Touching Down on Different Fields

Musicians who play more than one style of traditional music
Episode Trailer

What happens when ‘trad’ musicians are ALSO fluent in non Celtic traditions? When you’re dealing with cultural traditions (with all the music and the community and social expectations), how do you manage without fumbling or getting sacked? Host Shannon Heaton explores the art and sport of playing on different teams with Paddy Panayotis League, Maeve Gilchrist, Andrew Finn Magill, Hanz Araki, and Nicole Rabata. And revisit February 3rd, 2019… Superbowl 53…. the day Boston, Massachusetts made history.


Thanks to everybody for listening. And a special thank you to this month’s underwriters: Asa Duffee, Sharon Murphy, Kevin Doyle, Mark Haynes, Lynn Cox, David Vaughan, Gerry Corr, Brian Benscoter, and Joe Garrett

Episode 27-Touching Down on Different Fields:  Musicians who play more than one style of traditional music.
This Irish Music Stories episode aired April 9, 2019

Transcript edited by John Ploch

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
>> (Andrew) Finn Magill: Asheville, North Carolina native who plays Irish, Brazilian, and American fiddle
>> Hanz Araki: : Seattle-born, Maine-based flute player/singer of Irish, Scottish, Japanese, and American music
>> Paddy (Panayotis) League: Ethnomusicologist and multi-instrumentalist specializing in traditional music of the Greek islands, northeast Brazil, and Ireland
>> Maeve Gilchrist: Edinburgh-born, New York-based Celtic (lever) harp player who has collaborated with numerous projects
>> Nicole Rabata: Maine-based flute player and teacher specializing in classical, Celtic, and Brazilian choro styles


>> Shannon:  Hi, folks Irish Music Stories is supported by listeners.  There’s a Donate Button at and before I tuck into this month’s show, my son Nigel and I want to thank this month’s sponsors.

>> Nigel:  Thank this month to Asa Duffee, Sharon Murphy, Kevin Doyle, Mark Haynes, Lynn Cox, David Vaughan, Brian Benscoter, Gerry Corr, and Joe Garrett 

>> Shannon:  Thank you and thanks for tuning in.  And, I’m Shannon Heaton, and this is Irish Music Stories.  The show about traditional music, and the bigger stories behind it. 

[Music: “My Love is in America,” from dearga

Artists: Matt & Shannon Heaton ]

Like how some traditional musicians who play Irish, Scottish, or Cape Breton styles are also fluent in non-Celtic traditions.  And this feels like a lot to tackle because when you’re dealing with cultural traditions there’s the music, or the dance steps.  You gotta learn the tunes, the rhythms, the techniques, the style.  But then there is also the community; the social expectations; the culture.  So, when you’re playing on a few different fields, how do you manage without fumbling, or getting sacked—especially on Super Bowl Sunday?  More on that in a bit.

When musicians truly invest in different traditions, do the keep them separate?  Can they combine them?  And then what about a musician’s own ethnic or cultural background?  What role does that play when you’re involved with cultural traditions?

Fiddle player Andrew Finn Magill thinks that these days, heritage and identity aren’t star players.  

>> Andrew Finn Magill:  People that play this music nowadays that are part of this millennial cellphone generation, that they’re just not as concerned about like nationality and it’s like, you are this musically complex individual that happens to play Irish music, that plays American music.

>> Shannon:  But flute player Hanz Araki has faced confusion when people learn that he plays Irish music: 


>> Hanz Araki:  (Laughing) They’re like, “You don’t look Irish.”  You know, or “How did you get into this?”  You know, with the emphasis on YOU. 

>> Shannon:  For this episode I’ll talk to bi-lingual and tri-lingual musicians.  I’ll talk just a little bit about American football, but mostly, I’ll explore the sport of playing different styles of cultural music.  I’ll talk to Hanz Araki about playing Irish wood flute and Japanese Shakuhachi.  To Maeve Gilchrist about her newly-composed music for folk harp.  To Andrew Finn Magill about Irish fiddle and Brazilian Choro on the violin. To Nicole Rabata about classical, Irish and Brazilian flute music.  And, I ask Panayotis League about Greek, Brazilian, and Irish music, through an ethnomusicology and football fan’s lens. 

I spoke with Panayotis (whom I know as Paddy) in his office in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Our makeshift studio was right beside a PILE of cases—fiddle, bouzouki, accordion, bagpipes, bodhran, guitar, percussion instruments. 

>> Paddy:  The warm glow of the MP3 player. 

>> Shannon:  Yeah

>> Paddy:  Should I use my radio voice?

>> Shannon:  (Laughing) I wish you would!

>> Paddy League:  Naw, that’s okay—will you make me sound like James Earl Jones?

>> Shannon: Definitely.

>> Paddy:  I bet you have a filter,…

>> Shannon:  Yeah

>> Paddy:  …that would be awesome.

>> Shannon:  To explore the art and sport of music on different teams, Paddy and I revisited February 3rd, 2019.  Super Bowl 53.  The day Boston, Massachusetts made history.

>> Shannon:  It was Sunday afternoon, about 39 degrees and sunny.  Kids and parents showed Beantown Pride by sporting Patriot’s sock hats and football jerseys.  They streamed into the event space and New England hit the ground running.

There was a flurry of footwork…

To kick off the first ever…

Irish Ceili Dance at the Milton Club! 

>> Paddy:  The experience of playing that Sunday afternoon ceili at the Milton Club, ah, that was actually really, a really nice experience for me.

>> Shannon:  It was a really nice experience for over 120 people who flocked to the Milton Club that day.  To this elegant event space in historic Milton, Massachusetts.  Dancers filled the ballroom, and formed eight-person square sets under chandeliers, in front of tall arched windows.  And old-style step dance master Patrick O’Dea called out to ADVANCE, RETIRE, HOUSE AROUND, and SWING away the winter blues.

