Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Day in Boston

I left on Wednesday with Mom and Dylan, destination Boston. It took around six hours to get from New Jersey to Massachusetts. We drove to the bed and breakfast first to get settled in and ready for our gig.

Soon we arrived at The Burren, a very nice pub that hosts concerts regularly in a series that is broadcast on the radio, called the Burren Backroom Series. Dylan and I were opening for Cillian Vallely and Kevin Crawford, two wonderful Irish musicians who also play in a well known group called LĂșnasa. I have played tunes many times before with Cillian and Kevin at The Swannanoa Gathering.

We were guided to the "green room" at The Burren where we stored instrument cases, took our instruments out, and listened to Kevin and Cillian's soundcheck before doing our own. Then, Dylan and I rehearsed a few sets before dinner. That's where we met Brian O'Donovan, who is the host for nearly all of the Burren Backroom Series events.

By the time we finished dinner, the show was about to start and Brian told us how it was going to run. When we were announced we went right into our first set. Afterwards, Brian asked us a few questions about when we started playing and specifics about the last set.




The show flowed smoothly and I loved playing at this event. It was very enjoyable.

After we played and a slight break, Kevin and Cillian took the stage. I love listening to Kevin and Cillian perform. They sound amazing because they have played together for almost twenty years--flute and pipes. Sometimes they do a tune with the low whistles in unique variations, and Kevin always makes funny remarks about random little things that occur during the show.




Before Kevin and Cillian played their last set, they invited Dylan and me up on stage to play a final set with them, a set of reels--finishing with The Bucks of Oranmore.

Playing at The Burren was loads of fun and I hope to do so again sometime soon.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Brock McGuire Band

Recently, I attended a wonderful concert by the Brock McGuire BandOne of the members, Manus McGuire, I met at the Swannanoa Gathering camp about four years ago. I contacted Manus telling him we were coming to his concert, and he was so excited because it had been so long since we last saw him. 

When we arrived in the city, we ate in a retro 80s diner, that wasn't very crowded, before going to the venue. Prior to the show, I met up with Manus, who asked me to play a few tunes with him during one of the sets. We decided on a set of reels towards the end of the show.


The opening act played a bluegrass sort of style--all their numbers were old-time folk songs. I thought it was interesting to hear different song styles. They sounded awesome, too!

There was a slight intermission and then the Brock McGuire Band went on. I had never heard the whole group before, only Manus playing solo. They sounded fantastic! I love the whole dynamic of the band and the way they did things differently, like playing a set of a reel, a jig, then another reel. This was unusual because usually Irish musicians play a set of reels or a set of jigs. Typically, the jigs and reels are not combined. Even when they are, musicians play the jig first because of its slower tempo. They were able to make it work because of the clever way the transitions were arranged.

Towards the end, when they called me up onto the stage, I was very excited. I played a solo reel, then, Manus joined me in a reel. I thought I would only play one set, however, he asked me if I'd like to play another couple of tunes with him and of course I said, "Yes." So, we played a duet set of reels together. I had so much fun!


After the show I was greeted by some of the audience who enjoyed my playing. The band sent me home with three CD's to listen to on our long drive home. The pianist, Denis Carey, gave me a tune book with all of his compositions, all of which I was very eager to learn. 

It was great fun to see and play with Manus, and I hope to have the pleasure again sometime in the near future!



Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My Fundraising Weekend

This weekend I used my musical gifts to help people less fortunate than myself by performing at two different benefit concerts. 

On Saturday, I played for The Mercy Centre fundraising benefit at the New York Irish Center in Long Island City with Mick Moloney, Dan Gurney, Liz Hanley, Athena Tergis, Caitlin Warbelow, and Jerry O’Sullivan. The Mercey Centre is an orphanage in Bankok and many of the children there have been victims of abuse or have AIDS. Earlier this year I was talking to Donie Carroll about his trip to the center and the work they do. He later sent me video of the children he met there. I wanted to help him with his fundraising so he invited me to come perform at his benefit.

When I arrived at the Irish center, I greeted Mick and found my way to the room where the instruments were stored. Shortly after, we did a sound check. It took a while since there were many musicians performing all at once. After sound check we took a break, enjoyed appetizers and conversation, then worked out the setlist for the night.

