Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ivers will change the way you think about the violin

FAIRBANKS - The Boston Globe claims it’s nearly impossible to sit still at an Eileen Ivers concert.

They’ve called a performance by Ivers and her band Immigrant Soul an “invigorating and highly energetic evening,” and, thanks to the Fairbanks Concert Association, Ivers is making her way north this weekend. The internationally acclaimed Irish musician brings the rich and heart-pounding sounds from the green rolling hills of Ireland to the Hering Auditorium this Sunday for a special holiday concert “An Nollaig — An Irish Christmas.”

“If you feel like clapping along, feel free,” Ivers said she often tells her audience. “It’s absolutely that kind of music.”

Ivers has been wowing audiences worldwide since the age of 8, collecting more than 30 Irish fiddling championship medals and playing for royalty and Grammy winning performers for decades. She is one of the most decorated musicians in the history of fiddling competition. She’s been hailed as one of the great innovators and pioneers in the Celtic and world music genres.

Critics from The Irish Times have referred to Iver’s performance as “a superb, fast-paced and high-energy performance.”

Ivers takes a fresh spin on traditional Irish tunes, respectfully fusing the traditions of the Celtic fiddle while exploring the roots of American music. She’ll change the way audience members think about the violin as she bridges the gap between her Celtic roots and styles ranging from jazz, salsa, Caribbean and flamenco to funk and even electronic.

Billboard magazine has called Ivers a “sensation,” and the New York Times has called her “the Jimi Hendrix of the violin.”

The daughter of two Irish immigrants, Ivers was raised deep in the Bronx of New York City. While her parents kept her closely tied to her Irish heritage, Ivers was exposed to the melting pot of New York City, and that exposure has transferred well into her musical talents.

Ivers has played center stage with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops.

She is also one of the original musicians of Riverdance. She has also played alongside music icons such as The Chieftans, Hall and Oates, Sting, Patti Smith and Paula Cole.

