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Podcast: Interview with Riverdance Fiddler Haley Richardson

New Jersey native Haley Richardson, a young fiddle player well-known within the Philadelphia traditional Irish music community, where her love of the genre first took root, joined the cast of Riverdance at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin this summer.

Often described as a “child prodigy,” at 17 Haley is no longer a child, and regardless of the  honors and accolades thrown her way, remains a thoroughly grounded young lady.

Anyone who has ever heard her play—from her childhood playing an appropriately child-sized violin to her victories at the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann (the world championships of Irish music) and appearances on stage with the likes of The Chieftains—knows those honors and accolades are well-deserved.

We recently spoke with Haley about Riverdance, her upbringing in music, and thoughts on her future. Here’s what she had to say.

Irish Philly: So Haley, how would you describe your time with Riverdance in Dublin?

Haley: It’s been absolutely amazing so far, just an amazing experience. Honored to be a part of it. And everybody’s been so welcoming, and the whole cast and crew and everybody has just been incredible. So it’s been really enjoyable, and I’m absolutely loving it, and sad to kind of see the summer coming to an end because it’s been so good. But yeah, I’m excited for the future as well.

Irish Philly: Sounds like it must’ve been quite a head rush.

Haley: A little bit, yeah. Kind of, definitely, like I said, an honor to be a part of. It’s such a big phenomenon obviously, and so many people who are involved in Irish music and kind of the culture of Irish music, know Riverdance. It’s sometimes like the first thing that pops into people’s heads. So it’s just, it’s kind of crazy to be associated with that. And anyway, so yeah—yeah, definitely a head rush.

Irish Philly: Was that something you ever saw coming your way?

Haley: I always hoped that I would get a chance to be a part of it, but I never thought it would come this early in my career, I guess.

Irish Philly: So how did it come about?

Haley: Well, so Pat Mangan who’s been doing the show for years—and I’ve kind of known Pat I guess since I started playing really, or really early on in my introduction to Irish music—(and he is) a former Brian Conway student when I met him, and I was just starting taking lessons from Brian. So I’ve kind of known him since the beginning, and he got in touch with me at the beginning of the year and sort of explained the situation to me that he was taking a bit of time off, and asked if I would be interested in filling the role. And obviously big shoes to fill, but I was delighted to step in and be a part of it. So here I am.

Irish Philly: Yeah. Was it intimidating at all stepping into that role?

Haley: A little bit, yes. Yeah. Because Pat’s absolutely brilliant and has been part of the Riverdance family for years. So I didn’t quite know exactly what to expect walking in, but like I mentioned before, everybody’s been just so welcoming and it’s like a big family at this point.

Irish Philly: Do you remember what was going through your head the first show on stage in Dublin?

Haley: You know, I expected to be a little bit nervous for it, but I think just adrenaline rush totally kicked in, and it was just like you’re kind of just off on your own, and just make the most of it. So I was just beyond excited to be on the stage. And yeah, it was just incredibly, incredibly exciting.

Irish Philly: No butterflies?

Haley: Butterflies, but in a good way. Yeah. Not really in the nervous way that I expected them to be. It was just kind of a good feeling of I’m here, this is crazy, but I’m doing it.

Irish Philly: How long have you been playing the show now?

Haley: Well, it started at the beginning of June. I think I arrived on the 9th, and I’m pretty sure if I’m not mistaken, I think we started shows on the Gaiety on the 11th. And then it runs until September 15th, so it’s a good while.

Irish Philly: So how does playing in Riverdance compare with some of your other career highlights? I mean, you’ve done The Fleadh, and The Fiddler of Dooney I believe, and I remember you playing with The Chieftains, and there’s been more.

Haley: Yeah, I mean it’s definitely different than the gigs I would normally play, just because it is kind of a show basically. So there’s a lot of moving parts that go into it in terms of lighting and where you’re supposed to be on the stage when, and knowing your cues and all that kind of stuff. Whereas gigs that I would be used to doing are just like more relaxed, like … gigs at festivals, and house concerts, and things like that. So it’s different in ways, but it’s also, it has those little similarities in the show where it’s just the band playing on stage and we’re just out there having a few tunes and having fun. So yeah, it’s different, but it’s good that I’m experiencing that different side of performing as well.

Irish Philly: Well it seems like a good time to look back on how all of this began. I can remember you when you were pretty young and you had a very small fiddle.

Haley: Yeah.

