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The University of Hartford

Notes from Celtic Airs
With your host Steve Dieterich Nov/Dec 1998

     Irish-American: music. The term once conjured up visions of shamrocks, leprechauns and the "Stage Irish", of the early 20th century. That Irish-American music had little to do with genuinely Irish music.
     However, the true tradition was alive and well in the inner cities of America from Boston and New York City to Philadelphia and Chicago. There it was nurtured by immigrants who were more acutely aware of the need to preserve their culture and history than their brethren still in Ireland.
     Thus a new generation of Irish-American musicians grew up, expertly trained by some of the tradition's best teachers. They were fiercely determined to preserve their tradition while at the same time re-invigorating it with their youthful energy and non-traditional in influences. Their names are increasingly familiar to those attuned to the "new" Irish-American music; Seamus Egan, Liz Carroll, Joannie Madden, Eileen Ivers and John Williams, all marvelously skilled instrumentalists.
     And what of the vocalists? Among the very best is Cathie Ryan. Joannie Madden, leader and founder of Cherish the Ladies, heard her sing at a party and asked her to join the group. Over the next seven years with this renowned ensemble of Irish-American women, she performed songs in Irish and English, accompanied and in the Sean nos (unaccompanied) style. She also wrote some moving ballads about the Irish experience in America, one of which, "The Back Door," is already an Irish standard. (And, she was alto the band's bodran player!)
     Cathie grew up in Detroit, a first generation Irish-American. Her father was from Tipperary, her mother from Kerry. Her grandparents also emigrated to America. Between them all they made sure Cathie took her singing and Irish heritage seriously. Her father was much in demand as a singer at the Gaelic League. Grandmother Ryan was a fiddler and fine singer as well. Grandfather Rice loved Irish history and mythology and encouraged her to sing historical songs and to understand the history and emotions behind them.
     From the age of seven Cathie could be found singing in seisuns at the Gaelic League. At seventeen, she left Detroit for college and a new career in New York City. She performed there with Dermot Henry. She was also fortunate enough to come under the tutelage of the legendary Irish seen nos singer Joe Heaney. It was Heaney who impressed upon her the need to have an intimate relation with and understanding of a song before you could sing it well. Anyone who has heard her sing heartbreaking ballads of the tradition and those by contemporary writers will attest that she learned this lesson well.
     Once she embarked on her solo career, she continued to perform the gems of the Irish tradition and her own compositions written in the traditional vernacular. She also began to perform songs culled from the singing of such giants of the Irish tradition as Frank Harte and Dolores Keane. And she began to develop a repertoire that included works by such well known contemporary writers as Dougie MacLean, Jimmy McCartny, Gerry O'Beirne and Sean Tyrell.
     Cathie now performs in a trio of like-minded Irish or Irish-American musicians. She will be here in a benefit concert for WWUH radio on Friday, November 6 1998 at 7:30 PM. The Wilde Auditorium with its excellent acoustics and intimate environment will provide the perfect venue for her accusingly clear soprano. Come meet Cathie, and experience some wonderful "Irish-American music of today."

Copyright©WWUH: November/December Program Guide, 1998

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