What: Fairbanks Concert Association presents Eileen Ivers

When: 4 p.m., Sunday

Where: Hering Auditorium

Tickets: Available at Grassroots Guitar or at

A family Cajun tradition continues

For Cajun music's preeminent power couple, Marc and Ann Savoy, playing music isn't merely a vocation or creative outlet. It's an all-encompassing way of life, a family tradition that's intimately tied to the Louisiana land.
Based in Eunice, a small city in the heart of Cajun country, the Savoys have been at the center of the Cajun revival for more than three decades. While they play together and separately in several combos, the Savoy Family Cajun Band best embodies the regenerative power of Cajun culture, an unbroken chain stretching back for centuries.
An acoustic quartet featuring the Savoy sons Wilson (Cajun accordion, piano and bass) and Joel (fiddle), the family has honed an extensive Ancien Régime repertoire of rollicking dance music that's as earthy and bluntly sensuous as the blues. Handed down for generations, the songs have been infused with fresh energy by the Savoy sons, organic products of a community that once again embraces its roots.
"We live our lives so authentically within this neighborhood," says guitarist and fiddler Ann Savoy, who brings the Family Cajun Band to San Francisco's Great American Music Hall on Friday and Don Quixote's in Felton on Sunday.
"Marc's family has been here seven generations. Joel is living in his grandfather's house. At 10, the boys started playing and never looked back. The instruments were here and they were always around when we were playing with other musicians. It's interesting how by osmosis they absorbed the sounds and smells and tastes and became part of what this world is."
Cajun culture is a proud birthright for Marc, a master accordionist and instrument builder whose Savoy Music Center has served ground zero for the Cajun cultural renaissance since 1965. He toured and recorded with many of the legendary Cajun musicians who first recorded the songs brought from Canada's Maritime Provinces when the French-speaking Acadians were expelled by the British in the mid-18th century.
Settling in Louisiana, the Cajuns preserved the old tunes while absorbing influences that flowed through Louisiana. It's a process that continues to shape the music today, exemplified by Wilson's thumping boogie woogie piano, an instrument that's hardly typical in traditional Cajun combos.
"Cajun music is a product of whatever's coming through this region, which is situated on a major byway," Joel says. "So Wilson's rockin' piano, which gives the band a nice rhythm and blues feel, belongs there just as much as anything else.
"Having so many different multi-instrumentalists, we can cover so many different sounds. We do twin fiddles, three fiddles, and sometimes just fiddles and guitar or fiddles and accordion. We can get a lot of different sounds."
While Ann is the only member of the band who's not a Louisiana native, she's devoted her adult life to Cajun culture. A Francophile who grew up in Richmond, Va., she met Marc at the National Folk Festival in Washington, D.C., in 1977. Before long she and Savoy were married and two-thirds of the pioneering Savoy Doucet Band with fiddle master Michael Doucet, who also leads the popular Cajun band BeauSoleil.
Many of the artists who first recorded Cajun music in the 1920s and '30s were still on the scene, and the Savoys played an essential role in bringing them to a wider audience. Off the bandstand, Ann Savoy's affectionate interviews of the old-timers became her award-winning book "Cajun Music, A Reflection of a People," one of the first scholarly efforts to explore the history of Cajun music (she's at work on a second volume).
She also became the public face of Cajun music, appearing in numerous documentaries and in Callie Khouri's 2002 film "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood," which also featured Joel.
From the beginning of the Cajun renaissance, Northern California has served as something of a second home for the Savoys, ties that endure on several fronts. Most importantly, Chris Strachwitz's El Cerrito-based Arhoolie label has documented just about every Savoy project, including the Family Cajun Band's most recent release "Turn It Loose But Don't Let Go."
Now the next Savoy generation is picking up the torch. Several years ago Joel launched Valcour Records with two partners, a label dedicated to documenting the music of Louisiana. He tours with the Cajun/Gypsy band The Red Stick Ramblers while Wilson has launched several projects of his own. They feel free to put their own twist on Cajun music because of their deep knowledge of their roots.
"A lot of people our age and the generation before us learned this repertoire because my parents were part of that early revival," Joel says. "We end up playing a lot of the tunes my dad has made famous.
"Nowadays they're the only people still playing that stuff, so we're continuing the tradition, but adding a lot as far as our particular styles are concerned. My mom has always been one for digging up repertoire, and my dad just pulls the songs out of his head."
The Savoy Family Cajun Band
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Don Quixote"s, 6275 Highway 9, Felton, $14-$16, www.don
Tickets: $14-$16,
Also: 9 p.m. Friday, Great American Music Hall, 859 O"Farrell St., San Francisco. $20,

Monday, November 23, 2009

In fiddlers’ songs, echoes of the past

EASTHAM - The lilting notes of “St. Anne’s Reel,’’ a rollicking Canadian fiddle tune, glide out the front door and into the pitch-black night near Kingsbury Beach. Inside, eight fiddlers and a bass player tap a wooden floor with their feet, pull and push their bows, and tilt their faces toward fingers that dance atop the strings.

It’s another Monday night for the Cape Cod Fiddlers, a knot of local musicians who began gathering every week 20 years ago to catch up, leave their jobs behind, and indulge a love of music that often is centuries old.

They also are part of the glue that accounts for the remarkable staying power of the fiddle, the common man’s violin that was an indispensable element in house parties, barn dances, and social occasions that bound a community together for generations. In the hands of the Cape Cod Fiddlers, the music might be old, but the spirit that powers the tunes is as fresh as the cinnamon-spiked cider that warms on the kitchen stove.

“When I’m playing, there’s nothing else,’’ said Stuart Moore, who doubles as Chatham’s shellfish warden when he’s not carving out time to make a little fiddle music.

The group first came together through the efforts of Billy Hardy, a native of Hackensack, N.J., who moved to Eastham 37 years ago and never looked back. Seated in his house at the head of a long, thin table, Hardy is all bouncing, earnest movement as the fiddlers move between tunes with almost imperceptible ease.

“Everyone has to leave their egos at the door when we play,’’ said Hardy, one of two professional musicians in the group. The remainder come from an eclectic array of jobs: architect, graphic designer, two teachers, lawyer, and the Irish music librarian at Boston College.

“How would we all be sitting in the same room otherwise,’’ asked Hardy, delighted by the convergence.

The tunes move among the great fiddle traditions - including Scotland, Ireland, Cape Breton, French Canada, and Appalachia. The players learn from each other, teach each other, and revel in what is a constantly simmering melting pot of music.

The atmosphere, which includes a wood stove and a bearded collie named Kylah, is convivial but low-key - at least until the music starts and the sensation is one of driving sound and bobbing feet. Over 20 years, a fair amount of hair has turned gray.

