Nourishing Next-Gen musicians and dancers

Juice Box Sessions

Nourishing Next-Gen musicians and dancers
Nourishing Next-Gen musicians and dancers
Episode Trailer

It’s really exciting and important to have kids playing Irish music.  And it takes organization, skill, and willing adults to create learning opportunities for them. In this episode Annmarie Acosta, Lexie Boatright, Clare Cason, Oisín Mac Diarmada, Maisie Lynch, Eileen Estes, Agi Kovacs, Ken Fleming, and Aidan Flanagan—and very special guest students, parents, and community members—share ideas for building the next generation of Irish players and dancers, with and without support and acknowledgement from the rest of us…


Thank you to everybody for listening. And a special thank you to this month’s underwriters: Tom Frederick, Paul DeCamp, Gerry Corr, Jonathan Duvick, Sean Carroll, Brian Benscoter, Isobel McMahon, Finian McCluskey, John Ploch, Susan Walsh, Rick Rubin, Ken Doyle, Chris Armstrong, Ian Bittle, Chris Murphy, Irish & Celtic Music Podcast, David Vaughan, Matt Jensen, Suezen Brown, and Bob Suchor

Episode 63- Juice Box Sessions
Nourishing Next-Gen musicians and dancers
This Irish Music Stories episode aired August 16, 2022

Speakers, in order of appearance
>> Shannon Heaton: flute player, singer, composer, teacher, and host of Irish Music Stories 
>> Oisín Mac Diarmada: Clare born, Sligo-based fiddle player who performs with Téada, Atlantic Steps and others
>> Maisie Lynch: Educator, CCE Board Member, and Irish music parent based in Olney, Maryland 
>> Eileen Estes: Singer formerly based in Chicago, now in Pennsylvania
>> Annemarie Acosta: New York based piano and accordion player who founded Acosta School of Irish Music & Dance
>> Clare Cason: Symphonic musician and Irish fiddle player who directs the North Texas School of Irish Music
>> Erin Fitzpatrick: Irish music and dance parent of BWAIC
>> Lexie Boatright:  multi-instrumentalist, teacher, and Artistic Director of the Baltimore-Washington Academy of Irish Culture
>> Agi Kovacs: Hungarian-born, D.C. based percussive dancer who performs with Footworks
>> Members of the Baltimore-Washington Academy Grúpa Cheoil
>> Nigel Heaton: young announcer for Irish Music Stories
>> Ken Fleming: Dallas, Texas veteran musician who founded the O’Flaherty Irish Music Retreat and North Texas Irish Festival
>> Aidan Flanagan: Texas born fiddler who performs with River Driver
>> Gordon McLeod: Texas based fiddle player and teacher
>> Nina Gibson: Grandparent and community advocate for Irish music in Baltimore-Washington
>> Also featuring Christian, Zane Acord, Lucy, Conley, Rose, and Eleanor


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

[ Music: “The Old Schoolhouse,” from Live in Lisdoonvarna

Artist: Kilfenora Céilí Band ]

Like how it’s really exciting and important to have kids playing Irish music. 

And how it takes organization, skill, and willing adults to create learning opportunities for them.

And how maybe it’s good for all of us to pitch in, to be pleasant, and to make space for newer players… of all ages.

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

>> Oisín: I think it’s one of the most treasurable kind of elements of this music is multi-generation. There’s a huge emphasis on getting younger people playing.  

>> Shannon: Oisín Mac Diarmada teaches fiddle at camps all over Ireland and the States. And he believes in encouraging young players. So does Maisie Lynch, whose family has become involved in Irish music and dance in the Baltimore/Washington DC area.

>> Maisie: It’s very easy to say that you support kids. We can all say that. But what are you actively doing to do that?

>> Oisín: Making it local, community-based, and making it relatively inexpensive—I think that accessibility is key, really. 

>> Shannon: Kindness is also key. Because instilling compassion and manners early on can go a long way toward building a better community—and probably a better world. At this point in human evolution, maybe it’s time to say No Bullies Need Apply…

[ Music: “Scotch Mary / Lizzy in the Lowground / Trails of Kubinek,” from Jolie

Artist: Nightingale ]

… Everybody else come on board! And bring your favorite flavored beverage along. For thirst is a dangerous thing.

>> Shannon: You know what’s well-hydrated… and really accessible in my neighborhood of Medford, Massachusetts? Kid sports. Everybody gets what baseball and soccer are. Parents step up to coach local teams. Families show up to the games. Local businesses kick in with sport supplies, and snacks, and drinks. For most people sports ball games are go-to activities in and outside of school.

But even in the Boston area, where we have a lot of Irish people, and a big community of Irish musicians, dancers, and singers, it’s harder to find coaches and participants for, say, an under-12 Céilí band than a hockey team. We do have musical families here… we have some great dance schools and teachers who work with kids… and the music school of our local Comhaltas branch has been quite vibrant in the past. In fact some of those fine young Comhaltas did music exchanges with kids in Ireland, and went to the All Ireland a few years ago as a Grúpa Cheoil (You can hear that story in Episode 01 of Irish music stories). And we have great players who come here for college and get involved in local sessions and music parties. 

But a lot of visible year round music caters to older adults. Or the advanced kids and college players who muscle into the scene. Like… if you’re already a motivated, experienced player, you can usually participate in music sessions and summer camp classes with adults. But if you aren’t already up to snuff, you might end up in a fairly segregated program for kids, run by just a few dedicated staff members. 

Singer Eileen Estes helped run the kid music program this year at MAD Week (That’s the Irish Musical Arts and Dance Week, which just took place in Rockville, Maryland.) 

>> Eileen: This week actually started as a fiddle week for Mitch Fanning’s youth fiddle players. So it started with the kids. And it’s so cool the adults wanted in on the action. And then it became primarily an adult camp. And then we kind of fought a little bit to make a space for the kids in it.

>> Shannon: In order to help make a dynamic 2022 event for the littles, Eileen  asked for help from a number of instructors, including Annmarie Acosta, whose own New York music school and whose work at the Catskills Irish Arts Week has empowered many fine young musicians over the years.

>> Eileen: When Annmarie would walk in the room—on so many levels, just her command over the room, and her ability to be kind but clear. How do you do that?! Plus she was able to explain it to them. You really have to know what you’re talking about to be able to explain it to children.

[ Music: “Three Ducks And A Goose,” from Cover the Buckle

Artists: Seán Clohessy, Sean Mccomiskey, And Kieran Jordan ]

>> Shannon: Yeah. You really need to know your stuff in order to teach it effectively. And Annmarie really knows what she’s talking about, because she’s a great piano and accordion player.

>> Annmarie:  As much as it’s been wonderful all of these years teaching and being acknowledged for that—which I super appreciate—there are some times where I feel like I’d love to just sit and play more often than I do.

>> Shannon: Dallas-based fiddle player Clare Cason is also an accomplished musician who has become quite busy organizing opportunities for young players in Texas.

