Irish Flute-ing

Kieran McCarthy Fell at the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Kieran McCarthy Fell at the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

written by Kieran McCarthy Fell class of 2013

edited by Daijha J. Copeland

As a flute performance major, I am passionate about participating in and hearing music from around the world. One of the most gratifying aspects of musical performances is creating a bridge of communication between people of different cultures. Though most of my training and studies have been in the classical settings of symphonies, wind ensembles, and orchestra pits, I am always eager to absorb musical influences from new sources, like my recent experience with the indigenous music of Ireland.

This past summer, I received funding for a research proposal that allowed me to visit a few regions in Ireland to hear a variety of performances in Irish settings such as local public houses and community centers.  There were also festivals to attend throughout the year, like the Fleadh Cheoil na Mumhan at the University of Limerick, which encourages the preservation of heritage. By interacting with the musicians in these environments, I hoped to discover whether or not inflection, embellishment, and dramatic interpretation of traditional (trad) tunes vary from region to region, as dialects do, and what Irish flute technique and interpretation has in common with classical performance.

Through my training and practicing I learned that the most integral aspects of Irish trad music are: (1) understanding the specific time signature end feel of each tune type; the steady, fast 4-4 drive of the reel, the quick 6-8 lit of the jig, and the bouncy hornpipe, and (2) learning the unique ornamentations and including them in tunes spontaneously throughout a session. In traveling to several counties in Ireland, I learned that musical differences between regions have more to do with the types of tunes played than the embellishments used. Reels, Jigs, and hornpipes are frequently heard in most places, but in counties like Cork, Kerry, and Limerick, the most common types of tunes are slides and polkas.  Regarding ornamentations, the basic types are consistent between regions, yet vary from player to player as part of the musician’s individual style.  Because of the impromptu nature of trad music, the selected ornamentations that are added are different every time a tune is played.

Reel Tune

Jig Tune

Hornpipe Tune

One public session during the Fleadh Nua

One public session during the Fleadh Nua

Due to the variety of differences in playing techniques, my research did not result in a concrete way to link classical and traditional flute playing.  However, my time immersed in trad music and Irish culture made me fully aware of how powerful music is, despite its apparent simplicity.  The intuition and originality of each individual musician produced a vital, sparkling, almost tangible music characterized by a sense of joy and abandon in the quick tunes that contrasts with the achingly, compelling depth of the slow airs.

Irish music is not tied to the classical concert hall, but is deeply intertwined with daily life in close-knit communities.  Trad tunes and instrumental accompaniment for dancing, singing, and storytelling have been passed down through generations in homes, community centers, churches, public houses, and festivals.  It was through these public sessions that I truly allowed myself to become swept up in trad music.  The height of my learning of trad music came during the annual Fleadh Nua (“new festival”). The Fleadh Nua helped me understand that taking advantage of every chance to play for someone else, whether in a session or at a competition, is even more integral to learning trad than taking frequent lessons or practicing alone.  Soon I could say that I am a real trad player.

Another session during the Fleadh Nua

Another session during the Fleadh Nua


Kieran McCarthy-Fell is currently a programming and productions intern at the Irish Arts Center, in New York City.

McCarthy-Fell received partial funding through a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) offered through UNC-Chapel Hill’s Office for Undergraduate Research, the 2013 Witten Travel Award, the Class of 1938 Fellowship Endowment committee, and the Chapel Hill Music Department Mayo Award.


Alumni Spotlight: Reed Turchi – Music, Mississippi and More

Recently we had a chance to catch up with Reed Turchi ’12. Reed was an American Studies major with a concentration in Southern Studies and a minor in Entrepreneurship. His 2010 SURF project, “Documenting the Younger Generation of Hill County Musicians,” is one component of his consistent focus on music and musicians and has led to a number of other musical endeavors. Reed founded his own record label, Devil Down Records, to release music from the Southern Folklife Collection and draw attention to some of the North Mississippi blues musicians he recorded during his SURF summer. His band TURCHI has been actively touring this year and they are prolific; the band released an album in March, with a new album coming out in July, and they’ll be in the studio in August to finish up yet another album. And, Reed is director of the Ardent Music label at Ardent Studios in Memphis.

Reed credits Professor Bill Ferris with nurturing his interest in North Mississippi blues music, as well as encouraging him to apply for a SURF. In addition to providing Reed with the funding for his summer in Mississippi, having the SURF enhanced his credibility and helped him get face time with the musicians he wanted to meet, learn from and record. Reed recorded performances at the North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic, a music festival whose goal is to “enhance appreciation and educate the general public about the native art form of North Mississippi Hill Country blues music through performance, preservation, and interpretation.” This recording turned into a Devil Down album, and the connections and relationships Reed formed in Mississippi have led to other albums.Reed Turchi photo

Reed’s SURF summer also provided a conduit to his current position at Ardent.  While in Mississippi he met Mary Lindsay Dickinson, mother of the North Mississippi Allstars. Her husband, legendary Memphis producer and musician Jim Dickinson, spent part of his career at Ardent Studios in the heyday of the Memphis blues scene. Mary Lindsay connected Reed to the folks at Ardent and he interned there the summer after his SURF research. Ardent hired him the day after his 2012 graduation. Reed is especially pleased that the first album wholly conceived of and completed since he became director of the Ardent Music will be released in late July; in the fall he’ll be working with three other bands that are cutting albums. Reed notes that his accomplishments with Devil Down Records in creating low-budget albums that garnered a lot of positive press and reviews led to Ardent’s interest in having him revive their label, which hadn’t been fully operational since the 90s. In the future he may transition Devil Down into an Ardent imprint to leverage his skills and success producing low-budget, low-fi albums featuring blues artists.

In his current whirlwind of activity, Reed spends one week each month in Memphis and otherwise lives out of his van while on the road with TURCHI. He’s particularly excited about a July showcase for the Oxford American magazine in Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition to TURCHI’s performance, Danny Nowell ’11, a fellow musician and Southern Studies major, will be writing an article on the band for the OA website and print edition.

Reed was the catalyst in creating the Sound of the South undergraduate award, which provides funding for a student wishing to record and work with musicians involved in any style or genre of southern music during the summer, and told us it might be the thing he’s “happiest about.” During his senior year, Reed worked with Ken Weiss – one of the instructors in his entrepreneurship minor — and pulled together folks from Southern Studies, Folklore and Music to develop the award. In the fall of 2011, Drucie French ’71 ’78 hosted the initial fundraiser, which garnered enough money to endow the award and fund one student each year. Reed’s goal is to increase the endowment so that it funds two students annually. One award will continue to be dedicated to undergraduate students and the second award might go to either an undergraduate or a graduate student. The recordings produced by the award winners are housed in the Sounds of the South archive at UNC’s Southern Folklife Collection. They might also be used by Southern Cultures, an award-winning quarterly which has published several issues focused on Southern music. The recordings that have been done so far are “pretty stunning,” according to Reed. The 2012 award recipient was Kaitlyn Vogt, who recorded musicians participating in an old time music jam at the Haw River Ballroom at Saxapahaw, NC. The inaugural award went to James Finnegan, who recorded Lumbee shape note singers in Robeson County, NC.

We asked Reed if he had any advice for current undergraduate researchers and he gave an emphatic “yes.” Students should definitely apply for SURF, he said, even if you feel like your idea is “way out of line” with what other folks are doing. Reed hadn’t even heard of SURF and only applied after Bill Ferris told him about it and suggested he apply.

Interested in learning more?  Reed’s band, TURCHI, will be performing at the Pinhook in Durham on June 6, at Motorco in Durham on July 21, and at the Crunkleton in Chapel Hill on July 22.