Eileen Ivers: The future of the fiddle | VailDaily.com

Eileen Ivers: The future of the fiddle

Caramie Schnell
Vail, CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyEileen Ivers plays a pops show Monday at the Ford Amphitheater, as part of the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival.

As a 12-year-old growing up in the Bronx in New York City, Eileen Ivers entertained the neighborhood folks with her fiddle. Her teacher, Irish fiddler Martin Mulvhill, put together a ceili band of the neighborhood kids he taught, and wielding violins, flutes, tin whistles and accordions, the kids roamed the sidewalks playing traditional Irish tunes.

“It was great ” you’re playing the fiddle and talking to your friend ” ‘hey, did you get a lot of homework this weekend?'” Ivers said during a phone interview.

Ivers didn’t know it then, but those first sidewalk performances were preparing her for her career and later performances on some of the world’s most renowned stages. Ivers is set to play at the Ford Amphitheater as part of Bravo! on Monday. Lynne Mazza, Bravo!’s associate artistic director saw Ivers play at the amphitheater two years ago, she said.

“She was just fantastic, she’s a real crowd pleaser and charmer and so gifted on that violin. She’s quite astonishing, really,” Mazza said.

As was the case last time, Mazza predicts the crowd will be unable to keep from dancing in the aisles.

“She makes everyone feel as if she’s playing just for them. It makes you feel like you’re in an intimate room, not a huge amphitheater,” she said.

With parents that immigrated from Ireland to New York, Ivers grew up with an Irish tune nearly always playing in the background. Both her parents encouraged Ivers and her sister to understand and embrace their Irish heritage. Her mom, she said, tried to gently steer her in the direction of the piano, but the fiddle is what caught her eye as an 8 year old. While she tickled the strings, her sister Irish step danced alongside.

“The fact that (the fiddle) could be so sad and lonesome and very emotional and then rhythmic and upbeat and joyful, that grabbed me as a kid. It could bring a lot of joy to people and that drew me in,” Ivers said.

And even now, after touring full time with River Dance for three years in the late ’90s and having performed on world class stages on a handful of continents ” even the International Concert Hall in Dublin ” Ivers is still fond of the intimate sessions.

“Irish music is this amazing performing art, but the heart of the music takes place in people’s kitchens or at the local pub,” she said.

It’s not uncommon for Ivers to bring her fiddle to the pub in her father’s hometown and “play into the night,” she said.

“To get back to that is a wonderful feeling and very therapeutic. You rediscover tunes you forgot for awhile and remember why you’re playing the music ” the joy that’s there and the sharing of it that’s really at the heart of it,” she said.

Along with traditional Irish tunes that are hundreds of years old, Ivers and her band ” Tommy McDonnell (lead vocals, harmonica, percussion), Greg Anderson (acoustic guitar), Leo Traversa (bass guitar), and Isaac Alderson ( Uilleann pipes, flutes, whistles) ” play rocking dance beats, sing, and championship Irish step dancers join the crew on stage. The goal is to get the audience involved by singing, clapping or dancing in the aisles, Ivers said.

“It’s a little more integrated than just a night of classical or traditional music,” she said.

Though most people use words like “accessible” and “interactive” to describe the music Ivers and her band, Immigrant Soul, play, she’s gotten some heat from Irish music purists, she said.

“There are purists that feel you shouldn’t even have harmonica accompaniment to tunes. But I let that go a long time ago. You can’t let that affect you,” she said.

Exposing Irish music to a larger audience is simply more important than staying loyal to the tradition, she said.

“There is nothing wrong with having a more accessible sound that can bring in more fans,” she said.

There have been times that Ivers has gotten a few strange looks, especially when she’s played alongside more tradition-bound symphonies.

“For a good part of the show I’ll play acoustic fiddle but at some points I’ll play an electric fiddle as well and run it through some effect pedals so you might get the odd eyebrow lifted when they see a blue electric fiddle with a wireless mic. And I might run around the crowd a little bit towards the end of the show. It might not be the most pure way of playing but I think music is so much about reaching people as well.

“I’m a big fan of if you can put smiles on folks faces that’s a wonderful feeling and definitely a part of the spirit of Irish music is that interaction ” where people walk away and say, ‘wow, they really played for me tonight.'”

Caramie Schnell can be reached at 748-2984 or cschnell@vaildaily.com.

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