Jigs in the Key of P

How two Irish musicians modulated their careers through parenthood
Episode Trailer

What’s the secret formula for parent-performers? With Chicago-based box player John Williams and Boston guitarist Matt Heaton share two unique approaches to keeping the music and the insight factory going strong, while still tucking in to family. (Hint: it works for non-parents, too.)

Host Shannon Heaton’s conversations with these wildly inventive musicians might inspire you to hustle, to do your best, keep learning, and avoid drinking unsavory water.


Thank you to everybody for listening. And a special thank you to this month’s underwriters:  Michael Wilson, Aubrey Atwater, Adrian Glover, Billie Neal, and Brian Benscoter for supporting this episode. And thank you to Matt Heaton for script editing and production music.

Episode 22-Jigs in the Key of P
How two Irish musicians modulated their careers through parenthood
This Irish Music Stories episode aired November 13, 2018

– this transcript edited by Tom Frederick –

Speakers, in order of appearance
>> Shannon Heaton: flute player, singer, composer, teacher, and host of Irish Music Stories 
>> Nigel Heaton: young announcer for Irish Music Stories, and co-producer of this story
>> John Williams: Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist with All Ireland titles and film credits aplenty
>> Matt Heaton: Pennsylvania-born, Boston-based guitarist and bouzouki player


>> Shannon: Before I start the show, I wanted to thank everybody for listening, and for sharing episodes with your friends. And a special thank you to this month’s donors, read by my son Nigel.

>> Nigel: Thank you to Michael Wilson, Aubrey Atwater, Adrian Glover, Billie Neal, and Brian Benscoter.

>> Shannon: If you can kick in, please visit IrishMusicStories.org. Your support helps me pull together different voices and views of the world… all through an Irish music and dance lens. THANK you! And…

I’m Shannon Heaton. And This is Irish Music Stories, the show about traditional music… and the bigger stories behind it. 

[Music: “The Tap Room” (reel), from Rehearsal
Artists: Dan Gurney (accordion), Shannon Heaton (flute), Matt Heaton (guitar) ]

Like how John Williams found his groove when his kids were little … by staying home in the Windy City:

>>John:  Chicago is a town that has enough biz going on of all sorts, that afford you the opportunity to raise a family in a stable environment without always disappearing for seasons touring.  

>> Shannon: And how Matt Heaton found an unexpected calling by playing music for little kids all around Boston.


>>Matt: I get as much gratification at this point out of a room of really happy, excited kids as I do a room full of really happy, excited adults. My whole sense of self worth is no longer tied up in, “Am I perceived as, like, you know, this great Irish musician?” 

>>Shannon: When musicians first embark on a professional music career, performing, recording and touring is often the aim. It’s a challenging paradigm to design and maintain. But it’s a LOT tricker once kids come along.

Touring with little kids takes a colossal amount of energy. You’re parenting a kid all day on the road. And then you gotta get up on a stage at night and be your best self.

And then once your kid turns two, those extra plane tickets really add up.

So what do you do, if you’re a touring musician and you have a kid?

Muscle through with the family in tow? Tough. And once kids are walking, talking and getting involved with friends, and school. Really tough.

So… hit the road while the other parent stays home with kids? That’s tough for everybody. And if the parent who stays home also happens to be a performer… that can be problematic. Unless they’re real careful about taking turns, which is also tough.

So…no magic formula for parent-performers. 

But maybe there is. 

Maybe, no matter how you adapt to expanded family life, a guaranteed way to stay inspired and successful is: stay inspired! Keep making really good music! Keep learning!

At least, that’s what I got when I talked to accordion player John Williams, whose three kids are just beginning their adult lives. And to guitarist Matt Heaton, who is doing the floss right now with our eight year old in the living room.

For this episode, I investigate how John and Matt have each modulated their careers to the key of parenthood.

[Music: ends]

My first stop is Evanston, Illinois, to talk to accordion player and multi-instrumentalist John Williams. 

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

John has performed with lots of different outfits: the band Solas; his duo with guitarist Dean Magraw; Stonesthrow with percussionist Prince Ravenna Bay; even performances with bluegrass legend Tim O’Brien… and with Doc Severinson.

