Tunes and treasures that spark from great loss

Up in Smoke

Tunes and treasures that spark from great loss
Tunes and treasures that spark from great loss
Episode Trailer

Loss can inspire achingly beautiful music. It can also spark new forms of creativity for musicians. This episode is a meditation on the stubborn insistence and the transformative power of creativity, featuring beautiful conversations with Emmanuelle LeBlanc about Pastelle LeBlanc; Joe DeZarn and Tina Eck about Graham DeZarn; Daniel Neely about Mick Moloney; and a poem from Brian O’Donovan. Here’s to sowing beauty and blooming from the muck of misfortune.


Thank you to everybody for listening. And a special thank you to this month’s underwriters:

Ron Kral, Isaiah Hall, David Vaughan, Susan Walsh, Matt Jensen, John Ploch, Tom Frederick, Paul DeCamp, Suezen Brown, Jonathan Duvick, Gerry Corr, Mike Voss,  Sean Carroll, Isobel McMahon, Lynn Hayes, Bob Suchor, Brian Benscoter, Finian McCluskey, Rick Rubin, Ken Doyle, Chris Armstrong, Ian Bittle, Chris Murphy, and the Irish & Celtic Music Podcast

Episode 66 – Up in Smoke
Tunes and treasures that spark from great loss
This Irish Music Stories episode aired November 15, 2022

Speakers, in order of appearance
>> Shannon Heaton: flute player, singer, composer, teacher, and host of Irish Music Stories 
>> Emmanuelle Le Blanc: Multi-instrumentalist and Singer who formed acclaimed Prince Edward Island band Vishtèn with twin sister Pastelle
>> Tina Eck: German-born, Washington-based flute player who performs with bouzouki player Keith Carr
>> Joe DeZarn: Fiddle player who has played in dances and on stages for decades, with son Graham and other musicians around Virginia.
>> Daniel T. Neely: New York-based musician and ethnomusicologist with specialties in the musics of Ireland and Jamaica
>> Nigel Heaton: young announcer for Irish Music Stories
>> Brian O’Donovan: Cork native based in Boston who works in public broadcasting and music production


I’m Shannon Heaton, and this is Irish music stories. The show about traditional music and the bigger stories behind it.

Like how achingly beautiful music can come from grief. Some of the most famous Irish ballads are about emigration, war, heartbreak, and death.

[Music: “The Bonny Light Horseman,” from Broken Hearted I’ll Wander

Artists: Dolores Keane & John Faulkner ]

But loss can also spark new forms of creativity for musicians, as it has with Emmanuelle LeBlanc in Prince Edward Island. This Spring, Emma lost her twin sister and musical partner Pastelle.

>> Emmanuelle: I feel like I create in other ways. Like there’s other that kind of light my fire differently. I was part of a committee that created a new festival. So that kind of came out of the pandemic, which was really fun. It’s called Festival Route 11. It’s in a really beautiful location in PEI, in the Village basically that Pastelle and I grew up in. So creating other things, other experiences for other people has been probably what I’ve been drawn to doing more.

[ Music: “Meaning of Life,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

>> Shannon: Creativity can also grind to a halt for grieving musicians. 

>> Tina: There can be a momentum where everything stalls. Like in your psyche. Where you just don’t find that person that you always were with these creative energies. That just kind of filters out. 

>> Shannon: That’s flute player Tina Eck, who lives in Cabin John, Maryland, and who is finding her groove after losing her friend (and mine), fiddle player Graham DeZarn. 

[ Music: “Preparations for a Journey,” from Koibitotachi – EP

Artist/Composer: Akeboshi ]

No matter the process, and no matter the timeline, stuff shifts when you lose your sister, your friend, your kid. Or even when you lose, say, all your 2020 gigs. When Covid closed everything, there were a lot of canceled concert tours. Months of booking, promoting, advancing. And a lot of expectations, excitement, and income…  just gone. As my friend Keith Murphy put it, “all those plans, all that work, just up in smoke.”

When one reality burns away, there is space for something new to emerge. To grow. Gradually. For traditional musicians, putting breath through the flute or bow on the strings can be one step toward writing a new chapter.

But so can designing a festival, or sketching on note cards. In Virginia, Graham’s DeZarn’s dad Joe has found restoration with a colored pencil and one color of paint. 

[ Music: “Leaving JP,” from Silver

Artist/Composer: Hanneke Cassel ]

>> Joe: I spent two hours yesterday doing art for the little cards. I had the desire to be productive creatively, out of this resolution from grief. So now everybody else is gonna get a card with a little doodle on it. And you guys are gonna go, Oh My God, it’s his new life! Hahaha.

>> Shannon: In this episode, I’m going to explore the stubborn insistence and the healing, transformative power of creativity. I’ll talk to Joe and Tina about Graham. I’ll speak with Emmanuelle about Pastelle. Daniel Neely will chat about banjo player and folklorist Mick Moloney. I’ll sit with some gorgeous music from guitar player Denis Cahill.

And I’ll also consider some smaller losses that many of us have had through these Covid years. A less acute catastrophe. But it might also require some grieving, and some creative responses, nonetheless.

I don’t have the benefit of much perspective here. It’s early days for all of it. But I’m seasoned enough in the loss game to know that while wounds and weirdness are fresh, there’s this incredible opportunity to mine for meaning. Before just moving on. Or getting stuck.

While we are sitting with our losses, we could just seize the chance to make some deep, lasting changes. And set up for a Spring garden (or maybe just a window box). Sow some beauty. And bloom from the muck of misfortune.

