Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Michael Coleman and His Impact on Irish Music

I get a lot of questions about my style of fiddle playing. For example, you could be playing Clare style, Donegal style or Dublin style. The possibilities are endless. However, I play in the New York Sligo style. The New York Sligo style is the style played by Irish fiddlers from Sligo, a county in Ireland, who immigrated to New York in places such as the Bronx and brought along their music and gave it their own accent. Sligo style playing was made popular by a fiddler named Michael Coleman.

Michael Coleman was born in Knockgrania, near Ballymote, Sligo, Ireland. Michael's father, James was a flute player. As a child, Michael learned to Irish Step Dance and play Irish fiddle. He performed at house concerts hosted by friends and family.

Michael competed at the Sligo Feis Ceoil in 1909 and 1910, placing joint third both years.

In October of 1914, Michael sailed to America with one of his friends. He performed at many gigs, playing fiddle while dancing at the same time. In 1917, he settled in New York and married Marie Fanning, originally from Monaghan, Ireland. Together, Michael and Marie had one child named Mary.

Between 1921 and 1936 he recorded many 78-rpm records under different record labels. He was mainly accompanied by pianists on his records, and occasionally guitarists.

The achievement Michael is most well known for is being one of the first Irish fiddlers to record.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

My Concert Mistress Debut

This past Saturday, I played in the PRYSM ~ Philadelphia Regional Youth String Music ~ orchestra concert where I had earned the honor of being concert mistress. It was my first time in this position and a great opportunity! I was so excited, but also a little worried that I would make a mistake because I had a lot of solos. In an orchestra, if you mess up in a solo, it throws the other players off a bit. 

This is how it went:

I awoke on Saturday morning with a sore throat and a slight feeling of uneasiness in my stomach. Ugh! I sure hope I don’t mess up in the concert today, I thought to myself. Then something in me said, It will be fine, I’ll be fine, I’m not going to mess up, It’s no big deal if I do anyway, after all, it’s only a few seconds out of a whole lifetime. 

So after the quarrels in my brain, I leaped out of bed and got a shower, changing into comfortable clothes (not my orchestra attire), topped off with toast and tea. I needed to practice to warm up my fingers before the concert. I chose the Bach E Major Partita and also Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor. Also, just because I love it, I had to throw in a few Irish fiddle tunes, so I played a reel and a jig.

After practice, I donned my orchestra attire which consisted of a white button up blouse, a floor length black skirt and black flats. Then, I heard my mom calling, “It’s time to leave!” 

Grabbing my coat, violin and a granola bar, I dashed out the door and into the car!

I listened to John Whelan's Irish tunes and worked through the next chapter of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice during the forty five minute drive.

Entering the theater I found my way to the green room where the orchestra was to unpack their instruments, greeting two of my friends who had been there waiting.  While tuning my violin, more of the orchestra members arrived, crowding the room. As we drew closer to rehearsal time I was actually more excited! I wasn’t feeling unsure or uneasy about my solos anymore. 

As soon as everyone was settled and unpacked, we were called for rehearsal. The orchestra of younger kids rehearsed first and then it was our turn. We played through all the pieces that were on the program, and then waited for concert time. 

As showtime rolled around, we were seated in the crowd to listen to the PRYSM YA ~ Young Artists ~ orchestra. They are musicians between the ages of nine and thirteen. When they finished their performance, my group took our seats. We are musicians between the ages of nine and eighteen with more experience. Our first piece was a combined piece between the PRYSM YA orchestra and our PRYSM orchestra, otherwise known as a side-by-side. I was standing on the side of the stage with the conductor. 

The crowd applauded when I walked onto the stage and bowed. I turned to face the orchestra and played an open "A" string to make sure their strings were in tune before I took my seat. The conductor walked out to thunderous applause. She turned to me, shook my hand and walked up to face her music stand, which held the score. Raising her baton, the room was suddenly transformed by the powerfully majestic sounds of the Capriol Suite by Peter Warlock. When the selection was finished, the PRYSM YA orchestra left the stage and we started our program.

When the time came for my solo, I was not nervous anymore. I felt calm. The selection was Five Variants of 'Dives and Lazarus' by R. Vaughan Williams. It was quite a melancholy piece that I now felt confident playing. As the harpist played a chord and the conductor cued me to begin, I pulled my bow across the strings and my fingers fell in the right places, seemingly on their own. After about sixteen measures, the orchestra joined us in a swirl of sound! I hope the concert sounded as wonderful to the crowd as it did to me!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

New Years' Travels

In early January, my mom, brother and I took a trip to Burlington, Vermont to play two performances at the Young Traditions Vermont reunion. It was the first time we had been there for the festival. It took about eight hours to drive to Vermont. We traveled on New Year’s Day (which was a Wednesday) and traveled back home on Sunday, so we stayed for about four days.

Day 1: We’ve Arrived!
On Wednesday, we arrived in Vermont shortly after 5:00pm and stopped at a restaurant to get a bite to eat, before heading to the hotel where we would be staying. We sat around the hotel room playing games and reading our books for a while. My brother and I went swimming, and then we ended the night watching a movie.

Day 2: Field Trip and Cold Nights
The next day, (Thursday) we woke up before 8:00am and ate breakfast. That morning we visited two of the nearest music stores, one being a violin shop where I tried out many different violins, and the other being a guitar store, which my brother Dylan (who could spend hours and hours in a guitar store) liked the best.
Later, we met the man who had hired us for the performances and had lunch. In the afternoon, Dylan and I practiced for the next two days' gigs and stayed in our hotel room that night where it was warm. It was -32 degrees and every time we stepped outside we’d start coughing a sort of “frozen” cough. It was super cold!

Day 3: Losing My Hairs at Showtime!
On Friday, after breakfast, we went into town and visited the violin shop again, ate lunch and got ready for that night’s gig. It only took five minutes to drive to the performance venue because it was in the same town as the hotel in which we stayed. The gig was held in a small theater-like place. The room was fairly small, but big enough for performing. 

There was a nice crowd gathered. Each performer played for about ten minutes and everyone did a great job! As they called Dylan and me up onto the stage, saying little things about each of us, I picked up my bow only to find that all the hairs had fallen out from the tip and were hanging on by the bottom (frog) of the bow! 

I was terrified! 

Nothing like this had ever happened to me at a performance. Luckily for me, one of the girls who had just walked off the stage, played violin. I quickly turned to her and said, "Can I borrow your bow?" Confused and most likely not sure what to do, the girl nodded a bit, and I said "Thanks!" I grabbed her bow and walked on stage. Whew! After the performance, we headed back to the hotel to get a good night’s sleep.

Day 4: Best Day Yet!
      Saturday was quite a day! We woke up, got ready, ate breakfast and headed out for a while to visit the stores in town. At 1:30pm there was a session being held at the hotel where all of the performers (including us) were staying. The performers were to lead the session and anyone who wasn't performing, but played an instrument, got the chance to play with the performers. There were instruments of all sorts: cello, fiddle, piano, banjo, guitar and also just voice! 

After the session there was another performance. This performance was in Stowe, Vermont and took place in a larger theater. Dylan and I felt really great about our performance! We played some of our favorite sets. It was very fun! By the time we got back to the hotel, it was already 11:00pm and we went straight to bed. We were very tired, especially after the performance!

Day 5: Farewell
     On Sunday, we packed up our bags and left for home! I was excited to go home and see my family but sad to leave Vermont. We all had a really awesome time and made a lot of new friends that we'll hopefully meet again someday.

~ Haley