>>John:  Doc, god love him, I don’t know if he is still with us, but he was a great force. He became a conductor after Johnny Carson and the Tonight Show. He was the band leader there. And, uh, he started conducting the Milwaukee Pops. They did an Irish program and imported a few soloist types, like myself. It was fun seeing him do his job, you know? I’m always enamored of watching conductors.

>>Shannon: John has also taught many people Irish music, including me, when I lived nearby. During one of my Chicago-land trips, we talked about how John continued his vibrant, creative career AND managed to pick up his kids from school.

[Music fades]

Our chat felt like home—in HIS home, surrounded by photos of his family, and potted plants… and with John chatting in his leather recliner. Of course, we immediately began joking about psychoanalysis. 

>>John: You have to keep in mind that anything I say is with some level of, uh…

>>Shannon:… Dementia? Hahaha!

>>John: no… retrospect…

[Music: “John’s Theme” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

>>Shannon: I settled into my own comfy chair, and readied myself for a wildly creative hour with John Williams:

>>John: I can be a very flat, uh, and painfully boring interview.

>>Shannon: I can’t wait. 

John didn’t always play Irish music. And perhaps, the musical skills—and the humor that he developed early on—set the stage for his current diverse musical approach.

[Music fades]

 So your dad played concertina, but you really didn’t play Irish music or didn’t play the concertina until 13?

>>John: They didn’t really want me playing Irish music until I was capable of playing other types of music. Or maybe they just thought Irish music as an instructional format was, uh, slightly counterintuitive for early age musicians. And the truth of the matter is, one of his buddies from Clare, probably at bar, said, “You know, I got this great music teacher if you want. She’s just down the block.  She’s teaching my son piano accordion. And my dad is probably like, “Oh yeah, bring her over, that’d be great.” So, she became, like, just a part of the family once a week coming and teaching.

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

>>John: You know, we had five people in a small house and it could be noisy. But when Mrs. Evelyn Sarna would come over; it was like a monastery. John whispers -Everyone was really quiet… And you could hear them listening in the kitchen. It was almost like attending a spelling bee, if your kid is in a spelling bee. Everyone is like, “… oh my God, I hope he gets that. OK, OK, he got the star for memorizing, yay!” But there was no applauding or anything. But you could tell everyone was listening. 

[Music: “Cuckoo Waltz,” from Plays Polka Hits
Artist: Frankie Yankovic]

>>Shannon: A spelling bee with a waltz soundtrack. This little number (performed here by Frankie Yankovic) is in Book Three of the accordion courses by Bill Palmer and Bill Hughes.


>>John: You know, the Palmer Hughes accordion method, in book one and two, you’re playing in 3/4 tempo waltz time. I remember not too long after learning these pieces, like maybe a week and half after I started. My parents thought it was so great that I could play waltzes they would have get togethers. People would come over for cocktail parties and then I would come out, as, like, a seven year old, and play waltzes for them and they would all be waltzing! And they’re all immigrants from Ireland, and they’re all loving it! And I’m thinking, “oh, there’s magic here in music and everyone’s having a great time.” 

>>Shannon: Oh! That’s nice!

[ Music ends]

>>John: I got a half hour lesson and my sister, Kathy did. She started teaching music theory and broken chords, minor, major, diminished. And then she [Evelyn Sarna] started teaching me all the college fight songs because… at age 12, and I was a little bit mystified, it was like, “why do I have to learn the Iowa fight song and Wisconsin and Notre Dame and everything?” And she said, “Well Johnny, it looks like you’ll probably be a professional musician at the rate you’re going and it’s very important when people hire you to play for their parties or their weddings that you know their college fight song. And if you know their college fight song they’ll call you again and again.”

>>Shannon: Hahaha!

>>John: So, I realized the end was near because I felt like this was the kiss of death.  And around that time I was going to high school, and I just thought it was a little too tragically hip or not cool to, uh,  play accordion and go to high school. So I stopped, and I thought, “ that’s the end of music for me. I’m done with it.” 

[Music: “Midnight Sojourn Waltz intro from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt & Shannon Heaton

But the whole discipline of practicing an hour a day and trying to complete two or three pieces a week, uh, that was in my system.