* * * * * *

Ok. Already I gotta break the fourth wall. Do we have these in podcasts? Anyway, I gotta say that this episode would not work the same way without music. It might be kinda weird, and maybe a total bummer. 

[ Music: “Audience of Souls,” from Too Long Away

Artist/Composer: Emily Smith ]

There’s a lot of special music in this episode. Like that last tune by Hanneke Cassel, called Leaving JP. And this song by Emily Smith, called Audience of Souls. This music is giving me some space, and some comfort, as I attempt to explore grief through a traditional music lens.


Elizabeth Kübler Ross wrote the book on grief in 1969. In her book, On Death and Dying, she described the different stages of grief that modern counseling programs still use:

1) Denial (no way is this happening)

2) Anger (why the hell is this happening? Why do good people die while crappy people are spared)

3) Bargaining (if only I’d done this or hadn’t done that

4) Depression

5) Acceptance.

It’s not always the same order for everybody. And some move right through, some get stuck. Grief hits us all very differently. And it alters us all differently. Because, like birds, we are wildly diverse:

The partridge loves the fruitful fells

And the plover loves the mountain

The woodcock haunts the lonely dells

The soaring heron, the fountain

In Robert Burn’s song Composed in August (AKA Westlin’ Winds), he wrote about the lowly pigeon, the linnet. How every kind their pleasure find.

[ Music: “D Chimes,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

The savage. The tender. Some are social, some solitary. There are lots of different birds out there. And there are lots of songs about birds. When a bird shows up near the end of a ballad, it usually symbolizes someone who has died. Ballad birds carry messages from the other side. They offer comfort or warnings.

And there are real world anecdotes about how birds grieve. Crows hold funerals: hundreds of them will fly down from trees to walk in circles around a fallen comrade. They parade around together for 20 minutes. And then they head back up.

Some birds rebound quickly after losing a mate or a chick; others grieve for a long time. But birds probably bounce back from loss faster than humans.

[ Music: “Mutey Big Build,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

When we hit the ‘Acceptance’ phase, it doesn’t mean we stop feeling sad. It means we’re starting to accept a new reality. Maybe we have new insights. Maybe we have new tools to help us step back out in the world. Or in to the creative space. Maybe being creative helps us dig in a little deeper. Or it helps us climb back out.

Well, grieving usually takes time. But tragedy can also clarify priorities in an instant. When I’m soaked in grief, the only good thing is that I’m sometimes less bent out of shape about stupid stuff, like broken computers.  I’m more grateful for my family, my friends, the beautiful blue sky, the birds. 

But I’ll admit I’ve never been able to hold onto this kind of clarity for very long. Even after long, intense grieving periods, I’ve managed to get back to my old behaviors and nonsense.

Maybe there’s a useful reason that raw resolve fades. Maybe dumb chores, and feeling mad about a broken computer—maybe these distractions dull some of the pain, so that I can sleep and eat. Maybe I have to dwell in some of the mudane—and inane—because the deep and the sublime is just too much.

Like, it’s really hard to stay aware and live every day like it’s you’re first, or your last. Especially when you’re living in society, with computers, and with a 24-hour clock. When you’re not always noticing what’s happening, because you’re busy getting ready for stuff that’s gonna happen.

[ Music: Chimes reprise ]

Birds don’t watch the clock. 

Neither do little kids.

When I was a kid, I spent time on the Navajo Nation. My parents were working on their book Let My People Know. And my sister and I got to hang out with other kids, and eat popsicles. And we’d hear people tell stories. 

[Music: “Mrs. Violet Eunson” (first tune in the track titled Belle), from B&B
Composer: Jennifer Wrigley
Artists: tricolor ]

Sometimes the old guys would burn a bundle of (probably sage?) and fan the smoke across the village. I didn’t understand what they were doing. But I could tell it was kind of a big deal.

Up in Smoke.

I also remember going to Catholic masses with my grandma. My sister and I would giggle about the smoking, swinging ball of frankincense and myrrh. So silly. But also kind of magical.

And then when I was in Thailand, there was always incense burning at the religious events and funerals. Even my teenage self got that it was a show of respect, a way to call on souls who have moved on. Up in smoke.

When the 2020 concerts, and sessions, and travel, and work, and school plans all went up in smoke, we had to invent Plan B. It was bizarre. And scary. And exhausting. It seemed like vaccines would really change the game. But the vaccine rollouts and the responses have been messy and divisive. Which has also been bizarre. And scary. And disappointing. Lots of denial, and anger, and depression. So much grief.

But when Covid wasn’t causing political fights or financial worry; when it wasn’t killing us, well there were lots more bird songs. Nature got a break from the traffic, and airplanes, and office building trash. It was quieter. 

I asked Emmanuelle LeBlanc what it was like for her and her sister Pastelle, and Pastelle’s partner Pascal. The three of them made the band Vishtèn, featuring French songs and original tunes. 

[ Music: “Elle Tempête,” from Horizons

Artists/Composers: Vishtèn ]

All three of them are multi-instrumentalists from Prince Edward Island, one of Canada’s oldest settlements with a vibrant Acadian and Francophone community. Vishtèn took their music from PEI all over the world. Until all their 2020 shows went up in smoke.

>> Emma: it’s weird because the pandemic for me was actually a good thing. And for the band as well. We’ve always had a really busy kind of touring and project schedule. And we had worked over the last couple years to cut back on touring quite a bit. Because we were just craving to be at home. And it was something that was really important to myself and Pastelle and Pascal. So we had already made some changes, so that we would have lots of time at home. But we had taken on big projects for the World Acadian Congress that was on Prince Edward Island in 2019. So that had kept us busy. And we had still kept on doing our touring. 