>> Clare: In a lot of ways, I don’t necessarily think I was the best person to start youth things here, in the sense that I’m not very naturally a social leader of groups. But it’s really like, well no one else was doing it. So even if I’m not the perfect person for this job, at least I can try to get something started and do the best I can. And maybe someone else will come along from that first generation of kids who’s much more natural at it, and be able to contribute and help.   

[ Music Chimes reprise ]

>> Shannon: In this episode, I’ll speak more with Clare, Eileen, Annmarie, Oisín,  and a host of other musicians—teachers and young students—who are all part of building the next generation of Irish players and dancers, with and without support and acknowledgement from the rest of us…

[ Music: “Old Wooden Bridge,” from 2022 Mullingar Fleadh

Artists: Ryan Ward with Annmarie Acosta

Composer: Vincent Broderick ]

>> Shannon: Annmarie Acosta has been encouraging young musicians for years. Many of her students have become brilliant players and have performed and received awards, like her piano student Ryan Ward playing here, with Annmarie on the box. He just earned the 2022 title of Senior All-Ireland Accompaniment Champion. (She won this title in 1998.)

But it’s not about winning for Annmarie—the Acosta school is about teamwork, and recognizing everybody.

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

>> Annmarie: It’s like the most important thing, I think, to give everybody space. And to just allow for them to find their place in our community.  Someone like me is constantly encouraging the young ones and the newcomers to be brave, to take that step to take what’s in a classroom setting and bring it out into a socially intimidating setting. 

And in the social setting, I try to model as much as possible that we can all slow the pace down at times, and we can all make space. And sometimes people in the social circle agree with that. And sometimes they don’t.

>> Shannon: Well I think just recognizing it takes bravery to get involved in something. That must guide how you teach people. 

>> Annmarie:  Yeah. I always specifically overlapped the classes. Class ends at 5 for one group and starts at 5 for another, but nobody actually leaves at 5. So from 5 to like 5:15, they play together. And the people who are just coming have the opportunity to play along with the more experienced players. And then like all through the years in preparation for the Fleadh, there are the kids who are in the practice together. 

[ Music: “Jackson’s Jig,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist: Matt Heaton ]

>> Shannon: To give her school some focus, Annmarie has them participate in the Fleadh Ceoil. That’s the annual Irish music competition, where her student Ryan played piano. To be part of the All Ireland Fleadh in Summer, local Comhaltas branches around the world hold regional qualifying contests in the Spring. (Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann is this enormous organization dedicated to Irish traditional music. And at the week-long August festival, like 500,000 visitors attend events.)

I spoke with Annmarie right before she headed to the 2022 Fleadh in Mullingar. In addition to preparing solos and small ensembles, she also organizes Céilí band and Grúpaí Cheoil ensembles.

>> Annmarie: So in order to make a group or a band ideally you have a certain number of players. In a Céilí band, ideally you have 10, in a Grúpaí Cheoil ideally you have 20. So not everyone in that group of 20 is at the same level. And without each other, you have absolutely nothing. 

>> Shannon: It takes all of us. The people who are learning. The people who are waiting for the rest of the team to get it. Maybe some of those guys take the opportunity to explore a teacher role. Or they just learn a little compassion, some patience. And what about the people who are really struggling to keep up?

>> Annmarie: Like I’ve had some kids in a Grúpa Cheoil who can only play like two notes. But we will find a way for them to fit in. Because being exposed to everybody else is what makes it possible the following year for them to play seven tunes. It’s not always easy to get everyone on the same page to have the same sense of ‘we are a team.’ All through the years I’ve always asked at the end of practice ‘how many people are in the group? 20.’ If one person makes a mistake, how many people made a mistake? 20. That’s it. They just have to be together. Because if they’re not together, they don’t have a group.

>> Shannon: Hopefully this approach builds kindness within the group. And it extends to other groups, to other kids they encounter at, say, the Fleadh. Because kids (and older humans) can sometimes take their own insecurities and hang ups out on other kids. Which is really disappointing. And which is really human. So it’s really important that we have willing students, and supportive families behind them, and skilled teachers.


>> Shannon: To be skilled at doing something that is so important, that not a lot of people can do, or even want to do, and so you’re just relegated to that role often times.

 >> Annmarie: A lot. I do think that to a certain extent there’s a lack of awareness of my being a musician as separate from a teacher. So it’s amazing to have students who have built themselves up to this level, and performed themselves, and travelled, and have won awards and all that. But there are some times where I feel like I’d love to just sit and play more often. 

But on the flip side, last week at Irish  Arts Week I taught all day. And I taught during my lunch. And I taught after my classes, because I had all these other students and responsibilities that I was working on. But then one of the evenings after I finished the Céilí at midnight and went to make sure all the kids were asleep, I snuck out at about 1230 am and played til 330 in the morning. But most of the people in the session were my students — like previous students. To show up in the middle of the night and be surrounded by an extremely powerful session, and know that a significant number of people in the session are my own students, it’s kind of amazing.  

[ Music: “Even with her Eyes Closed,” from Living Room Session

Composer/Artist: Annmarie Acosta ]

Guess what that session started with, shockingly? The whole entire session started with a slip jig, because one of my students started with a slip jig. And I was like, this is so classic of Acosta school! Slip jig!


>> Shannon: After I met with Annmarie, I chanced on Irish music parent Erin Fitzpatrick talking with concertina and harp instructor Lexie Boatright. I asked Erin about her experience with their local Baltimore Washington Academy of Irish Culture.

>> Erin: What we love most about the Irish music community is there is such inclusivity. It’s kind of like pull up a chair, throw yourself in there, grab a pint and have some fun. I have larned over the years that there’s etiquette, you don’t just sort of throw them in. Sometimes it’s preferable that they are asked to join. Sometimes you go in to just listen, which is totally fine with us, because then they get to hear a lot more.There’s been just an instance where we’ve run into “well, we’ve got a lot of accompaniment players this evening, and I don’t know if that will fit in.” 

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

>> Shannon: The kids’ teacher Lexie might have handled that exchange differently…

>> Lexie: You know, invite them in and give clear parameters. Come on in to the session! Beware that there are already some accompaniment players. But it will be great if the kids could play accompaniment on a couple of sets throughout the night. Let them sit behind and watch the person who plays their instrument. Because if you tell them don’t come in, it’s not a good night for you, they don’t get to sit and listen. They don’t get to sit and watch. They’re gonna stay home. But if they can come in and be told you may just play one or two sets, then they get a better experience of they’ve got their expectations managed, they know what they’re gonna get to do, they’re there to watch and learn. And they’ll be invited in to get to do their playing when it’s the right time. There’s always an okay time to let a kid play a tune.

>> Shannon: And then what a child hears is not NO. But you hear yes

>>  Erin: Then they hear great feedback, which is huge for my kiddos who are brand new, and “That was great…. Did you think about vamping here… Did you think about a chord block here…” So my kids soak that up like a sponge. So they love that. 

>> Shannon: Are you also a musician?

>> Erin: Not an Irish musician. I grew up playing piano, but sadly had given that up.

