conversation about how kids gain so much in maturity as they get older and how someone they knew started playing fiddle at 7yo but didn't start competing until 12yo...she obviously thought it was wrong of us to have brought Haley to compete.

Haley was the youngest by far...the next youngest was probably Alexander at 10.5yo and the oldest could have been as old as 13.5yo (the birthday cut-off was January). All the other kids were playing 3/4 to full size instruments.

There were so many kids that they split the kids into two groups at the last minute. Haley was to go last in her group and as I sat listening to them all, I was getting really scared because I knew she played better than all of them (many were out of tune and/or no rhythm at all and others who played pretty well were nervous). The older woman judging looked completely miserable until Haley started playing then she broke into a smile and started tapping along. When Haley finished, she asked how old she was (she hadn't said more than two words to the other competitors) and she smiled and shook her head when Haley told her. I knew Haley was going on and I was just hoping that the good players all happened to be in the other group because we were really looking forward to hearing some excellent players.

Haley's friend, Alexander, went on to the next round from his group...they picked 6 from each group to go to the next round. His parents came out raving about 2 girls and a boy in his room who played really well. The judge had told the kids that song choice was very important and that many had chosen songs above their ability levels. She said it would be better to pick an easy song and play it well rather than a difficult song played poorly. After the round, the woman who I had overheard previously was telling her daughter, "Oh, she's just a natural. Some kids are born like that." Then she was all sweet and friendly toward us.

We had to wait around all day until 3:00 for the call back round. During the wait, we went into the room where the competition was being held. There were a few people waiting. A man came in who I recognized but couldn't place. He was talking to the others then one of them told him "We have a 6 year old in this round." He pointed Haley out and the man came over and asked her to play for him. He asked her to play another song then another one. He asked who her teacher was and Haley's fiddle teacher happened to be his his agent. The man was Brian Conway...the NY Sligo fiddler/teacher who the mother of an 18yo fiddler who plays at some of the sessions I take Haley to told us about. He was very impressed with Haley and offered to teach her. He gave me his email address and number.

The judge for the final round was from Ireland. Haley went second. There were so many wide-eyed looks and whispers around the room after she played. There were 3 other kids who played very well. One girl from Canada who I thought was excellent...she won the slow airs competition earlier in the day. Once everyone was finished playing this judge also spoke about song choice and not picking songs beyond ability level. He told everyone he was looking for tone quality, left hand position, bow skills, posture and rhythm especially at this young age, and not looking as much at ornamentation though it did play a part in his decision and the standards at this competition were very high.
He announced 3rd then 2nd place (two of the kids I thought played really well). That left the girl who I thought played best and I was mentally comgratulating myself on having picked the winners. The judge said the person who took 1st place had blown him away because she showed such command of her instrument, way beyond her age, so much so that she played like someone who had been playing for years and years.
At this point I was still thinking this described the other girl but then he called Haley's name!! We were all so shocked that it took a few minutes to sink in. I had to go up and get her trophy because it was so big and heavy. We have to have her name put on the trophy and give it back next year for the next winner.

When I called Haley's teacher to tell her, she was shocked and she said that Brian Conway had stopped her in the hall and told her he wanted to steal her student. After we met him, I told my mom that it was worth the trip to NY just to have met him and have him hear Haley play. At that time I had no idea what the rest of the day would hold. Haley called her Daddy to tell him and he didn't believe her. I heard her telling him 3-4 times then he wanted to talk to me.

The next day, Haley and her partner took 3rd in the duet competition. They were the only duet pair out of 9 who played the same instrument. I think the judges were looking for the different instruments and how the kids worked them together. Haley and her partner played really, really well together. They were focused, in tune, and perfectly timed with one another.
There were two judges for this competition and one was the judge from the finals on Saturday who had awarded Haley first place. He smiled and waved to her when he walked in and saw her and she "flirted" back. Haley and Alexander went first and their actual playing was better than any of the other groups. When the judges announced the winners they said they didn't necessarily pick the best musicians (so I knew the kids hadn't won first LOL) but picked the winners based on how well they coordinated their separate instruments. The judge who called up Haley and Alexander for 3rd said that they had worked out what they were going to play with some nice variations, played beautifully together, and their timing was impeccable. He said, "One didn't blink without the other blinking too." LOL

I thought the kids who took second had done a great job together (a fiddler and a tin whistle) though the fiddler was a bit out of tune at times. The ones who took first, I would not have picked at all (pianist and tin whistle). I think the piano had a bit of an advantage because they were the only group to have an accompaniment (the pianist's left hand) whereas all the other instruments were melody only (both people in the duet have to play the melody...they can't harmonize or accompany). There were two girls (accordian and flute) who I thought were the best duet and I was a little disappointed they didn't win though after Haley's win yesterday, not much surprises me.

So, now we have a trip to Ireland to plan (passports to obtain, flights to figure out, accommodations to find and most don't have websites or addresses on the web so I can't figure out which are closest to where we need to be because they told me that the town gets sooooo crowded that you can barely drive once the weekend comes) so Haley can compete in the All Ireland Fleadh. It is very exciting!
I have to figure out how we can get back home in time for Haley to go to New Hampshire for Suzuki camp which is the following week. Plus figure out how we can make it to our niece's wedding the weekend before we are supposed to leave and change our reservations in North Carolina because we were going to make that trip into our family vacation.