Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rolls- In Irish Traditional Music

Jennys Chickens

A very popular session tune

Eileen Ivers aims to begin new year on positive note

Here’s one of Eileen Ivers’ New Year’s Eve wishes:

“I want to leave folks feeling very positive and joyful heading into the New Year.” Which is excellent news for folks here since Ivers and her band Immigrant Soul will be spending the night of Dec. 31 as a headline act for First Night Worcester 2010 with performances at 9:30 and 10:45 p.m. in Mechanics Hall.

The electric, eclectic Irish-American fiddler extraordinaire has played in Worcester before, including a previous First Night Worcester appearance. “I have some very nice memories. It’s a great community,” said Ivers, who lives in New York City.

So those already in the know, will know the following: “In set after set, she played with a tremendous energy and excitement that easily caught on with the wildly enthusiastic audience.” That was from a 2000 Telegram & Gazette review by David Lasky.

At 44, Ivers continues to relish performing live. This holiday season she certainly hasn’t spent much time sitting down staring at the holly and the ivy. Part of her recent holiday tour included a string of engagements in Alaska. “I love it,” she said of performing before audiences. “It’s such a passion still. Thankfully the band and I share it. It’s ridiculous. We go over the top. We have to give everything.”

Who could wish for more? But, actually, there is a lot more to Ivers. In the case of this “Riverdance” star, it is not just still waters that run deep. She’s done post-graduate work in mathematics, for example. Musically, the equation includes playing on more than 60 records, including releases by Paula Cole and Patti Smith. She was a founding member of the band Cherish the Ladies and worked with The Chieftains. Her fiddle work was featured on the movie “Titanic,” and she was the featured performer in the touring version of “Riverdance.”’ She’s worked with the Boston Pops and recently played some dates with Sting in support of his new album, “If On a Winter’s Night.”

So, given her diversity and Irish-American heritage, just how much of her music is Irish and how much is American or otherwise?

“There’s a lot of blend,” she said. “Certainly the core of it is Irish. At the same time, we do love to draw parallels.” Irish music, she noted, is the “backbone” of American musical forms such as bluegrass.

Ivers’ musical background was formed growing up in the Bronx, N.Y., a daughter of Irish immigrants from County Mayo. “County Bronx,” Ivers quipped about her neighborhood. But while there were plenty of other Irish immigrants there, other ethnic heritages helped make for an interesting blend “There was a mix. It was a great neighborhood to grow up.”

Ivers spent her summer school vacations in Ireland. “I got a wonderful sense of our Irish heritage,” she said. She has recalled visiting grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, and, as she once put it, “chasing the farm animals around, toppling over haystacks, and entering music competitions.”

In fact, she was seven-time All-Ireland Fiddle Champion.

An uncle told her of a memory he had of Ivers as a young child holding a pink plastic guitar and trying to play it fiddle-style with a wooden spoon. Ivers can recall listening to records at home and becoming entranced by the sounds that the fiddle can make. “I remember thinking that sound — it’s such a warm sound, so much joy can be on that instrument.

“I was a pretty serious kid. Every day it wasn’t hard to get me to sit down and practice. The competitions began fairly early. But I never dreamed I’d be playing professionally.”

Ivers credits her early successes to her New York fiddle teacher, Martin Mulvihill. “It was unheard of,” she said of an American girl from the Bronx winning fiddle competitions in Ireland. “It’s just a testament to the teacher we had. He just embodied Irishness.”

She has maintained her Irish connections. “My husband and I built a home in the West of Ireland. It feels very natural there. My folks often go back. It’s really like a full circle.”

Speaking of circles, Ivers has won fans around the globe while touring the world. The Irish music has a universal appeal, she said. “One big part of it — there’s so many emotions in it. Slow airs, beautiful old melodies that people can latch on to. And the joy — it’s so accessible. People around the world can feel that.”

Closer to home, Ivers was asked what she’ll be performing in Worcester on Thursday. Given that it is still the holidays, there will likely be a couple of songs of the season, she said. Sting’s evocative “Soul Cakes” from “If On a Winter’s Night” has made an impression. “I just fell in love with the song. It’s a beautiful winter song.” Irish bluegrass will also likely be on the First Night list.

“It’s such a special night. You can bring something special and put your spirit out there and make it a special night for everyone,” she said. She paused, “As I’m talking to you, I’m thinking of a tune I wrote for my parents — ‘Bygone Days.’ ”

That will be on the list, too.