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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A Bow Meant for Me

violin bow

photo credit:

Recently, my bow has been in the shop and I have been using loaner bows while it is being repaired. As I was showing the broken bow to my friend the other day he said “why not just buy a new one, what is so great about your bow?”

As you can probably guess my friend is not a fiddle player. A good bow usually starts at about $1,000. And buying a cheap one, well, let’s just say you get what you pay for. Comparing the two is like comparing a BMW to a Ford (sorry to all you Ford drivers). Both cars will get you from point A to point B but one will be more comfortable, more luxurious, more detailed and will just be a better ride.

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Sessions, Lessons and Dancing, Oh My…

Irish Music Festival

Photo provided by Carolan Festival

Consistently going to sessions has definitely improved my playing over the years. But there is nothing like hitting some workshops and festivals to get you excited about your music, meet new people and learn new tunes. This weekend (June 14-15) marks the 7th Annual Carolan Festival in Worcester, VT.

The festival celebrates the music Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738), Irish harper and composer. The weekend kicks off with an English Country and contra dance at the Montpelier Grange on Friday night and workshops, sessions, dancing and concerts on Saturday.

Here’s the full schedule of events:

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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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Dance, dance, wherever you may be…


Yup, that’s me.

Dancing just plain feels good. Whether you are good at it or not, if you can just listen to the music and move your body to the beat, in my book, you can dance. Just ask any kid. Kids have no inhibitions when it comes to dancing.

When my sister and I were little,  we not only danced in many recitals, but we often put on our own dance recitals in the living room of our home. I remember once getting fully decked out in costumes and singing “The Bitch is back” by Elton John, complete with broom guitars and microphones made out of hair brushes. We weren’t allowed to swear but for some reason it was okay if it was in a song. So we sang our asses off and danced so loudly that our next door neighbor came over to check on us and see if we were ok. We were not only ok, we were having the best performance of our life. Ah, the good old days.

Although my childhood dancing days are long gone, dancing still feels good to me. And luckily in Vermont we have lots of opportunities. Just last weekend I went to a masquerade party where we danced to everything from 70’s music to house music. Other weekends I’ve attended one of many contra-dances Vermont has to offer.

Dancing is fun and easy and there are lots of different types of music events to move your body to. This coming weekend is no different.

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A weekend filled with Irish music

This past St. Patrick’s Day was yet another fun weekend filled with some amazing music. The weekend for me started off at the weekly Irish session at Bagitos, where piper Michael Cooney generously shared some tunes. The place was so packed with musicians it was hard to find a seat.

What is fun about this session is that many great musicians from near and far are always stopping by for some tunes. If you like traditional Irish music, this is the place to be every Saturday from 2-5pm.

Here are some photos from last weekend, thanks to Annabel!

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