>>Shannon: It was in his system, all right. John was hearing Irish music at those family parties; and also at the Irish Musicians’ Association on the South Side and the Francis O’Neill club on the North Side. He moved from the piano box to the button accordion. And picked up the tin whistle, and his dad’s concertina as well. 

[Music fades]

He’d spend summers in Clare apparently “helping” his Uncle Paddy and Aunt Agnes with farming and hay reeking.

(Don’t tell John I said this, but I think he was mostly playing tunes in Doolin and Lisdoonvarna, with musicians like Eoin O’Neill here who joined John for this track on his 1994 debut album.)

[Music: “McGreevy’s Favorite/Hold The Reins,” from John Williams
Artist: John Williams

So, at this point, John’s an accordion, concertina and whistle player…. with a drummer’s soul:

>>John: Truth be told, before the piano accordion and all that, I was always drumming from an early age. And to this day I do think of myself as, kind of, a drummer/dancer/percussionist sort of cat. Of course my parents used to tell me that when my sisters went off to school, my mom would be home alone and doing house housekeeping with me. And after I had my breakfast she’d set me up with some wooden spoons and just open up the  cabinets. And I would, like, pull out all the pots and pans. As a small kid they’re as large as a drum set. You know, and I would be drumming all the time. My mom would be downstairs doing laundry. She would be, kind of, praising me to high heaven from the basement saying, “That’s good, Johnny, keep it up. It sounds good.” She knew that if the drumming continued that I was occupied in a way that I wouldn’t hurt myself, or like, do things that toddlers can get up to when mom’s doing laundry. So, everytime there was laundry, I was drumming, and getting praise from the basement. “Jeez, that sounds good, play a bit louder. 

And if I would stop drumming, my mom would be like, “I don’t hear any of that beautiful drumming. Keep it up!” And, you know,  I would go back drumming.

[Music ends]

>>Shannon: Maybe it was his inner Mickey Harte that helped shape this iconic, rhythmic riff. It’s the very first eight bars of the very first album by ground-breaking trad band Solas. 

[Music: “Ni Na La,” (AKA Nil Na La) from Solas
Artist: Solas ]

Touring around in a van with Solas, and cranking out world-y, percussive accordion parts—not surprising for an Irish box player with a drummer’s soul. But when John’s own kids came along, he bowed out of full-time touring and passed the wooden spoons and pots and pans on to the next generation:

>>John: I ended up touring less when the family came along, and, uh, doing more local projects. Chicago is a town that has enough biz going on of all sorts that, uh, over time, you know,  I’ve played for weddings, christenings, funerals. All the Leonard family events, all the O’Malley’s, the Mc’Donogh’s…

>>Shannon: John calls these match ’em, hatch ’em, and dispatch ’em gigs. 

>>John: Kids see us hustling all the time. We’re not sit on our arse musicians waiting for the phone to ring, for a real cushy gig that suits our needs. No, we could, kind of, customize an event to just about anything. 

[ Music: John’s Theme reprise ]

If I have to hire dancers, and a drummer, a bass player and transport a PA system and set up a keyboard, I’ll do it, you know?

>>Shannon: Do you enjoy it?

>>John: I do enjoy it. I do enjoy the challenge of orchestrating an evening, you know? It’s like being a party planner. Sometimes you’re working with party planners so there’s levels of who’s planning what and when. So, there’s different communication paradigms and systems. You learn to, you know, speak clearly and keep it short… and everyone’s happy!

>>Shannon: (funny moment)Hahaha. Nice!

>>John: When I said that I thought I would just end the response, in the spirit of keeping it short.

>>Shannon: Being concise. I like it! Hahaha.

 Alright, so the guy who, in my mind, invented the sound of the trendy trad accordion finds enjoyment in playing background music at a wedding. And in building relationships with movers and shakers around town. Talk about keeping the old ego in check.

