The Music of West Limerick

west limerick music

Go Sox!

Being from Boston I can spot a Boston accent a mile away. And not only that, I can tell from what part of Boston someone is from solely by their accent. For example there is a difference between a south Boston accent and an East Boston accent.

Irish music is much the same in that there is regionalism in the music. We’ve been learning about different styles of Irish music in a class I’m taking at the  Vermont School of Traditional Music. Some weeks we have different players who specialize in different styles come and visit the class and teach us about that region. Last week fiddler Rob Ryan came and spoke about West Limerick music. Here’s what he had to say:

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A Wee bit of Ireland in Vermont

donegal fiddler

Oisin McAuley, Donegal Fiddler

This past summer I spent some time in Ireland studying Irish fiddle in the Donegal tradition. It was such an amazing experience as it was my first excursion to the emerald isle, and really my first true taste of Donegal fiddle music.

I fell in love with this particular style of traditional music because it encompasses so many different types of tunes outside of just your traditional jigs and reels. There are all sorts of tune types like highlands, barn dances, mazurkas, polkas, and waltzes and they all actually sound pretty different. It’s beautiful music. And it’s coming to Vermont!

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Music and Dancing, Like Peas and Carrots

Learning music isn’t just about learning the tunes. Anyone can memorize notes. But when it comes to traditional Donegal music, knowing the dances can help tell the story of the tunes, making it easier to feel the music and help it sink in.

At the Donegal Fiddle School I attended in Glencomcille, learning the dances was an important part of learning the music. For a half day on Thursday, we had no fiddle classes. Instead we had dancing lessons in preparation for the Ceilidh dance that night.

In Donegal music, most of the dances are couple dances because they were done in kitchens where there wasn’t much room. Here are a few examples of the dances we learned:

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Learning to Dance

learning to danceAt one point in my life I moved to New York City to try my luck on Broadway. I had no training whatsoever, but I had a dream. And that seemed to be enough for me to leave my job, my boyfriend and my life. I set out to accomplish something some people only dream about.

I was there for a better part of a year and went to audition after audition only to realize that if I was ever going to get called back, I needed me some training.

So I took this tap dancing class with one of the coolest guys I have ever known. He must have been about 65 or 70 years old with the energy of a 12-year old. He’d show up to class every morning in jeans and sneakers with taps on the soles. This man loved what he did and it showed in not only his ease of the dance, but the look in his eyes when we actually got his steps down. Which for me wasn’t that often, admittedly.

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Martin Hayes and the Teetotallers

Irish FiddlerWhen I first started playing Irish music, someone gave me a Martin Hayes CD to listen to. I have to admit his playing didn’t really touch me at that time. I thought his music was a bit slow for my taste. I wanted to play fast, hoppy tunes because that’s what my beginner ear thought Irish music was. All I knew at the time was Danu, Lunasa and Solas. And I wanted to play like just like them. So I put his music on the back burner in case there was a tune or two I might want to learn later.

Many years later, I was at Celtic Connections, a Celtic music festival in Scotland, where I not only got to see Martin play, I  also took a master class with him to find out just what makes him tick musically. It wasn’t until then that I fully realized just how talented this man was. There is nothing like seeing a musician perform live and listening to the them tell you what these tunes mean to them. The experience was one I’ll never forget.

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Trust the notes, remember the feeling

Recently, I was at a session and there was a woman playing Uillean pipes. While she played, she closed her eyes and let her head and upper body dance ever so slightly to the music. She let the tunes run right through her like it was something she couldn’t actually control. It was almost as if the pipes were just a tool to help her get that feeling out. The music was effortless and she was mesmerizing to watch.

This experience was a good reminder of why I play music. It’s really not about the notes or the number of tunes I know. It’s about how the music makes me feel when I play it. My fiddle is just a tool to express those feelings. Yet, I sometimes spend so much time trying to remember the notes and wondering whether or not they are going to sound good, that I forget to actually express them.

This is a picture me me playing recently at a benefit concert with my friend Harold.

Fiddle Music

I posted it to Facebook and one of my friends wrote:

This is my favorite picture of you at play! Normally you look all serious and concentrating, this one makes you look like you are FEELING the music! Love it!

Music is so great because it evokes emotions in both the person playing and the person listening. It’s a relationship that is hard to put into words. But the greatest people to watch and listen to are the people who clearly love what they are playing and have the courage to just play it from the heart.

This picture of me is one of very few where I am actually expressing what I’m feeling. But I am going to keep it around as a reminder to feel the music and forget about the notes. My fingers know where to go, I just got to trust them.

The Teetotalers Coming to Vermont

The Teetotalers are coming to the Barre Opera House next month. Will you be there? This super trio is made up of not only some of my favorite musicians but some of the best players in traditional Irish music. The band includes John Doyle on guitar, Martin Hayes on fiddle and Kevin Crawford on flute. This show is not to be missed. Get your tickets today!

When: May 4, 2013
Time: 8:00pm
Place: The Barre Opera House, Barre, Vermont

Hope to see you there!