Irish Philly: So how did you get into music, and how did that lead to fiddle?

Haley: Well, so it started off just getting into music in general. My older brothers, we were all homeschooled and just as part of our, I guess curriculum, our parents offered to get us music lessons if we wanted to pick an instrument. And they asked us at a pretty early age, and we all listened to music around the house quite often, and would always ask if we heard a new sound, we would always ask what instrument was making that sound. So we kind of developed an understanding of music and different instruments at a pretty early age.

So when they offered to get us lessons, we had kind of chosen our paths I guess. And so (it was my) oldest brother on drums, middle brother, Dylan, on guitar, and then I chose violin. So I just started with Suzuki violin training, and that was when I was about 3. And then when I was just about to turn 5, and mom and I were in the local library just picking out a few books, she saw a poster for a Kevin Burke concert, and just thought it would be interesting for me to hear a different genre of music played on the instrument I was learning on. So we went and I just fell in love with that style of music and the sounds that were coming out of a fiddle I guess, and I told her I wanted to learn how to play like that.

Irish Philly: Well, it has to take a lot of focus and determination, I would imagine, to have gotten to where you are so quickly. Where does that come from?

Haley: I think most of all, it just comes from a passion for the music. I think if there’s something that you’re setting your mind to, you have to love it in order to really see it through. And I’m really blessed to have parents who kind of took a back seat and let me decide what I thought of playing music and where I wanted to go with it. It was never really a kind of like, “You have to practice, you have to do this, you have to do that.” It was always pretty intuitive, and it was always kind of my choice to pick up the fiddle and play a few tunes. And so yeah, I think it just, when it all comes down to it, it’s just the love of what you do and what you’re passionate about.

Irish Philly: Yeah, well not every kid develops that passion, and they have to be told to practice. Why are you different?

Haley: I don’t know. I think I’ve always … I don’t know really. I don’t know where it comes from. I just love music, and I don’t know, I guess it’s kind of a simple answer. I guess I just… I have a connection to music and how it makes me feel, and so that’s just kind of what drives me forward I guess.

Irish Philly: Well, are you where you want to be in terms of your skill development at this point or are you aiming at something better, and what does that look like to you?

Haley: I mean, I think I’m always aiming for something better. I don’t like to be in kind of a resting place where I think, “Oh, I’m good enough now, I don’t have to practice anymore. I don’t feel like I need to learn anything else.” Like there’s always, I think no matter who you are, or how good you are, any of that kind of stuff, I think there’s always room for improvement in some way or another. And I think that’s maybe where my love for it stems from. Like I never kind of get bored of it because I always feel like there’s something else I can be learning, and there’s something else I can be improving on. And so I think it’s really important not to get complacent in that, and kind of comfortable with where you are and just always kind of striving for something better.

Irish Philly: Do you remember your first tune on the fiddle? Your first Irish tune?

Haley: I do, yeah. It was the polka, “Britches Full of Stitches.” That’s what it was. Pretty sure that was the first one.

Irish Philly: You’re 17, is that right??

Haley: That’s right.

Irish Philly: So you’ve got a long career ahead of you, I’m pretty sure.

Haley: I hope so.

Irish Philly: How do you top playing in Riverdance?

Haley:  Oh, I don’t know. But I think, like I said, there’s always something else and there’s always new projects to be worked on. And you know, who knows what will come next. But I think if I just keep working at it and keep doing what I love, something else will pop up as well.

Irish Philly: Well, you’ve been an Ireland now for quite a while. What do you do when you’re not playing the show?

Haley: At the moment, school classes just started back up, so I’m working away at those. But I’ve been also taking time to go outside the city whenever I can and go out to the beach, like do some cliff walks in Howth and Bray, and then we went out to Belfast one weekend as well. So it’s nice to just kind of see as much as I can. I only have one day off, so it’s not loads of time to go too far away. But whenever I can, I try to get out of the city and just see and hear things other than city sounds, and construction, things like that. But Dublin is lovely, and I’ve been trying to find little spaces in the city as well, so it’s been really nice.

Irish Philly: Oh, I’m really glad to see how far you’ve gone, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how far are you going to go from here.

Haley: Thanks so much.

Irish Philly: Well, thank you for your time. I really appreciate it.

Haley: Thanks for having me. It’s been a pleasure.

Photo by Anna Colliton

Editor’s note: All Irish Philly podcasts are now available on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn and Spotify.

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