[ Music: “Crowley’s,” (reel), from Milton Ceili (field recording by Kieran Jordan)

Artist:  Joey Abarta (pipes), Nathan Gourley (fiddle), Natasha Sheehey (accordion), Devin McCabe (piano), Paddy League (drums) ]

Against the far wall of the ballroom, in front of the black curtain; pipes, fiddle, and accordion pumped out jigs and reels.  The piano traced the tunes and lifted the changes.  And Paddy League rounded out the rhythm section on drums and enjoyed an afternoon of social ceili dances, before heading back to his office to edit an article on The Poetics of Dialogue and Speech in Greek Song.

So, what’s this Harvard-trained ethnomusicologist, with a specialization in Greek and Brazilian traditions, doing in an Irish ceili with a woodblock and a snare?  And what’s up with performing when you’re an academic?  When you study music as a job, is there any conflict when you just play gigs?  

When I was in college, a well-known visiting ethnomusicology professor told me that just because I play Irish music doesn’t make me an ethnomusicologist.  He encouraged me to step away from the flute in order to really get in to the tradition.  Which led me swiftly   out of his class.  Professor Paddy may have advised me differently. 

>> Paddy:  Ethnomusicology is an academic field of study.  It’s not necessarily concerned with the performance of music by the person who is an ethnomusicologist. Although a lot of us, and I’m one of those people, do perform music and performing is central to our identity as ethnomusicologists.  But ethnomusicology is a field that grew out of anthropology, among other things, and concerns itself with the study of music.  So, we look at what, music, why people play music, why it’s important and to them, what music can mean.

>> Shannon:  So, you’re really thinking analytically about non-musical elements.

>> Paddy:  Well, I would argue that there is no such thing.    

>> Shannon:  The combination of studying and performing music is central to Paddy’s identity.  Whether he’s taking mental notes at a Greek wedding, or just playing for a set dance in Milton.

>> Paddy:  To me just playing means paying attention, all that other stuff.  But the part of my brain that is always hyper aware of, of, certain things that are happening that I might write down later to use in some way, uh, was not turned off but maybe idling.  Right?

>> Shannon:  So, you didn’t have any academic agenda?

>> Paddy:  Well, that may not be true, I think I always do (laughing).  Because, even if I don’t ever write about it or teach about playing that Sunday afternoon ceili at the Milton Club, it’s still part of my life experience as a musician.  And I am not interested in, in thinking about ethnomusicology or being an ethnomusicologist without being an active maker of music.

>> Shannon:  Paddy is also less interested in the New England Patriots than the Miami Dolphins.  But he’s less single-minded when it comes to music.  He roots for a variety of traditions.

>> Paddy:  Yeah, I play traditional Irish music, which most of your listenership is very familiar with.

>> Shannon:  And is how I got to know you.

>> Paddy:  Yes, exactly.  My Irish roots are in West Clare.  My grandfather, ah, had a lot of, he, he grew up in a family where there was a fair amount of music.  His parents, um, were publicans and so he was, um, he was exposed to a lot of music—he exposed me to a lot of Ceili Band music on records and things like this.  I didn’t hear a Ceili Band live until I was in high school and we had moved to the Washington D.C. area.  

>> Shannon:  So, he learned to play drums in a Ceili band and also branched out to bodhran, fiddle, accordion and bouzouki, which is Greek instrument that has been folded into the Irish tradition.  Though Paddy plays the Greek version of the instrument instead of the four-course Irishized version.

>> Paddy:  I play the old fashioned three-course, six-string Greek bouzouki when I play Irish music.  Ah, yeah and then on the other side, um, my mother’s family were Greeks from the island of Cephalonia.  I grew up hearing this very specific traditional music: violin, the lauto which is a steel-string lute, and the zambuma, which is a goatskin back double-chanter bagpipe. 

[ Music: “Sarki Syrto,” from Traditional Music and Songs From Kalymnos

Artists: Paddy Panayotis League, Irene Karavokiros & Michalis Kappas ]

It’s dance music—and a lot of singing, particularly, like, improvised poetry on top of the melodies.  Which I was ah, which when I was a kid, was maybe one of the first things that when I was trying to compartmentalize Irish music and Greek music in my head, that’s the thing that always stuck out to me.  It’s like the Irish music I was around, never any, nobody ever sang.  They sang, but not when they were dancing.  Right?

>> Shannon:  Oh, yeah

>> Paddy:  It was always dancing and singing and playing at the same time…

>> Shannon: Huh

>> Paddy:  …pretty much always.

>> Shannon:  Dancing and singing at the same time.  That’s definitely not an Irish thing.  When people sing Irish songs in a social setting, especially unaccompanied songs in Irish Gaelic, the action (and the footwork) don’t just carry on. 

>> Paddy:  I think maybe that’s one of the reasons why Irish language song hit me so hard.  Because it was, always, you sing a song in Irish just like everything stopped.

[Music: “Roisin Dubh,” from The Man of Songs

Artist: Paddy Tunney ]

>> Paddy:  The thing that got me interested in actually learning to play Irish music and Greek music is the same thing, which is language.  I got interested in learning to speak Greek properly, which I actively avoided when I was a child.  I was not interested at all. Um, and I got interested in learning how to speak Irish.  Ah, my grandfather spoke some Irish.  So, I was hunting around for exposure to, to both of these languages on my own terms. 

I mean, I bought a record by, at like, Tower Records in Washington D.C., suburban Washington D.C.—Northern Virginia in like, I dunno, ‘90, 1994, ‘95.  It was like a Planxty record, I think, because it had some songs and Irish on it.  And I was like, oh great.  

