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Concert Preview: Musicians, Friends To Make Special Stop At Meeting House



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Liz Carroll, the legendary Irish fiddler and composer, was having a very good week when I spoke with her. She had just got back from teaching at the O’Flaherty Irish Music Youth Camp in Texas; her hometown hockey team, the Chicago Blackhawks, had won the Stanley Cup; and she was looking forward to her upcoming concert in Newtown with her longtime friends and fellow Chicago residents, tenor banjo player Pauline Conneely and flutist and uilleann piper Sean Gavin.

“The audiences at Newtown have always been great, really friendly,” Ms Carroll said, “and we’re looking forward to that room with all those nice people.”

Fairfield County’s Shamrock Traditional Irish Music Society will bring the trio to Newtown Meeting House on Thursday, July 11, at 7:30 pm. This is a rare chance for folks in this to see — and hear — a collaboration between some of the best in Irish traditional music in America. Here in Connecticut the Irish music scene is, naturally, dominated by New York City and the rich legacy of Michael Coleman and James Morrison, who brought the music of County Sligo to the region in the 30s and 40s. But Chicago also has deep roots in Irish traditional music, going back to the first years of the 20th Century when County Cork-born Francis O’Neill, a flute-player and the Chief of Police, put together the first great compilation of Irish tunes, O’Neill’s Music of Ireland. The vital heritage and thriving present of Irish music in Chicago will be on full display next week.

The three artists are better known for their work with other partners, but when they realized that they would be in the East at the same time due to their teaching commitments — Ms Carroll’s at the Swannanoa Gathering in Asheville, N.C., and Ms Conneely’s and Mr Gavin’s at the Catskills Irish Arts Week in East Durham, N.Y. — they jumped at the chance to perform together.

“Pauline and I have been friends since the day she moved here,” Ms Carroll said, “and Sean’s a great young player ... somebody that we all knew very early on, since he was eight and nine years old, who absolutely loved the music and got on so well with all the different ages.”

Liz Carroll won the Senior All-Ireland Championship on fiddle at 18 years of age, and has gone on to entertain audiences around the world. In 1994, she was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts, and in 2011 the Irish television channel TG4 named her Cúmadoir na Bliana (“Composer of the Year”), an honor given to no other American-born artist. Her CD Double Play, with guitarist John Doyle, was nominated for the Grammy in 2010.

Pauline Conneely was born in Bedford, England, of Irish parents, and was immersed in Irish traditional music and dance from her early childhood. She moved to Chicago in 1989, and is regarded as one of the best Irish tenor banjo and tenor guitar players in the United States. She is a member of the popular band Chicago Reel.

Sean Gavin was born in Detroit, the son of Mick Gavin, a fiddle-playing immigrant from County Clare. He grew up in the thriving Irish music scene of the upper Midwest, and dedicated himself to the wooden flute and the uilleann pipes (the bellows-driven Irish bagpipes) before he started high school. He is a member of the acclaimed bands NicGaviskey and Bua.

Like most Irish traditional musicians, each of the three has a wide variety of musical projects going at all times, as well as being regular participants in sessions, the casual gatherings of players which form the bedrock of the Irish musical community around the world. Ms. Carroll told me that, despite living in the same city, the three of them don’t always get to play together as much as they might like to.

“It’s a great chance to collaborate, and hopefully the audience will be into what we want to do,” said Ms Carroll.

Having heard Ms Carroll, Ms Conneely and Mr Gavin with their other musical partners, I feel confident in saying that the audience will love the result.

Traditional Irish concerts at the meeting house, 31 Main Street (at the flagpole) in Newtown, have a history of selling out, and early reservations are recommended.

Tickets are $20, and $5 for children (under 16). Visit www.shamrockirishmusic.org or call 203-362-5912 to reserve a seat.

Irish fiddler and composer Liz Carroll (pictured) will be joined by two friends — tenor banjo player Pauline Conneely and flutist and uilleann piper Sean Gavin — for a concert at Newtown Meeting House on July 11.
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