I often wonder why New Yorkers only choose St. Patrick's Day to celebrate Irish culture when on any given night of the week in NYC you can hear some of the best Irish traditional music players in the world for free at the local pub. On Tuesdays at Dempsey's, my favorite East Village pub, musicians of all levels are welcome, even the scratchy 70-year old beginner fiddle player. This is a pub where everybody knows my name.
I have been playing the fiddle regularly at any number of Irish music sessions around the city for the past four years. Aside from the simple lilting melodies and lively rhythms, what draws me most to Irish music is its ability to bring people together. In this age of newer, faster technology which can further isolate us from one another, music blaring under our I-pod headphones, Irish pub culture reminds us that a sense of community is right outside our apartment doors. My Irish music friends help make this city a smaller, friendlier place.
While it's possible to hear Irish music in a professional performance space - the Chieftains were playing Carnegie Hall on Saturday, for example - those stage shows always lose some of their charm for me. To me, the music is at its best in the pub where one musician starts a tune and the rest jump in, people are chattering around you, and the players are sitting right beside the regular pub-goers.
Thankfully, being of Irish descent is not a requirement to play or enjoy the music since, like many in the scene, I am not Irish. I discovered the music on a trip to Ireland in 1999 and not long thereafter, threw away my classical sheet music and traded in my violin for a fiddle. (A fiddle and a violin are the same instrument so really I just started to call the violin I've had since I was sixteen a fiddle.) I have no intention of ever turning back. Instead I look forward to a lifetime of music playing in and around the local pubs.
This Paddy's Day, musicians I know either had gigs at private parties or were staying home to avoid the green beer-swilling crowds and puke puddles that most people associate with the holiday. As for me, I cozied up at home, the same as last year. Later this week, I'll celebrate Irish culture as I do any number of other days of the year - with a pint, my fiddle, and friends who will greet me with a smile and say, "Give us a tune." Sláinte.