>> Shannon:  Uh huh

>> Paddy:  It’s like a different context for, for the Irish language that I was unfamiliar with. 

>> Shannon:  Right, and they happen to play the bouzouki.

>> Paddy:  Yeah, exactly. Which was like… I did, I did a triple take.

>> Shannon:  And eventually he did a triple-focus and added Brazilian music to the mix.   

So, in addition to Greek and Irish music, Paddy also plays Forró music on a two-row accordion:

>> Paddy:  It called Forró, F. O. R. R. O. With the thing (accent) on the ho. 

>> Shannon:  Forró?

>> Paddy:  Forró, right.

[ Music: “Asa Branca,” from O Nordeste Na Voz de Luiz Gonzaga

Artist: Luiz Gonzaga ]

It’s really a collection of genres of, um, music from northeastern Brazil with a lot of, some instrumentation and esthetic choices and certainly body language from Portuguese and Southern Iberian and West African…. It’s really great music.

>> Shannon:  Sounds Nice.

>> Paddy:  It’s pretty amazing, actually. 

>> Shannon:  Why play a bunch of different music. Why not focus on one and just tuck into that?

[ Music: “Meaning of Life,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories

Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

>> Paddy:  Because that just has never made sense with my life.  Ah, the same way that just playing one instrument has ever made sense with my life.  Trust me, I frequently bemoan to myself the fact that I’m not one of one of those fortunate and very clever people who only plays Irish fiddle.

No, because sometimes it occurs to me that, ugh, oh my God, if I only played the fiddle or if I had just stuck with percussion even.  If I was one of those people, I’d be such a, such a “better” musician or I would be more satisfied with what I do.  But I don’t think that’s true at all.  Because everything that I do informs, in very profound ways, everything else that I do.  How could it not—because it’s me who is doing it.  It’s my life.

>> Shannon:  Are there common pieces that you bring from one world to the next?

>> Paddy: Yes, I think probably the most important ones are just the social skills of being a person who cares about making music with other people.  And so, you’re just aware.  You try to be, you try to be a good person, you try to be a good musician and I think it has much more to do with your, I don’t know, for lack of a better term, cultural competence or just social awareness in different situations than it does with, um, technical details.

>> Shannon:  Yeah.

* * * * *

>> Shannon:  So just being aware.  Paying attention to cultural and social behaviors surrounding music.  That’s what Paddy does as an ethnomusicologist—or maybe that’s just Paddy, being a musician.  A musician who has found a way for academic and performing pursuits and support for the Miami Dolphins to work together.

>> Shannon:  And now at this stage in the journey, how does it feel to just sit down and play tunes?

>> Paddy: Oh, it feels awesome.  It feels, it feels even better than it ever has—I don’t know if that’s because I’m an ethnomusicologist or if it’s just because I’m, I’m an older person and I am just a more mature person and more concerned about the world beyond the tip of my nose.  Um, I think probably both are true.  But I can say that every time I sit down and play music it’s because I really, really, really want to.  And I’m doing it with people who I really love and who I really love to play music with.

>> Shannon:  Whether he’s giving a lecture on Greek political songs, or he’s chatting with an old friend beside a pile of instruments, or he’s playing ceili band drums at the Milton Club on Superbowl Sunday, for Paddy League, it’s just THE MUSIC.

A few fields away from Paddy’s office, just over the Charles River at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Maeve Gilchrist has her own pile of musical supplies she uses with students.  Though for her it all fits in one harp case.  Maeve plays folk, or lever harp, in lots of different contexts.  We recorded these polkas with Paddy when I was eight months pregnant.

[ Music: “99 High,” (polka by Randal Bays) from The Blue Dress

Artist/Composer:  Shannon Heaton ]

And nowadays, she performs with percussive dancer Nic Gareiss, as a soloist with orchestras, with an electronics project with bass player Viktor Krauss, with jazz singers, banjo players, and Christmas shows.  She’s busy.  

Before we spoke, I was curious about how Maeve’s traditional music identity relates to her non-trad projects.  It turns out, all her music emanates from the same source, and being a traditional harp player remains her central identity.

>> Maeve:  I’ve been doing a lot of composition recently, commission-based stuff, writing for chamber groups and harp and, and people often, I, I think, assume that these are very separate worlds for me.  But they’re not separate, at all.  Perhaps there’s not, you know, um, a jig in the center of this suite.  Or something that’s identifiable as, um, a traditional tune type.  But to me, there’s elements of traditional music everywhere because it’s determined my whole approach to phrasing, to ornamentation—do you know?  So, so perhaps it’s present in a more abstract sense.  And, and that would probably be applied to, to my whole approach to musicality, and definitely the more I grow and learn in my own musicality, um, the more actually I feel like those elements are there in a, a deep and unshakable way.  But they are more abstract.  But having them more abstract allows me to make the music I want to make, um, without feeling like I’m cutting and pasting elements of music that I love.  

[ Music: “Waimea Rising,” from Vignette

Artists/Composer: Maeve Gilchrist & Viktor Krauss ]

>> Shannon: Maeve grew up in a musical family in Edinburgh, scotland.  She studied traditional music from the start.

>> Maeve: I feel that my traditional roots are, um, are in every note that I play, whether the listener understands or hears that or not. 

I mean, I can’t tell you the amount of reviewers who’ve talked about my classical background, which is simply inaccurate—and actually, frustrating at times.  Because as somebody who comes from a traditional music background and has such love for traditional music it’s frustrating that people assume that because of demonstrating a certain level of technique or trying new things that you couldn’t be a traditional musician.  Do you know, like, who’s to say that traditional musicians don’t and shouldn’t have exemplary technique in order to get their ideas out.  Do you know, like these fiddle and flute players they’re doing incredible things that, that people who’ve trained classically simply wouldn’t have the facility to do.

