SUMMER 2010 / VOL. 10 ISSUE 2
Irish Fest Summer Schoolers Will Fiddle Around With the Best

By Andrew Gregg

Irish Fest is one of Milwaukee's major summer events, but did you know there was an Irish Fest Summer School? Granted, the term summer school isn't terribly appealing to most people. It may sound like a way to catch up or get ahead, but it usually means a lot of work. The Milwaukee Irish Fest Summer School (IFSS), however, has programs for all ages and interests. Sessions in crafts, cultural lectures, dancing, language and music lessons can be taken.

Irish Fest founder Ed Ward once said, "Irish Fest Summer School is the jewel in the crown of Irish Fest."

And nothing says Celtic culture more than Irish music; and no instrument conjures up images of the Emerald Isle quite like the Irish fiddle. Fortunately for those planning to attend the fiddle workshops, the IFSS instructors are of the highest caliber and include Liz Carroll and Daire Bracken for intermediate and advanced courses, Ed Paloucek for transitions, and Kaitlin Hahn for beginning fiddle. The latter is open to ages 6 and up.

Kaitlin Hahn began her classical training of the fiddle when she was only 6-years-old. After she turned 18, she began to study the Celtic fiddle under Milwaukeean Ed Paloucek and began to study in Cape Breton. She then became one of the Irish Fest School of Music's original faculty members in 2002. 

"I do get students from the summer school who join the School of Music," Hahn said. "They get a sample of the music at the summer school and then they want to continue with it, which is so great to see." 

Hahn has studied with other remarkable musicians such as Liz Carroll, Stan Chapman, Buddy MacMaster, Glenn Graham, Kimberley Faser, Melissa Emmons and others. 

"I like sending my year-round students to the summer school so they can work with other teachers," Hahn continued. "I think the more my students, and I, can work with, the better I also have had many lessons with Ed and Liz, and I absolutely love their styles, too."

Her first album, "Nice to Meet You," came out in 2004 and she was awarded the Edward J. Ward music scholarship at Milwaukee's Irish Fest. Later that year, she and three other Irish musicians toured Japan for the Wisconsin Arts Board. The next year Hahn earned a bachelors degree in Instrumental Music Education with honors from the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, along with a certification in Celtic Studies focusing on Celtic music and dance traditions. 

"In my class, the students learn about the different types of dance tunes that Irish musicians play... and the rhythm and timing of each." Hahn said, "But, I do like to take some time to talk about where the music is played, like dances... and the differences in etiquette between them." Hahn currently plays with Atlantic wave, a Celtic band based in Milwaukee that also features Paloucek. Visit Kaitlin Hahn's website for more information. 

Ed Paloucek began playing Irish fiddle in 1990 after studying classical violin style for 16 years and has studied in Ireland and on the East Coast. The transition course Paloucek teaches is designed specifically to help classically trained musicians make the jump to the Celtic style. According to Paloucek, Irish music has a "different language, something that you have to transition because not everything from classical works for Irish." 

There are also new elements in Irish music that classical musicians might find strange, along with different instrumentation and the encouragement to augment original tunes. 

"People well-entrenched in classical are surprised at how different it is," Paloucek continued, "they can't just spend an hour or two with a teacher and have it. You need the extra information." Fortunately for classical musicians, there is some common ground. The transitions course is not meant for beginners, since some understanding of the instrument is required and the fundamentals are vital.

Paloucek and Hahn both perform with the Irish band Atlantic Wave. When the two were having music sessions at The Pub, an Irish bar in Oconomowoc, they were approached by a bazuki player named John Karr. 

Karr, like Hahn, shared an interest in the Cape Breton style of Irish music and the three began to talk about forming a band. "The three of us got it rolling," Paloucek said, "and John picked up Barry Houlehen who played at Paddy's Pub in Milwaukee." 

Paloucek remembered building a three-hour musical set in as many months, "which is crazy," he confided. "Some of those sets we still play... and the first track on our first CD [Craic'd] is one of those sets." The band released their second CD, The Angel's Share, in August of 2009. The band's sound is mostly Irish but contains some Scottish and Cape Breton elements. Learn more about Paloucek and Atlantic Wave at 

Daire Bracken, a Dublin native, teaches both intermediate and advanced fiddle workshops at the IFSS and is a member of the Irish band Slide. According to the band's website, his family is full of musicians who hold several All-Ireland titles along with his brother Shane who is a noted concertina player. 

Bracken got his first taste of performing with the band Comhaltas Ceoltoirí na hÉireann at a fairly young age. During that time, he also arranged music and composed for his school band and other youth bands like Danú. Fiddlers in Ireland generally travel the country, and that is exactly how Bracken developed his unique style which draws from styles used in different regions of Ireland.

Bracken's current band, Slide, began in 1999 which won Irish Music Magazine's Best Newcomer in 2001 after the release of its first album The Flying Pig. Slide also produced other albums, including Harmonic Motion, Overneath and Slide-Live, which is recorded live on stage as its name suggests.

In 2005, Slide won Ireland's Young Musicwide Award which the Irish Arts Council designed to motivate young musicians to become professional Irish musicians. More information about Bracken and Slide can be found on the band's website

Liz Carroll, an instructor of intermediate and advanced fiddle courses at the IFSS, began her fiddling career with a bang by winning the title of All-Ireland Junior Fiddle Champion in 1974. The following year, she won both the All-Ireland Senior Fiddle and Senior Duet Champion alongside Jimmy Keane. 

