Among the musicians leading classes at Online Fiddle Hell will be Irish fiddler Matt Cranitch.
CREDIT: Con Kelleher
“Virtual Celtic” explores online concerts, festivals, workshops and other events that feature or include Celtic music. Please note that details may have changed, or the events may have been postponed or cancelled, since press time.
•When COVID-19 prompted David Reiner and his fellow Massachusetts Fiddle Hell co-organizers to launch a virtual version of the annual Greater Boston folk and traditional music festival last November, they thought it would almost certainly be a one-time affair.
Instead, Fiddle Hell Online got a reprise in April and, with pandemic concerns persisting, is back again Nov. 4-7. But FHO also will live on even after the in-person festival resumes, according to Reiner: It will permanently shift to April next spring, with the festival anticipated to return to Westford (northwest of Boston off Route 495) come November.
Massachusetts Fiddle Hell, which Reiner created in 2005 (inspired by a similar event conceived by Missouri fiddler Dale Hopkins, one that has taken root in other parts of the world), encompasses performances, workshops, and both planned and spontaneous jam sessions, and attracts musicians of all levels interested in Irish, Scottish, Cape Breton, American, Scandinavian, Cajun, blues, and other traditions or styles. Fiddles rule supreme at Fiddle Hell, not surprisingly, but guitars, banjos, cellos, accordions, mandolins, flutes, string basses, and other instruments are in abundance.
A major feature of Fiddle Hell is the cohort of accomplished musicians who teach and perform. For example, the Celtic music faculty for the November FHO includes Kevin Burke, Matt Cranitch, Andrea Beaton, Caitlin Warbelow, Natalie Haas, Jeremy Kittel, April Verch and Marla Fibish, as well as Massachusetts/New England residents like Katie McNally, Becky Tracy, Ellery Klein, David Surette, Rodney Miller, Eric McDonald and Rose Clancy.
Planning for the first FHO involved many considerations, says Reiner, like recruiting instructors/performers and attracting attendees used to the in-person Fiddle Hell; anticipating and addressing tech-related issues; and coming up with the appropriate mix of events for a virtual format.
Lo and behold, they pulled it off.
Not being able to hold an in-person festival has its drawbacks, says Reiner, but going virtual meant they were able to bring in performers and attendees alike who wouldn’t have been able to come, whether because of distance, obligations or concerns about playing in front of people. Organizers trained their tech staff to handles tasks like hosting and coordinating Zoom events or activities, and programming platforms.
“We went with more concerts and less workshops, and gave attendees the ability to replay all the sessions on YouTube for months afterwards – and even slow them down,” he says. “We ran a concert, a jam and six workshops during each hour, and because of replays, nobody missed out.”
Teaching online is a different animal, Reiner says: less “I play-you play” from the instructors, more continuous playing by attendees, thus fostering a learning-by-doing dynamic.
“Attendees couldn't hear each other, so they could play all they wanted, unselfconsciously. Because of replays, instructors didn't have to repeat material as much. We provided a Zoom host for each session so that instructors could focus on teaching and playing; questions came in over the chat.”
Reiner adds that the staff ran 45 jam sessions even before the festival began, so as to understand the technology better and to get used to working online.
But the biggest concern for Reiner and the organizers was how to replace the sense of Fiddle Hell community: hanging out with friends, jamming in hallways, or attending a session together.
“Just handing out Zoom links and hoping for the best wasn't going to work. After much analysis and testing, we built on a community platform, Whova, that wraps in Zoom sessions seamlessly. There were community discussions; meet-ups; virtual exhibits; online help and advice on the technology; t-shirts shipped to homes; giveaways of CDs, books and lessons, and scholarships. This year, early-bird attendees who registered by Oct. 20 were eligible to win an inlaid fiddle.
“The biggest plus for community was in providing a common online ‘venue’ to browse the agenda and instructors, join and replay sessions, and download handouts. Not every interaction was possible, but people really felt that they were part of the Fiddle Hell community.”
The positive response convinced the organizers to run another FHO five months later. Attendees surveyed anonymously cited the online format, especially the replays, as a key facet of their experiences: “Being able to study the workshop information in depth through the replays afterwards is invaluable,” wrote one commenter. “I could see and hear the instructors very well from my 'front row' seat & play right along with them. The replays covered those sections I missed,” wrote another.
Having now witnessed both incarnations of Fiddle Hell, Reiner says the in-person and online formats each have their pros and cons. But clearly, they both work, and he and his co-organizers are delighted that people “can find value and enjoyment in attending Fiddle Hell, whether at a physical venue or via the Internet.”
All information about Fiddle Hell Online, including the 10 percent discount for seniors and young players, is available at fiddlehell.org.
•The ever ambitious and imaginative West Cork Music “Masters of Tradition” weekly series, artistically directed by fiddle virtuoso Martin Hayes, finishes up this month with three events. On Nov. 3 will be The Goodman Trio, with Mick O’Brien (uilleann pipes, flute, whistle) and daughter Aoife Ní Briain (fiddle, viola, concertina) joined by Emer Maycock (flute, whistle, uilleann pipes) – their band name and repertoire taken from 19th-century traditional music collector Canon James Goodman. Goodman’s collection is considered an invaluable trove of songs and tunes popular in the south of Ireland before the devastation caused by the Great Famine. The trio received an award in 2014 from TG4 for its collaborative role in reviving music from the Goodman Manuscripts. Appropriately enough, they will perform this concert at a church in Skibbereen whose construction was commissioned by Goodman.
The series presents “Immram” on Nov. 10, a setting of a suite of works published by internationally acclaimed poet Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill – a former visiting scholar at Boston College, where her papers are collected – and adapted by Neil Ó Lochlainn for sean-nós singer and chamber ensemble. Ó Lochlainn, who plays flute and double bass, will be joined by Saileog Ní Cheannabháin on vocals, Lucia Mac Partlin on fiddle and Eilís Lavelle on harp; the ensemble blends the sean-nós tradition with jazz and contemporary classical music.
Hayes himself will team with Cormac McCarthy – the Cork pianist, not the American West novelist or New Hampshire singer-songwriter – and concertina/bouzouki player Brian Donnellan for the series’ final installment on November 17. McCarthy has cultivated a strong background in jazz and classical but is from a family of traditional Irish musicians; Donnellan also comes from a prestigious family legacy – his grandfather Francie Donnellan founded the famed Tulla Ceili Band with Hayes’ father, P.J. Hayes. Expect a goodly number of East Clare tunes.
For tickets, go to ourconcerts.live/masters; for more on the series, see www.westcorkmusic.ie/masters-of-tradition/programme.