>> Shannon:  And it’s not only technique that Maeve got from Trad, there are conventions and values from the traditional folk world that follow her into every project she does.

>> Maeve:  Also, something that I feel like which is a, a hang on from my traditional roots is the importance of emotion and connection in my music.  Um, I know for some people, perhaps, connecting with the audience and making an emotional mark is, is not so important—especially, you know, in, in, contemporary composition.  And, you know, people can be working off all different kinds of ideas and themes and concepts.  But connecting with an audience is incredibly important to me, and I’m sure that goes back to the connectivity of folk music.  And whether it’s connecting with other musicians, or it just being a people’s music, in general.  Music, for me, is something to relate to and with other people.

>> Shannon:  Traditional Irish and Scottish music continue to guide and shape Maeve’s creative life.  The community and history behind the tunes.  The social conventions of the music.  This bigger story connects her with collaborators and audiences no matter the setting.

That same impulse was on a high drive on Super Bowl Sunday at the ceili in Milton, Massachusetts.  And if globe-trotting fiddle player Andrew Finn Magill had been in Milton that night, he’d have been holding his own with the fiddle section.  With his Irish music background, Finn can easily tap into the social huddle of ceili musicians and dancers.  But when Finn’s in Brazil, he joins a very different game.  The jazzy, improvisatory world of Choro. When he’s in Rio, he sidesteps the Irish pub session and heads to the Rodas instead.

[ Music: “Gringo De Sunga,” from Brazilian Strings Trio

Artists: Ted Falcon, Andrew Finn Magill & Nando Duarte ]

So, Irish music, Irish sessions and ceili dances.  Brazilian choro music. Rodas and Gafieriras. Very different playing fields.  Although recently, Finn’s different musical pursuits have come together a bit.

>> Finn: Like, the older I get, and the more genres I play around with and, and learn, the more I realize that it all comes from the same place.  I mean it’s all… music is music. 

>> Shannon: What is that place?

>> Finn:  Um, I think it’s a place of like joy and happiness and togetherness.  You know all those things you find in fortune cookies.

>> Shannon: hahahaha

>> Shannon: Finn and I chatted about joy and happiness and ethnomusicology while he sat in this big leather armchair.  It was vaguely like one of those Curious George scenes, minus the pipe and the ascot:

>> Finn: And I’m kind of an armchair ethnomusicologist.  It’s fitting to say that I’m sitting in an armchair, a very noisy armchair.

>> Shannon: Before he was sitting in the armchair finding common ground between Brazilian and Irish traditions, Finn got his start in Irish music at the annual Swannanoa Gathering in Asheville, North Carolina.  Unlike Paddy and Maeve, Finn doesn’t have family connections to the traditions that he’s followed.  But with his dad directing the summer programs at Swannanoa, he started playing trad early on. 

>> Finn: I grew up at the Swannanoa gathering in Asheville.  The genesis of the whole, uh, camp, I suppose, was Celtic music (‘cause that’s my dad’s passion).  But over the years they started adding many different other genres.  So now there’s, like five different weeks, and each one has a different theme based on an instrument or genre and I would take, like, Old Time fiddle at Old Time Week and guitar classes at Guitar Week.  Because of this, basically I was exposed to lots of different kinds of music and got to study with, uh, like, great musicians of each of those respective genres.  There was just too much to do, there is just too much play so at some point I had to focus. 

>> Shannon: So, he focused. On Irish music.  Got really into it, and then …

>> Finn: The short story is I met a girl and I moved to Brazil.  Knowing I was going to be moving there I got in touch with a Brazilian violinist friend of mine.  It’s like, you know, I’d like to learn some Brazilian music.  Uh, can you just like recommend someone that I could do a lesson with?  A lesson, right.

>> Shannon:  Yeah, laughing

>> Finn:  I thought that that would be sufficient. 

>> Shannon:  Right. Can I have ONE lesson in that language. 

>> Finn:  Oh my God, this lesson BLEW MY MIND. 

>> Shannon: OK, this Irish fiddler moves to Brazil.  Some of his best friends there play Irish music.  Yup, there’s an Irish scene in Brazil and in lots of non-English-speaking countries.  And that’s another episode.  But Finn didn’t join up with the Irish musicians in Brazil, he wanted to keep Irish out of it and get fluent in Choro.

>> Finn: To me it is a totally different language—and there really isn’t violin in Brazilian music, at least non-classical Brazilian music.  Because the violin has always been associated as a classical instrument.  So, me as a, as a fiddler, I kind of had to learn how to be more of a violinist, in some ways, to play this music.  Um, that’s not true of every Brazilian genre.  But it is with Choro.  So yeah, and also, I think I made a conscious effort to keep these things distinct in my mind so that I could, like, like, learn Brazilian music without any other frames of reference.  You know, it’s like if you’re trying to learn, if you already speak Spanish and you’re trying to learn Italian, you should just think in Italian.  Because they are different languages, you know, and so that’s what I wanted to do with Brazilian music.

>> Shannon:  He stuck to the weekly Choros and gave Irish sessions a miss.  Also, he didn’t keep up with American football games.  It’s never really been his thing and I imagine the Brazilian soccer team was more a point of interest there.  I asked him what a Choro version of a session is like.

>> Finn:  In some ways it’s like, uh, it’s like an Irish session from a parallel universe,… 

>> Shannon:  Laughing

>> Finn:  … if you’re into that stuff.  In some ways it’s very similar.  I mean you walk in and people are sitting in a circle.  In fact, the word for session in Portuguese is roda, which means wheel.  So, it’s people sit in a big, a big circle.  You know, instead of drinking pints they’re drinking, uh, beer out of very, very little cups, because it’s really hot in Brazil and they hate warm beer. So,…

>> Shannon:  Is it a very light lager?

