Monday, October 11, 2010

Saskatoon's Irish Music Community

For centuries, the Isle of Erin has been exporting the Irish. They left because of persecution by the English, potato blight, service in foreign armies, and hope in the new world. Every city across the globe has an Irish community. Quietly and without fanfare, every week, they gather in pubs to sing and play instruments: the Irish Music Session.

Ten years ago, I knew nothing of this. The circumstances that led me to Saskatoon's Irish Music community are part of a well-rehearsed tale. It's a story that's all too-familiar to those close to me, but I must recount it again.

In 2000 I was in my mid-twenties and lost. In the 90's, I had wanted to be a classical musician and composer. I pursued a Bachelor of Music degree with a Theory and Composition major when I left high school. However, I soon fell out with my University's chief composition professor, he being a strict modernist who studied with John Cage, I being a headstrong tonalist. After a few years of frustration and resulting low self esteem, I changed my degree to escape him. I briefly played viola with the Saskatoon Symphony, but was let go. After I finished my degree, I put my viola aside and did not touch it for two years. I truly thought that music was over for me. I felt angry and betrayed.

I cannot tell you how painful this separation was. Music, for me, is the closest thing I have to church. My first truly religious experience where my skin tingled and my consciousness soared occurred when I was playing viola in the last movement of Beethoven's 5th Symphony. Music has since been my proof, however vague, of a higher power. My instrument has been my altar and melody and harmony my prayers.

Soon after the decade turned, I met Eileen Laverty, who told me of the existence of the Irish Music Sessions at Lydia's pub, hosted by Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann. The following Saturday, viola in-hand, frightened and not sure what to expect, I stepped into Saskatoon's Irish Music Community.

All around me was the thump of bodhrans, the strum of guitar and bouzouki, the ringing of fiddles and lively voices singing beloved songs. Jigs and reels whirled in my brain. There again was that divine exhaltation I had lost, lifting my consciousness into ecstasy. After three glorious hours had passed, I was dizzy and elated.

It has been ten years since that day and Irish folk music has never left me. The people I met there welcomed me. Through them I discovered that I could sing, fiddle and play the banjo. I founded the wandering evening session that started at The Publican, but found a home at McGettigan's, the Brass Monkey, The Park Town and finally the Mendel Art Gallery. I've spent wonderful hours with the South-Central Ceili Band and the Residuals.

Last month, I stood up at the Lydia's session and told all present how grateful I felt. But that's not enough to thank all those musicians I have met over the years. If I had enough money, I would have expressed those thanks in beer that day. I'll write it here again: Thank you all, my friends. Even that is not enough. The gift that Saskatoon's Irish Community has given me, my renewed love of music, is greater than any alcohol or words could commend.

A special props goes out to my peeps in The Residuals. Ted Leighton, Rick Kroener, Rob McInnis, Meaghan Haughian, Bettina Grassman, Mike Podiluk, Gareth Bond, Erin Gaucher, Chris Meek and all those who have ever been a Residual, you're the best. Thank you for the music and the memories.