>> Shannon: Never too late! we’d love to have you too…

>> Shannon: I’d like to go to a session with Erin. She seems like a thoughtful participants who treasures this community—and who values encouragement. Seems like a win.

>> Lexie: You know, we can really easily get tunnel vision on ‘this is our adult thing. It has happened where they’re barred from joining sessions and things. And it can feel like the adults know you’re not good enough to play in the session, instead of they’re assuming you’re not good enough to play in the session. 

I think that we’re maybe more willing to be a little hurtful to kids than we often would to adults. You know, how many times have we hosted a session where someone really needs to be told maybe this isn’t the session for you, maybe there’s another place. And it’s so hard to do. When it’s a kid, I think some adults feel really comfortable saying, “no you can’t come.” But it can really, really hurt that kid. 

In my opinion I like to think about what possible harm could this kid possibly bring to the session? And does that outweigh the harm that could come from telling them they can’t come into the session? You know, they play, they have lessons, they have a real instrument. But that’s the hard thing, is talking the parents through it. And talking the kids through it. And saying not every session is your social scene.

[ Music: Hornpipes: “The Galway Bay / The Plane of the Plank,” from Won’t You Stay for Tea?

Artists: Lexie Boatright & Shannon Dunne with Donna Long ]

>> Shannon: Like Annmarie Acosta in New York, Lexie finds and creates empowering experiences for her students. She was also about to take her bunch to the All Ireland Fleadh… and to the Scoil Éigse summer school that leads up to it. Scoil meaning school, and Éigse meaning exchange. Like an immersive cultural exchange.

>> Shannon: Well it’s exciting that you’re going to Ireland!

>> Lexie: Yes, I think they’re very excited. We’ve got a big house. And most of us are staying together in one house. And everyone will come in for the Grúpa Cheoil rehearsals. And we’re gonna have Annmarie Costa’s daughter playing with us, which is so special to me because Annmarie had invited me as a kid to do the same thing—to travel, and to be part of a group that was 13 hours away from where I lived. Being an adult now, to be able to have Aoibheann be able to play with us, it’s really special. We’re gonna have a great time. 

>> Shannon: That’s great.

>> Lexie: Yeah, it’s not really about going to the Fleadh and competing in the Fleadh. Like that’s maximum 8 minutes of their day is actually competing in the fleadh. The one day of the week and a half that they are there. But it’s about going to Scoil Éigse and being in a classroom with kids their own age, playing the same instrument. And you get a great social connection between the kids and the teacher. And then at the break or at lunch, all the other kids are gonna go, oh let’s go grab a sandwich. So you all go together, you walk into town, and you sit down, and you’re gonna have conversation. And you gonna learn what’s the same and what’s different. 

I remember one time I was at Éigse Mrs Crotty’s which was the big concertina school. And I was the only American kid there. And I was sitting next to this boy, his name was Fiochra. And he goes, ooooh, you’re from America. They have really good drinks in America! My cousin sent me some. Have you ever had Crystal lite? Hahah! It’s just like Crystal Lite, why would you want to have Crystal Lite?

>> Shannon: It’s like Kool-Aid

>> Yeah, it’s just a simple, easy, whatever.

>> Shannon: Crystal Lite. Kool-Aid. Juice boxes. Whatever. Meeting in Irish music isn’t just about the competition. Or the tunes. It’s about meeting and discovering new things, and new people, and new drinks. It’s about finding common ground and differences.

>> Lexie: Like a big thing that comes up when it’s a family’s first ever Fleadh is they’ll say, “well we really like the concerts and performances. But we are afraid to do competition, because for us it’s not really about showing off, or being the best, winning a prize. But if they’re doing a show, that’s just the kids being together.”

But I think the cultural expectation in Ireland is really the opposite. That if you’re going to the Fleadh, you go and you hear everyone else, if you’re doing accordion you go and hear every single accordion player, You present your tunes, too. Everyone gets the equal moment to be heard.


I always ask the kids what’s the worst that can happen? You hear someone plays really well, and you learn oh I could do that, too. They’re a kid just like me. And then you’re inspired. And you practice more to reach that level because you realize you can. That’s the worst, right? It’s just fun and inspiring, it’s okay

Shannon: This worldview might be more easily summoned with a little hindsight. And also perhaps if you’re not involved in the Céilí band or certain fiddle competitions. 

>> Lexie: You’re dead on. I mean there are absolutely places if you’re not investing as much time in the attitude and the experience they’re going to have, and how they’re going to treat each other as you do into the music itself, you’re gonna get sucked into kind of a negative, highly competitive mindset. 

So to be really kinda self reflective and transparent, I think that’s the biggest reason that I’ve settled into being a concertina player. I started the fiddle when I was 6 years old. And I still play. But concertina players are really nice and welcoming. And it’s really important to me that we invest that time and we prepare them really carefully. 

Mine are supposed to take a notebook, and everyone they hear, when they go, ‘I’m really nervous, that person was really good,’ they have to write down what are they doing that’s making you nervous. So maybe they have a really cool tune. If you write down the name of that person, you can ask them later “what was the name of that jig? I really liked your jig.”

Or maybe they have really good rhythm, or their dynamics were really captivating, or they were really in tune. Whatever it is. If you see that kid playing and you say oh no, they might win, you need to think ‘they have something that is catching my eye. What is it? Can I quantify it, and can I work on it this year?’ Whatever it is. They’ll have a nice clear goal, and it’s something they can control. Because you can’t control what the adjudicator thinks. Or what the other kids are playing. So yeah..

[ Music: “Gerdy Commane’s / The Graf Spee,” from Won’t You Stay for Tea?

Artists: Lexie Boatright & Shannon Dunne with Donna Long ]

>> Shannon: A lot of Lexie’s music students are dancers. Dancing seems to be a major gateway into playing Irish dance music. The tunes are there, after all, to give the feet something to chew on… and to give a community something to do together.

While the Baltimore-Washington Academy Grúpa Cheoil was rehearsing, Agi Kovacs was teaching dance moves to another group of musicians that MAD Week founder Mitch Fanning helped instigate.

(I couldn’t help but notice that the dance kids had water bottles… not so much juice boxes…)

>> Agi: The best experience I’ve had so far was teaching fiddle students, music students, um, who were studying with Mitch Fanning actually. And it was really amazing, because I wasn’t, I didn’t have to explain the musical structure or what we were about to do there. I just had to kind of, sort of teach them how to move their bodies.

>> Shannon: Agi was trained in classical ballet and Hungarian folk dance before moving to DC over 20 years ago. Since then, she’s taught sean nós, clogging, and flatfooting. 

>> Agi: I think it makes you a better musician if you do know how to move your body around a little bit. And I do think especially with children who, um, are so open and so creative and so fun, you know, that if you just spark a little imagination in there, um, or give them the leeway of connecting to the music, I think it opens such a gateway in your creativity.

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

 And also, you know, in this group setting that allows you to be free. And yes, it’s not gonna be perfect most of the time probably, but who cares? 