>> Finn:  Oh yes, very light. You hardly notice the lager.

>> Shannon: Yeah

>> Finn:  Um, yeah, um, the instruments would be, uh, seven-string guitar, cavaquinho (which is the, ah, little four-string ukulele-looking instrument), pandero, and then any number of solo instruments. Pandeiro is the tambourine. 

>> Shannon:  And can you say for our listeners the difference between bathroom and that little instrument?

>> Finn:  Pandeiro and banheiro

>> Shannon:  That’s an important distinction 

>> Finn:  Laughing…Excuse me, where’s the Pandeiro? Yeah, yeah.

>> Shannon:  So, after all this immersion in Brazilian music, when you play Irish music now, does any of that come into your imagination as an Irish player or is it just totally distinct again?

>> Finn: If anything, I try to play Irish music just better.  Like more in tune and, um, and, you know, with like better tone.  

[ Music: “A Beautiful Ending,” from Branches

Artist/Composer:  Andrew Finn Magill ]

And I try to like think about Irish music with the same detail as I did when I was learning Brazilian music.  Um, and from learning Brazilian music, like, it’s improved my, my chord theory—I pretty much always know, like, what chord I’m in.  Now, when I write Irish tunes, um, I’m, I’m often thinking of chords as I write them, and I used to never do that. 

>> Shannon:  These days, when Finn performs, he brings in Choro and Irish and also Old Time and Bluegrass tunes.  Even a Ghanaian song he learned during a stint there.  After years of keeping things separate, he’s started to mix it up in his solo show and he calls it “an honest representation of a musician vs a bad amateur ethnomusicologist.”

>> Finn:  It kind of ends up being like a musical autobiography.  Um, for better or worse, I like getting into the history of the tunes.  You know, where I learned them.  Um, giving a bit of context for where I got the tunes.  

>> Shannon:  Yeah

>> Finn:  I’m very conscious of the fact that it’s a performance and some people really want to be entertained.  

>> Shannon:  Right

>> Finn:  And so like, I’ll do… um, I’ll perform like some flashier stuff just ‘cause I know it’s a crowd pleaser.  Like I have this one tune, it’s a Brazilian tune that, ah, it’s the type of tune is called a galope, which means gallop.  And um, and it’s supposed to simulate a horse and the rhythm is like (rhythmic snare drum sounds).  And so, as I play it, I’ll get faster and faster like a horse and I encourage people to yell Giddy up!  Woo!  

>> Shannon:  HaHaHa, yeah

>> Finn:  You know?  And they love it, you know.  Never in a million years would I play it like that in a session.

>> Shannon:  Right

>> Finn:  Um, if you’re going to vary it, or you’re going to arrange it, do it in so far that it helps the tune.  That makes the tune stand out.  You don’t want, you don’t want the tune to lose anything, um, for the sake of performance.

>> Shannon:  Right  

>> Finn:  And so, I’m, I’m conscious of that too.  It’s always this thing that I’m, that I’m thi nking about it, you know.

>> Shannon:  So, Finn’s solo show isn’t a random variety hour of fiddle tunes he learned out of a book.  He’s been out in the field.  And, after learning a lot of details, and distinctions, he’s touched down on common elements from different traditions.

[ Music: “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” from November 9 2013 Veteran’s Day Parade

Artist:  Camas High Marching Band, recorded by daveincamas, licensed under the Attribution Noncommercial License ]

>> Shannon:  All right, Half Time report, guys!  A great start to our show at the Milton Ceili.  We had some Greek and Brazilian play from League, then Gilchrist intercepted with new music for the lever harp before Magill closed the First Half with another trip to Brazil.  There’s plenty of game play ahead, so don’t touch the remote.  Will run with more stories from bilingual and trilingual musicians.  Can they keep weaving through different cultural traditions without getting blocked?  The Second Half comes your way after this.

>> Nigel:  It takes a lot of time and a lot of traveling to create this show.  If you can kick in, just go to  Any amount helps.  THANK YOU! 

>> Shannon:  Like Paddy, Maeve, and Finn, Hanz Araki has a rich, varied playbook.  As a flute player and singer of both Irish and Japanese music, his cultural studies have crossed hemispheres.  And his pile of instrument cases is much more compact than my earlier guests—even though his music is just as multi-faceted.  

[ Music: “Valentine O’Hara,” from Foreign Shore

Artist:  Hanz Araki ]

>> Shannon:  When you hear this track, how does it hit you?  You’ve got Hanz singing and playing flute interludes.  There’s an appealing rhythmic groove, there’s a story to follow about a guy from the hills of Tara who heads over to England (things don’t go great for the guy).

But there’s a very different story here too.  You see, when Hanz is not playing and singing about Valentine O’Hara—when he’s in Japanese music circles, he’s known as Kodo 6, the sixth in a line of flute masters who play the bamboo Shakuhachi flute.  He learned to play from his dad, who learned from his dad, who learned from his dad, who learned from his dad…

>> Hanz:  Yeah, I would be the sixth, he’s the fifth.

[ Music: “E Ten Raku,” from Field Recording

Artists:  Koto 5 & Koto 6 ]

>> Shannon:  I know Hanz from Irish music circles.  So, it was cool to learn more about his Japanese flute side.  At the age of 17, he started Shakuhachi lessons with his Dad, who taught ethnomusicology at the University of Washington, and that’s why Hanz is a dedicated Seattle Seahawks fan. 

Now, starting Japanese bamboo flute at 17 is a little late in the game for this sort of traditional art.  I wondered why this Japanese/American kid started playing in the first place.