[ Music: “Elle Tempête,” from Horizons

Composers/Artists: Vishtèn ]

It was definitely like a scary step. Because this is all that we’ve known for a long, long time. And there are some scary things that are coming up. Like, is this gonna work? <laugh> What are we actually going to do? 

As things got canceled, I was relieved. And I was happy. Which is kind of insane. Because I know that it was very different for some other folks who were really grieving the loss of their tours, and their playing, and community, and all that stuff. But on my side, I was just like, yeah. Just a rest period. 

[ Music: “L’âme à P’tit Jean,” from Mosaïk

Composer: Bernard Simard, Vishtèn & Mario Leblanc

Artists: Vishtèn ]

We were still getting some gigs online, and some teaching opportunities online, and stuff. And then that’s when Pastelle. Yeah, she got her diagnosis during the pandemic.

>> Shannon: Getting her cancer diagnosis in the middle of a pandemic did offer Pastelle and her sister Emma and Pastelle’s partner Pascal some degree of privacy. And normalcy. 

>> Emma: As scary as that was for her, because it was so normal to cancel things, or things were just getting canceled, she didn’t have to explain. I don’t think we actually had to cancel a gig. I think they kind of just all happened. And we were able to do it, because it was in her living room online, or whatever. 

>> Shannon: When Pastelle got sick, you started another creative, like a non-musical venture. The line of tinctures? 

>> Emmanuelle: Yes. Yeah. Because Pastelle’s diagnosis was, you know, they basically gave her an expiry date. Which is something awful to hear. But my sister’s positivity was always, no there’s a solution. And from the very start of her healing journey, she just went into anything that could help her heal, did a lot of research. And one of those things was really foraging and just gathering things from the land that we live on. 

[ Music: “Little Bird Lullaby,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

She started off, I think with one of her healers who told her just go grab a bunch of wild roses. It was the season. And gather as much as you can and just do a really nice rose bath, and just do a meditation in there. So she started doing those things.  

She would wake up in the morning and do rituals with flowers that were like in her garden. And then we did it together. And spent that whole two summers, I guess, really just going at it and just foraging all of the plants that we could find on the island. And it was really just in the goal of making some oils for her. We ended up making a lot, because we were so excited about going out and grabbing these plants. So we found a name for the company, it’s called Fleur de Lune. And, yeah, it was wonderful. 

>> Shannon: Continuing to make these herbal therapeutic oils: this is creativity that is still lighting Emma up. And she plans to keep Fleur de Lune going.

>> Emma: Foraging for flowers, keeping that healing aspect of what my sister and I would have done this summer, just felt really, really good. It’s just so fun too. I mean, we have so many things around us that we don’t connect to. And nature is one of them. And more of that is just a really, really good thing.

Shannon: Yeah, it seems to be. And also this idea that wild creativity—and in this case literally wild—creativity can be stirred up in a creative person. And it doesn’t necessarily need to take the form that it traditionally has.

>> Emmanuelle: Yeah, exactly. And just letting that process happen and not being like, oh, I didn’t write tunes or whatever. Like, I know it’ll come at some point when it’s meant to come.

[ Music: “Je pars pour un voyage,” from Mosaïk

Artists: Vishtèn ]

Creating other things, other experiences for other people has been what I’ve been drawn to doing more than just composing music on my side by myself. <laugh>.

>> Shannon: Exciting. So something that’s creative, something that’s local, and something that’s social.

>> Emma: Yes. Yeah. Because I feel like people really need that. Like we all need to be connected and find ways of connecting together. 

>> Shannon: Both Pastelle and Emma helped organize the inaugural Festival Route 11 in the summer of 2021. Because of Covid, they were allowed to have just two pods of 50. A small start. Which worked out well. They didn’t have a lot of risk, they took lots of videos and photos. And they could shape their plan and hone their vision on the go.

>> Emma: We created a really nice, cozy experience for everybody. And then we did our second edition this year and grew it to about 250 or something like that. Like, we really like the way that it’s kind of gone from very small to still small. And a lot of room to grow.

Of course Pastelle was on the planning committee. And so we were able to have a really nice edition thinking of her, and all the things that she brought to the festival. So yeah, it was really nice. And we will definitely be going next year and see where that goes.

>> Shannon: At this year’s Festival Route 11, Emmanuelle performed with Pascal (He’s Pastelle’s partner, and the third member of Vishtèn.) They collaborated with two members of the East Pointers, another great PEI band, also coping with the loss of their third band member, banjo player Koady Chaisson, the cousin of fiddle & guitar player Tim Chaisson.

>> Emma: Koady was a good friend, and Pastelle was a good friend of theirs. And so we just kind of get each other. So, I mean, I’m pretty sure I’ll never find my sister in that sense. But as far as her musicality, and how she made us feel with the band, and how we created magic together, we were like maybe that’ll never happen either. Except for that moment when we met with Tim and Jake and had that first rehearsal. And then we were like, wow. The energy was just tapped in at the same place. And we all felt it. And we all had shivers. And we’re all like, okay. So yeah. Pretty fantastic .

[ Music: “Meals By Maurice & Le Miracule,” from Living Room jam

Composers: Koady Chaisson, Jake Charron, Pastelle LeBlanc

Artists: The East Pointers & Vishtèn ]

>> Shannon: And here there are. In Pastelle and Pascal’s living room. 

[ Music swells ]

And we’re always thinking and chatting about Koady and Pastelle, what they were doing. Like, it just feels like a very open conversation all the time. I think that we all still need to just talk about it. Even if it’s just a little comment about how they were. That’s enough. There’s no explaining to be done or anything like that. So Yeah. Feels good.