>>John: There are great dividends that accrue to staying in your home town and meeting a lot of people in arts organizations and forging relationships over time. So, not only does that afford you an opportunity to raise a family in a stable environment without always disappearing for seasons touring, but, uh, there’s an old saying, as you know, “No good deed goes unpunished.” So sometimes a good gig or a good turn will come back to haunt you, and you’ll get three more. Or you’ll get a student out of it. Or, and you might not even want to take on an extra student. And then you realize, “I’m so glad  I’ve taken on this student because I would have never have learned about this, this, this, or I would have never…” So, each person is like a sea of connectivity.

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

>>John: It’s not just parties and lessons for John. It’s production music, too:

>>John: There’s a film company in Chicago that keeps, uh, coming to me. I’m giving them a private library of rights-free music for their own purpose. Generalistic scene, background music, underscoring. Even very American and New Orleans and Old Time sounding flavors as they specify. Sometimes they just give me three adjectives and they’ll say, like, “Johnny, we got an upcoming episode. We want you to write twelve pieces evenly divided between the following adjectives- resilience, creativity and persistence.” So then I would just be shooting in the dark, literally, and coming up with sounds. Ya know, either way, I’m charged up.

[Music fades]

>>Shannon: It’s cool. John is charged up to lead sessions, or to work on a piano track on a movie set with Paul Newman, or to play accordion waltzes for a room full of immigrants. He’s up for whatever’s on. 

>>Shannon: What have been some of your favorite collaborations? Recording? Performing? Traveling?

>>John: Shannon, you know, my policy is, uh, try not to play favorites too much. There’s a lot of goodness happening everywhere. So my modus operandi is love the session you’re in. This collaboration is probably the most memorable favorite thing I’ve done in recent history. So, I mean, there’s a lot of them. So.

[ Music: Midnight Sojourn reprise ]

>>Shannon: Yeah. A lot of ‘em. But at the end of the day, John and I can just sit down and play a few tunes in the living room. And that’s where it’s at for him. Even with all the various projects and biz, John’s an Irish musician, with skill and reverence for the tradition… and for the bigger story behind it. He really got that lesson early on, while playing for his parents’ parties. That GREATER thing.


>>Shannon: And you remember those moments?

>>John: I remember that, and thinking, “oh my God, so it’s not only, uh, an individual pursuit. It’s like, there’s a greater thing going on. It’s affecting a lot of people. I got that message early on. 

>>Shannon: That greater thing—that nourishing thing that John finds in Irish music. Through his Irish music lens, he finds mysticism in weddings, christenings, and funerals:

>>John: Life passage type events; you know, if you didn’t have courtship, and you didn’t have weddings, and christenings and wakes. Uh, so much of primal music, whether it’s that of Ireland, or Serbia, or Gypsy cultures, or North Africa; it serves passage purposes, rights of passage, at different phases of life. And other times it’s just good times music, you know?

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

>>Shannon: Which is another type of passage… the passage of time.

>>John: Yeah, whiling away the hours.

>>Shannon: Whiling away the hours. 

[ Music fades ]

John wrote, in the liner notes to Raven, the 2006 album he made with guitarist Dean Magraw, “Away from studio and stage, a big part of the joy or playing Irish traditional music for me has been stepping into the flow of life with friends, family, and future acquaintances: advance, retire, swing, and “around the house & mind the dresser!”

[ Music: “Twins’ Dance Party / Sylvia’s & Mikey’s Reels” from Raven
Composer: John Williams
Artist: John Williams & Dean Magraw ]

Here’s Twins’ Dance Party, two tunes that were sparked out of John’s joy of dancing in the living room with his twins (they were tiny at the time), with one in each arm.

[ Music ends ]

[Music: “My Love is in America,” from Dearga
Artists: Matt Heaton (guitar), Shannon Heaton (flute) ]


Back home in Medford, Mass, my husband Matt and I whiled away the hours and talked about HIS winding road. Well… we whiled away 35 minutes, before Matt’s student arrived and before I left to meet our son at the school bus stop.

[Music fades]

Matt backs tunes and songs on guitar and bouzouki; he really knows the Michael Coleman recordings and that first Solas record; he plays tunes on fiddle and banjo. He identifies as an Irish musician.