>> Hanz:  Honestly, it’s, it’s luck that I gave it a shot.  Because up to that point I had wanted to be, I’d want it to be an illustrator. I wanted to do all these things, but I wasn’t particularly, (laughing) I wasn’t particularly skilled, shall we say.  

>> Shannon:  OK

>> Hanz:  And so, like immediately, like from our very first lesson, I kind of felt like I had a knack for this, and everything started to make sense.  And it, a lot of things clicked for me.  

Um, and that was like.  So that was in April of 1988, and I made my pro debut in August of that same year.  You know, I like, hit the ground running and never stopped.

>> Shannon:  Hanz made it to the end zone at the start of the game.  Right away, his family moved back to Japan and it sounds like this was a lot trickier than scoring a field goal.

>> Hanz:  It was, I mean, it was harder than I realized at the time.  You know, I can look back now and say, you know, I struggled, you know, personally, emotionally.  It was kind of the worst time to go to Japan and do something like that.  Because it was the peak of the bubble economy in Japan.  And it was, it was insane there.  It was a crazy place and … 

>> Shannon:  A lot of wealth?

>> Hanz:  …A lot of wealth.  And lot of nouveau riche, you know, and very few people interested in traditional anything.

I was playing six hours, a minimum, six hours every day.  And so, like, just as a mental break from that, I would surreptitiously, try to learn these, a few, Irish melodies, mostly songs, on the Shakuhachi. 

>> Shannon:  When he got back to the States four years later, he got a tin whistle and he tried out those Irish melodies.  And he learned new ones from a local crowd.

>> Hanz:  The crowd of people that I sort of fell into in Seattle, the Irish music community, were, they were really welcoming.  And they were great with teaching me things.  But not in the same way that, you know, not in this structured way of sitting down for a lesson, you know.  Um, so that was really kind of fun and exciting and, and oftentimes I would learn the most music between the hours of like 2:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m., you know.

>> Shannon and Hanz laughing.

>> Hanz:  Like, it was the session after the session, that’s when I learned most of my music.  I mean, what a complete 180.

[ Music: “ Come West Along the Road” (Reel), from Field Recording

Artists:  Various Session players, recorded at a house party in Melrose, Mass ]

Learning from my father, you know, who is this kind of like strangely irreverent man.

>> Shannon:  Good for him.

>> Hanz:  Yeah.  And he’s hilarious and he’s a really good teacher.  Um, and so now I fall into this crowd of mostly guys from Dublin, that, and so, you know, there’s still this sort of laid-back feel to it.  It’s not, I don’t have to go to a classroom.  There are some similarities there.  You know?

>> Shannon:  Yeah, it’s taught from one person to the next.

>> Hanz:  Yeah, and it is, you know, nobody handed me a book of tunes to learn, you know.

>> Shannon:  So, it’s learned aurally?

>> Hanz:  Exactly.

>> Shannon:  Also learned aurally?  Thai traditional music.  That’s a real passion of mine—and during the year I studied in Suphanburi, Thailand I often faced surprise when people saw me walk into a room with my Saw Oo—that’s a two-string lap fiddle.  And I STILL get some surprise looks when I support my Suphan FC jersey—but increasingly, Suphanburi’s football club has more and more international fans.  Sometimes sports is an easier way in…

I wondered if Hanz had experienced surprise or confusion at being involved with Irish, or with Japanese music.

>> Hanz:  Yes.  I’d say almost entirely in North America.

>> Shannon: And not in Ireland?

>> Hanz:  Never in Ireland.  Like, to this day, people are, people have never batted an eye—except the American tourists that are there.  (Laughing)  “You don’t look Irish!”  You know, or “How did you get into this?”  You know, with the emphasis on YOU!  You know, not asking, like, you lived in Thailand, there’s no reason why you would play Irish music just because your name is Shannon, and you’re white, you know.  So, it is a little offensive.  But it’s, it’s more that it’s tiresome after nearly 30 years of being asked that. And especially living in Japan, part of it was another aspect of it that was challenging was being half Japanese.  It means I’m not Japanese.  To a Japanese person.  Even my dad’s not Japanese and he’s born in Japan.  But he lived in the states for 20 years, so he’s not Japanese anymore.

>> Shannon:  He’s a Yank.

>> Hanz:  Yeah, excatly and you know, my mom at one point said, well, you know, it’s tough.  You’re neither fish nor fowl.  You know, and it’s true. (Laughing)

>> Shannon:  Nor legume.

>> Hanz and Shannon:  Hahahahaha!

>> Hanz:  I bristle somewhat to that kind of questioning, you know.  And it has been more pointed and more… icky at times for sure—but only in the States.

>> Shannon:  That stinks.

>> Hanz:  Yeah.

>> Shannon:  I’m sorry.

>> Hanz:  There are people who have asked, it’s a perfectly legitimate question.  Like, I don’t look Irish.  I also don’t look Japanese.  I don’t look particularly anything.  How did you get into playing Irish music as opposed to playing anything?  You know, that’s a legitimate question.  It could have an interesting story behind it.  It’s, it’s, when it is really kind of race bait-y and dog whistle-y that it gets uncomfortable.

>> Shannon:  Yeah

>> Hanz:  The, the way I’ve just developed an answer to that question now I just say, oh, well my mother’s Irish, because that’s true.  But my mom’s not a musician, you know?   And the automatic, immediate response to that.  “Oh, oh, I see, I get it.”  Come on!  But at least the conversation’s over then.


>> Shannon:  Irish music and Japanese music.  Two very distinct traditions.  I wondered if there was any overlap for Hanz today.