Since then her career as a musician has not slackened. Her first solo album, Liz Carroll, was dubbed a select record of American folk music by the Library of Congress. Carroll tours across the US, Ireland, Europe and Africa and was presented the National Heritage Fellowship award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1994 by then-First Lady Hillary Clinton. The next year she was named one of the Top 100 Irish Americans by Irish-American Magazine. 

Carroll has performed before current president Barack Obama and was nominated for a 2010 Grammy for Best Traditional World Music Album alongside John Doyle (who is teaching guitar at IFSS) for their 2009 duet album Double Play. The other fiddle instructors at IFSS admire Carroll. "Liz is really big at the school. Everyone loves her," said Kathleen Schultz, a festival co-ordinator who has been involved with the summer school since 1990. More information on Liz Carroll can be found on her website 

Though Milwaukee's Irish Fest is well known, the summer school is still overlooked, particularly in Milwaukee. "We bring in such talented people for so many different areas," Schultz said. 

Most of the programs are for adults, although the term "summer school" suggests that it is designed for children. Many of the programs offered don't require any musical background; however, for the fiddle and other musical workshops, a good basis in the instrument is suggested. 

Schultz's favorite quote about IFSS is, "Explore everything Irish, even if you're not." She has attended many summer school courses over the years, including those for the tin whistle, weaving and dancing. 

The Summer School runs from Aug. 16 through 20 at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Intermediate and Advanced workshops with Liz Carroll and Daire Bracken are $40 for a one-day session or $135 for a three-day course. Three-day courses with Ed Paloucek or Kaitlin Hahn are $95. 

Lodging is available at the Milwaukee School of Engineering residence hall. Each room comes equipped with a bed, linens, desk, bookshelf, closet, chest of drawers and free Internet service. The residence hall also contains a laundry room for convenience. The rooms are available for $25/night or $95/week for singles and $40/night or $150/week for married couples and families. For more information, see the registration or lodging information on the Irish Fest summer school website at

Slideís Daire Bracken Speaks Up

Daire Bracken is an intermediate/advanced fiddle instructor for the Irish Fest Summer School and a member of the Irish band Slide. In the following comments, he tells Irish American Post readers the story behind his story.

IAP: How did you personally get started/interested? Was it because of family or hearing and watching other bands.

DB: Both my parents are musical but they never played Irish traditional music. Everyone in our family of seven children was sent to the local Comhaltas Ceoltóirí na hÉireann in Monkstown, Co. Dublin, for lessons on various instruments. Mine being the fiddle. 

An older brother took particular interest in the music. That was Shane who plays the concertina, which started the big interest in the rest of us. What sealed the deal for me was attending a summer school in Co. Clare called Willie Clancy Week while the family was on our annual summer holidays in the area. Thus I think summer schools, or workshops, are a great thing and vessel for passing on the tradition.

IAP: Have you ever had major fiddle problems just before a performance? 

DB: I inherited my fiddle from a second cousin who was a classical musician of note. Three summers ago whilst touring with Dave Munnelly there was record heat and humidity in New York and it melted all the glue on the old violin so when I opened the case to play at a radio show the whole fiddle had buckled up under the tension of the strings and melted glueÖ not a pretty sight. 

I picked up a fiddle in New York NY for $300 until I met Bradley Higgins violin maker from Hartford, N.Y. at the Old Songs festival and have been playing one of his five-string creations since.

IAP: You teach intermediate/advanced fiddle for IFSS. What sort of ability level would be required/recommended for advanced/intermediate fiddle?

DB: Every class and every player is individual. I analyze every player I teach, even in a group setting, and try to give them something new regardless of how advanced the player is. It helps to have a balance of ability across a whole class but the relative standard can range greatly. An intermediate player should be able to play at least a few pieces; where in an advanced class I would expect a player to be able to absorb tunes and techniques beyond the basic tune notes.

IAP: What skills/techniques do you focus on for your intermediate/advanced courses?

DB: Again, I will assess the standard of the players in front of me. But for the intermediate class, I will likely focus on playing the various dance tunes competently, most specifically on bowing and rhythm. For the advanced class, I would like to take this further into analyzing various traditional fiddle styles and how to play each style. Of course, there will be tunes, ornamentation and the usual plethora of fiddle interests.

IAP: How did you become a member of Slide, or begin performing in general?

DB: Early days of school bands, CCE groups and busking on Dublinís Grafton Street prepared me for my first band with my brother Shane called "Púca." The next band we founded had great success in the States called "Danú". Since then Iíve been involved in various bands and performed with various artists such as Mick Broderick on bouzouki and Aogán Lynch on concertina. I had toyed with the idea of a band, so we got in touch with Éamonn De Barra, with his flute and piano. Éamonn is an old school friend of mine; and we put a band together. Thatís Slide.

IAP: What prompted you to come to Milwaukee from Ireland to teach fiddle?

DB: Iíve toured the U.S. since 1997 and have played the Milwaukee Irish Fest with a few artists. So this year we were in a position to be able to teach the week running up to the festival before our performance there. Iím looking forward to both the teaching and the festival. I take great enjoyment from sharing my knowledge of Irish traditional music and passing it on...just as I learned.


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