And here they are. In Pastelle and Pascal’s living room.

[ Music swells ]

[ Music: “After Hours Theme,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

>> Emma: I’ve learned a lot of things since she got sick and also since she passed. Whatever I need to gain from this experience is, is just really to live every moment. And I know that we say that all the time. But we honestly have to be way more grateful than we are for the things that we have. And not wait either for things to happen for us. Like, there’s just been so, so many lessons. She will keep on inspiring me and sending me signs when I ask for them.

>> Shannon: That’s beautiful. And a really beautiful after life here with us. After living life.

>> Emmanuelle: After living, Yeah, exactly!  

>> Shannon: What a nice legacy. To inspire people to make stuff. Not wait. To live, to be up and doing. To organize a music and art festival. To forage for flowers. This is creativity emerging. Being moved to do something. To make something. To write something.

>> Emma: I did receive just a lot of stories from people that would write to me. And I didn’t ask for these. 

Well, for example, you wrote a really beautiful piece, Two Cardinals for Pastelle and I. Yeah, there’s some kind of something that happened creatively, just being moved by an event. Something that hurts, that just pushed you to create something. 

>> Shannon: That tune that you referenced, you know, we don’t get Cardinals in our backyard. Ever. And there I am, just looking at the Cardinals. And they stayed for so long until just the one went away. And the other one stayed. And I thought… I did feel like a visitation there. And I had it in my head, the whole thing. And I just played it.

[ Music: Two Cardinals,” from Living Room session

Composer: Shannon Heaton

Artists: Matt & Shannon Heaton ]

>> Shannon: Emma has been keeping track of all the tunes and stories that have emerged, as people remember Pastelle. And she plans to just keep them in a document for a while, until she maybe feel like she wants to write some music to it or something. Create some kind of project with it. But for now, there’s no defined concept or timeline for this. And this has not hasn’t always been her M.O.

>> Emma: I have had an agenda for a long time. And, yeah, that was the beauty of working with Pastelle is we had a lot of ideas together. Together we would just be able to feed off one another to create things. And as being like twins and Aquariuses, and driven to, you know, make changes in the world or whatever it was, we really thrived on creating new projects.

Sometimes it would just become too much because we had so many ideas that we were just like, okay, this is the schedule for the week. And we have to do this. And we would just be so on our computers. And we gave each other expectations that sometimes we didn’t have to <laugh> make. And we learned over the years that we needed to give each other in the band more time to create and do this stuff. And that’s what I’m trying to do with myself now. I’m really trying to listen to what my body feels like and what I actually feel like doing. 

[ Little Bird Lullaby reprise ]

>> Shannon: This is super inspiring. Feels like a great way to honor your sister. But Emma admits that she’s finding it challenging to hold on to this. To move without an agenda. To really listen and take care with her energy. The day before our Irish Music Stories conversation she told me she’d been rushing to prepare a project, and she’d pushed herself—like I’m pushing myself right now. Then she slept for 12 hours. 

So, yeah. We’re all a work in progress. Trying a new approach maybe. Reflecting, resetting. Paying attention. Listening. 

* * * * *  


[ Music: “Bruach Na Carraige Báine,” from Hidden Treasures: Irish Music In Chicago

Dennis Cahill ]

Chicago-based guitar player Dennis Cahill really knew how to listen. Whether he was playing old harp tunes from the 1700s. Or backing tunes with Martin Hayes or Jimmy Keane, he really listened  to the melodies. And the space around them.


When my dad was dying, he told us that the last sense to go is hearing. That a dying person may or may not comprehend all the meanings of words. But they can definitely hear tones in an almost “normal” manner, even after other systems have shut down. 

[ Music: “My Love is in America,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

And all our systems eventually shut down. Some sooner than others. My dad was 41. Dennis Cahill was 68. Pastelle LeBlanc was 42. Graham DeZarn was 38.

[ Music: “Lament for Lost Friends,” from Live at Simpson Street Studios

Artists: Alex Cumming & Nicola Beazley ]

I visited Joe, Graham’s dad in Virginia. Joe is also a fiddle player; and we met up with our flute player friend Tina Eck for a few tunes. It was a week after Graham’s memorial. After lunch we ended up in the beautiful art center where they’d done the big celebration.

>> Tina: Just last week.

>> Joe: I know. Exactly a week ago, Even this very hour.

It was pretty magical to be with them in this space. To share Graham stories. To look back and connect our memories as a way of wrapping our hearts around a new existence with Graham still present, still making new sparks and connections. Still inspiring me to be creative.

I knew Graham as an Irish fiddle player. We played with New England fiddle band Childsplay. But the shape note people, and the old time people, and the gardeners and carpenters, and of course his partner Cheri, his sister Hazel, his brother Stefan, his mom and dad. All his family. He was their guy, too.

>> Joe: Witnessing the impact that he had on the lives of so many people—there’s no stopping it! I mean, that’s big and real and in the world. 

>> Shannon: And it’s why a lot of stories and songs are in the world—they’re responses to grief. To beauty. They’re testaments to events and people who move and inspire us. 

>> Joe: When I talk to Hazel, I said did you notice what people kept saying about Graham? And she said, yeah, that he was kind.

>> Shannon: Yeah. We could be talking about Graham’s fiddle playing. Or his cabinet making. Or any of his skills. But it’s his kindness—and humor, and attention to detail that was at the center of many of these stories. And that’s where Graham’s creativity came from. That’s where his fiddle playing came from.