>> Shannon: Who cares, indeed. This is a social, folk tradition—a good place to expand. To try things. And a kid who risks it, who tries out new things in this little Irish music world is probably going to have a good chance of carrying those skills and that bravery into other pursuits.


Like Annmarie Acosta, Agi encourages brave participation. And this works best in a welcoming environment. 


>> Agi: I like the more relaxed free-form sessions where if a student wants to jam with the people, they allow that. Um, because I do think it’s, you know, it’s an important part. This is not like a performance. However, don’t ruin the tune! You’re being very… respectful.

[ Music: “Fun With Colin,” from In Transit

Artist/Composer: Jamie McClennan ]

Kids are like my favorite, absolute favorite people to teach or collaborate with. Um, I think they’re brilliant. Um, and I’m not just talking about the little people, but like the teenagers, the teenagers who are actually making the choice of wanting to be part of it and do it. I feel like there’s very little and limited amount of things out there for them to do. And, um, I’m always jumping on the opportunity to teach teens just because they’re in this weird moment of their lives, of you know, turning into young adults, and not understanding what’s happening, and hormones go crazy, and there’s a pandemic. 

>> Shannon: There’s a pandemic. There’s still a pandemic. Which has been traumatic for lots and lots of families. And it’s been rough on traditional music and dance—even more than baseball and soccer—because even as we started to resume group activities, the indoor pub tunes and partner dances… well, these were slower to resume. So there was a lot of time that the tunes, as Oisín Mac Diarmada pointed out, just weren’t out there in the community.

>> Oisín: When music isn’t visible it becomes less of a thing.  Sure, it’s visible online but it’s only visible online if you’re part of that group, or you’re in that session group, or you’re on a facebook group with other people. So this summer, at least it’s a boost for everybody. And it makes it visible again.

>> Agi:  I think it’s more of a necessity or a need to get these kind of art form back in our lives because it, they were intended to make us happy. And I think we need that really badly.

>> Shannon: I mean, they really do connect us as well.

>> Agi: Absolutely. 

>> Shannon: So you don’t get that same kind of connection, um, playing football with people?

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

Agi: Well, I don’t think they require them to actually be that physical. And when they tumble for the ball, you know, like it’s more aggressive than anything. But here it’s like, oh my gosh, I actually can look at you in the face in the eyes and, you know, feel your energy, um, in a way that, you know, we’re doing something together. It’s not about you individually. This is about building a community, doing this beautiful thing together. It’s creating community— and maintaining that community, which you know, is important. We’re domesticated enough to, uh, need one another. And yes, it, it does take a village to raise a child and that village is gonna be behind you and probably get down and dance around at some point when the band plays something.

>> Shannon: Well, Lexie’s students were playing Maid on the Green. They were rehearsing just days before their Ireland trip. 

[ Music: Maid on the Green: Baltimore-Washington Academy Grúpa Cheoil ]

>> Lexie: I like it. Good job. So do you guys all know Shannon. She’s got a really cool podcast.

>> Shannon: Hey, guys! How long have you guysbeen playing together?

>> Evie: A lot of us have been playing together for a long time. But we started doing the Céilí like November last year. 

>> Riley: During Covid we had the practices every Sunday from the Bog Band and the Baltimore Washington Academy. Then that kind of formed in preparation for the Fleadh.

>> Shannon: So do you think that if you hadn’t already been doing it when Covid hit, how would you have found this?

>> Ayla: We’ve all like grown up in the Irish scene. Like I joined the band last fall. But the Bog Band always played for me when I danced.

>> Evie: Yeah, I feel like a lot of us: like me, Anya, Ayla, Ella, and Riley are all dancers first. We were all dancers first, and this is something that grew out of that. And that’s mostly thanks to Lexie. Because we have an instrument library where we get to check out instruments we wouldn’t normally have access to. So like Riley has a harp. And I have the pipes. 

>> I have a fiddle

>> Evie: There’s accordions, and fiddles and whistles and flutes, and all that. That’s why a lot of us play multiple instruments because we’ve been able to loan out these things we otherwise wouldn’t get to try

>> Shannon: You have access to the instruments, and then you have excellent instruction on those instruments. And you also have a community with which to try them out, right>So there’s a little context. Lexie is rocking it.

>> Evie: Yes she is.

>> Lexie: You try a few things and you see what works and doesn’t work. And maybe something’s a sometimes instrument. But you find your forever instrument because your parents aren’t having to buy on a whim like, I think maybe I want to try the pipes. Oh, no. That wasn’t it. Or maybe I want to try an accordion. But if they can take it out of the library and take it back when you’re done, then they settle on what they want and they find the voice that works for them.

>> Shannon: Sounds great. Can’t wait to hear the band later. 

>> Thank you!

>> Lexie: Good job, guys! Before you go, these are your raffle tickets. I know it’s just the one week before we go, but as much as you can, family, friends, anything like that…

[ Music: “Pound the Floor,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

>> Shannon: Maisie Lynch is a parent of two of these raffle ticket-selling kids. She’s gotten involved with MAD Week, the Bog Band, the Baltimore-Washington Academy. It’s a whole family thing.

>> Maisie: It really is such a nice way to anchor us as a family, as my girls are teenagers now. And that’s kind of a tough time where people kind of scatter a bit more. And it brings us back together all the time. 

The most interesting aspect of this community to me is that there’s something for everybody in my family. My husband is also a musician, he takes classes, he takes adult classes, sometimes he’s got kids in his classes. He does Scoil Éigse when we go to Ireland, he does the weeklong school. The kids, they’ve got their band. And then I have this whole administrative side that I get involved with, and planning and organizing, and connecting with the other moms that are part of it. 

We are trying to get more kid sessions in place. I mean certainly the kids are welcome at sessions. But the difficulty is that they’re kids, they’re starting out at all different levels. So if you’ve got a session that’s a really established session, and you have some really high paced, talented musicians who’ve been doing this for a while, it’s hard for the kids to break into that. Although we have a lot of kids who go to the regular sessions. But they tend to be the more advanced players.

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

>> Shannon: Ok, you don’t have to play your instrument in a session to participate. Sometimes you get just as much out of listening and observing, just taking the heat off for a second and allowing it to be a pleasurable, social experience. But if we’re gonna have some kids playing and some kids not playing, uuuuuh, this feels a bit like a set up. The ego is tough enough to train even when you’re self aware. And when the advanced kids are welcomed, and the newer kids are asked to sit it out. This could give some kids a superiority complex. And it really might discourage or embarrass others in that particular social situation. But even worse, that might play out among the kids later on. A group of teens on their own can drawn on weird internalized stuff, and get pretty mean to each other.

You gotta set standards. You wanna reward hard work. You want your session to sound really good. But the long game is important, too… Like, given a chance, some of those sidelined kids could probably add a really nice voice to the community.