When we arrived on stage, we started with a set of two jigs and two reels. We played for about an hour and a half to two hours. My favorite set was probably the Reavy set. It was a tribute to Ed Reavy, a great fiddle player, popular in the early to mid 20th century, who spent most of his life in Philadelphia. He was famous for his tune compositions. Each of the seven musicians, and our small groups, picked their favorite Reavy tunes before we played. To finish the set, we all played The Hunter's House. It was great fun! I enjoyed playing with Mick and all of his friends very much!

On Sunday I played at St. Malachy’s Church in Philadelphia. I was also playing this gig with Mick and the others except, instead of Dan Gurney, Billy McComiskey was on accordian. Also, my friend Paraic Keane joined us for this concert. 

We arrived at the church and were guided into the room where all of the musicians were together. It was a dining room. They had tea, coffee, and treats for us there. While attending lunch, I met the Irish Consul General, Barbara Jones. She was very nice and a joy to speak with. 


Before our sound check, we made a set list which included many of the tunes we played the night before. There were a few feedback problems during the sound check, but they were fixed and we waited for the audience to gather.


We kicked off the show with the two jigs and two reels set. Liz Hanley's wonderful singing voice sounded fantastic throughout her two songs. The next day I found myself singing bits of one of her songs called Sanctuary. Once again, I thoroughly enjoyed playing with Mick's band. I will be playing with him for a few of his Christmas shows at Symphony Space in New York City over an upcoming weekend in December. You will certainly be seeing a post about that event!




Tuesday, October 28, 2014

New York Trad Fest

When mom and I arrived in New York City, we walked to find a bakery which we saw whilst driving in city traffic. After we got our cupcakes, we walked down Broadway and 5th avenue looking around in a few shops before it was time for the Trad Fest.

The NY Trad Fest is a combination of some of the best musicians and singers in Irish music such as, Mick Moloney, John Whelan, Brian Conway, Pat Mangan, James Keane, Alisdair White, and many more! 

When we arrived, I first saw Mick Moloney. My mom and I talked to him for a while and he invited me to a venue which I played with him last year, it was at a church and other than Mick, it included my friend Billy McComisky. I am really excited to attend that gig again this year. After talking to Mick, I found my good friend Jayne, who was to open the show with me and our friend Joanna. We went and practiced along with Jayne’s brother Bram, figuring out the sets we were going to play together. We spent a while practicing before we had to go on stage. 

When we walked onto the stage, they were announcing the festival and also Joanna, Bram, Jayne and me. After we had been announced and the stage crew set up our microphones, we were ready to play. We started with a set of a few of my favorite jigs followed by a few great reels, and we finished with some fun, exciting reels. I loved playing with my friends. It is always great fun to play with them in sessions but even more so on stage!


After performing Bram and I spent about one hour selling 50/50 raffle tickets. It was so awesome to listen to the amazing New York musicians play whilst talking with friends. 

My favorite act of the night was probably Brian Conway and John Whelan’s duet. They sounded absolutely fantastic and the tunes they played were some of my favorites. Brian and John are two of my favorite solo performers but when they play a duet it sounds perfect! I could have listened to them for hours!


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Monday, October 20, 2014

Studio2Stage

How would you feel if out of a pool of more than a dozen talented musicians, YOU were chosen to accompany 80+ dancers on stage, on camera with professionals from all over the world?

Well, I had to answer that question, this summer in July, when I was selected for a spot at the Studio2Stage camp at Kean College in New Jersey. This year was the very first Studio2Stage and I was to be part of the original cast. Eighty-plus dancers and six musicians including the music director, assistant music director and the vocalist participated with me. The musicians and dancers came from all over the world. . . New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, London and a few from America too. We would spend a little over a week together learning and performing a show for a sold out audience. 

Here's how I spent my exciting week:
Saturday

When I arrived at Kean College, I found my way to the building where we had to check in and get our passes for lunch and entrance to different buildings around the campus. All of the other kids stayed on campus because they were all 15 years old and older. However, since I’m twelve, I couldn’t stay on campus. Our good friend, Mike and his wife Noreen, asked if my mom and I wanted to stay at their house, which happened to be only five minutes away from campus.

During check-in I met the music director, Anthony Davis, who wrote almost all of the music for the show. After meeting him, I met Adam and Daniel -- two brothers from Ireland. They were the drummer and guitarists for the band. Our assistant music director, Liam O’Sullivan (Sully), was arriving later in the week. Mom left me there all day to work, but since we were staying with Mike and Noreen, I saw her every night when she came to pick me up.