[ Music: The Stone in the Field,” from 2013 house concert in Montague, Mass

Artist: Graham DeZarn ]

Channeling a little of that could be a way to trigger a creative healing journey for us survivors.Tina Eck was talking about the Graham way of doing things and making decisions. That maybe that could inspire her moving forward. To try a new approach. A new creative prompt.

>> Tina: It was like a week or so after Graham had passed away that I found myself in a haze. But walking through my days seriously thinking what would Graham do? How would he have felt? How would he have approached this or that? He wouldn’t have been impatient like me. I mean, he left me with that gift. And I found out last week here that I was by far not the only one. 

[ Music: “Slip Jig Dreams,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

 >> Shannon: For Tina, Graham is already inspiring more patience.

And for Emma, remembering how lit up she and Pastelle were about so many different projects, how infinitely creative they could be together…. she’s inspired to continue the new challenge they had started: To take more time and space with projects. And to not always bite off so much.

Early days with grief can offer some wicked strong clarity.

>> Joe: What would Graham do. I’m not gonna get a bracelet or anything, but it definitely comes up. And sometimes, you know, like, we’re here a week later, I thought about this event. And what would Graham do? Well what he would do would be to start a major cooking project about five minutes before it was time to leave the house. That’s what Graham would do. Hahaha! He was a nut! 

But he had some really important core qualities that allowed him to live very fully. And the quality of his relationships. He did squeeze the juice out of the years he had. And the other thing I tell people is we knew for an entire year where this was headed. And it was clear from the very first day we are not gonna waste a minute of this moping around. I mean, that’s just unworthy. It’s just not even on the menu. And we’re gonna make every, every day count. No more time for nonsense. 

>> Shannon: In that room with Joe and Tina, things felt pretty clear. Make every minute count. No more nonsense. But have I really lived like that since that August afternoon? Have I avoided being petty? And not yelled at my husband Matt about my broken computer? No I have not.

But I have felt a big push to keep making stuff. And to keep my friends in mind as I work on these projects. I’m feeling like it matter how I work on stuff. Like even this podcast. I gotta stay a little easy on myself, and on my family as I’m working on it. I gotta look out the window. I gotta go out into the woods. But it’s hard to stay aware. 

And it’s really hard to keep up with anything—to look up, to look out, to be creative—when you’re managing illness, and you’re carrying around big sadness.

 >> Joe: Things got so broken down in the worst of this. Normal patterns, and normal activities, and even that sense of momentum in life was disrupted. It was just reacting. You know, like failure after failure all around you. Like I didn’t get the license plate sticker, so I got a ticket. Just daily something pointing out that your systems are down and you’re failing. 

I literally started this little book. Every day in the morning I’d have a cup of coffee, and I would write down what are the important things? It would start with who are the important people I have to do something, to take care of those relationships? And I had like three or four things like diet, exercise, art, and music. I know they’re important in my life. And is there any chance for me to do something about any of those? 

After two months of some things that didn’t get any checks (like art), it’s just… it’s time. So I ordered blank cards, like blank cards and envelopes. Out of this resolution from grief I have the opportunity, I’ll call it, to do this. And it’s only a colored pencil and one color of paint. Haha!

>> Shannon: Yeah, it’s the beginning of a response! It’s action! It’s a doodle. It’s just putting the pen on the page.

>> Joe: It’s sitting down. It’s broken down. You get to put it back together. You can put it back together again according to your here and now values.

>> Tina: How much more beautiful does it get! Just making that list is such a self preserver. To say I need to create a little scaffolding for myself.

>> Joe: It didn’t make everything all better. But it made me less upset. I did have some little victories. And the world was still chaotic. That’s a big part of doing creative things is getting the noise settled down. 

>> Shannon: YES. To tune in and to get creative, I usually have to cut out of the chatter. I need to kind of dim some of the chaos. Some of the distractions. Even if for a short time.   And then I can just get going. Just make something, anything. One little ember.

>> Joe: I don’t have to have a big vision, a big creative vision. Like it doesn’t matter—I didn’t say what I have to draw.  And if it’s no good I’ll throw that one away, It doesn’t matter. It’s doing it. And then once you draw one thing it’s like well, okay.

>> Tina: There was one moment I remember with Keith we were playing and I said “we should really write a tune for Graham, you know?” And he said yeah we should do that. And I started playing. I started playing a slow air that didn’t exist. It just came out. I played my heart out. And we didn’t tape it. It was just… we’d never be able to reproduce it. And I just stopped and said Something like that.

>> Shannon: Haha. That should be the name of the tune

>> Tina: Something like that.

This is a bit of an air that Tina came up with for someone else. Her friend Jim Curtin.

[ Music: “Tune for Jim,” from Living Room

Composer/Artist: Tina Eck ]

[ Music: “Green Woolen Sock,” from Living Room Session

Composer/Artist: Shannon. Heaton ]

>> Tina: In terms of feeling extinguished. Feeling flat. I’ve certainly experienced that. That it’s just going into this nowhere land where you kinda know what should be done, could be done, what could be out there. But you almost look at yourself in the third person, and you can not bring yourself to do that. You know, you’re not too sleepy, or too lazy, or you’re not crying the whole time. But you just cannot bring yourself to do it. 

But can also go the opposite way, maybe with a little delay. Where suddenly it all bursts out. That’s beautiful when that happens,

>> Joe: Yeah. And sometimes from making a connection with another person

* * * *

>> Shannon: This Irish Music Stories project has been a dynamic way for me to make connections. I’ve chatted with folks I’ve known for ages and learned new stuff about them. In some cases I’ve met new people while producing episodes. I’ve also gotten to connect with some amazing listeners who have offered ideas and support. Here’s my kid Nigel to acknowledge this month’s supporters.