[ Music: “Heartstrings Theme” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton

He also makes music for the Irish Music Stories Podcast, like this tasty tune we call the “Heartstrings Theme” 

But for all the Irish music street cred and classy podcast production music, his musical mother tongue is pure solid body. And these days, Matt’s side gig is playing rockabilly and surf-tinged hits for kids. Songs like Wombat Dance … and this one, which carries a powerful message that you never outgrow.

[Music: “Don’t Drink the Water (That Your Butt’s Been In)” from Toddlerbilly Riot
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

So, how in the butt does Matt reconcile his kid music career with his identity as an Irish musician? And how did he GET here? I asked Matt to de-mystify his journey. But we don’t have a leather recliner, so we sat on the piano bench together instead.

>>Matt: Check. One, two.

>>Shannon: There? Does that feel OK, you comfy?

>>Matt: Works for me. Yeah, I’m fine.

>>Shannon: Alright, can I get your take. This Irish guitar player starts making kid music?

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

>>Matt: SO… prior to having a kid, which would be 8 years ago, the main thing that you and I did was we played concerts together, as a duo. And we went all over the place to do so. We would drive, you know, all over the States. We would fly to Europe. We would, you know, we toured. 

Once we had a child we initially started, uh, trying to kind of recreate that. Bringing him with us, with a variety of babysitters, nannies, grandma. Like, you know, every, all the various options that are out there, we tried. Um, and it… it, you know, it was not the easiest thing in the world. 

>>Shannon: No, it was not.

>>Matt: But neither of us really had a solid Plan B. 

>>Shannon: Nor did we WANT to stop.

>>Matt: Yeah, no, I mean, like this is what we wanted to do. So it wasn’t like, okay, kids coming along. We’re gonna quit now. But what sort of, what started to happen for me anyway is…uh, we are fortunate to live in an area in which many, if not most, of the libraries around have free singalongs for little kids. They’re sort of aimed  0-3 years old, they’re in the morning, 10 or 10:30. 

[Music ends]

So I started going with Nigel, our son, uh, to these singalongs. And by and large, you know, the quality of musicians doing them was pretty great. But then every now and then I’d see someone who was kind  of like “huh”- I sort of feel like I could do better than that. Um, and of course, we were playing music and singing to him all time at home anyway, and so it was kind of a natural extension where I just decided to try and put together a kid music show. And it has just sort of snowballed for me.

[ Music: “Jackson’s Jig,” from Kitchen Session
Artist: Matt Heaton (guitar) ]

>>Matt: performing with kids- “I’ll hold up my fingers for the numbers, OK?” Kids respond- “ONE!” Matt- “Can’t ask for any better than that, OK!”


When I started out, I was playing more Irish songs, I think, than I am now. I started writing a lot more of my own music. And then that, kind of, that has become a real focus.

>>Shannon: Some of which is hilarious.

>>Matt: I, well, you know, I do my best. 

[ Music: “Shoe the Donkey,” from Kitchen Session
Artist: Matt Heaton (banjo) ]

Every now and then, um, I will bring my tenor banjo and play tunes sort of while people are coming into the room. Just because I hate the awkward silence really. 

>>Shannon: Yeah. So do you think that, uh, doing your own music, doing some rockabilly music does that make you less of a legit traditional musician?

[Music ends

>>Matt: Part of making a living as a musician…

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

It’s a weird balance of ego and not ego, uh,  because when you’re, you know, like, anyone who’s getting up on a stage, there’s some element of ego. Like, there’s just no reason to go through all that hassle. You know, so I have an ego. BUT, since having a child, I have learned to live with my ego in a way that, like, my whole sense of self worth is no longer tied up in, “Am I perceived as, like, this great Irish musician?” I don’t feel that stuff as much anymore.

>>Shannon: Learning to live with your ego. That’s great. And hilarious. And real. And a creative plus for Matt. It turns out, this kid music stuff has unlocked a deeper drive with ALL his music projects. And I really feel it in our duo too.

[ Music: “Lover’s Lament,” from Lovers’ Well
Artists: Matt & Shannon Heaton with Nic Gareiss (feet) ]

>>Matt: I treat the kid music stuff, really, as seriously as I do playing trad music. I want it to be really good music. I take it really seriously.

