Life Through an Irish Music Lens (4): Irish Music Stories is the show about social traditional music and dance. It's about connecting with music and people.
I really hope you're doing okay. And that your families are well. So far, the Heatons are all right. We had a full plate of gigs planned for March and April. And I was gonna launch Big Season FOUR of Irish Music Stories in May. Of course plans have really changed. Not sure WHAT the plan is at the moment. But when listener/friend Jacob suggested I speak about our current pandemic through an Irish Music Stories lens, I decided to adjust the IMS schedule and offer something topical. So here's Episode 40-Irish Tunes in the Key of C-19. My deep thanks to all the incredible musicians and dancers who weighed in so eloquently... and in a JIFFY: Joanie Madden, Eileen Ivers, Karan Casey, Laura Cortese, Jeremy Keith, Caitlin Warbelow, Kirsten Allstaff, Marla Fibish, Flynn Cohen, Alan Ng, Pete Strickler, Elizabeth Sweeney, Jeff Ksiazek, and the Folk All-In Band (c/o Johan Ronström). I hope you'll tune in to how folks are finding ways to continue creative careers and group music events through this time of isolation.
And Covid still infects the world. Taking time to also meditate on these stories about Irish music in Germany, Brazil, China, New Zealand—in communities outside of Ireland that are devoted to playing jigs and reels—this, too, has opened my ears and my heart. America is not alone in racial and political repression, and police brutality. And if we are going to make lasting change and reject racism, it’s going to take a lot more listening and learning. So here I am, putting out more Irish Music Stories. Because while persistent infections like Covid-19 and racism loom large, these little tunes can form big bridges. As you’ll hear in this episode, when you learn a tune and share it with a stranger, you can create more light in the world… and sometimes you can form a lifelong friendship.
A harp, a cello, and a sax walk into a bar… ...The banjo playing bartender (who opened this pub some time ago), serves up a brand new cocktail. It's a fantasia of old ingredients, blended in a new way. What’s the result? Only time will tell! The newest episode of Irish Music Stories, Episode 43-From the Fringe to the Fore, explores how musicians can adapt and add new ingredients. Hear how the banjo came into common acceptance in Irish circles from Daniel Neely, Enda Scahill, and Martin Howley… and check in with the joys and challenges of outsider status from harpist Maeve Gilchrist, cellist Natalie Haas, and saxophone players Susan Lindsay and Isaac Alderson.
What's up with sharing tunes? What’s up with ONE fiddle player, passing down old tunes to another fiddler… or with ONE podcaster, talking about centuries-old Irish lore? How do these acts pollinate and feed a community? In the newest episode of Irish Music Stories, Episode 44-Not Easy Playing Green, I talk to three musicians (and one beekeeper) who have started conversations about conservation, on and off of the stage. I hope you'll tune into these lovely conversations with Liz Knowles about environmental advocacy; Dana Lyn and Kyle Sanna about their musical show that pays tribute (and donates profits) to coral reef ecosystems; and beekeeper Ottavio Forte, whose bees I recorded for a forthcoming album of bee-themed music. Because even though touring musicians have temporarily reduced their carbon footprint, conversations about responsible, viable, grateful travel—and conservation—remain vital. So that when we get back out there, we go a little better. A little lighter. A little more gratefully.
And have a shred of gratitude and humility… That’s what this month’s guests embody. And it’s what all teachers—and heck, elected officials—could promote. In this month’s episode, you’ll hear how June Mc Cormack, Michael Rooney, Alasdair White, Caroline Keane, and Tom Delany teach social, oral/aural traditions in formal (and not so formal) settings. Hope you'll have a chance to listen to this lovely episode about how seasoned practitioners think about and share traditional music.
Vote for culture!
I want to make America--and Britain and the world--great. So my vote goes to politicians and policies that support culture and indigenous languages. For Episode 46-Ancient Tongues, Modern Times, I scratch the surface of Irish and Scottish Gaelic. I explore how these ancient languages inform traditional music, and how they resonate today. You'll hear beautiful conversations and music from Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Séamus Ó Flatharta, Ciarán Bolger, Michael Coult, Julie Fowlis, Mary Jane Lamond, and Brian Ó hAirt. We talk regional songs, apple crumble, and President Obama's gracious Gaelic address to the Irish people back in 2011. Hope you'll have a chance to listen to this lovely episode about how these inspired musicians think in ancient words in 2020.