>> Nigel: Thank you to Ron Kral, David Vaughan, Isaiah Hall, Susan Walsh, Matt Jensen, John Ploch, Tom Frederick, Paul DeCamp, Suezen Brown, Jonathan Duvick, Gerry Corr, Mike Voss,  Sean Carroll, Isobel McMahon, Lynn Hayes, Bob Suchor, Brian Benscoter, Finian McCluskey, Rick Rubin, Ken Doyle, Chris Armstrong, Ian Bittle, Chris Murphy, and the Irish & Celtic Music Podcast

>> Shannon: Thanks a lot for your support. It helps me pull this show together, tell stories about great musicians like Joe and Graham, who both played with the band Childsplay. And that’s where I got to know Graham DeZarn. Offstage we’d play tunes. And we’d talk about life. And how to fix broken things. 

[ Song: “Dear Companion,” from As the Crow Flies

Artists: Childsplay ]

And then onstage, one of our big running gags was during the song the Dear Companion.We played it for like 10 years with the band. And at the end of the song, there was some room for improv. Each time, Graham and I would try to come up with crunchy chords-some dissonant notes, just tones that would slightly interfere with the group harmonies. It was our little game. And sometimes it was really funny. This moment of odd, unnecessary creativity.

>> Tina: He had a gift in giving these moments of undivided attention to people. Moments of endless generosity. Of kind of giving this person that he was. And that’s enduring. And that doesn’t go away. 

>> Shannon: Graham, and Pastelle, and Dennis Cahill. They’re having a pretty busy after living time. I’m still hearing new stories about both of them. I’m still listening to their music. And I’m finding a few new weird harmonies. And sometimes I think I’m moving a little more mindfully and gratefully. It’s not like, suddenly, there’s no more petty B.S. But I think my friends are still doing their work on me.

Graham’s fiddle is still working hard, too. When he lost the ability to play, he decided right then, with his dad, that his instrument would go to Seamus Wade. Here’s Seamus and Graham, playing tunes in late May. It was just a few weeks after Graham lost the ability to work the bow.

[ Music: “Little Fair Canavans,” from Living Room Session

Artists: Graham DeZarn & Seamus Wade ]

Limerick born Banjo player and folklorist Mick Moloney spent most of his 77 years documenting, performing, and distributing Irish music. He was a brilliant scholar and a passionate teacher. He produced festivals and recordings. He made documentaries. He formed bands. He loved Irish tunes and songs.

But when he was putting concerts together, fellow banjo player Dan Neely in New York said that music wasn’t Mick’s primary concern. 

>> Dan: He didn’t worry about like the musical side. Like, his band was great and the musicians were great. You know, he could lean on everybody. And everybody could lean on him. And the music would come together. But the thing that he put the most thought I thought into was what he was gonna say on stage. He would be, like, thinking about it like a couple months out. Like what the banter was gonna be. And what he was gonna say. And the order of the bands and the tunes. He just put like a massive amount of work into that. 

>> Shannon: Mick was passionate about educating and entertaining. In his lectures and performances, he’d let everybody in on the story. Like, with McNally’s Row of Flats: this was a song he used to sing about life in Manhattan in the early 1880s. Ed Harrigan wrote the words, and his father-in-law David Braham wrote the music to describe the multicultural mosaic that they were part of. Mick really brought this time period alive for modern audiences.


[ Music: “McNally’s Row of Flats,” from McNally’s Row of Flats

Artist: Mick Moloney  ]

I knew Mick Moloney as a banjo player and part-time resident of Thailand. He and I both have a lot of history there. On one of the occasions that Mick was part of the Irish Music Stories podcast, he showed up in a Singha beer tee shirt

[ Mick clip ]

Mick loved that tee shirt. And he loved Thailand, where he did a lot of work to help the Mercy Centre orphanage.

>> Dan: Everybody knew him. And like, you know, he had a lot of different worlds that he was like a big dog in. And, uh,

>> Shannon: We all have a lot of very different associations with him for sure. Yeah. I mean, for me it’s, um, the Thai connection is a totally different thread altogether.

>> Dan: Yeah. He always got so mad that you knew all the slang and he didn’t

>> Shannon: <laugh> Yeah. This is wild, right? When we get together and we pool our stories. I mean we knew that he was a pretty legendary figure in a lot of different spheres. But getting a bunch of people in one space and hearing those stories and like being confronted with the enormity of his legacy and his reach, there’s something pretty profound about that, isn’t there?

>> Dan: I mean, there really is. You know, you hear stories. Some of them are incredible stories, some where he’s might be more vulnerable than you remember him. They’re all very interesting. And they’re all, you know, the way he sort of handled himself in all the stories is really kind of neat. He was never one to like be bogged down by really anything. He had boundless optimism and, uh, like a sort of get it done kind of approach to things. And it was just really impressive, you know, sort of inspirational guy.

[ Music: Rickett’s / Kit O’Mahony’s (Hornpipes), from Since Maggie Dooley Learned the Hooley Hooley

Artists: The Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra ]

I got to know Mick when he came to NYU. He started a group called the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra, which is kind of how I got into Irish music in the first place. And I’d go to rehearsals every week and just watch him play and sort of soak in whatever I could. Then I’d go to him individually and ask him for tunes. And he’d you know, sit with me for a while and give me tunes. And he was great.


Eventually I took over the leadership of the band. But I became really, you know, friends with him. 

