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Music, People

Musical Duo Mines Century-Old Irish Traditional Recordings for Modern-Day Gold

You might call Philly-native fiddler Caitlin Finley and uilleann piper/flutist Will Woodson a little old-fashioned.

Well, maybe a lot old-fashioned.

Now residing in Portland, Maine, the traditional Irish music duo has a deep affection for the tunes of Irish traditional music pioneers—from a century ago—and they want to share their fondness with other Irish musicians.

It’s called the Phonograph Project, an effort to dissect the playing of musicians such as famed fiddlers Michael Coleman, John McKenna and James Morrison. Much of their music was released on 78 RPM albums for the first time in the 1920s—and it is highly distinctive, dating back to when they themselves learned the tunes decades before in Ireland.

Finley, a medical physics assistant in radiation oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, is—like so many of us—now working remotely.

She and Woodson first got to know each other when both were living in New York City and playing in local pubs. “We really enjoyed playing music together and then lost touch for a couple of years,” says Finley. “Will, in the meantime, had moved up to Portland and I had moved up to Boston, and then we just wound up reconnecting through the music scene and started playing a bunch of music together again.”

Finley, for one, first became interested in the old recordings when she took lessons from the famed Brian Conway in New York. She was about 15 at the time. Conway and his sister Rose introduced her to a lot of the old tunes. “At that point,” she says, “I was pretty much hooked.” Continue Reading

Dance, Music, People

Keeping the Tradition Alive: The (Virtual) Ceili Group Festival

Devotees of traditional Irish music and culture look forward to the Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival every year. It’s an exhaustive three-day affair, with concerts by world-class musicians, workshops, dance, crafts, and much more.

The festival always falls in early September, filling the Commodore Barry Arts and Cultural Center (the Irish Center) in Mount Airy with eager and enthusiastic fans.

The coronavirus pandemic renders it impossible to converge on the Irish Center this year, of course. The center has been closed since March. All of which left the Ceili Group Festival in a state of flux. How could the festival possibly go on?

Easy—or perhaps not so easily—the festival will happen as planned, but virtually. And in some ways, this might be the biggest and most vibrant festival ever. Continue Reading

Music

Review: Órla Fallon’s “Lore”

Around the time the coronavirus pandemic hit, Órla Fallon—a founding member of Celtic Woman—sneaked a new CD in just under the wire.

In some ways, the timing could not have been worse. Artists typically tour after an album release to promote their new recordings. Obviously, that wasn’t in the cards. But from another viewpoint, the timing was fortuitous—for all of us who could use a little cheering up.

Fallon released “Lore,” a collection of 12 tunes, in late July. Many should be recognizable to her fans and to Irish music aficionados generally. She says she chose them because each one meant something to her, and that fondness shines through each and every one.

You’ll hear old standards like “Galway Bay,” “She Moved Through the Fair,” “Wild Mountain Thyme,” “Siúil a Rún” and “Two Sisters”—all of which should take your mind off the time of covid and redirect your thoughts to the timeless hills, valleys, beaches, islands and cliffs of Ireland. Continue Reading

Music

Exploring “Lore” … Interview with Orla Fallon

Best known as a founding member of Celtic Woman, Orla Fallon has long forged her own musical path. An accomplished singer and harpist, Fallon is out with a new collection of familiar tunes—tunes she has chosen both because they have meant something in her life and because they are likely to resonate with her fans.

The new CD, “Lore,” was released in late July. We recently chatted—about as socially distanced as you can possibly be, with the interviewer in Philly and the interviewee across the Atlantic in Ireland. And we discussed the new recording and the thought that went into it.

We also talked about the pandemic, and how “Lore” is likely to ease those Covid-19 anxieties.