After meeting almost the whole band, we went to an introduction of the camp where the choreographers, producers and our music director told us what they’d be teaching us and what they’d like us to accomplish in the nine days we had leading up to the show.

I met Ella, our singer from Australia, who was overcoming a cold (laryngitis) she got whilst traveling. We didn’t get to hear her sing, however, she sat in rehearsal learning the instrumentals for her songs. 
We rehearsed the music which had been sent to me via e-mail two months before, to learn before arriving at camp. Our rehearsals now would be about learning how many times to play the tunes through. Since it’s a dance show, the music has to be exactly in time with the dancers because that’s the way the choreography was taught. 



We rehearsed from about 12pm until maybe 6pm, taking breaks in between to get snacks, water, etc. The college staff provided food for the camp members so the band also ate in between the hours we spent rehearsing. Because of our hard work, we completed the entire first half of the show on the first day. When mom took me back to the house that night, I met Mike and Noreen’s dogs, Jack and Molly who were the cutest little things!
Judging by the first day, our nine days were off to a great start!

Sunday

After leaving the house at 8am, mom dropped me off at the building where the band rehearsed. Before lunch which was at 2:45, we completed practicing the whole second half of the show. 

I'm not sure how the conversation came about, but during a break, Adam, Daniel, Anthony, Ella and I started talking about animal movies. Adam told us about a movie called, Slappy the Seal

Randomly, Anthony said, “Sully the Seal," which was a playful dig at Sully, our assistant music director.

“I could photoshop that!” I said. So, I did!



All of us had so much fun the rest of the day, rehearsing, talking about animal movies and more

We finished rehearsal at around 6pm and I went to an Altan concert in New York with Mike, mom and our friend Andy, who plays Irish music on the clarinet. The concert was at a restaurant and inside was a stage so you could eat while listening to music. Altan, an Irish band featuring Gaelic lyrics, sounded great! After the concert, I met Mairead, the vocalist and fiddle player for the band, backstage. I met her a once before when I was in Dublin, OH while I was performing with the John Whelan Band and it was nice to see her again. She asked me to play for her and I did, using her fiddle. She invited me to play with her band and another band during our upcoming trip to Sligo, Ireland. I was excited at the invitation which gave me even more to look forward to on our August Ireland trip. 
Monday

I had photoshopped Sully the Seal, as mentioned above early Monday morning and showed it to everyone at rehearsal when I arrived. They loved it! At the break, we printed out the picture and left it on Sully the assistant music director's chair as a welcome gift for him to find later in the day. 
After taking our small break, Aidan Garvey, one of the choreographers, stopped by our rehearsal room to listen to us play for a while. He choreographed “Breaking Loose”, the hornpipe-reel set which we were practicing. He even danced to it while we were playing which was a lot of fun! 

Shortly after, Sully arrived, he plays the accordian and was accompanying me in a duet for the show. 

Sully enjoyed the photoshopped picture, and since I did quite a good job with that, I was to be the official photo-shopper for the week.

My next project was inspired by the band playing their take on a Lady Gaga song called “Just Dance” while the dancers were doing an Irish-Jazz dance. I would put Sully’s face onto a picture of Lady Gaga!

We ended the night by rehearsing for another few hours, perfecting the first and second half. 

Tuesday

The next morning, we worked with the whole band and ran through the whole show. It sounded amazing, even though there were only six of us minus a voice for the moment. Still keeping it secret from Sully, I showed the rest of the band Sully Gaga, my newest photoshop. After finally printing it out, we showed Sully. He was such a good sport and loved it! Since it was so much fun, I photoshopped Bobby, one of the choreographers on Gaga. 



At the break, we visited the dancers to see how they were doing. We were impressed. I could’ve stayed and watched them for the whole day!

Wednesday

After practicing for hours we took a break and watched the dancers rehearse again. The building they danced in is sectioned off. Every choreographer has their own room. The first choreographer we watched was Aidan then Miriam and Rachael, Bobby and lastly Chris. They were all amazing.

Later in the day, Sully and I worked on our duet while the rest of the band worked on other numbers. 

I learned all of Sully’s favorite variations on the tunes. Together we were playing melody. It is important that every melody player is playing the same variations when playing in a duet or a band. 

