Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Irish Music Review: Altan Encounters

Altan is a fantastic group with an incredible selection of tunes and songs, ranging from traditional Irish tunes and Gaelic songs to their more recently added bluegrass tunes. In my travels I have had many "Altan Encounters". It is always a joy to play tunes with such legendary musicians.

I first met Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, the fiddler and vocalist for the group, when I was ten at the Dublin Ohio Irish Festival. She let me try her Hardanger fiddle, a violin with five strings on the top and four on the bottom.

Image of hardanger fiddle, Haley Richardson, Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh,

When you play the strings on the top, they set in motion vibrations that cause the strings on the bottom to ring - so it almost sounds like more than one violin playing. I played a reel on it. At the time, I had been used to a 3/4 size fiddle with four strings, so playing a full size fiddle with five strings on the top and four strings on the bottom was a very different experience. I think for accompanying vocalists, the Hardanger fiddle sounds nice because of its echoing tone. Mairéad was super friendly and it was a memorable moment to meet and interact with this legend in Irish music.

In the summer of 2014, two years after first meeting her, I went to an Altan concert while attending Studio2Stage and met up with Mairéad and the band afterwards. She told mom and me to let her know when they were playing in our area again so we could get together and play some tunes. She also invited me to play with Altan alongside Dervish at the Sligo Live event on TG4, during the Fleadh Cheoil 2014 in Sligo.

Here's a little video of the Sligo Live performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqXQhEFqLRI

Altan, Dervish, Haley Richardson
This past spring, we let Mairéad know there was a local show coming up and she invited me to perform a few tunes with the band. We joined them for dinner before the show, and I met Mairéad's daughter, Nia, who is twelve. After dinner, we went to the venue and I had a good time trading a few tunes with Nia before showtime. I loved the whole concert, but especially enjoyed the songs in Gaelic.

Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh, Haley Richardson

For the finale, I joined them in playing a bluegrass-Irish mix tune, which was different from what I'm used to, but I enjoyed experimenting with a new style of music. The energy from everyone interacting on-stage made everything especially enjoyable.

My recent trip to Ireland for the Fiddler of Dooney competition brought me to Donegal and another encounter with Altan friends. I spent a few days of the trip with Mairéad, sharing tunes and laughs by the fire.

I have loads of fun whenever I have "Altan Encounters". I hope to play a few tunes with them again, sometime soon!


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