Cellist Maia Crews-Erjavec has been immersed in traditional Irish music since she was a small child. She fell in love with the music attending traditional Irish music concerts at the Cedar with her parents, then pitching in to help pick up recyclables and put away chairs – and getting to meet and talk with touring musicians.
Maia began playing cello in her school orchestra. She loved the rich sound of the cello and her only concern was wanting to play Irish music on the instrument. With a bit of encouragement from her orchestra teacher, she embarked on her journey to learn the cello.
Her journey to play the music she loves has been a bit unusual. She continued to develop her skills as part of the school orchestra, and as soon as she developed control over the instrument, she joined the ensemble at the Center for Irish Music, where she learned to play by ear and to pick up tunes quickly. Learning traditional Irish music at the Center meant that she had to study with fiddle teachers, since there is no local resource teaching traditional music on the cello. Maia was concerned that she did not want to sound like a classical musician playing traditional music – she was searching for a way to learn traditional music on her instrument.
Maia used her IMDA Educational Grant to help with tuition for the Mike Block String Camp in Florida in June 2014. (The photo above is Maia with Mike Block.) The camp provided Maia with the rare opportunity to study with traditional cellists who have a skillset that combines cello technique and Irish music – an unusual combination perfectly suited to Maia’s interests.
Her instructors at the Center for Irish Music are impressed with her development as a musician with a considerable amount of skill on a very difficult instrument. They also note that Maia is both dedicated to her music and “exceptionally resourceful and driven to seek out opportunities that help her grow her skills, widen her musical horizons and improve her musicianship.” In 2013, Maia placed first in the miscellaneous category in her age group and proceeded to raise enough money through a personal crowd-funding campaign to travel to Ireland to compete in the All Ireland Fleadh Cheoil. She repeated that effort again in 2014 and again raised the funds to compete in Ireland.
Maia is an active volunteer with the Center for Irish Music and at the Celtic Junction, her “home away from home” since it began, where she has painted, moved furniture, cleaned up after the fire, swept, washed dishes, sold CDs, checked coats, taken tickets – nearly every job imaginable!
The Irish Music and Dance Association is delighted to help this devoted young musician pursue her musical goals.
Traditional musician Emma Fitzgerald, who hails from Michigan, has been listening to traditional music since she was little. Emma grew up in a musical family (her mother plays fiddle), has played Irish flute for several years and expanded her own personal study of the instrument when she came to the Twin Cities for college. Since arriving in the Twin Cities, Emma has taken some classes from Norah Rendell at the Center for Irish Music, began going out to sessions regularly, joined the Macalester College student music group Flying Fingers and now plays in the traditional group Trout in the Milk. Emma has taken a leadership role in Flying Fingers, a group that allows students who have had little or no exposure to Irish music learn about the style and try it out, as well as providing a presence for Irish traditional music in the Macalester community. (Flying Fingers has performed in the Tea Room at IMDA’s Day of Irish Dance.)
Emma used her IMDA Educational Grant to attend the Minnesota Irish Music Weekend (MIM) in June. She looked forward to workshops with Catherine McEvoy, who plays in the North Connaught style – her favorite style. She has been striving to inject this influence into her own playing. Emma tells us that she “loves the rhythmic pulse that flute players in that area of Ireland have.” Emma had studied sean nos dance and was looking forward to continuing with Brian Hart at MIM. Emma commented “I have found that learning to dance greatly increases the understanding of the music, and vice versa.”
Emma was especially anxious to attend MIM during the summer since she was planning to spend a semester abroad studying at University College Cork (UCC) in the Fall of 2014. She was eager to learn as much as she could about the music so that she could make the most of her time in Ireland, take in as much music as she could – and bring it back to Minnesota.
Emma’s instructor noted that Emma as demonstrated that she can “glean a lot of information from very little stimulus based on her inner drive to learn,” and that she has “clarity of artistic intention [that] is rare in such a young musician.”
Emma returned to the US from Ireland in late December, 2014. She writes:
“Ireland has been great. I can't believe it's over! Even though I'm not studying music, this semester I got to take flute lessons with one of my favorite flute players, Conal O Grada. He's the flute teacher at UCC. It was incredible being able to learn from him every week, one on one. The department also let me borrow one of their flutes, a Hammy Hamilton, because it's much better than mine. I also took two other music courses, Intro to Irish Trad and Music in Modern Ireland, both very informative courses. I didn't get to go to many festivals because of timing and other commitments, but I did make it to a very small one in Ballyvourney called Éigse Dhiarmuid Uí Súilleabháin. The flute workshop was fantastic, taught by Paul McGratton.”
The Irish Music and Dance Association is pleased to help this dedicated young musician continue her study of Irish Flute.
Sydney Howieson used her IMDA Educational Grant to continue her study of the bagpipes with the Balmoral School of Piping and Drumming. Sydney is 18 years old, hails for the small town of Good Thunder in southern Minnesota and is now a student at the University of St. Thomas. Sydney has a strong connection to Scottish pipe music through her study of Highland dance, beginning as a six-year old, as well as through family members who played drums and bagpipes with the CampMor Kilties Pipe Band of Mapleton.
Sydney has long been fascinated by the bagpipes and persuaded her local piper to let her try his pipes backstage. She says could hardly get a single sound out of them – but she “sensed a challenge, one I couldn’t turn down.”
