Tuesday, April 29, 2014

MidAtlantic Fleadh 2014 and CCE Convention

This year for the first time the North American CCE decided to hold their annual convention on the same weekend as the MidAtlantic Fleadh competitions. Dylan decided not to compete this year (music competition is not his thing) and then at the last minute decided he'd rather stay home….so, Haley and I left Thursday night after I finished work and drove the couple hours to a hotel so we'd be at the convention early the next morning.

Haley was signed up for two fiddle workshops on Friday with band members from Bru Boru who were the visiting entertainment for the gala dinner over the weekend. She and her friend, Alex, enjoyed the two fiddlers giving the workshops. The fiddlers had completely different styles of playing and teaching. The kids met a couple nice fiddlers from Chicago around Haley's age also attending the workshops.

Between the workshops, Haley and her friend Alanna decided to rehearse for the under 18 duet competition they decided to do together a couple weeks ago while at a session together. They had practiced the tunes individually, but it was their first chance to practice together. While they practiced in a corner of the hotel, the man who records video for Comhaltas heard them and asked them to play for him and they spent about 90 minutes playing while he recorded them together and separately. When they finished we fed them a little lunch then went to their afternoon workshops.

Swimming was the next order of business. Since the Fleadh has been held in this hotel, all the kids look forward to swimming together whenever they aren't playing music. There are many kids we only see once or twice a year but each year they play together like they see each other all the time. Haley and Alex played in the pool with their new friends from Chicago until suppertime. We caught up with Haley's friends, Emily and Livia, for ordered in pizza. The girls enjoyed pretending they were having room service. Dinner was followed by lots of music in sessions with various combinations of musicians until bedtime. We didn't stay up too late on Friday night because competitions started first thing in the morning.

Saturday was a very busy day. Haley had two competitions and she had a list of friends whose competitions she didn't want to miss. We did a lot of running around then sitting to listen. Haley's first competition was solo fiddle. There were around 20 competitors so it was a long competition. Each competitor plays two tunes in different styles. Haley had a lot of friends in her age group and it was fun to hear how they've improved over the past year!

We went from Haley's competition to the over 18 fiddle competition to watch some older friends compete then while looking for her friend, Sofia, we ran into John Whelan playing for some people in the lobby. He asked Haley to join him for some tunes which she would never tune down. They played tune after tune. Now and then an elderly man jumped up on a table to dance. Fun!

The afternoon was a blur. Haley competed in under 12 slow airs, she played in pop up sessions in the lobby, and we watched friends' competitions until about 6:30pm. Haley ended the day with her 6th straight under 12 solo fiddle championship and a 1st in slow airs.

Haley, Sofia, Grace, and John Whelan enjoying some tunes.

I had a bit of a headache all day so was happy when it was time to head to the pool for more swimming and I was able to sit and relax. While the kids finished swimming, we parents ordered food then we gathered them up to eat a late supper.

Haley, Alex, Keegan, and their trio coach Patrick
After supper, the trio did some rehearsing and Haley and Alanna did some rehearsing. We headed to the lobby to look for some late night tunes and stumbled upon a great session with John Whelan, three of the four Yanks, and many other wonderful musicians. The music was great! Haley was tired but refused to leave the music until after midnight.

Sunday was a bit more relaxed. We joined friends so the duet and trio could run through their tunes one more time.

 Haley and Alanna's duet and the kids' trio were scheduled to perform at the same time so we went to the duet judge to see if the girls could go early in the competition and when they finished found the trio. The trio played great and took 1st! The judges said they were amazing and wanted to buy their CD when it came out!

The Converse Trio and their coach Patrick
Haley was finished after the trio competition but wanted to watch the under 15 duets because her trio buddies were competing as well as Livia and Emily. Both groups sounded great. The boys took 1st in the duets!

Watching the duets.
Haley and her friends from the Delaware Valley branch of the CCE and their trophies. 
We took some photos of the kids and their trophies. The six kids competing won a total of eight 1st place cups (and two 1st places without cups donated yet) and 14 medals total! It was an amazing weekend. The couple, Kathy DeAngelo and Dennis Gormley, who run the Next Generation Kids group these kids have all belonged to at one time or another were also inducted into the Comhaltas Hall of Fame for their work promoting Irish music and culture for the past 17 years.

Dinner on the way home….our Fuddrucker's tradition.
Throughout the weekend I was thinking how much I love the sense of community. I noticed so many kids running from competition to competition to cheer each other on. Even those in the same competitions were happy to see their friends do well. Haley was sad to miss some of her friends competing due to time conflicts. She felt there was barely enough time to spend with everyone she wanted to spend time with between competitions, rehearsals, eating, and sessions. I think she'd rather it be a whole week than two days long but even then she might still think there wasn't enough time. She started complaining of a sore throat on the way home and is now fighting a cold, otherwise, she would have been asking to attend last night's session here at home to keep the music going.

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.