For Dinah Mellin of Orleans, who studied classical music, the effervescence and physicality of the tunes are a big part of their allure. “I like the liveliness of it and the bowing,’’ Mellin said. “It’s a workout.’’

Indeed, for more than two hours last Monday, the fiddlers barely stopped, catching their breath and resting their arms only briefly while they waited for the first notes of a musical journey to somewhere new. There were waltzes, and reels, and rags, and plaintive laments, many of which they play periodically in concert.

Hardy said he had trouble finding other fiddlers when he began to play. Now, the scene is dramatically different. Informal get-togethers are much more abundant than they were a few decades ago, and instruction is plentiful, Hardy said.

Mike Falkoff, vice president of the Boston Scottish Fiddle Club, agreed the music has been revitalized. In the last three years, he said, the club’s membership has doubled to about 90 people.

“It’s amazingly crisp music,’’ Falkoff said. “I love classical music, and basically a lot of the stuff is what would have been played in 1790. It’s well-syncopated string music in a number of different sorts of rhythm.’’

Much Scottish fiddle music made its way to Boston from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, where 18th- and 19th-century emigrants from Scotland brought traditions that continued to survive and thrive in a largely rural and isolated society. For entertainment, the fiddle was king.

“The violin sings, but the fiddle dances,’’ Hardy said about the differences in the instrument’s use. “There’s a joke that the only difference is that nobody cares if you spill beer on the fiddle.’’

Hardy, however, clearly cares about his instrument, which is of British origin from the 1800s. Other fiddles in the room were made many decades ago in Germany. And a mandocello, played by Tim Dickey of Truro, will turn 100 this year.

Hardy, like several other fiddlers here, was hard-pressed to explain precisely why he craves fiddle music.

“My gut feeling is the music is just good, and people can feel that,’’ Hardy said. “I’ve had people come up to me after a concert and say this music is therapeutic.

“I’m sure it is for us, too.’’

© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Irish fiddle championship

Continuing with the Senior Fiddle Competition at Fleadh Cheoil ha hÉireann 2007, from Irish Minstrels CCÉ, Glasgow, Scotland, Katie Boyle played this reel. More videos at

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Don’t listen to this man if you want ‘diddly dee’ fiddling...

Rob Adams talks to Caoimhin O Raghallaigh, one of the star attractions at this weekend’s Fiddle 2009 Festival

Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms will be thronged from Friday to Sunday this weekend as fiddle players and listeners alike gather to celebrate the continuing popularity of the instrument and its music in the capital’s annual fiddle festival.

It was at a gathering similar to this that a young musician had his enthusiasm re-fired by a group of players his own age, a re-firing that has led to Caoimhin O Raghallaigh emerging as arguably the most fascinating Irish musician of his generation.

There’s a tendency for those who don’t care for traditional fiddle music – and some who do but with a more ironic inflection – to refer to it as “diddly dee” music.

Making music is like painting sound onto a canvas of time
Caoimhin O Raghallaigh
O Raghallaigh doesn’t do “diddly dee”. He can and loves to play all the traditional tune types with great skill, but his mission goes beyond the tradition.

His belief is that people without any interest or background in traditional music can be drawn into fiddle music and his approach is more that of a poet with sound. There’s a bit of the poet with words in the thirty-year-old Mr O Raghallaigh, too.

“Making music is like painting sound onto a canvas of time,” he says in a quote that, if he hasn’t already done so, he should copyright pronto.

O Raghallaigh was once almost lost to making music. Growing up in Dublin with parents who didn’t play instruments but had spent much of their courtship driving for miles around County Clare to see concertinist Noel Hill and fiddler Tony Linnane and bands like Planxty, the Chieftains and the Bothy Band, he was accustomed to hearing Irish traditional music through the many LPs there were at home. One particular musician, however, captured his imagination.

Hearing a young John Kelly playing The Marino Waltz, a tune composed by The Dubliners’ John Sheahan, on a TV commercial, O Raghallaigh decided that he, too, should play the fiddle.

After much pleading for fiddle lessons, his mother took him to the classes that traditional music advocates Comhaltas ran nearby but, at eight, he was considered too young at the time and was told to come back in two years. The pleading continued, so his mother tried a classical violin teacher.