>> Shannon: Mick was a mentor. With a capital M. And he paved the way for a lot of people. And a lot of 

>> Dan: I think that one of the things that people are going to realize more and more was that Mick did a lot of behind-the- scenes stuff. You know, public sector work, whatever. He could make things happen with a phone call. People are not gonna be able to get the stuff done that they wanted to get done because they don’t have like a public sector advocate like Mick to like connect the dots in a way that is the right way. 

Until such time as, like, you know, you get the five tool player who comes along who can perform, research, make connections, and make things happen. So anyway, it’s, I think ultimately it’s up to, I think, Mick taught us. It’s up to us to be the best, students we can be. Like, school’s over. And now it’s time to go live in the real world.

>> Shannon: But back in the real world, there are bills to pay. And there’s kid homework to oversee. And the inspiring stuff that feels so clear after losing someone can fade..  Can making stuff, can bring creative keep a little spark there? How do we change our perspective for real, like?

>> Dan: It’s like a banjo neck, right? Like a banjo neck might get a twist in it, and… it’s like an old banjo… what you have to do is you have to like, you know, heat treat it to get it straight, um, and to, you know, straighten a neck, you know, it’s a low temperature for a long time and eventually, you know, like the wood moves.

So I don’t know if my perspective changed, you know, permanently because of the low heat over like two months of mourning, grief and preparing. I just don’t know. We’ll see.

[ Tune: “My Love is in America,” from Strings Attached

Artist: Mick Moloney  ]

>> Shannon: If you knew Mick — or Graham, or Pastelle, or Dennis Cahill — I’m so happy you did. And I’m with you in saying I was there. I’m also grieving. And I’m dedicated to remembering them. And keeping some of the mindfulness that they’ve inspired in me going through the winter.

If you didn’t know them, I”m excited for you to be acquainted. The afternoon my cousin Josh and I were carrying Aunt Jane’s ashes, we passed this tiny woman. She actually looked exactly like Rowan Atkinson. And she asked us what we had in the box. We told her, “Aunt Jane. Did you know her? She lived at #1224.”

Turns out the Mr. Bean lady didn’t know her. But she patted the box and said, “I’m sorry we never met, Jane dear. But here we are now.”

Here we are now. It’s Autumn in New England. The birds are singing in my neighborhood—and probably in yours. Nothing’s stopping me from picking up the house banjo here and now… I don’t really play, but it’s nice anyway.

[ Tune: “Donald Blue,” from Living Room Session

Artist: Shannon Heaton ]

>> Dan: Over the pandemic I started playing fiddle. Like the days were brutal, cuz I would sit next to my kindergartner and fifth grader, making sure they stayed on their machines to do their homework. And there was like a lot of yelling and a lot of arm twisting. There was so much sound happening in the house. But with a mute on, I could stand  a little bit of chaotic noise. I wonder if you’re gonna see more musicians come out with secondary instruments after the pandemic <laugh>…And you’re like oh, you play that? You’re terrible at it? I’m terrible at fiddle. Let’s play together!

[ Music: “Slip Jig Dreams,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

>> Shannon: Learning the fiddle and the banjo…. And coping with personal loss… And yeah, reemerging from a global pandemic that took a lot of things away. It all takes time. And there are no clear blueprints on how to proceed.

My friend’s doctor told him that Covid is the new head cold. Which seems reckless, simplistic, and weird; because the common cold is generally not lethal.

But it also just feels like a missed opportunity. Like if we have a cold, or flu, or Covid, walking around sneezing and coughing is not cool. And that’s totally what I used to do. Before Covid, if I had a gig and I got sick, I’d do the gig anyway. I’d think about myself. And my bank account, and my own comfort. I’d steam over hot water and drink tonics to help my throat feel better. But I wasn’t worried about being out in public with all my virus, which was really thoughtless. 

But I’m learning. If now I consider other people’s well being, and my own limits — this feels like a good shift. 

Another possible adjustment after all that time of not traveling; well, maybe it feels like it’s time for me to be be a LOT more strategic and more grateful about the travel that I do. Maybe I need to globetrot less, and share music from my home a little more.

When my husband Matt and I started our Virtual Guided Session in March 2020, it was meant as a playing and tune-learning opportunity for a few of my students while we were all house-bound. It was a stopgap. But the community has grown beyond stopgap. We’ve grown beyond a few tunes. There’s connection and camaraderie with folks from all over the world. And sure, it’s not the same as doing concerts. It’s not the same as playing with folks in person. But I think my ego and my imagination have shifted enough to find fulfillment in bringing folks together over YouTube. 

What an unexpected development. But it still feels like another way to find some meaning and transformation from a pretty weird couple of years. Instead of just saying I’m so done with this. And then try to get back to what I did before.

In Virginia, Joe and his partner have been considering how to move forward… how to create a meaningful response to Graham’s death. And life.

>> Joe: My wife specifically requested to talk about how to get our life, the phrase she used was more like normal. It was interesting to me, because she didn’t say back to normal. And I’m glad she didn’t say back to normal, because it’s an opportunity. You know, I can make more deliberate choices. 

You know, I’m an introvert. Happy to be home, Happy for the phone to never ring. But I was immersed in the beauty of the connections to these people in a very real and meaningful way around the loss. So going forward, I get to be a better steward of those relationships and those connections. I’m alive with desire to do that.

>> Shannon: So, in a post Mick world, in a post pandemic world: any hopes or dreams, Dan Neely?

>> Dan: Uh, yeah. I hope the local pub near me will one day say, We need a session. And that other people will be like, “Oh, geez, that’s easy to get to. Let’s go to it all the time. <laugh>. 

>> Shannon: And also, that’s not quite as flip, really. That is about, like, building something beautiful and sustainable for you.