To break up all the hard work, I photoshopped Sully’s face onto Michael Flatley from Lord of the Dance. If you look closely in the photo, you can find a few of the other band members as the female dancers. 


Thursday

After lunch, a couple of us walked with Sully and sat at a table in the middle of the campus. He answered our questions about being a traveling musician with dance shows like Irish Celtic and Riverdance. He told us about different cultures he’s encountered and all of the different places to which he has traveled.

After rehearsal, we went to the Lu’au, which the producers of Studio2Stage put together for us to take a break from the rehearsal stress and all of our hard work. It was a chance to kick back and be a bit crazy.

I had promised Bobby I would paint his nails at the Lu'au as a joke. He didn't believe me but I brought my nail polish to the Lu'au anyway. He was a good sport and let me paint his nails, then convinced Aidan to let me paint his nails too. 

Sully dressed up in a grass skirt, coconut bra and a lei to please the producers. It was funny!

A bunch of the dancers did a dance-off that was cool to watch! I had so much fun and took a bunch of pictures with my friends Mackenzie, Courtney, Martin, Caroline, and even some of the choreographers. 


Friday

In the morning, I got up very early for our Mission2Manhattan. The whole Studio2Stage crew traveled on subways to New York City to perform a flash mob. We traveled in different groups. 
I was with Chris' group along with Sully and we played the music for one of the numbers for our show called 'City Jam'. It resembles a group of kids getting together after school or on the weekend to practice step dancing together on the streets until their plans take a turn and a hip-hop group crashes their party. Eventually the two groups become friends and combine step dancing with hip-hop. 
It looked really cool!

After getting back from NYC, I got together with my friends Mackenzie, Stevie, Sean, Grainne and Caroline and we hung out until dinner. 

Later that night after rehearsals, I had a costume fitting with Mary Bridgette, the designer for all of the costumes for the show! Mom and one of the producers, Michelle, went to my costume fitting. The building in which the costumes are kept is where some of the dancers ice their feet after a long and tiring day of rehearsals. The dancers who were icing their feet were friends that I met at lunch a few days before, so I showed them my costumes and they loved it! Shortly after, Michelle had me go to the room where the producers and choreographers were having a meeting to show them my costumes too. They also loved it!

Before going to bed that night. I made another photoshop called "Studio2SpiceGirls". I put the three male choreographers and two music directors' faces onto each member of the Spice Girls. I kept it a secret from everyone. It was going to be revealed tomorrow.

Saturday

Last day before the show! Dress rehearsals, sound checks and chaos. We worked in the auditorium with the stage. It was a huge stage, and since our band was fairly small, we were put on a tall riser towards the back so the audience could see not only the dancers, but us, too! 


The hardest part was figuring out timing issues and costume changes. 

Ella’s dresses were beautiful! The dancers costumes were so detailed and pretty! Everything looked great! We didn’t get many breaks in between rehearsals, but the producers put together a great surprise for us. After lunch, we went back to the theater and watched our surprise. It was a video of good luck wishes from many famous Irish dancers and musicians such as the band from Irish Celtic and a retired band member from Celtic Women. It was an exciting and wonderful surprise which everyone enjoyed! 

Before going home, I showed the choreographers and music directors the Studio2SpiceGirls picture. They thought it was hilarious and couldn't stop laughing.




I was so excited, I could barely sleep because show day was tomorrow!

Sunday

The day that everyone had been waiting for, show day, had arrived! Each hour brought more excitement than the last. We ran the show through about 3 times. 

I was talking to Michelle after our last rehearsal before dinner. Since the stage lights can make you look really washed out and white like a ghost, Michelle told me I had to get a tan. So, after dinner, I went to Miriam and Rachel’s dorm where Rachel used a self tanner lotion on me while Miriam did my makeup.  Then, I walked with my friend Mairead to the theater for one more rehearsal before the show. 

There were camera men recording during the rehearsal because we had a documentary being made for the parents who lived in far away places such as Ireland, Scotland, London and New Zealand. However, the parents who were there could pre-order the movie to have for showing to other members of the family who couldn't make it to the show.


After two hours of waiting around with friends in the dressing rooms, it was show-time! 


