Wednesday, March 18, 2009

County Sligo Fiddling in New York

The New York Times had an appropriate article for St. Patrick's Day in yesterday's paper.

In 1971, 10-year-old Brian Conway hunted up 58-year-old Martin Wynne, who was working at the James A. Farley Post Office and not playing much music at all. Wynne taught Conway to fiddle, such that Brian Conway is now regarded as one of the top traditional Irish fiddlers in the world.

Every Friday night, the Conways would pick up Mr. Wynne at his apartment building and drive him to the family’s home for sessions that would sometimes last until midnight or 1 a.m.

“I used to bake a cake, make some tea, and they sat in the living room and played and played,” said Mr. Conway’s mother, Rose. Afterward, she said, she would drive Mr. Wynne back home, often with Brian asleep in the back seat.

Mr. Wynne’s knowledge of Sligo fiddling — which Mr. Conway describes as between the “bite and edge” of the Donegal style and the “mellower, smoother” tones of Clare and Galway — was unmatched. He could show how a particular tune was played by four or five different players back in Ireland, providing examples of improvisations considered acceptable within the parameters of the style.

And he communicated a reverence for the artistry of Michael Coleman, universally acclaimed as the greatest Sligo fiddler, who emigrated from County Sligo in 1914, when he was 23. Mr. Coleman, who died in 1945, is buried in St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx.

“Martin would talk about Michael Coleman the way Catholics talk about Jesus; he would almost bow his head,” said Mr. Conway, who recalled listening to a cassette of Mr. Coleman’s fiddling while eating his Sugar Pops before school in the morning.

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