Heartbreak? Jubilance? Music can help us commemorate--or cope--when events are overwhelming. And many, many traditional tunes have been written as a response to tragedy, or good fortune. But where does the music come from? How do composers conjure melodies? (Melodies that fiddle player Laurel Martin say "carry something that somebody felt long ago, or said, or wanted to say.") For Episode 47-The Myth of Tragedy, composers Liz Carroll, Dáithí Sproule, and Katie McNally discuss creativity, resilience, and the myths behind the music. Learn how three musicians turn FEELINGS into notes. And then maybe you'll want to take Liz Carroll's idea to sit in your little room and "just go. Just go. Nothing good, nothing bad. Just you with your thoughts."
So this podcaster walks into a bar… It's a cozy Irish pub. She takes a seat right at the bar. And over the course of the afternoon, she takes in some great music. And a lot of amazing stories. A few good jokes. As the evening wears on, she hears a few real tearjerkers. Once a month, she reflects on what she's heard. She pulls these tales together, to tell the bigger stories behind all those jigs, and reels, and ballads. And for four years she keeps the Irish Music Stories podcast going. Well, that's the story of IMS. Buoyed by the support of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the inaugural episode dropped on January 10th, 2017. Back then, Joe Biden was still VP of the U.S. Obama was just 10 days away from leaving the White House. And through the tumultuous era that ensued, IMS has shone a light on traditional music and stories from musicians and dancers. And the series comes to a close with "Episode 48-Between the Tunes." In this season ender, your proud host will weave together some of the chat that she's been hearing, as she's sat up at the bar. She'll explore the quips and craic that surround these jigs, reels, and ballads with the awfully thoughtful and terribly sharp witted Máirtín de Cógáin, Paddy League, Joanie Madden, Rus Bradburd, Liz Carroll, and Jean-Michel Veillon.
So, what's next, Shannon? Oh, hey. Thanks for asking. Hope you guys are all doing okay. I'm hoping for a well distributed Covid-19 vaccine. Maybe a well supported public education system. I'm even holding out for a few rebuilt local media outlets. Remember the free press?
Oh, and on the Irish Music Stories front, I'm already hard at work on IMS 2.0. I plan to widen the reach and accessibility of these stories by making short highlight reels for each episode, and developing a more comprehensive, beautiful online home for the show, with full transcripts, photos, playlists, and more. Folks will be able to access and share everything online, and eventually in print. It will take work and resources to pull everything together. So I won't publish new monthly episodes. Instead I'll compile, overhaul, and expand everything I've got. And then I'll roll out updates and new offerings as I have them.
I intend to keep the project free for everybody. If you have the time and heart, two things that really help the project:
1) Subscribe to the podcast on the podcast app of your choice and submit a review (reviews help people find the show). Find me on your phone or whatever device. Or find direct links to IMS on the big apps on the IMS website.
2) Share a fave episode with a friend! The show is about lots of things, and you don’t have to know anything about Celtic music to listen. Share a link. Or, heck, burn an episode on a CD for your luddite pal who doesn't know how to listen to podcasts.
To donate, or to see playlists and hear more Irish Music Stories, please visit IrishMusicStories.org Thank you for reading and listening. With best wishes from Shannon
P.S.: Irish Music Stories is the show about social traditional music and dance... not just IRISH jigs and reels. It's about connecting with music and people. And that's what Folk All-In's completely joyful video here is all about!
Photo Credits: (1) Irish Music Stories, (2) Shannon & Matt Heaton, (3) Caroline Keane, (4) Alasdair Fraser, (5) Liz Carroll, (7) Enda Scahill, (9) Julie Fowlis, (11) Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh (unknown/website); (6) Dáithí Sproule, (8) Karan Casey, (10) Troy McGillivray, (12) Shannon Heaton (by Walkin' Tom).