“I arrived for my first lesson full of enthusiasm, with a manuscript copy of The Marino Waltz in my hand,” says O Raghallaigh. “The teacher was horrified by this piece of music.

“Instead of nurturing my enthusiasm, she turned it to stone in double quick time, I’m afraid. Inspiring she was not. Her final comment to my mother was: ‘You’re wasting your money and my time. He’ll never be a musician’.”

And that might have been that but for his parents, two years later, taking him to a festival in Gormanstown, where he heard a bunch of young fiddlers sounding – he thought – great and having a lot of fun.

Another teacher was found who, this time, opened the door to the world of Irish music, including sessions where the youngster would sit with a group of much older, wiser heads, playing as quietly as possible with his ear to his instrument, trying to fit into the rhythms of jigs, reels, hornpipes, polkas and slides.

In his mid teens O Raghallaigh began to feel, much as he loved playing the fiddle and by this time, the tin whistle and flute too (he later added the uilleann pipes), that the music he was playing was lifeless.

“I realised that nobody was going to teach me how to change that,” he says. “It was up to me to figure it out for myself. So I went in search of music that really excited me. I tried to immerse myself totally in it and try to grasp some fundamental difference between it and the music I was making.”

His quest took him, after leaving school, to a transition year work experience post in the Irish Traditional Music Archives in Dublin where, while working as an archivist, he was able to listen over and over to old recordings, especially of fiddle players from the Sliabh Luachra district on the Cork-Kerry border, County Clare musicians including fiddler Patrick Kelly and piper Willie Clancy, and sean-nos (old style) singers.

All through his student years at Trinity College, where he graduated in theoretical physics, O Raghallaigh continued working in the archives during the holidays and continued to immerse himself in the tradition.

“The thing that really interested me about truly great traditional music was not the notes I heard, but how it made me feel and the state of mind it created in you as a listener,” he says. Not for him, then, the pursuit of speed as a means of making traditional music more exciting.

“Well, if the thing that interests you about traditional music is the notes, then it makes perfect sense that you’d want to play as many of them as possible, as fast as possible,” he says. “But if the thing that interests you is the state of mind created, I think it makes sense to create the kind of music I’m creating now.

“There are many other aspects of the tradition that are integral to the music I make, aspects which many other people have not chosen to keep, such as a particular sense of time and space, an idiosyncratic and internally coherent sense of intonation, and an unsterilised idea of what constitutes acceptable tone.

“I think of music much more in terms of sound than in terms of notes.”

In this he shares an approach with Norwegian fiddler Nils Okland, whose tour earlier this year for the Scottish Arts Council’s Tune-up programme proved a revelation. O Raghallaigh and Okland also share a common instrument, the Norwegian hardanger fiddle, to which O Raghallaigh was introduced while working on a particle accelerator project in America in 2000.

With its wide tonal range and the effect of its sympathetic strings, which allow O Raghallaigh to incorporate the drones of the uilleann pipes into his fiddle playing, the hardanger might have been invented for his new music, albeit music that comes from deep in the tradition.

“Nils and me are not the only ones doing this,” he says. “All over the world, in other folk music traditions, there are people writing really interesting contemporary music which is very obviously directly related to folk music but isn’t necessarily folk music.

“My album Where the One-Eyed Man Is King opened up a whole new listenership. They don’t need a background in traditional music to get it. So I’m trying to communicate to people who might have switched off.”

Caoimhin O Raghallaigh plays at the Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh on Saturday at 10pm and Sunday at 3pm. For information on Fiddle 2009, log onto

Erin Loughran plays two Ed Reavy tunes on Fiddle

Here are two Ed Reavy reels played by fiddle player Erin Loughran from Pearl River, New York. Erin learned her music from Brian Conway and Rose Conway Flanagan. The reels are: "In memory of Coleman" and "The Wild Swans of Coole".

The music was recorded at the North American Comhaltas Convention in Parsippany, New Jersey in April 2004. Info on this year's convention at

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Farewell to Connaught - Tradschool

Irish reel on flute and fiddle. More at

Aidan O'Neill on Irish Fiddle

Multi-instrumentalist Aidan O'Neill from Trillick, Co. Tyrone plays the reel "Farewell to Ireland" on fiddle. Aidan won the All-Ireland title in Senior fiddle and came 3rd in senior button accordion in 2006, having won the senior concertina in 2004.

More info and videos at