>> Dan: Yeah. If it’s run well, and it’s run in a way that you generate a sense of community, the community builds. And it’s something that can make people feel like they belong to something. And to be able to sort of facilitate that is a goal.

>> Pastelle: Tying to create just really fun projects and experiences. And hanging out with our community has just been like the best. And a lot of us have lost so many things, and we’re consciously being like let’s just, you know, be together, and have fun, and do things together.

>> Shannon: Building a festival close to home… or a session down the street… Or just balancing self care with taking care of other people. These projects aren’t going to replace anyone, or fix everything. 

They might feel hard.. or futile. But maybe remembering good teachers can help.

>> Dan: I think he taught people what they needed to know. And I think now it’s up to those people to sort of realize the vision for themselves that Mick helped them develop. We’ll see who steps up. And there could be like dozens of us who do. It’s better if there are more. I think that’s maybe what he would’ve wanted, too. Like, people to step up and work together. And figure out how to like, move things forward.

* * * **

>> Shannon: Master gardeners can do amazing things. Five tool players with knowledge, instincts, creativity, contacts, and confidence can really lead the field. But a team of people with mismatched rakes and gloves can also sow beauty.

[ Song: “Psalm of Life,” from The Leaves Entwine 

Artist: Jennifer Armstrong ]

I don’t always (or often) heed the call of Longfellow’s Psalm of Life. I’m not always up and doing, with a heart for any fate. But I do think of these verses a lot. And I love hearing Jennifer Armstrong singing them. 

[ Music: Audience of Souls reprise ]

As the 2022 veggie garden peters out, and as cold, darker days descend. I know that some of the sludge of Spring and Summer can simmer a bit. While we stagger through grief, the fiddle and the colored pencils are there. Just one doodle. Just one poem. Just one tune. To send up and out. Just one note that can ring as long as there’s something to carry the sound waves.

Sound travels for a long time. So does smoke, which can morph with rain. And fall onto a garden. Or into the ocean. Feeding and seeding the earth. Always in a state of transition, shifting from one state the next.

[ Music: Tir,

Composer/Artist: Rhodri McDonogh ] 

“Resting for a time in the grace of the world,” as Wendell Berry wrote in his beautiful poem The Peace of Wild Things. I know this poem from Brian O’Donovan who’s brought Irish music and poetry to homes all over the world with A Celtic Sojourn, his weekly WGBH radio show.

Brian really knows how to bring people together—on stages, in the studio, and in the living room, which is where I first heard him recite the Peace of Wild Things. 

“I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

Brian is resting in the grace of poetry these days. He is making the creative choice to dwell on beauty, while he seeks treatment for cancer. He’s been dealt a crummy hand. But Glioblastoma doesn’t take away his agency of what to notice. What to appreciate. 

With such teachers as Brian O’Donovan, Mick Moloney, Pastelle LeBlanc, Graham DeZarn, Dennis Cahill… how can I NOT seize the opportunity for a radical shift? It seems possible… though I know I’ll go back to my nonsense. But maybe, just maybe, I can let some of my petty concerns to go up in smoke. Maybe I can do better finding beauty in my days, enjoying more poetry, listening to more music, welcoming more visits from the cardinals, and feeling grateful for all the kindness out there.

I’m not sure why it’s so hard to be here.

To just garden alone, or with a gang. 

To tune out. 

To tune.

To be kind.

To be here.

Here I am. Shannon Heaton. Producing this episode of Irish Music Stories. Wherever you may be listening—and whether you are enjoying well worn routines, or picking up pieces and creating new patterns—thank you for being here. Thank you, Matt, for the production music and for everything. Thank you to all who have kicked in to help me create the show. Thank you, Nigel for acknowledging our sponsors. Thanks to the musicians whose tunes and songs have colored this episode, including Rhodri McDonogh’s beautiful meditation here.

My deep thanks and my very best wishes to my guests, Emmanuelle Le Blanc, Joe DeZarn, Tina Eck, and Dan Neely.  And thank you, Brian O’Donovan, for introducing me to so many songs and so many poems, including  this short piece by Michael Coady. About the balancing, healing power of creativity.

>> Brian: This is one of my favorite poems around music. And it’s by one of my favorite writer’s, Michael Coady… he is a retired teacher from Carrick-on-Sur in County Tipperary. And just a great guy. An extraordinary writer. An extraordinary assembler of words. He refuses to call himself a … poet, he said this is for somebody else to decide. So anyway, I’m gonna call it a poem, because I think it’s absolutely superb.

Though there are torturers in the world There are also musicians. 

Though, at this moment, Men are screaming in prisons, There are jazzmen raising storms of sensuous celebration, and orchestras releasing Glories of the Spirit.

Though the image of God is everywhere defiled, a man in West Clare is playing the concertina. The Sistine choir is levitating under the dome of St. Peter’s. And a drunk man on the road is singing for no reason.

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Companion Chapters

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Cast of Characters

Episode guests in order of appearance

Shannon Heaton


World-reared, Boston-based flute player, singer, composer, teacher, and host of Irish Music 

Emmanuelle LeBlanc


Multi-instrumentalist and Singer who formed acclaimed Prince Edward Island band Vishtèn with twin sister Pastelle

German-born, Washington-based flute player who performs with bouzouki player Keith Carr

Joe DeZarn


Fiddle player who has played in dances and on stages for decades, with son Graham and other musicians around Virginia

New York-based musician and ethnomusicologist with specialties in the musics of Ireland and Jamaica

Cork native based in Boston who works in public broadcasting and music production

The Heaton List