Everyone was very excited! The producers tell you to smile and give more energy during rehearsals. I always smile, even during rehearsal, because I love what I’m doing. But, once you’re on the stage and the crowd is cheering, smiling comes naturally. The producers don't have to remind you. In front of an audience, once you start smiling, you can’t stop. That’s how I felt during the whole show!

Listening and watching your hard work come to life is such a joy and I loved it so much. Even after just the few days the cast spent together, we really became one big family. 

During my duet with Sully, I was so happy to be on stage doing what I loved! I definitely could see myself playing with a show like Riverdance or Heartbeat of Home in the future because performing is what I enjoy doing. 



After the show, I found mom, dad and also Mike and Noreen. We took pictures together and I also took more pictures with the friends I had made throughout the week including Anthony, Sully and the rest of the band! As I went to the dorms to turn in my meal card and my ID pass, I stopped and took a few pictures with Bobby and more friends. 

I will definitely be attending Studio2Stage next year because it was one of the best, most thrilling and electrifying experiences of my life!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Swannanoa Gathering 2014

My favorite place to spend seven days of summer is a music filled camp called The Swannanoa Gathering in Asheville, North Carolina.

This year was my sixth in a row at The Swannanoa Gathering. I love everything about this camp and always look forward to attending! This year I volunteered for Donal Clancy's guitar class, playing melody for his students who were learning how to back tunes with accompaniment. I also took Brian McNeill's Scottish fiddle class which I took last year and loved the tunes he taught! One of my favorite fiddle players, Liz Carroll, was teaching at camp. So, of course I had to take her class!

Here is how my week went:

Sunday

Before classes start, each member of the camp must pick up their information packets including class schedule and room keys. The camp is held on a college campus, so, dorm rooms are available.

Later in the evening members of the camp were given a little concert by all of the instructors. They played one set of tunes each, to demonstrate what types of tunes their students will be learning in their classes throughout the week.

After the staff concert, camp members grabbed a few friends and started a session. I asked my good friend John Whelan to play some tunes with me, and he did!

Monday

The first day of classes, yay!

It being my first time playing melody for an accompaniment, I was very excited.


Donal taught his class accompaniment for a certain key, and after the students knew the basics of the chords for that key he would add more complex variations.

After Donal's class, I went to Brian's class. We learned a Scottish air and a strathspey, very much like a reel with sharp, staccato accents. I always love Brian's classes because they are interesting and so much fun!

After a long, but very fun class, we ate lunch and I walked to Liz's class by myself. My mom had to do her volunteer work around campus.

I have taken classes from Liz before and really enjoyed them. I just had to take one this year! A group of friends I met last year happened to be in Liz's class with me this year. It was nice to see them and play tunes again.

After class, we had dinner and I walked with mom to a concert where half the teaching staff performed. However, I only watched the second half of the concert because my mom and I babysat Grainne Hambly and Billy Jackson's daughter. They both play harp and always perform together.





She enjoyed dancing while Cathleen, Rose and Matthew rehearsed.
There were two concerts. The other half of the teaching staff would perform later in the week. 

I absolutely loved the concert! The musicians were amazing. Afterwards, I played with John for a little while, then decided to go to bed.

Tuesday

This day was another day of waking up early and taking classes! Again, class was really fun! The guitar students learned all sorts of tips and tricks to playing a reel in a major and minor key, and everything from chords to strumming techniques!

Again, I went to Brian's class and learned a strathspey and a reel. He taught tunes he had composed himself so it was nice to hear new music.

After lunch, I went to my fiddle class. I love taking Liz's classes because she also teaches tunes that she's composed. Its nice to learn traditional tunes, but it is also nice to learn new tunes that some people may not have heard yet.

After class finished and dinner was over, I walked with mom and Dylan to the main building called Bryson Hall. Tonight was ceili night! If you're not familiar, a ceili is sort of an Irish version of barndancing or line dancing. Aside from dancing, I also played in the celili band with the instructors which I do every year.  It was a very boisterous time with lots of energy. Afterwards, I played more tunes with John, until midnight.

Wednesday

I had the same class schedule in the morning through the afternoon. Today was the second staff concert.

After dinner I walked with mom to the theater about 30 minutes before the show was scheduled to start.



The concert had lovely music from people such as Cathie Ryan, John Doyle, Nuala Kennedy and many more fabulous musicians. The concert was such a joy to watch and listen to.

After the concert, I again found John and played a few tunes with him, sharing tunes with different members of the session.