>> Hanz:  Truly the, the joy that I find in music is, is the sound of instruments blending.  My Shakuhachi upbringing—that line of musicians has this professional name, that we play under, is Koto—so I’d be Koto the Sixth.  Um, that, that, I keep as its own thing and it’s just for traditional Japanese music.  But of late, I have started to play a bit of Shakuhachi on, like I just recorded a new album and I did, uh, a little bit of Shakuhachi on that, you know.  An Irish melody, but like that sort of thing.  It’s not an instrument that’s conducive to the jigs and reels.  But it’s great for slow airs.

[ Music: “Our Captain Cried,” from At Our Next Meeting

Artist:  Hanz Araki ]

You know, if, if it’s appropriate, if it fits, I would play it.  If it works, it works and I’ll, I’ll play anything that I can, you know. (laughing)

>> Shannon:  Yeah (both laughing)

>> Hanz:  Give me that tuba!

>> Shannon:  Like fiddle player Finn Magill (whom I’m sure would also sound great on the tuba), Hanz has begun bringing different traditions together onstage, and on recordings.   And that’s another thing.  When musicians go Pro, they try to appeal to listeners.  Offering variety can help keep audiences engaged.  So, programming music for the stage and for recordings might be another factor that drives creative and bilingual musicians to blend diverse sounds.

When I look at my own playbook, I have some questions about this.  I’ve included Thai songs on my Matt & Shannon Heaton albums.  And while I DO speak Thai, and I HAVE had the great privilege of studying with masterful musician Jiraporn Lekpong, I am not an accomplished Thai musician.  When I sing Thai songs, I present them with an Irish style.  

[ Music: “Mon Ran Dawk Kam Tai,” from Tell You in Earnest

Artists:  Matt & Shannon Heaton ]

It’s meant as an homage to my beloved teachers and my community in Suphanburi.  Because their influence on my life informs my music on every level, even if I’m not actually playing Thai music.

But because I am not a Thai musical master, is this a problem?  I hope not.  My intention is to explore, enjoy, and share a few songs that I love, and that I learned from one of my greatest mentors. 

Hmm.  In less murky territory—though no less busy or colorful—Nicole Rabata also wears very different hats in Portland, Maine.  But the football helmet is NOT one of them.  She’s not a big sports fan.  Which is good, because she’s got a lot of musical passions and there’s only so much time on the game clock.

[ Music: “Armorica/Laridé/Les Vieux Loudéacs,” from Armorica

Artist: Nicole Rabata ]

Nicole plays classical, Irish, AND Brazilian music.  And she’s managed to inhabit each tradition’s style and culture.  This is a big accomplishment, because a classical silver flute background CAN be an impediment to learning trad, when it comes to learning by ear, making and nice straight tone, and tapping into that rhythmic feel. 

Nicole seems to have avoided that kind of interference.

>> Nicole:  I think, um, I’m sure you feel the same way when you hear someone play, say, an Irish tune and it just feels wrong, because maybe the player is approaching it, like, in a classical style or something like that.  And it just, there’s something about it that just isn’t quite there, there’s something, the emphasis is wrong.  Or, um, the tone is kind of too refined or something.  It’s just got the wrong flavor.  Um, I think that can happen in any traditional style where, you know, it’s, it’s about listening and absorbing the, you know, phrasing, the ornamentation, the tone quality…

>> Shannon:  Yeah, and having that experience in Irish music, having it be this social thing, and this cultural immersive thing.  In addition to it being a musical thing—in fact, maybe that’s what the music is about.  And that’s where it comes from.

>> Nicole:  That’s one of the things that I was missing, that element in the classical world.  So, it’s been great to just have it be something informal and fun as well where you can get together and share tunes in an informal setting and with friends.

>> Shannon:  Like Boston Irish fans did at that February Ceili in Milton when they got together in a friendly, gathering space to share lively steps and tunes.  And it’s that social and the rhythmic aspect of the music and dance that has pulled a lot of people into the Irish tradition.

>> Nicole:  While I was in college, um, I got really excited about Irish music and I was more interested in learning by ear and branching out, and getting away from the page, the written page and just really flew with it.  Um, I just got really excited about Irish music—just such an infectious rhythmic dance music, and um, so, I ended up spending my junior year of undergrad over in Cork, studying both Irish and classical music.  So that was kind of my first year in Ireland.  And then I moved back over after graduating college and spent three more years in Ennis.  Just, ah, playing a lot in sessions and just learning more tunes and hanging out…

>> Shannon:  Yeah

>> Nicole:  …with the folks there.  

>> Shannon:  Did you bring any of that kind of, I don’t know, cultural, social stuff into the classical?

>> Nicole:  You know, I think the people that I choose to play with when it comes to chamber music are like-minded folks who enjoy what they’re doing and we always have a good time when we play together.  For me it is, ah, especially playing chamber music, is just a really fun experience in that way.  Whereas, you know, playing in an orchestra is a little different because it’s such a large group and there isn’t kind of the interpersonal, um, element in the same way on an intimate level with the other musicians.  So, that’s a whole different experience, which is great in its own way, but not as much of the connection…

>> Shannon:  Right

>> Nicole:  …that you can have in a small chamber music ensemble, or in a small Irish session, or in a Brazilian music, ah, session, a roda.

[ Music: “Pound the Floor,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories

Artist/Composer:  Matt Heaton ]

>> Shannon:  Yup, Brazilian music.  If I branch out someday, maybe I’ll launch Brazilian Music Stories—It’s clearly contagious.  Or should I say, “Contagioso!”  Haha… So as you’re approaching Brazilian Choro music on the flute, are you bringing any of your Irish sensibilities in?

>> Nicole:  I try not to (laughing), uh, because it is such a different style.  Um, and it’s, I play it on my, my modern flute.  I don’t, you know, it’s a separate instrument which helps to separate the styles, but yeah, the music is a lot more chromatic and goes up into the third octave a lot.  So, it doesn’t really—it wouldn’t work on the, ah, Irish flute that well.

