Accordion player Cathal Mee, of St. Paul, received an IMDA Educational Grant to take lessons with Christian Stevens, a C#/D Accordion player based in Maine, who plays with the traditional Irish trio The Press Gang. Cathal has been studying accordion with John McCormick at the Center for Irish Music for more than five years.
Cathal comes by his love of Irish music through strong family connections. Cathal’s dad is from Ireland and he has visited many times. His mom plays fiddle, so he was around Irish music “from the beginning” with sessions at home “all the time.”
Cathal plays accordion with the Center for Irish Music’s Advance Youth Ensemble and recently started playing céilí drums as well. Since joining the Advance Youth Ensemble, Cathal has traveled to the Fleadh Cheoil in St. Louis twice, and placed first four times. Cathal traveled to Ireland last summer with the Advance Youth Ensemble for the Fleadh Cheoil Na hEireann (All-Ireland music competition). He tells us that his favorite part was the week-long classes before the competition, called Scoil Eigse. He says “It was an amazing experience, and broadened my skills in every way imaginable. I was inspired by all the other kids who played the accordion really well. They used their basses in cool ways, and hearing them motivated me to try and find someone to take lessons from.”
Cathal tells us that he has been strongly influenced by his teacher at the Center for Irish Music – John McCormick. John been his teacher, and as he progressed, John encouraged him to play session around the metro and to get involved in his community. Cathal also says that his mom has been a big influence and a great help to him as a musician, encouraging him to “get out of his comfort zone and take opportunities I otherwise would not have explored.”
Based on his experience in Ireland, Cathal went looking for someone to help him learn to play bases on his accordion, something his current teacher doesn’t offer. According to Cathal “basses add a whole other dimension to the instrument, augmenting the melody with rhythm and harmony.” He hopes to go the All Ireland Fleadh in the future and proficiency on basses will be expected. And he tells us that he will continue his study at the Center for Irish Music, where he will work on tune development and “session savvy.”
The Irish Music and Dance Association is delighted to help this dedicated young musician pursue his goals as a musician.
Becca Michaelson of St. Paul is an elementary music teacher in the Anoka Hennepin School district and has played classical flute for 19 years. Becca will use her IMDA Educational Grant for fiddle lessons at the Center for Irish Music. Her journey to wanting to learn fiddle is an interesting one.
Relatively new to the Twin Cities (she arrived in 2014 for her first music teaching job) and intrigued by Irish music, Becca introduced herself to her new town by attending the Irish Fair of Minnesota. That decision had a profound impact on Becca. She tells us “I was so inspired by the performance, the depth of knowledge of the presenters, the many events, and how vast the fair was.” Since Irish music had always captivated her, she decided that she would become involved in her new community through music and culture.
Becca became a regular at the Wednesday night céilí classes at the Dubliner. More importantly, she bought her first Copley & Boegli flute, began studying at the Center for Irish Music and gradually (she says grudgingly at first) going to sessions. Her difficulty in her session experience was that she found it humbling to be worse at flute than others, which inspired her “to practice more and keep learning tunes.” As a classically trained musician, Becca reminds us that “learning folk music is entirely different than learning classical music!” Becca continued to further her learning by attending the Catskills Irish Arts Week in 2016, studying with Conal O’Grada and Larry Nugent.
Which leads us to the question – Why fiddle lessons?
Life took a hard turn just over a year ago. Becca starting having trouble with all sorts of daily tasks because of weakness, tingling and numbness in her left hand. The problem led her to eliminate all non-essential music playing for nearly a year (especially difficult for a music teacher). Physical therapy has helped, but it turns out that she can no long play her beloved Irish flute – it’s just too heavy for her to play for long without pain.
Becca “didn’t want to give up Irish music when it had become so important to my musical and social life.” So - she began a quest to find another instrument that would allow her to play the music she loves. With help from teachers at the Center for Irish Music and other musician friends, Becca has concluded that the fiddle would be less physically demanding on her (still) weak left hand.
Becca’s IMDA Educational Grant will help her with fiddle lessons and provide a pathway back to Irish music. Becca tells us “I am very excited for this opportunity to ‘start fresh’ and challenge myself to a new instrument. My goal with fiddle is to learn tunes by ear only and progress enough that I can play at sessions again. Through my injury and time away from music making, I realized just how integral music is to my identity.”
The Irish Music and Dance Association is pleased to be able to help a dedicated musician continue her study of traditional Irish Music.
The Irish Music and Dance Association is a 501(c)(3) organization.