[Music fades]

A lot of people have this perception that, oh, you just get a ukulele and learn 3 chords and then you’re a children’s musician. Yeah, sure, but you’re a boring children’s musician. I think, you know, whoever your audience is— like, whether it’s a bunch of 5 year olds, or a bunch of, you know, very erudite lovers of traditional music—like, you gotta do your best for ‘em. You gotta make it GOOD. 

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

I’m trying to appeal to the parents as well as the kids. So such hits as Don’t Drink the Water That Your Butt’s Been In. Um, it felt weird to do that sort of thing and then, “Oh, and here’s this traditional ballad.”

>>Shannon: And so what’s that about for you as an Irish musician? Do you just compartmentalize?

[Music fades]

>>Matt: Yeah. I do. Because I, I … like, I am, you know, I’m an American, I grew up listening to a lot of different things. I played the rock and roll in high school and college and everything. And was able to use the children’s music as a chance to, at first, reconnect with some stuff that I hadn’t done for a long time. And now as it’s gone on, it gives me an excuse to learn how to do things on the instrument that wouldn’t have a real application in trad music with our duo; like, I, you know, playing some rockabilly stuff. I have been trying to learn some Merle Travis thumb picking.

[Music: “Happy Holidays,” from Snow Day!
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton]

>>Shannon: Like this Western Swing inspired lick, from Matt’s new Christmas album.

As things circle around, some of those things have been finding their way into our duo….  certain sounds. .. they do bleed over a little

>>Shannon: OK, Matt and I DO still travel to perform Irish music as a duo. But really it’s a trio now because we bring our son along. So we can’t manage all the venues we used to. I asked Matt how it feels, for him, to go from playing concerts all over the world to playing more locally:

>>Matt: You gotta adapt a little bit. We, it used to be travel for us meant, OK, we’re gonna go to this large region for this period of weeks. And, you know, we need to fill in these dates.

[Music fades]

 And we gotta find somewhere for that Tuesday night. Because if you’re not playing, you’re just spending money.

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

Um, now we go out for a weekend. We go to a festival or something a little more self contained and don’t worry about, like, “Yeah, but then we could stay out for a week and, you know, go somewhere else the next weekend, and if we can fill in those four days in the between, ya know, with whatever, like…” Yeah, it’s, it’s better now. 

>>Shannon: Well, and it’s just, uh, there are only so many weeks in the year and so, you know, there are the places you feel really fond of and you want, you need to make time for, and so finding concise ways to get back to Lincoln, Nebraska. To get back to Boulder, Colorado. To get back to Chicago. These places, ‘cause it means so much to us. But we can’t go out from Boston to Chicago anymore. So we have to be strategic.

[Music fades]

>>Matt: It is funny, like, I get as much gratification at this point out of a room of really happy, excited kids as I do a room full of happy, excited adults. Um, ‘cause, you know, in both cases they’re responding to some music.

[ Music:”Road to Garrison,” from Dearga
Composer: Maurice Lennon
Artists: Matt & Shanon Heaton with George Keith ]

 I enjoy both things. And I’m lucky to be able to do both. And it’s great.

Being a musician is not the easiest or most lucrative way to make a living. And so if you are not charged up about it, do it as a hobby and find something else to make money with, because it’s just not worth it if you aren’t really enjoying it. And I, knock wood, I am really enjoying it still. Even though what I’m doing now is a really different thing than what I was doing 10 years ago, it’s working out great.

>>Shannon: Yeah. So it seems like, no matter what setting, as John Williams said, you’re charged up! (timer goes off)

>>Matt: It’s true, it’s true!

>>Shannon: Haha! And speaking of, that’s the timer to go pick up Nigel, so I’m gonna go and pick him up.

>>Matt: OK.

>>Shannon: Matt is not always, as we say in our family, the one who is left. Sometimes he goes out to do gigs with other bands. Before I headed out to the bus stop I asked Matt to talk about the touring that he does do…

>>Shannon: And then when YOU go off on the road with other projects, as a side player with other musicians, how do you keep the home fires burning? You got a kid, you got a spouse at home. Um, how do you stay connected when you are on the road?