>> Maisie:  It’s very easy for a professional to want to bring in really advanced kids. And really engage with them, and invite them to things. Those are actually NOT the kids that you should be seeking out. And I’m saying this from a parent perspective. But I’m also an educator. So you know, I teach high school. And the kids you want to be seeking out are actually the kids who don’t come to the sessions. The kids who you know are taking private lessons. But for whatever reason they’re not showing up regularly. Because the other kids, they’re already totally engaged. They’re in. You don’t have to convince them. But you know, you take a kid who you never see in a session, take that child under your wing, and now all of a sudden you get them out, you get them out of their shell, you now have another one who is in the community. And you can sort of see them on their pathway, and let them get their wings, and find their way. And THAT to me is really the critical piece …

>> Shannon: But it’s true that the pub environment can be loud and, you know, sometimes it does promote adults wanting to be jolly and have an adult conversation. And that doesn’t always make a lot of room for kids to just get in there—socially and musically.

>> Maisie: That’s a really important point, And as you’re talking my brain is going, mmm, what if we started like little juice box sessions across the country. 

[ Music: Pound the Floor Reprise ]

>> Shannon: At sporting events a lot of parents bring juice boxes, and waters, and Gatorades for the kids. Maybe sometime we can bring those supplies—and some tin whistles and bodhrans—to the soccer field.

>> Maisie: And you know, it could be at a public library! Our public libraries have really nice meeting spaces. Maybe that needs to be, we all kind of need to make that our mission for this year is to host one session—one session a month! Make it open to the public, bring your instruments, let the kids come in with their recorders!

[ Music: Baltimore Washington Academy Grúpa Cheoil ]

Find a space, get a room, invite some kids. I think parents, we are starving to make sure that our kids are engaged in this kind of stuff. 

>> Shannon: Eileen Estes, who’s also a parent, was helping run the 2022 kid music program at MAD week. Though she typically works more with adults.

>> Eileen: I switched to teaching much more during the pandemic when the gigs were suddenly gone. And it was amazing, when I opened it up, the people who came knocking were all adults. It’s because those were the people who either had the access, or even knew they wanted to do this, or the exposure.

>> Shannon: Yeah, so what’s it like to be a performer and accustomed to working with adults when you’re teaching, to come in and work with a bunch of kids? Do we all start to learn how to do that?

>> Eileen: I don’t know! I know that for myself when I work with a child it requires more humility and more sacrifice. A kid is not going to tell me what I wanna hear. They’re gonna tell me if they don’t like the song.

>> Shannon: Haha

>> Eileen: They’re gonna laugh if I make a mistake. And they’re not gonna do everything I tell them to do, the way I want them to do it. I also think on an artistic level, if I’m honest what I love the most is when I have a singer who needs to learn about phrasing, or resonance, or ornamentation. And we can get into the weeds with what are you doing with your soft palate, what’s your tongue doing, how are you breathing, what about your pelvic floor? You know, kids aren’t interested in those weeds! And so I have to put my personal interests, and the things that make me tick to the side, for their good.

>> Shannon: Ideally, working with kids and with adults makes us all well rounded teachers and musicians, right? We’d work with adults—or young players at a very high level/ And this would inform an excellent, clear, inspired approach to teaching children. And then maybe some of the fun, spontaneity, and humility of teaching kids can inform how we work with adults. So we’d all benefit from a very diverse studio.

But I think at a lot of these teaching weeks, the few folks who are willing and skilled at working with littler kids at the entry level… well, they’re the ones who do the kid program. 

>> Eileen: I do think there can be a danger of if you start working with kids….

>> Shannon: You don’t wanna be known as the kid music person.

>> Eileen: I think if somebody said ‘hey for a year, why don’t you make it a goal not to take any adult students and to try to teach all children, because we need more children in this tradition!’ Would I be selfless enough to say yes to that challenge? And I don’t know/ And it would be partially because I like getting in those artistic weeds with the adults. And it might be partially because I don’t know if I’m humble enough to take the hit professionally for being associated as a kid teacher.

>> Shannon: For sure.

>> Eileen: Yeah. And it never hurts to think about those hypotheticals, because it makes you self reflect a little bit. And to look in and to think okay what’s motivating me. Is this about me, or is this about the tradition? Is this about me, or is it about the community? I think it’s good to challenge myself on that level, and to get real when there’s hesitance, and to ask why that’s there.

>> Shannon: It’s very important to have people working with children. And so if you’re one who is willing and able (which is a tall order), you will probably be asked to do that, and might not then be asked to do some of the creative things the maybe you even prefer.

>> Eileen: Yes, and I think that’s where the sacrifice comes in. And probably gratitude plays a part in that, too. I mean, I didn’t do a kid’s class when I was a child. I never went to a camp. I just grew up in a house where there was music. My grandfather played the fiddle, my mom sang. I had a whole community of people where it was just spoon fed to me.  And a lot of these kids don’t have that privilege. 

[ Music: “Rambling Irishman,” from The Apple Tree Project

Artists: Nita Conley Korn & Eileen Korn Estes ]

To some extent, just thinking about the privilege that I had to grow up in that situation and to become that privilege for other kids.

>> Shannon: It’s pretty rich! It’s pretty rich. And it’s pretty challenging.

>> Eileen: Yeah, and it kind of makes me feel like a brat when I realize my hesitancy. I think I don’t wanna be a brat. I need to do better. I can do better. 

>> Shannon: I mean, everybody needs to chip in though. 

>> Eileen: Pitch in and cheer one another on. And we’re not doing it alone.

>> Shannon: Yeah.

[ Music: “If There Were No Women in the World & Joe Bane’s Schottisch,” from Living Room Session

Artists: Clare Cason & Kendall Roger

>> Shannon: I don’t make this podcast alone. All the conversations with people get me considering different angles. My esteemed guests help me find just a little clarity. My husband Matt helps with production music. My kid Nigel acknowledges all the supporters who kick in, so we can share this podcast with everybody else. Here’s Nigel to thank this month’s patrons:

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

>> Shannon: Fiddle player Clare Cason has performed and taught classical music in Texas since the early 90s; and then started playing trad fiddle.

>> Clare: I got involved in Irish music, because I had a particular student who asked to learn more about it. And I’d always wanted to know more myself and just never had a reason to learn. So I went looking. 

>> Shannon: Yeah. Well, you really did get into it. I mean, you really play Irish music now. It’s not just, uh, you learned a couple things for our student.

>> Clare: Yes. I do enjoy the music and really, especially the community is what I enjoyed the most. Plus I had always been a rather shy person and the, the very friendly people in the Dallas Irish music scene just were very beneficial to me socially as well.

>> Shannon: Yeah. And for shy people and I guess not so shy people with Irish music, there’s a built in thing to do.

>> Clare: Definitely. Yeah. So even if you don’t have much to say you have at tune to contribute.

>> Clare: I think I’m generally really happy being able to share knowledge that I have. That if I’ve learned something I want to pass it on to someone else. I’m not very naturally a social leader of groups. But I really, um, feel like I have a lot to contribute at least one on one in the instruction and do my feeble best in the, in the area of the group. 

