I’m not Irish but everyone who knows me will tell you my heart is.
I was fourteen years old when I was first introduced to Irish music. My aunt brought me to the Goderich Celtic Roots festival in Ontario, Canada where I participated in musician-led workshops, live band dances, and watched countless concerts. The part, however, which impacted and influenced me the most, were the sessions. I distinctly remember my frustration, sitting in the back of the pub at fourteen, listening to the musicians play tune after tune. My frustration wasn’t directed at my ginger ale, which – despite the latter word – was entirely free of the alcohol everyone around me appeared to be indulging in, but rather at my inability to do what the musicians were doing. I felt benched. I wanted to be part of the reason people tapped their feet, why they hollered and whistled, why they were reluctant to go home when the pub closed at 2am.
I wasn’t a stranger to music at fourteen, granddaughter of a musician, I had played the piano for years and played silver flute in my high school band. But it wasn’t until my exposure to Celtic music that I learned what kind of music I ought to be playing for the rest of my life. Some people like pop, some like jazz; I like Celtic. The social atmosphere was also key in commanding my passion. The ability to play with others at the drop of a hat, to make people dance and tap their feet, was all I ever thought music should be. So I bought a whistle and blew out my first few tunes on it, jigs mostly, since they were easier for me than reels at the time. I liked the whistle but I knew from the beginning I wanted above all to play the Irish flute.
Sometimes people ask “what’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you?” and unlike many people, I always have my answer poised on the tip of my tongue. I tell them what happened next. By my second year attending the festival, I had taught myself a dozen or so tunes on my whistle but was still dreaming of a flute. My aunt and a handful of other people from the Celtic community came together to buy me my first Irish flute, handmade by Richard Cox. They surprised me in a crowd of people, on the last day of the week-long festival, and when they handed me the flute, I proceeded to sit – free of all dignity – in the grass and cry. I eventually was able to thank them and it has been my goal ever since to put their gift to good use. The next year, and for all the years since, I have refused to sit out on any session.
I’m nineteen now, a student at the University of Toronto, and after three years of saving, I have bought myself a second flute, albeit better, I often find myself playing my first flute for nostalgic reasons. I have begun taking Irish flute lessons and all my friends in my residence building know me as “the girl who’s always in the practice room with her wooden flute”. Sometimes I get a small audience, or a guitar player who wants to try out some reels. But although I try to bring as many Celtic music opportunities into my life as possible, it’s not always enough.
That is why I want to win this trip to Ireland. I want to sit in a pub and play in an authentic Irish session. I want to bring back photographs and memories and, most importantly, tunes.
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