>> Shannon:  Yeah

>> Nicole:  So 

>> Shannon:  So you’re keeping them really separate in your mind.

>> Nicole:  Uh huh.

>> Shannon:  And culturally, I suppose, they’re probably a really different world.

>> Nicole:  Yeah. Yeah, definitely.

>> Shannon:  Different traditions have different stories behind them.  And being able to really tap into each style—and the culture that informs that style—that takes dedication.  And time.  And energy.

>> Nicole:  When you play multiple styles of music, it’s almost impossible to focus all of your energy on all of them at once every day.  Or especially now that I have two small children (laughing).  I guess what I would say with my practice, and it’s gone through different, you know, phases in my life where I really would focus a lot of my time on practice on one style or the other.  It’s a little bit of a juggling act right now.

>> Shannon:  Yeah 

>> Nicole:  Um, I have to shift around with the time that I have.

>> Shannon:  In the pre-internet, pre-affordable plane ticket era, it was harder to dive into multiple music styles.  We couldn’t just stream music (or football games), so we were pretty much stuck with the music and dance—and sports—that were right around us.  Unless we were willing and able to make pilgrimages to other lands.

With our shrinking, tech-soaked world, borders are dissolving.  And so are our attention spans and human connection levels.  Which is why listening to podcasts, like this one, is probably good for us.

Anyway, higher stress levels and lower serotonin levels aside, lots of people now manage multiple disciplines.

Musicians like the ones we’ve heard from in this episode.  Maeve, Paddy, Nicole, Hanz, and Finn have all invented ways to move around musically while still being really accountable to the various traditions that inspire them.

For harpest Maeve Gilchrist, it’s about tapping into one source, and following that through different settings.

For Panayotis League, it’s about pursuing passions, like Irish, Greek and Brazilian music and paying attention.

[ Music: “Nansai Og Ni Obarlain,” from Triptych

Artists:  Laura Risk, Kieran Jordan & Paddy League ]

>> Paddy:  I just think of myself as a musician.  To me, what that means is somebody who plays music on a couple of different instruments who sings, who composes music, who plays in all kinds of different formats and social situations and several genres.  And, also, a part of that is somebody who studies music analytically as a social phenomenon.  That’s what my life as a musician has become.

[ Music: “Um a Zero,” from Benedito Lacerda e Pixinguinha

Artist:  Benedito Lacerda e Pixinguinha ]

>> Shannon:  For flutist Nicole Rabata, it’s about connecting with other Irish, classical and Brazilian musicians—it’s about branching out and growing.

>> Nicole:  I would just say that I’m a musician, ah, and I try to keep, um you know, branching out and still, you know, being excited about different styles.  I guess I wouldn’t put myself in a box, because I feel like all of the different styles I play influence the other styles.  So, I think it’s just, ah, fun and exciting and, you know, it keeps things fresh to keep mixing it up.

>> Shannon:  And for singer and flute player Hanz Araki and fiddle player Andrew Finn Magill it’s about presenting different styles together.  When it works and when it serves the music.

>> Finn:  At the end of the day we’re all people.  We’re all people playing music, and not to reduce it down to that; but like, it’s really cool to be in sessions where there’s like an American, an Irish person, an Australian and Japanese.  And you’re all playing together, and you’re from different backgrounds.  So, I think that intrinsically this music has this in that there is something that is common to just music itself that, that you can be from any culture and, like, tap into that, you know.

>> Shannon:  Back in Boston on that February weekend, dancers, musicians, and Patriots fans (and a stalwart Dolphins fan) pulled together.  

[ Music: “Aunt Jane’s Trip to Norway,” from The Blue Dress

Artist/Composer: Shannon Heaton ]

In a beautiful gathering space with a masterful dance teacher and stellar Irish musicians like Paddy, everybody was able to tap into a deep well.  Deep enough to draw sports fans on Super Bowl Sunday.  And, deep enough to unite New England Patriots AND Miami Dolphins and Seattle Seahawks fans for a greater cause.

* * * 

Irish Music Stories was produced by me, Shannon Heaton. Thanks again to Asa Duffee, Sharon Murphy, Kevin Doyle, Mark Haynes, Lynn Cox, David Vaughan, Brian Benscoter, Gerry Corr, and Joe Garrett for underwriting this episode.  If you can kick in, there’s a donate button at  

Thanks as always to Matt Heaton for the production music, to Nigel for acknowledging our sponsors and thanks, once again to Carol Zall for weighing in on this script.

Thanks again for listening, everybody.

[ Music: “Imperial March,” from The Auburn University Marching Band, Highlights of the 1998 Season

Artist:  Auburn University Marching Band & Dr. Richard D. Good ]



>> Paddy:  I could breathe heavy like Darth Vader into the microphone—

but I won’t do that.

>> Shannon:  Could we do like a James Earl Jones in Irish?

(Paddy laughs)

>> Shannon: Ugh.Thanks. Thanks for NOT being adventurous already.

(Both laughing)

Sound of Darth Vader breathing…

Bonus Content

Related videos

Companion Chapters

Related essays

Cast of Characters

Episode guests in order of appearance

Asheville, North Carolina native who plays traditional Irish music, Brazilian choro, jazz and American fiddle

Hanz Araki


Seattle-born, Maine-based flute player/singer of Irish, Scottish, Japanese, and American music, and sixth generation shakuhachi player 

Paddy (Panayotis) League


Ethnomusicologist and multi-instrumentalist specializing in traditional music of the Greek islands, northeast Brazil, and Ireland

Edinburgh-born, New York-based Celtic (lever) harp player who has collaborated with numerous projects

Flute player and teacher at Colby College and University of Maine, specializing in classical, Celtic, and Brazilian choro styles

The Heaton List