In 2008 there were enough young people that seemed interested in learning more that we started the summer camp [with Ken Fleming and Gordon McLeod], which was just two days long, but was about all we could handle organizationally. That did so well that after about five years, it seemed like the kids needed even more opportunities during the year. So another parent and I started the North Texas School of Irish Music [Tim Kennedy has done a huge amount to help kids learn here and promote the music]. This was a way to give the kids a chance to play together during the school year and hopefully learn a bit more. So we have been doing that since 2012.

It’s been difficult to find a way, especially with the really young kids to integrate them into the adult community here. There were some safety concerns that were an issue. And, um, just some social things too, that a lot of the adults who were playing were really doing it for their own enjoyment and not really thinking about generational aspect of the music, maybe. So I hope that we can get some more things going now that it’s a little more possible to meet.

>> Shannon: Yeah. I mean, in Texas, uh, I’m sure there’s a lot of excitement about Christmas. Um, and Christmas parties are so great for families. And if you had a group of people singing some carols, it wouldn’t be too hard to throw in a couple Irish tunes as well. 

>> Clare: Yeah. That’s a great idea. We haven’t really done anything at that time of year just because it seemed like people were already so busy. But that is a super idea for an event.

I think one of the hardest things has just been to try ideas that could have worked out really well and they just come to nothing. And like, what do you do then? I don’t really, I’m still just trying to wrestle with what the path forward is. And you know, is it my expectations that need adjusting or what? Do you know what I mean?

>> Shannon: Well, it’s been a pretty rough time for building, um, that’s for sure. Um, and it’s been a really divisive time and all of those things stacked against what was already hard. Because this is such a small cultural, niche interest. 

>> Clare: Yes. It’s really hard to figure out how to advertise what you do to reach those kids scattered here and there around Dallas, Forth Worth

>> Shannon: For a while, our local Comhaltas branch was doing school assemblies at area schools. So you’d have, you know, four Comhaltas kids and a couple of teachers, and they just do like a half an hour assembly where they play a couple tunes and talk a little bit about Irish music. It was really a chance to get these four kids who are really engaged working together to share something with this local school. And that is the purpose of it. Period. And you do the same at a local session. And you do the same and you send a delegation up to Warren or wherever.  I think if you do that, you probably can’t miss.

[ Music: Baltimore Washington Grupa ]

>> Shannon: Or it’s not a slam dunk. But it’s action.. it’s just one little step, for the good of the kids who are already involved. That’s all that you can guarantee.

Ken Fleming plays banjo and organizes Irish music events around Dallas. He founded the October O’Flaherty Irish Music Retreat, which is mostly an adult thing. And he’s also been involved in the Youth Irish Music Camp

>> Ken: Kids as you know particularly, they may be doing sports, they may be doing dance, they may be doing music. They’re competing for different things. And a few of them have the passion to say I just really want to invest my time in Irish music. And it’s exciting to see them grow up in the music. But it needs to be more. I would love to have more opportunities for them to be part—particularly the kids: parents don’t want to send them to a bar, necessarily, and do sessions.You don’t know. The mix is different. It’s not just musicians in the bar. There are other patrons there. And some get kind of noisy and drunk and everything else. And it’s not the environment that they want. 

>> Shannon: Sessions can happen in a lot of different places. In noisy bars. And also in small, cozy, family friendly pubs. Or in cafes, in houses. On Saturday afternoons, not just Friday nights.

But of course, families are busy. And choices must be made.

>> Clare: I think that’s definitely been one of our biggest struggles. And every year we lose a couple more promising young whistle players to soccer and volleyball.

>> Shannon: Hahaha. Yeah. Well, and having different levels of engagement too. I think you did a really great job of teaching kids a few tunes that are simpler and more fun for anybody to just kind of jump in. 

>> Clare:  Irish music kind of jumps in at an intermediate level in terms of technical difficulty. Having 20 tunes that are all really, really basic and a good starting point for people learning those instruments seemed like a contribution to kind of get that repertoire together.

[ Music: “Donal A’ Phumpa, A Denis Murphy Reel,” from Deadly Buzz | Aoibhinn Crónán

Artists: Mick O’Brien & Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh ]

>> Shannon: Aidan Flanagan was helping fiddle players get some of those tunes together at the O’Flaherty Irish Music Youth Camp near Dallas, Texas. It’s not so long ago that he was a student at this camp.

>> Aidan: All these kids, some people just picked up the instrument. Like I had a student that just started learning by ear. And he knew like two tunes. And he just hopped right in. And it was fun. 

Aidan; And that session yesterday after class. Everybody listened once and then just joined in like that. Boom, no rehearsal needed.

>> Shannon: It’s cool that we can have common ground. So that maybe the next time we meet up, we know tunes in common. Christian is over there and yeah, he was part of it. Come on in! What was your favorite part about being in the class with the other musicians?

>> Chris: I just like playing with other people. Because I don’t get to do that very often.

>> Shannon: Do you have a favorite tune you like to play? Reels? You like reels?

>> Chris: Yeah! They’re faster, Hahaha. I like fast ones.

>> Aidan: I do, too.

>> Shannon: Yeah, you do, Aidan! You like the fast tunes. I like the fast tunes if they’re really groovy. And I’m fine with them slow, too, if they’re really groovy. Would you consider teaching a few of these tunes to your friends, to your brother?

>> Chris: Yes, then get more people to play it! 

>> Shannon: Exactly. 

>> Aidan: Yeah. I would just say go and find a session. And when you go in there, go in open minded. It’s a huge learning process. Get in the community. That’s all I got.

>> Shannon: Get in the community. Is that what happened with you?

>> Aidan: Absolutely yeah. I started to going to sessions when I was about nine years old.

>> Shannon: As if on cue, Gordon McLeod walks into the room as Aidan and Chris and I are chatting. 

>> Shannon: How sweet that you started this guy who now just taught the class.

>> Gordon: Yeah, I remember he started, nine years old, came in my class.

>> Shannon: That’s great! 

>> Aidan: Yeah, you were one of the main people that inspired me. I came to the O’Flaherty Youth Camp and Gordon was my teacher and he taught me everything I know.

>> Gordon: Well not everything, just the beginnings. Haha!

>> Aidan: Yeah. So, who or what inspired you?

>> Gordon: Back in the 90s, I moved into a house. And the guy who lived next door to me was a classical guitarist actually. But his father was Irish. And he played me some Irish music. I think it was Kevin Burke and Tommy Peoples. I said I have to learn how to make that sound! So um I started trying to learn. And about a year later I went to Ireland, to Willie Clancy week. And I was gonna go one time. And I think I went every year for 12 years maybe.

>> Shannon: And then you went on to inspire this dude here. Cool! Let’s have some tunes! 

>> Gordon: Let’s do it.

>> Shannon: As people took fiddles out of cases and got ready for a session at Ken and Peggy Fleming’s house, Ken reiterated his pledge to get more kid music stuff happening.

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

>> Ken: We have a really strong music community, so as a result we have lots of clinics and workshops. And so there’s opportunity for people to continually be plugged into the Irish music scene.

