Terry Kane, one of the two performers in the Jameson Sisters, graced us with the following interview on the final Saturday of Catskill Irish Arts Week 2011:
How did you get started in Irish singing?
All of my great-grandparents came from the west coast of Ireland, mostly from Co. Clare ... one from Kerry, and one from Cork. They were all very much into the music. When they came over here, they worked and saved enough money to buy farms in upstate New York.
Which part of upstate?
I lived near Corning in a little town called Addison.
My father's family is from Corning.
My mother would probably say, “Shame on you!” to me - “You don't know the Aldriches?”
We would visit my relatives in Corning and close friends in Angelica.
One of my relatives just got married near there. It is beautiful, angelic even!
(We share a laugh!)
So your family settled in that area.
They were farmers basically and brought a lot of their family over here. Most of them worked in the tanneries and other factories. They all lived on the same hill and would get together. One of my great grandfathers built a dance stage in a glade of woods. They would come, play, and dance there.
As farmers, they would work hard all day, but during the night, they'd get together and socialize.
They were pretty well known for their dancing. They were asked to do Irish dancing at square dances, which were very popular in the wider community.
Did you get to experience the place in the glade?
My cousins own the farm now and we played softball next to the glade as kids but there was no stage left. The dancing was passed from my great-grandfather to my grandfather. My grandfather taught my mom her siblings a little bit but he wound up having a tree fall on his leg. He was not able to dance after that. There was a lot of talk of dance. I heard this dancing is what my grandfather used to do. Unfortunately, it wasn't physically passed on. The music, storytelling, and singing kept going. The family is all big into dancing, but more into swing dancing or American tap dancing. Once the Irish dancing faded, nobody could teach us as we were out in the middle of nowhere.
Did you learn musical instruments when you were young?
We learned how to play piano and band instruments but that was more a classical association, with school. Folk music was big at that time when I was growing up in the '60s. I have a big family. I am the youngest out of eleven. My older brothers and sisters were already adults when I was born. One of my brothers had gone to Paris, France to study to be a French teacher. He managed to scoot over to Dublin and got hooked on a lot of rebel songs and also singing the folk style ballads with the guitar. He came home and shared all that music with us. The younger half of the family got more exposure to Irish music than most of the older half. My brother, Pat, was inspired to take up the fiddle and start playing. I wound up getting the mandolin and guitar. So the music all came back to us. Now twice a year the whole family gets together. There are enough musicians in the family to play for céilí dances and we can get at least 4 sets dancing. After that we usually stay up till the early morning singing.
Then the singing? You grew up singing in English?
Yes, there was very little Gaelic speaking in my family. All of my family that came from Ireland, my great grandparents, spoke in Irish at that time. My great grandfather had actually been to England dancing. He was a really good dancer so he had already traveled around performing. He had learned to speak English a little better than the rest of my relatives. They spoke English by that time on the west coast of Ireland but even that was in heavy brogue. They called my great grandfather Yankee Jim, because he was the only one the English speakers could understand.
How did you get introduced to singing in Irish and sean nós singing?
I liked the style of it and the sound of it. I listened to a lot people who did singing in English, like Dolores Keane and people like that who were singing in a more traditional style back in the '60s and '70s. I had an opportunity to be inspired by them. I loved the ornamentation. Still, I didn't want to sing in Irish until I could speak it. When I got to Philadelphia, I found a lot of people there from Donegal and lots of places in Ireland. There was a strong Donegal influence and they still speak Irish in Donegal. There's classes to be had, and ways to be exposed to the language. I've been learning it for twelve years. My Irish isn't great yet, but at least if they interview me on the radio, I'd be able to talk to them. I'd probably sound like Sabatini or someone like that. When Gabriela Sabatini was first interviewed in English for her great tennis skills, having come from Argentina, her English skills were not so smooth.”
I remember that, “I – like – to – play – very – much.”
(Terry laughs and says, “Yah!”)
But getting back to singing, I get to ask you a somewhat unique question to an American. What is your favorite Irish song in English and what is your favorite Irish song in Irish?
Usually my favorite song kinda changes as I learn new songs. They aren't static things. Right now I'm singing this song “Ar Mo Ghabháil ‘na Chuain Domh.” It's a story about a fair haired priest that decided to get married. He leaves the monastery to go off, but then the girl decided to leave him. After that he became a soldier of fortune on the continent. He saw and experienced all these things, came back to Ireland, and wrote a book. He put this song in the book, with other poetry. It's an interesting story. The title of the book is An Caisideach Bán, which translates to the Fair Haired Cassidy.
