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Just weeks after teaching and performing at CIM’s MInnesota Irish Music Weekend, acclaimed button accordion player Billy McComiskey, was selected as a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow in 2016, the highest honor the NEA bestows on folk and traditional artists in the United States.

Learning from the Masters

From the Center for Irish Music 2015-16 Annual Report

Words and music from Minnesota Irish Music Weekend, the Center for Irish Music’s immersive summer festival.

“People are going to try to safeguard the things that define who they are, and for the Irish, music is the art of the people,” says acclaimed button accordion player Billy McComiskey, who performed at a sold-out Master Artists Concert with Pride of New York bandmates Joanie Madden, Brendan Dolan, and Brian Conway. “The thing that’s so cool about traditional Irish music in the Twin Cities is that you have a real cultural center at the Center for Irish Music, a fantastic base to work with and grow from. It’s a cultural treasure, and playing in that concert last night, you can feel the love people have for it—it’s almost palpable. And then you get to share that with a kid, and you see that light go on, and the next thing you know,  they’re sitting at a session, just delighted with themselves. It’s just a beautiful culture. I live for this.”

Multi-instrumentalist and Pride of New York piano player Brendan Dolan is the second generation in his family to take part in MIM Weekend. His late father Felix Dolan, a respected tradition bearer in New York, visited the CIM in 2012.

“I just left a class with a dozen teenagers on the tin whistle, learning tunes as quick as whips–I’m a little bit in shock at their level of aptitude and how eager they are to learn,” says Joanie Madden, the world-traveling flute player in Cherish the Ladies and Pride of New York. There are kids from every ethnic background here that love Irish music—it’s an incredible environment for learning and creativity. Coming from New York and a culture where there are hundreds of people learning this music, we have nothing as organized as this. The essence of the camaraderie here in this building is second to none. And it’s not about competition—it’s about the whole school being lifted as a group. I don’t think you’re going to find that anywhere in America. It’s wonderful to see.”

Technology is becoming a major player in traditional Irish music, with Skype lessons that have helped connect CIM fiddle instructor Mary Vanorny to her mentor Brian Conway, a renowned Sligo-style fiddler based in New York.