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Director's Column | Minnesota Scandinavian Ensemble and Becky Weis | Nadeem Dlaikan |
Mary Louise Defender Wilson and Keith Bear
| Irish Music and Dance From Missouri | Liz Carroll |
Karl and the Country Dutchmen | The River Boys | Natasinh Dancers and Musicians

Liz Carroll by Tamara Kubacki
Illinois Arts Council

At the turn of the twentieth century, Chicago’s General Superintendent of Police collected all the Irish tunes he could find, trying to save what he thought was a dying tradition. Captain Francis O’Neill, along with the many musicians he collected from, situated Chicago as an important place for Irish music. Captain O’Neill (who was entitled to be called “Chief” but preferred the simpler title of “Captain”) collected and published around 3,500 tunes; his songbooks are considered standards of Irish music and are referenced by many Irish musicians. His efforts placed Chicago’s Irish immigrant musicians on the map of Irish music. With its many festivals, schools and pubs, Chicago remains a hotbed of Irish music to this day.

Since O’Neill’s time, Chicago has produced many accomplished and dedicated Irish musicians, including Liz Carroll and the late Joe Shannon, both of whom have been honored with a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Noel Rice, founder of the Academy of Irish Music at the Irish American Heritage Center, believes that if someone is meant to play, they will play. On the other hand, many also believe that children have fewer opportunities to hear the music in the home or community than their parents or grandparents had. While there are many opportunities to learn and listen to Irish music, it is important to create a community that encourages and supports musicians of all skill levels. Chicago continues to support Irish musicians through countless sessions, festivals and concerts, which provide a strong and devoted community. As part of this movement, Rice himself teaches approximately 60 students.

Liz Carroll has been acknowledged as one of the world’s greatest Irish fiddlers since she was a teenager, when she won the Senior All-Ireland Championship in 1975. Since then, she has been hailed as a master of Irish fiddling. In 1994, Carroll was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the Endowment for the Arts for her commitment to Irish music. Carroll learned to play the fiddle when she was nine, and shortly thereafter began composing her own fiddle tunes. Carroll has recorded several albums, composed over 200 songs, and has performed throughout the world. She is deeply connected to her hometown, Chicago, where she was born to Irish immigrant parents and still lives with her husband and two children.

Because travel has become relatively affordable, musicians can come together across borders more frequently. Since the 1960s, when flute-player Frank Thornton reported that Chicago had 91 Irish-born musicians, networks have grown to include musicians across continents, learning from one another and expanding their repertoires. Carroll’s compositions have become part of the Irish music repertoire, and her tunes can be heard in Chicago pubs and across the ocean in Ireland’s villages. Carroll is also active in the Irish music community: she teaches master classes, performs at festivals and frequently gives concerts throughout Chicago and the world.

One example of Carroll’s music stretching beyond Chicago’s borders is her collaboration with guitarist and singer John Doyle. Though Doyle does not live in Chicago, he and Liz Carroll play together often, and each has contributed to the other’s recordings. Doyle has been playing professionally since the age of 16, and he was one of the founding members of the renowned group Solas. Doyle’s first solo album established him as an accomplished singer and composer. He has devoted much of his talent on the acoustic guitar as an accompanist to many leading Irish musicians and as a contributor to more than 60 recordings.

Carroll and Doyle continue the long-standing Chicago tradition, reaching as far back as Chief Francis O’Neill in the early 1900s, of enjoying, playing and composing Irish music. Together, they create innovative and intriguing music, bridging the gap between traditional and contemporary Irish culture

Last Updated:
February 4, 2009
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