We’re trying to do sessions outside of the bars. In fact I was just talking to a man from Sherman, Texas, which is about an hour away. And we’re gonna go up and have a session with the kids up there, because they need that opportunity to be around the music, and to be around adults playing the music, too.

>> Shannon: But also you run the O’Flaherty Retreat. 

>> Ken: As you know, because you’ve been to our camp as a teacher, we have a lot of people there who are my age. We want to have kids there. But they have to be kids who can be in a classroom setting with an adult. It’s a pretty strenuous three days. We try to pack in a lot. A lot of camps are a week long. We try to do it in three days. It’s an audition for kids who are 12-18. We’re gonna work though that and get more sessions for kids.

>> Shannon: Fiddle player Zane Acord had also been part of this youth camp. He took my class and also helped coach younger kids, and got people playing together in sessions. He’s another great advocate for Irish music in Texas.

>> Zane: I mean we gotta keep doing.. keep holding things like this camp, and the music school, having in October the O’Flaherty Irish music retreat, trying to get more people exposed to the music in our area. And hope that they go, yeah I wanna learn it.

>> Nina: I’m actually a grandparent. And one of my goals is to pass on the music for future generations.

>> Shannon: Nina Gibson brought her six year old grandsons to MAD Week.

>> Nina: I didn’t have an opportunity as a child to see a lot of other kids play. So it’s one of my big questions. How do you open up this world of Irish music to young people. I feel like what’s the gateway, how do you enter in? And finding opportunities for the children to se other people play, to see adults play, to be connected to the music individually. To find other kids that play.

>> Shannon: what is the gateway?

>> Nina: And the challenges of course are the pubs are late at night. And they are adults. They don’t often make a space for the kids to just experiment a little bit. So there are a few schools around, which is helpful. But I think it’s up to all of us to start bringing them, and creating opportunities, where they can literally sit in. It could happen earlier in the day. Or ways that are more family events where we include the kids.

>> Shannon: Where we include the kids. And allow them to run through their tunes, and tune their fiddles, and work on their competition piece for the next week.

>> Nina: Irish music is it’s so social. And it’s one of the things I want the kids to see. That it’s as much fun as soccer. Or the other games they’re playing. That there are other kids that can do it. And they can do it together. And it’s one of my quests is to get those 5 year olds, those three year olds, those 4 year olds access to the music as well

>> Shannon: Yeah. Well your grandkids are really lucky that you are advocating for them! 

[ Music: “The Fairy Queen,” from Won’t You Stay for Tea?

Artists: Lexie Boatright & Shannon Dunne with Donna Long ]

>> Shannon: Also lucky and wonderful, my two new friends Conley and Lucy. They had a busy week, learned a lot, and I’m inspired by their energy and positivity. Why wouldn’t you want to invest in getting these guys involved in Irish music, right?

>> Shannon: Hey, guys! We just finished a fun Céilí. Did you have a good time.

>> Lucy: Yeah! It was my first one

>> Shannon: Your first Céilí ever?

>> Conley: Both of our first Céilí

>> Shannon: So this is a lot of firsts for you guys. You came this week and you learned a few tunes  together. you kind of podded up. And now you’re a team, knowing some of the same tunes together. 

>> Lucy: Yeah. It’s been really fun. Just a lot of new things. And it’s been a great experience. And a lot of things I can just build on in the future.

>> Shannon: Yeah! When you came into that  session the first day. And you came in and you said I know this tune, and I know this tune. You knew what you knew. And then you guys played it together. Have you learned other tunes this week?

>> Conley: Yeah, we learned one tune that we didn’t know the name and a couple other tunes, I don’t remember the name.

>> Lucy: We learned Morrison’s Jig. MacArthur Road. And then a couple of others with Pauline, but she didn’t know the name.

>> Shannon: Amazing, guys. I can’t wait to play those tunes with you. Thanks for being here, thanks for talking to me.

>> Lucy: Of course

>> Conley: Thank you so much,

>> Oisín: In Ireland there’s a huge, huge emphasis on getting younger people playing. Most of that happened outside of the school system because the school system was not terribly organized in terms of that in Ireland. But organizations like Comhaltas Ceoltioiri Eireann were just very, very focused on that and have been for decades. 

Most people can access music lessons in Ireland for relatively inexpensively, so that’s been a great thing, I think. And we’ve seen the fruits of that over the decades with people coming, of course from musical families, but lots of people, including myself, coming from family where music was not played in the past.

[ Music: “The Drunken Gauger / McGreevy’s,” from The Green Branch

Artist: Oisín Mac Diarmada & Samantha Harvey ]

There’s a lot of organized sessions nowadays.  There weren’t so many when I was growing up. So my own experience was more, you started to see sessions at the Willie Clancy School or the South Sligo Summer School. You know, you’d have very mature and amazing players playing. And you occasionally might be asked to come in and join if you happened to know the players and that was an amazing treat. Otherwise, you were enjoying listening to it. And then as time moved on and you went to more, I suppose, young-people focused weeks like Scoil Éigse before the Fleadh. Then the great excitement was of course playing with people your own age. And you didn’t need to wait for permission there. You went with your gang. And that was really, really exciting too. 

So so that sense of participation in a session, I think a lot of people are very focused on. But you know I think there are so many ways of enjoying and being part of this music. 

>> Shannon: Yes, indeed. During 2020-2021 where we didn’t have as much access to in person music making, did you find in Ireland that participation from real little kids, did this take a hit?

>> Oisín: Yeah. The teaching online was interesting. And some people—great! I met some great people from various parts of the world that had decided they had some more time and they’d played earlier and were going to do some work, musically.  But the younger people definitely took a hit during the last few years. 

>> Shannon: Yeah, I think maybe some kids who were really into it maybe lost a little steam.  And then really hard to engage new seven year olds and nine year olds in this paradigm. 

>> Oisín: When music isn’t visible, it becomes less of a thing. It’s about being part of the community. So, when people stop seeing and hearing this, it’s a loss. It’s a loss to us who like the musical environment, it’s a loss to the general community when it’s not a part of it. So we do have a bit of rebuilding to do. 

>> Shannon: So we rebuild just by getting Irish music more visible. Get it out into the community? With or without juice boxes?

We get Irish music happening in places that families in Massachusetts, and Washington DC, and Sligo, and Texas can feel good about. We welcome kids to play or dance, or to just listen, because that’s another way to be part of it all. To take in the music, the conversation, to be there. To be welcomed there. 

And maybe we rebuild by reimagining some of these teaching weeks.

>> Oisín: Let’s face it, when these summer schools started, as a learner of music your access to the players of the time was very limited. Now we live in a time when most musicians teach. And there’s so many great players and great teachers. I think summer schools evolve, will evolve, and will have to evolve to keep making it more meaningful 

>> Shannon: And how will they evolve to accommodate young players? 

>> Oisín: For young players, I think the important thing is the realization that “I’m not here learning music in a bubble.” That social thing, I think, is key because otherwise if you’re meeting your peers at a competition that’s fine, but it’s not as nice it’s not as social – there’s more tension built around them. 