The untimely death of that favorite piper left a hole in Sydney’s local community – and she decided she wanted to learn the bagpipes herself. She persuaded a local community member to teach her the basics. Once she had “mastered some tunes” on her practice chanter and “could just squeak out some tunes” on her bagpipes, she headed off a summer session at the Gaelic College in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Sydney tells us that there she “got her first dose of Celtic, instead of Scottish culture and learned, to some extent, to speak, sing and pray in Gaelic,” learned a bit of Irish step dancing and she vastly improved her bagpiping skills.
Sydney returned from Canada “with new-found confidence, inspiration and greater skill on the bagpipes” and began taking lessons with Mike Breidenbach, Pipe Major for the Macalester College Pipe Band. Taking lessons at Macalester involves a 2 hour commute each way – challenging for a busy high school student! Sydney joined the Pipe Band at the Grade Five level (Grade One being the most skilled level) and has really enjoyed band life, especially enjoying being around other bagpipers since none live in her area. Sydney built on her lessons with the Macalester Band by attending the Balmoral School in the summer of 2013. Her IMDA Educational Grant allowed her to return to Balmoral this past Summer. Her hard work has paid off – Sydney moved up to the Grade Three Band this Fall.
Sydney uses her bagpipes to volunteer in her community, playing for church services, memorial services, Burns programs and school functions, in addition to participating with the Macalester Pipe Band. Sydney plays at the state square dance convention in St. Peter. She tells us it’s “somewhat strange and really fun!” to play for square dancers. Sydney also continues to be involved with the Highland dance community.
Sydney’s second experience at Balmoral was even better than her first. She tells us that the instructors were very good and that she learned a lot, including starting to learn piobaireachd, the classical music of the bagpipes. The students also did a lot of massed-band drilling, which she thinks will be helpful in competition season next year.
Sydney brought her improved piping to IMDA Honors Laura MacKenzie, joining IMDA Educational Grant recipient and fellow band member Meridith Richmond in piping the honoree into the hall as well as presenting a solo performance.
The Irish Music and Dance Association is pleased to help Sydney pursue her study of the bagpipes.
Piper Meridith Richmond of St. Paul, originally from Boston, starting playing the bagpipes by chance. She became intrigued with the pipes and began her study while a student at Macalester College. She tells us that she has “found great enjoyment and community in this sometimes raucous instrument that I began to learn by chance.” Meridith attended the Balmoral School of Piping in 2013 with help from an IMDA Educational Grant. That experience of intensive study and practice helped advance her piping, helping her to move from grade 4 to grade 3 solo ranking. (Players are ranked in grades from one to five in the bagpiping world; novices begin in grade five, and move up as they improve.) Balmoral also provided an introduction to piobaireachd, a technically rigorous form of pipe music with a unique idiom and structure. Meridith built on this experience by taking lessons last fall with Andrew Lewis, a winner of many piobaireachd awards.
Meridith’s next goal was to continue to improve her piping by attending the Invermark College of Piping and Drumming at Hunter Mountain in upstate New York. The Invermark program is known for the quality of instruction, with a strong reputation for helping pipers improve. The program includes intensive classes in small groups, all-school master classes, workshops and recitals. A 2014 IMDA Educational Grant helped her make that trip this last July.
Meridith plays with the Macalester College Pipe Band and is very involved in supporting various band outreach programs, including taking a leadership role in organizing the Macalester Pipe Band’s free pasta dinner. This was the second year of the event, designed to introduce the band and bagpiping to the larger community, giving both adults and kids a chance to “Try a Chanter or Drum.” Meridith continues to be very involved with the pre-grade 5 band members, helping them develop the skills and basic repertoire they need to be part of the band. This last year, she helped start the Minnesota Youth Pipe Band, dedicated to youth ages 8 to 18. Meridith built and maintains the band’s website and Facebook page, along with coordinating their fundraising and outreach efforts and serving as the non-profit’s board Secretary.
Meridith’s dedication to both piping and to the band are demonstrated in her growth as a piper and her expanded involvement in the community. The Irish Music and Dance Association is delighted to help Meridith continue to grow, to learn and to teach. We’re delighted to have her as a part of our community.
Karin Swenson is a 10 year old girl who has fallen in love with the music of the harp in a most unlikely location. Karin, who considers herself “half American and half Japanese,” was living with her parents in Japan when she discovered a man who hosted and played harp concerts in his home. She attended every concert she could, experiencing “the magic touch of the harp,” and was enthralled with “the graceful echo” of the notes as the harpist plucked the strings.
Karin tells us that these were her favorite parts of life “listening to the peaceful melodic harp” and letting the music drown out the worries of everyday life. Karin dreamed of playing that music herself - “Wow. Imagine if I could do that!” - although that was challenging while living in Japan. Karin had to wait to pursue that dream until her family moved back to Minnesota last year and Karin could begin studying with Katie McMahon. Katie tells us that Karin has proven to be an enthusiastic and hard working student, with a natural ability with the harp.
Karin began her study on a rented instrument. She used her IMDA Educational Grant to help with the purchase of her own harp.
Karin and her family returned to Japan in the Fall of 2014. They will be assembling and finishing her harp from a kit they purchased here in Minnesota. Having her own harp will make it easier for Karin to continue her study in Japan.
The Irish Music and Dance Association is pleased to help this dedicated young musician continue her study and her enjoyment of this magical instrument.