In New York City, we’re privileged to have strong institutional support for traditional music. Organizations like Irish Arts Center, Glucksman Ireland House and the New York Irish Center, for example, each do myriad things for the advancement of the traditional arts in New York City and their work is of great benefit to the community at large. Another such entity doing great work is the Consulate General of Ireland in New York, led by Consul General Noel Kilkenny and his wife Hanora O’Dea Kilkenny. Since arriving in New York in 2010, the Kilkennys have shown an unusual commitment to Irish music and dance by opening wide the Consulate’s doors to the community countless times.
One such moment occurred at the Consulate on April 25, when they hosted the launch of Consulate Protocol Officer Marie Reilly’s new CD, “Anvil.” The drew people from all over the tri-state area, including Reilly’s friends and family and a phalanx of musicians. People like Tom Dunne, Don Meade, Cillian Vallely, Marie Barrett, Desi Groarke, Marie Reilly (who also plays fiddle, and would be known for her work with her brother Martin and with Cherish the Ladies), Marian Makins, Donie Carroll, Niall O’Leary and Dan Milner (to name several, but not nearly all), proved an engaged audience and – after a few short speeches and a brief spotlight performance from Reilly and Gabriel Donohue – all took part in a lively session that lasted well into the evening. The goodwill in the room was palpable.
I spoke with Reilly a few days after the event about her life in music, and her album. Born into a musical family in County Longford, she began playing the fiddle at six years of age and learned from her father Michael, who in addition to being a musician (and the album’s dedicatee), was also a blacksmith. His work is an important detail here: as a child, Reilly would spend time with her father as he worked at the forge. There, they would “perform” together – he would whistle tunes and she would lilt along with them. At the end of every tune, he’d tap the anvil with his hammer. The sound of her father’s anvil is one of Reilly’s dear memories, and the inspiration behind her album’s title.
Unfortunately, her father died when she was a young woman, and in time she drifted away from her instrument. She missed it, however, so once her family was grown she found her way back into playing – a process she found thrilling and immediately rewarding. She credits her friends at the Doonbeg Social Club (a group of over 250 members that meets at the Kerry Hall in Yonkers, and which just celebrated its 50th anniversary) with providing the support and encouragement she needed to not only get back to the music, but to pay tribute to her father’s memory with an album.
“The Anvil” is a delight. Comprised of tunes from South Leitrim and Longford, much of the music was taken from manuscript collections compiled in those areas in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although some of the tunes will be familiar to experienced listeners, Reilly’s versions all have delicate touches that many will find pleasantly surprising. (Several of the tunes, however, are rare and unusual, and will likely be unfamiliar to even experienced listeners!)
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Reilly’s playing on the album sensitively demonstrates the “slur-and-cut” style of bowing she inherited from her father. In combination with Gabriel Donohue’s nuanced backing, Reilly has yielded an album of light, flowing music that bounces along with a pleasant gait. The CD’s final three tracks – archival recordings of Reilly’s father Michael playing – complement the package perfectly and help make “The Anvil” a wonderful tribute.
Marie Reilly will be playing at New York University’s Glucksman Ireland House as part of Don Meade’s Blarney Star concert series on Friday, June 1 at 9 p.m.