>>Matt: I mean, Skype is a wonderful thing, I will say that. It is, you know there are a lot of, a lot of aspects of technology that, you know, you could argue about. But the two that I think have improved life spectacularly are Skype and GPS. Technology makes it easier because…

>>Shannon: Cell phones.

>>Matt: Yeah, cell phones. You know, you can connect a lot more easily than you used to be able to.

>>Shannon: You can text pictures.

>>Matt: Yeah, you sort of don’t feel like you’re missing out on as much of the other person’s life, um, in the time that you’re gone. And, you know, and if you’re lucky, “Ok,it looks like it will work to set up a Skype date at this time.” You know. it gets trickier the more time zones involved, but still, like, you know, if you plan it right you can at least say good morning or good night to your kid most days. So that’s big. That’s a really big thing.


>>Shannon: Parenting is a really big thing. Though, big picture: parenting a young kid is a temporary situation. It’s a LONG temporary. But everybody keeps reminding us that, “the days are long, but the years are short.” 

[ Music: “The Big Reel Of Ballynacally/The High Hill/Flash Away The Pressing Gang,” from Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers
Artist: Solas ]


And, well, life is short. And change and adaptation is part of it. It’s part of life, and it’s part of a living tradition like Irish music.

Irish music is big and old enough to withstand heaps of variation and innovation. It might be under the radar in the big ocean of pop culture. But it’s carried waves of generations through good times and bad. It has brought people together, and lulled kids to sleep. It has offered comfort, it has stirred social change.

And once musicians have the trad bug, they are probably infected for life. No matter what projects come along, and no matter what trendy accordion licks get invented. Like Seamus Egan said in Episode 13, that Irish music DNA lingers.


>>Shannon: Solas is an Irish band, started as an Irish band.

>>Seamus: All of us, having grown up in the tradition, never felt that we needed to hold onto that to such an extent as to, um, exclude trying other things. Even though, you know, we pushed the boat out from time to time. I think the band always, sort of, had a kernel of sound that always seemed to be there.

It was probably difficult for me to play something that doesn’t have the sort of SMELL of it, you know? ‘Cause it’s so ingrained in, so I never feel I’m, no matter what it is I’m doing, to me I can always, I can always smell.

>>Shannon: You smell Irish?

>>Seamus: I can smell the Irish music in it!

>>Shannon: Want more Irish-smelling music? I hope you’ll tune in next month for my special end-of-year playlist, to round out season TWO of Irish Music Stories.

In the meantime, thanks so much for listening to THIS episode, which was written and produced by me, Shannon Heaton. Thank you to John Williams and to Matt Heaton for the great conversations. Thank you to Matt for the production music and script editing. Thank you, Nigel, for acknowledging our sponsors AND for script editing (and for the outro music). And thanks again to Michael Wilson, Aubrey Atwater, Adrian Glover, Billie Neal, and Brian Benscoter for underwriting this episode. Your support helps me share the show with everybody.

This winter, the IMS workshop will pull together more great episodes about life through an Irish music and dance lens. If you’d like to be a helper elf and brighten my production season, here are three things that can really help. me pull Irish Music Stories together, to share with everybody:

#1) Share an episode with friends. They don’t need to know anything about Irish music or dance to listen!

#2) Rate or review IMS on iTunes. It helps other people find the show.

#3) Donate! 500 bucks or 5 bucks. It all helps. And it shows me that you value the show, which means a LOT to me. There’s a donate button at IrishMusicStories.org. And you’ll get an angelic on-air thank you from Nigel, who also has a devilish spoon-breaker side.

>>Shannon: You know, I do know how deeply knowledgeable you are about Irish music.

>>John: Could we change deeply knowledgable to deeply dodge-able? 

>>Shannon: Hahahaha!

( sounds of spoons hitting pans, in time with the music… then a cracking sound)

>>Nigel: Oh! 

>>Nigel, Shannon, Matt: Hahahaha!

>>Nigel: Aaaaaah! I’m the SPOON breaker!

Bonus Content

Related videos

Companion Chapters

Related essays

Cast of Characters

Episode guests in order of appearance

John Williams


Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist with All Ireland titles and numerous film credits

Matt Heaton


Pennsylvania-born, Boston-based guitarist and bouzouki player who also plays music for families

The Heaton List