Arts, History, Music

Medieval Modern Magical Music: Anakronos’ “The Red Book of Ossory”

Anakronos: Caitríona O’Leary, Deirdre O’Leary, Nick Roth, and Francesco Turrisi (photograph by Tara Slye)

It’s been almost 700 years since Kilkenny’s discordant 14th century Bishop of Ossory, Richard de Ledrede, held sway over the souls of his parishioners, but 17 of his medieval poems are on track to reach the listening ears of a 21st century audience on the newly released CD, “The Red Book of Ossory.” And thanks to Caitriona O’Leary and the group Anakronos, what an innovative and exalted musical experience it has been transformed into.

But in order to wax properly eloquent on the newly released CD, there first needs to be some background on the origins of the Red Book of Ossory itself.

Richard de Ledrede was a man of massive contradictions. English-born, and a student of the Franciscan order, he was appointed Bishop of Ossory in 1317 by the Papal Court in Avignon. Immediately after his arrival in Kilkenny, he set about doing things his way, and his way meant a strict adherence to the Church laws and beliefs as he saw them. He set a high bar where morality was concerned and that included a moratorium on the singing of “bawdy” secular songs. He composed 60 poems that are included in the Red Book of Ossory (the original manuscript is housed at St. Canice’s Cathedral in Kilkenny) with the instructions: “for the vicars of the cathedral of the church, for the priests and for his clerks, to be sung on important holidays and at celebrations in order that their throats and mouths, consecrated to God, may not be polluted by songs which are lewd, secular and associated with revelry and since they are trained singers let them provide themselves with suitable tunes according to what these sets of words require.” Poetry that Caitriona O’ Leary describes as “beautiful, esoteric and richly imagistic.” Continue Reading

Arts, Music

Local Drummer on a Roll With a Pandemic-Inspired Musical Project

When the great covid-19 shutdown began, percussionist Sean J. Kennedy went back to school.

Way back.

A Lower Gwynedd resident and band director at Sandy Run Middle School in the Upper Dublin School District, Kennedy is also an award-winning author of percussion texts whose work has been performed at Carnegie Hall and a working musician who has performed with many orchestras over the years.

One of the first tunes he learned as a kid was “Downfall of Paris,” dating back to the 1700s, said to be one of Ben Franklin’s favorites. It’s taught to young drummers everywhere because it blends many, if not most, of the basic drum rudiments that form the building blocks of percussion. Rudimental drum exercises like the paradiddle—right left right right-left right left left—and rolls. Continue Reading

Music

Pandemic Put the Kibosh on his Band’s Jobs, But John Byrne Gains New Fan Appreciation Online

Play it, and they will come, if only online.

For John Byrne, a Dublin-born crooner, fan appreciation is pivotal, especially when grappling with a pandemic.

Since suspending all concert venues of his eponymously-named band in March, follower outpouring for his regular Facebook “quarantunes” concerts has been the ultimate covid antidote.

“I have lost track of the amount of cards and notes of support I’ve gotten. I’m moved beyond belief by them – I don’t know what we did to deserve it,” enthuses Byrne, a Philadelphia resident. “I’ve done multiple shows on Facebook Live and the fans have been wonderful. People have tuned in, shared them, supported them, and used them to connect with fellow admirers all over the country and even the world.” Continue Reading

Music

Pandemic Inspires Jamison Fiddler Alice Marie to Push the Bounds of Creativity

If you see Jamison Celtic Rock fiddler Alice Marie busking outside a Target, don’t surprised.

She’s half-serious about it, but for most Irish musicians who lost a lot of work in March and afterward, she’s doing whatever she can to keep body and soul together.

March is Christmas for Irish musicians in the area. It’s when they earn a significant amount of money. The coronavirus pandemic put an end to that.

It was no different for Alice Marie, who also makes a living as a jazz violinist and singer, and whatever else requires the talents of a gifted string player.

“I was on tour with Jamison in Florida, she recalls. “Then our tour was cut short and we had to come back due to Covid-19. So we came back and we were able to get a gig together at Currans Tacony, and that was our last show. It was a big night, and after that, we were pretty much quarantined. Our last major activity was in March. I had at least 20 shows canceled in March, so that was crazy.” Continue Reading