Thursday

Thursday was one of my favorite days of Swannanoa. It was the day when all of the people on campus, and some of the townspeople, gathered for a barn dance. This dance is almost a fusion of a ceili/barn dance/ line dance. The fusion of Irish and Country Dancing is wonderful because the camp itself takes place in North Carolina, which is heavily influenced by country dancing, the camp's Irish music theme inspires the ceili dancing!

After another long and eventful day of classes and such. I went to the main dance area of the campus and waited for it to begin. I dance and play at different times during the night. I can never decide on playing or dancing, so, I do both! All of the dances are different -- I love it!

After about 2 hours, the dance finally came to an end. Although I was pretty tired, I stayed up for a long while playing tunes with some friends. If you haven't noticed already, this is usually how I end my nights.

Friday

The last day of classes! Oh no! Although I really wish it could go on forever, Swannanoa has to come to an end. On the last day of the week the classes showcase what they've learned. The Student Showcase features tunes, songs and stories. Although Donal's class wasn't performing, I still got to perform with Liz's class, as well as Brian's class, and also individually with my brother Dylan and our friend Daniel who plays an amazing banjo.

After deciding what to play with the classes, I went to a practice room with Dylan and Daniel to figure out what to play for the showcase ourselves. Then, I walked to Bryson Hall where almost all of the functions of the week had been held. As it came time for the showcase I rehearsed with Brian's class again and shortly after performed with both he and Liz's class. Both performances where so much fun, as well as my performance with Dylan and Daniel. Daniel and I played a solo and then went into a tune at the end all together with Dylan backing up the tunes.

When the showcase was over, I found my friend Rose and we played tunes all night long! A great way to end a great week. 

So long Swannanoa! Until next year . . .


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Thursday, July 10, 2014

My Favorite Music Sessions

In some of my previous posts, you may have heard me say the word "session" a lot. Today, I'll tell those of you who aren't very familiar with Irish music, what a session is.

Sessions are basically groups of people, who may or may not know each other, playing music together. This is my favorite way to meet new musicians.


There may not be a lot of people in one session. Size varies. Sometimes I've played in sessions where hardly any people played at all, and others where many people are playing.

I really enjoy the sessions that I attend regularly.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Plough & the Stars
There is a resturant / pub called Plough & the Stars that sessions every Sunday. It is in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I love this session because the tunes are always great and my friends, Tom and John, who are long time professional Irish musicians, run it.


Fergie's Pub
Another one of my favorite sessions takes place at Fergie's Pub in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This session takes place on Saturdays and I love playing here with all of my friends, such as, Paraic, Keegan, Alex, Darin and Deb.

Sligo Pub
My last local favorite session is in Media, Pennsylvania and is called Sligo (pub). This is a rather new session, but my very good friend Paraic, runs it. Keegan and I play tunes a lot here and sometimes Alex will join us. A few weeks ago at this session, we had the pleasure of Kevin Crawford joining us for a few tunes!

Swannanoa Gathering
Sessions don't always take place in pubs. In fact, I often play sessions at the camps where I visit in the summertime. One of the camps that I visit is called Swannanoa Gathering in North Carolina. This camp has tons of great sessions! The camp itself is held on a college campus and at night you can find lots of great tunes all around the campus. I have had many opportunities to play tunes with numerous well known musicians such as Kathleen Coneelly, Kevin Crawford, Cillian Valley,  Kevin Burke, Liz Carroll, John Doyle, Brian Conway, Martin Hayes, Finn Magill, Kimberley Frasier, Liz Knowles and John Whelan.

I've met many musicians from beginners to professionals from all over the world. I have also played sessions in many different places whilst traveling such as: Texas, New York, Minneapolis, Ohio, Quebec, Washington DC, and many different counties in Ireland.


If you have never played at a session, I'd definitely suggest you trying it! It is very fun, and as I said, my favorite way to meet new musicians.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Haley's French Macaron Recipe

When I first tasted these French confections, I was overwhelmed by the sweetness and could not stop eating them! French Macarons are light, airy and delicate little treats - not to be confused with coconut macaroons (spelled with two "o's").

After tasting these treats, I wanted to learn how to make them myself. They would be a great treat to have with tea! I searched for a recipe, and I have to say, my first attempt did not turn out so good. However, after practicing I soon mastered a recipe, putting my own twist on it. I hope you enjoy!