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

>> Shannon: If we designed these weeks to support kids, maybe we’d do more social coaching. Maybe we’d encourage, and model, and spell out the importance of being welcoming. And brave. And kind—to one another, and to ourselves.  Maybe we’d be more open about bullying and give kids space to build relationships with one another… and some guided activities to encourage teamwork. 

Or maybe we adults could learn a thing or two from the kids.

>> Lexie: they’re really, really good, friendly kids. I was impressed by them at the qualifier Fleadh, how they were being friendly to each other, supporting each other. But also inviting kids from all the other schools to sit into their sessions, making friends with those kids. These guys were really genuinely saying to all of them Congratulations, you did so great. We loved your tunes. What was the name of your jig. Just really, really sweet, supportive, community-minded kids. I’m really, really proud of them.

>> Shannon: While we’re all inspiring one another, and making room for everybody, why not shake up the old formula all together: instead of classes during the day… workshops in the afternoon… long and late pub sessions in the evening, what about — ooh! — concerts and sessions in the afternoon instead of at night? They could be in the same place that you do the instrument, and dance, and singing classes… but maybe adding just a bit of ambience. (You can always bring in lamps, and a rug, and refreshments for the week.)

And then the real in-the-weeds workshops and lectures that have typically been in the afternoon? Those could move to the evening, when younger kids head home to wind down. That’s when grownups or night owl kids could nerd out. And, yeah, they could still grab a drink after all that. There’s room for all of it.

>> Oisin: But these are ideal weeks to get to know and to see players of all ages engaging.  So I think they do have a huge role. Anything that brings us together as a community is important. But like everything it will change. I’m sure it will be different in 20 years time.

[ Music: “Ríleanna: Lady Montgomery/ Follow Me Down,” from Inné Amárach

Artist: Téada ]

>> The future is unknowable. All we can do is put our hearts on stuff that feels important…  make some plans… and also, enjoy the moment. 

>> Clare: I’m glad for each each thing that each child has learned. And, and really in some ways with some of the discouragements with COVID or other things, I’ve just tried to really take it one session at a time and be glad that I’m here with these kids that I’m playing with today and whatever comes of it in terms of our community or the future. I’m glad they’re here and I’m glad we can play this music together and not worry so much about what my original goals were, but just enjoy the moment.

>> Shannon: That’s really nice. that’s really inspiring.

>> Eileen: I also need to be aware that when I see someone who’s working with children, I should honor them for that. And that should be a badge of honor. And I don’t know that I’ve done the best job of that in the past. So I can do better there, too. Which is good news not bad news. No shame, just inspiration. 


[ Little Bird Lullaby Reprise ]

>> Agi: You know, it’s not about you individually. This is about building a community. Doing this beautiful thing together.

>> Zane: To see kids, this new crop of kids coming through and learning to love the music, it just makes me hopeful for the future!

>> Shannon: Because you’re actually not a child any longer.

>> Zane: No I’m not. I’m 22 years old. I’ve graduated college! I’m technically an adult, however much I don’t feel like it.

>> Rose: I took the harp class. It was really fun

>> Shannon: What was your favorite part of the last two days?

>> Rose: Probably learning the tunes actually. They were really fun to learn. And just learning new tunes is always fun.

>> Shannon: Yeah. Is it fun to learn with a group? Is it different than learning on your own?

>> Rose: It is really different, but I like it, too.

>> Shannon: Eleanor, you spent the last two days working on the bodhran. And how was it?

>> Eleanor: Awesome!

>> Shannon: Had you ever played the bodhran before?

>> Eleanor: A little bit?

>> Shannon: And are you gonna play it again?

>> Eleanor: Yes!

>> Shannon: Well good. I hope you come back! I can’t wait to play tunes with you again. Thanks for chatting with me.

>> Eleanor: You’re welcome!

>> Maisie: This community can meet you where ever you are at. Like you could be a 13 year old kid who’s like I heard that Irish music, I’d like to get into this, and there’s a path for you for sure. Maybe it will start with a juice box session!

[ Music: Brístí Breaca (O The Britches Funn Of Stitches), from Jackie Daly Agus Séamus Creagh

Artists: Jackie Daly & Séamus Creagh ]

>> Fruit punch. Pomegranate. Lemony Crystal Lite. Irish music and dance is a tasty, multi-flavored affair. There are so many wonderful practitioners who open this world to kids—and to adults. My thanks to all the fine people I spoke with for this episode, which was produced by me Shannon Heaton. Thank you, Nigel, for acknowledging this month’s sponsors. Thank you Matt for the production music. And thank you to everybody who’s supported this project. For playlists, transcriptions, and more, please visit


>> Shannon: Maisie had talked about the idea of juicebox sessions. She said we should all have all over the US and all over Ireland, every musician who’s able, get a pile of kids together and have a juicebox session in a library, in a cafe whatever, some afternoon,

>> Oisín: Fantastic!

>> Shannon: Do you have juice boxes in Ireland? 

>> Oisín: I presume we do. 

>> Shannon: What do you think your favorite flavor would be?Grape?

>> Oisín: Pomegranate. It’s probably not a thing, but I love pomegranates. 

>> Shannon: Okay, We’ll work on it. 

>> Shannon: What’s your fave kind of juice box, Maisie

>> Maisie: It’s gotta be like a fruit punch. 

>> Shannon: Really trashy?

>> Maisie: Yeah, really trashy. When I was a kid we used to get these Kool-Aid packets. It’s just the powder, but then you like dump all this sugar in it. Haha!

>> Shannon: Crystal Lite

>> Maisie: I love Crystal Lite, I think I have a bunch in my bag right now

>> Shannon: Are you serious?

>> Maisie: Yes. Hahaha. You’re the best

>> Shannon: You’re the best!

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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 

Clare born, Sligo-based fiddle player who performs with Téada, Atlantic Steps and others

Maisie Lynch


Educator, CCE Board Member, and Irish music parent based in Olney, Maryland 

Singer formerly based in Chicago, now in Pennsylvania

Annmarie Acosta


New York based piano and accordion player who founded Acosta School of Irish Music & Dance

Symphonic musician and Irish fiddle player who directs the North Texas School of Irish Music  

Lexie Boatright


multi-instrumentalist, teacher, and Artistic Director of the Baltimore-Washington Academy of Irish Culture

Agi Kovacs


Hungarian-born, D.C. based percussive dancer who performs with Footworks

Members of the Baltimore-Washington Academy Grúpa Cheoil

Ken Fleming


Dallas, Texas veteran musician who founded the O’Flaherty Irish Music Retreat and North Texas Irish Festival

Texas born fiddler who performs with River Driver  

Texas based fiddle player who plays jazz, Americana and Irish music

Also Featuring


Nina Gibson, Erin Fitzpatrick, Zane Acord, and young students Christian, Zane, Lucy, Conley, Rose, and Eleanor

(and special thanks to Tim Kennedy in Dallas .. and Mitch Fanning, Jesse & Ches Winch, and Joe DeZarn in Baltimore-Washington… for helps kids learn and for promoting Irish music)

The Heaton List