In English, I like “The May in Morning Dew.” A lot of artists have performed or recorded it. Maybe it's Dolores Keane's version of it – it still plays in my head. Usually I don't try to memorize a song just as it's performed by an artist, but that one by her is so memorable to me...
Can you learn multiple versions of the same song?
Everyone has their own way that their brain works well. Some people remember lots of versions of a song. Some people can connect across songs. Last night at the singing session they were singing different songs from memory that feature the words, “Oh, really ...” Some people can pick a song to sing because of hearing another song by an earlier singer. They have these minds that can think across the songs they know to stay within a theme. So to answer your question, I try to find multiple versions of a song, I learn the best one or mix a few versions to get one that I like then as I sing the song over years my own style of ornamentation creeps in. I do remember the best versions I heard of most songs which were usually by Seosamh Ó hÉanaí, Sean ‘ac Dhonncha, Áine Meenaghan, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh.
How long have you been coming to the Catskill Irish Arts Week?
I have been coming for many, many years, but I wasn’t here for the first one.
During one of the early years, my brother-in-law, Joe Burke got asked to fill in for a performer who couldn't make it. Joe was kind of a quiet unassuming kind of guy. He didn't feel like he could teach students because he had never learned how to teach. I'm a music teacher so he asked me if I would come up and sit in to field all those questions he didn't really have answers for because he wasn't trained on music theory. My presence calmed him down and helped him overcome his nervousness because he knew I was there to answer the questions more formal training required. Joe was a terrific singer and most of the students just wanted to listen to the way he sang and ask for song recommendations. I only had to answer a few questions about vocal warm-ups and ornamentation.
I do something like that at the Banjo Burke Festival. I sit in with Aine Meenaghan a lot. When those questions come up about music notation or theory I chime in and answer them. It works very nicely. She knows what the music should sound like and how best to teach Irish singing. She is a fluent speaker who grew up in Connemara and has many songs memorized.
So you've been going to the Banjo Burke Festival since it started?
Yes, I've been performing for them since the beginning. They give me a place to stay, I donate my time doing performances with different bands I've been in. It's a nice thing to donate to, Parkinson's Research, and traditional music together. Sometimes the Banjo Burke Memorial Fund gives a scholarship to someone to attend this Catskills Irish Arts Week. And they do things to support people entering the study of Irish Traditional Music.
What did you think of THIS Catskill Irish Arts Week?
I had a really good time. The weather was so gorgeous. I couldn't actually come for the beginning of it because I was working. But as soon as I got off, we headed up here. I think it was 100 degrees Fahrenheit or very close to it when we left Philadelphia. I was worried about getting by New York City because I was driving through that area near 5 o'clock. We did get up here in time for the evening concert. That was our goal. When I stepped out of the van it was miraculously as cool as we could ask for. It's been bright and sunny during the day and cool at night, cool enough for a sleeping bag or extra blanket.
Do you know Roslyn Blyn-LaDrew? She's in Philadelphia.
Absolutely. She's a brilliant teacher.
I take lessons with her over Skype.
She is just a wealth of information. Sweet personality, she sings, and she writes poetry in Irish. It's great to hear original songs in the Irish language.
Where do you see yourself going in the next few years with your Irish Singing?
Without a doubt, I'll be at this year's Banjo Burke Festival. It's Columbus Day weekend. I'll be up with the harpist, Ellen Tepper. We call ourselves The Jameson Sisters. It's nice having the harp for Irish songs. For people who haven't ever heard Irish before, they can be a little lost when they can't understand the words in Irish. Sometimes there are 5 or 10 verses in these songs. The musicality can be different, the ornamentation, the tones. At least with the harp there is music there that they can listen to and connect.
I see myself studying Irish a lot more. I love speaking with more people in Irish.
Do you see yourself going to Ireland soon?
I never seem to have enough money. Maybe it's because I spend too much money buying Gaelic books?
(We laugh together).
Actually, I will be going to Ireland next year. My brother takes tours to Ireland 3 or 4 times a year. He has got some big trip going where he needs to take two buses, so I'm signed up to be the entertainment on the other bus. He sings to the people on the bus as they are going from one place to another. It's something different for this tour.
Now I've got to try to one up him. I've got to make my bus better than his bus (Terry laughs).
Any last thoughts?
They bring a lot of great artists here for Catskill Irish Arts Week. Everyone should come and enjoy the talent!
Click here to go to Terry Kane's Web site
More Irish Musicians in Shamrock Road blogs:
- Len Graham
- Mary Staunton
- Brían Ó hAirt (Brian Hart)
- Bernadette Nic Gabhann
- Aoife Clancy
- Matt and Shannon Heaton