Haley's French Macaron Recipe

3 Egg Whites
2 Cups Confectioners Sugar
1 Cup Almond Flour
1/4 Cup Granulated White Sugar
1/4 Teaspoon Cream of Tartar
 Food Coloring of Your Choice
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Pour the Confectioners Sugar and Almond Flour into a bowl. Mix with a spoon. You can either sift this mixture or blend it in a food processor on high speed. This mixture should be as thin and powdery as possible.
  
Once blended, set this mixture aside.




Pour the Egg Whites into a bowl and whisk with an electrical stand-up mixer with a whisk attachment. Note: If you chose to hand whisk the Egg Whites, make sure you use very fast up and down strokes.

As soon as the Egg Whites are very white, thick, fluffy and foamy, add the Cream of Tartar. 
Whisk until soft peaks form. Slowly add in the Granulated White Sugar. Mix well.

Add about 5 drops of food coloring. Use any color you like. If you do not feel 5 drops is enough to achieve the color you want, add more one drop at a time. Adding color is optional.

Fold in the dry Almond Flour and Confectioners Sugar mixture adding to the wet egg mixture. When completely mixed, spoon into a piping bag and pipe onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet or a silicone Macaron baking mat

If you choose to use the silicone baking mat, lay it across a baking sheet/cookie sheet, to insure that it is sturdy throughout the baking process.

When piping, make sure to drag the tip of the piping bag to the edge of the cookie so it is flat and doesn't look like a candy kiss. When the mat is full, gently drop it flat on the countertop to remove air bubbles. Let the macarons sit on the baking sheet/mat for 15 minutes to allow them to set. When doing this, it allows the shells to not melt together in the oven. 

Tip: I found making my own almond flour in the food processor from whole unsalted almonds made a better textured flour and gave me better results than store bought almond flour in the finished macaron. 


Bake for 18-20 minutes. 

When done, allow the macarons to cool for about 2 minutes before carefully taking them off of the baking sheet/mat one at a time transferring to a wire rack for about 10 minutes.

Now your macaron shells are ready to be iced!




Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

3 Cups Confectioners Sugar
1/3 Cup Unsalted Organic Butter, Softened - Unrefined Coconut Oil works as well
1 1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
2 to 4 Tablespoons Milk

In a medium bowl, mix Confectioners Sugar and Butter with a spoon or electric mixer on low speed. Stir in the Vanilla Extract and add 1 Tablespoon of milk at a time. Gradually stir in enough of the remaining Milk to make the frosting as smooth, spreadable and silky as possible. 

Gently spread onto the Macaron Shells and stick two of the shells together to form a little sandwich.

Tip: Make colorful macarons by adding the food coloring of your choice to the frosting. In addition a hazelnut spread like Nutella is another filling option, as pictured below.


Macarons might be displayed on a 3 tiered desert tray for teatime or on another elegant glass serving platter. I've also shared this recipe with my friend, Miss Kathy at The Writers Reverie who helps me with my blog. 


I hope you try my recipe and share them with a friend over tea this summer! If you decide to make them, be sure to let me know how they turned out!


Sharing Haley's French Macaron Recipe this week with: 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"Photoshoot" in Montclair

Last Monday, Dylan and I performed at the Van Vleck House in Montclair, New Jersey. 

The Van Vleck House and Gardens was donated to the town of Montclair by the Van Vleck family. The grounds of the house are used as a park for the townspeople. It was built in 1916 and was the property of the Van Vleck family until 1993 when it was turned over to The Montclair Foundation. 

Something that I found very interesting about this house is that weddings are not allowed to take place on the gorgeous grounds! The granddaughter of the man who owned this house fought very hard with the city to have her wedding there. Eventually she was allowed to have her wedding at this house, but she seems to have been the only exception because the city will not allow weddings do to certain zoning laws. This disappointed me very much because as you will see in the pictures, it looks like the perfect place for a wedding. 

Without further ado, here are the pictures that mom took of Dylan and me.







Playing in a venue like the Van Vleck house required the proper wardrobe. I felt very elegant in my new dress and shoes. While walking around in this beautiful house and gardens, I was transported to the setting of a Jane Austen novel, expecting Elizabeth Bennet to appear at any moment!

I'd love to play more gigs in such scenic surroundings.