How it’s (New York) New Jersey: The Mid Atlantic Fleadh takes place in Parsippany, New Jersey,
every year. Here’s Jenifer Hopkins’ perspective on what happened last weekend.
How it’s Irish: It’s traditional Irish music, and the winners go to Ireland to compete.
Both Fiddles. check.
Snacks that fit in top pocket of violin case. check.
Last year’s trophy. check.
Lesson notes from teacher. check.
Maps of tunes with variations. check.
Last year’s notes from adjudicators (just in case we want to look at them in the car). check.
bathing suits. Check!
Competition clothes (lucky shirt). check.
Session clothes. check.
Look at weather forecast (hoping for rain since we’ll be inside a hotel for most of an entire weekend in May). check.
Our first fleadh as a family was in 2007 on a brutally hot day at the Pearl River High School. We sat, hot and sweaty, in classrooms, torturing ourselves with trying to keep our three year old appropriately quiet as student after student took their turn bravely to stand before a judge and play their best, with supportive parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles and friends watching and listening with reverence at their efforts. I could not help wondering why we had subjected ourselves to this; feeling sick with nervousness, [pullquote]I could not help wondering why we had subjected ourselves to this; feeling sick with nervousness, [/pullquote]dreaded anticipation, hope mixed with wondering what, precisely, that particular judge might be looking for. After hours of sweltering in stuffy classrooms as we acclimated to what it was that happened at a fleadh and how, it never felt so good to slip into a pool at the Holiday Inn with my toddler son and our 8 year old daughter. We shared the pool with a friendly young lad of 15 years named Dylan Foley, who was not yet bigger than his parents. The nervousness and tension from the competitions earlier in the day had slipped away, and now we were having fun, making friends, and heading into an evening of sessions!
The 2014 Mid-Atlantic Fleadh was held for the fourth year in a row at the Hilton Hotel in Parsippany NJ, from April 25-27th. This year the fleadh was combined with the CCE North American Convention, lending an even more festive air to the whole weekend. My kids, now 10 and 15 years old, knew exactly which wing of the hotel they hoped to stay in…and they were texting Irish music friends as we drove in on I-80 from our home in the Finger Lakes of western New York…so they knew just who they would find in the pool as we arrived. Bram had changed into his bathing suit while we were still driving in the car and he jumped into the pool with friends as Jayne and I checked in and carried our bags up to our room. They know the scene well now, and were soon enough dressed and down in the lobby to meet up with even more friends and play tunes! The biggest excitement of Friday night at the convention/fleadh was the ceili that ‘brought down the roof’…but did not stop the induction of Kathy DeAngelo and Dennis Gormley into the CCE Mid-Atlantic Hall of Fame. Kathy and Dennis have been keeping the tradition alive and inspiring young musicians for over thirty years.
Several hours later, mindful of the big day ahead, kids reluctantly left the session, said goodnights to friends and went up to get as good a night’s sleep as is possible under the circumstances.[pullquote] Saturday at the fleadh is filled with anticipation, nervousness, last minute rehearsing, tuning up, finding the correct room, waiting turns and listening.[/pullquote] Saturday at the fleadh is filled with anticipation, nervousness, last minute rehearsing, tuning up, finding the correct room, waiting turns and listening.This is, after all, a traditional Irish music competition, in which attention to detail, down to which way the bow is going in a particular triplet of a particular phrase of a particular tune IS of the utmost importance!
The students are listening. The parents are listening. The judges are listening. The
teachers are listening. And tunes are played.
As each competitor finishes his or her turn, I find myself clapping with genuine love and pride for their individual accomplishment. And the legacy of Irish culture via this traditional music lives on. It feels tortuous. Yet here we all are, year after year….students, parents, teachers and judges, prepared and eager and learning. The judges’ decisions are made, sometimes obviously, sometimes questionably, always with applause and opinions ‘round the house.
As the competitions finish up for the day, the kids relax, eat, play in the pool ‘til wrinkled, then get themselves ready for tunes, tunes, tunes! And the circle has been fulfilled once again. However stressful or uncomfortable the competitions were, these kids are here because they share this music in common, in the pool, in the snack bar, roaming the hallways, competing against each other, and playing together in a session. And they are friends! And they are staying up late Saturday night, picking out tunes to play as they form a last minute trio group to compete Sunday morning!
I have no doubt that these kids, already quite talented young musicians, will grow up continuing to play this music. Someday, they may be sitting in the banquet hall or dancing in the ceili…or probably playing in the ceili band together. As a mother relatively new to this scene, it is sweet to think of the honored and revered musicians, teachers and judges as having once been kids themselves… sweating it out in competitions, running around in between, and thrilled to be staying up super late to play tunes together a couple of special times a year. Matt Mancuso, with two young daughters of his own, mentioned to me last summer how seeing and hearing the current generation of kids at the fleadh reminds him of his own childhood, growing up competing and playing tunes alongside Grainne Murphy. I can only imagine Rose and Brian Conway … they are still running up and down the hallways of the fleadh … And how many fleadhanna has Grandma Rose attended, watching and listening?
Though my kids placed and qualified for the All-Ireland Fleadh in several different competitions, they each suffered a big disappointment in not qualifying for one of their main competitions. Another experienced fleadh mom, who was there on her own to compete (her grown children were off at other gigs that weekend) consoled us with a wise perspective that comes with experience:
60 million Chinese couldn’t care less.
Huh? You mean this traditional Irish music is not the only important thing happening on this planet?!? She assured us, comfortingly,
“the years blur together, and you forget which kid won what place which year.”
and that is not what is important about the fleadh. “It’s the overall journey and the experience on this path.”
As a fleadh mom, I have come to see that that path most definitely includes swimming pools and fleadh buddies, pizza, young crushes and late night sessions. It’s a culture that is alive and thriving, and certainly self-perpetuating. And that same Dylan Foley who splashed in the pool with my toddler just did his first bit of judging with the Tir Na Nog competition at the 2013 Mid-Atlantic Fleadh, to which my son (the former toddler) gave him a good proud fist bump.
And the best take away i can imagine from this year’s 2014 fleadh is that my son, just before falling asleep exhausted on the drive home, managed, through a series of fast-paced texts between cell-phones, to arrange his duet partner for next year’s fleadh competition.