On Sundays in Wethersfield there is Irish music in the air. Jeanne Freeman, an accomplished fiddler, along with other instructors, teaches young and old alike the art of playing Irish music. Founder of the Connecticut Irish Academy of Music, she and fellow musicians bring to life the sounds of fiddles, tin whistles, flutes, mandolins, banjos, guitars, accordions and bodhrans, also known as a frame drum.
“I got the idea to open the academy after attending sessions and studying with P.V. O’Donnell,” (a famous Irish musician and fiddler), she said. P.V O’Donnell lived in Manchester, Connecticut and taught private lessons on how to play the fiddle when he was not performing. He passed away in 2011 after a long battle with brain cancer.
“I spoke to him about my idea, and would have loved to do it with him. He was receptive but for a variety of reasons the timing wasn’t right. A year after he passed, I decided to try it,” she added.
Jeanne began by contacting other musicians in the Irish community, including one of the academy instructors named John Whelan, a “seven-time all-Ireland” button accordionist. He loved the idea and offered to help. A native of England with Irish roots, he teaches students as young as nine at the academy the history and culture of Irish music as well as how to play the button accordion.
She then enlisted other talented Celtic musicians and teachers and opened her school in 2013. These teachers are experienced professionals who regularly perform, teach, and lead traditional Irish music sessions (concerts) around the area, many of whom are accomplished recording artists.
Jeanne’s love for the fiddle, or violin, began as a young girl around the age of seven. She was originally classically trained, and music is her passion. She has performed as a soloist for the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and the St. Patrick’s Day celebration at Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts. She also appeared on Connecticut Public Television in a program entitled An Evening of Irish Music. Performing along with her on that show was academy instructor Dan Ringrose, who regularly performs with her. They are known as the duo of Ringrose & Freeman.
She has performed at the Greater Irish Music Festival and has co-hosted the annual St. Patrick’s Day Concert at the University of St. Joseph’s. For a number of years she served as chairperson of the local branch of Comhaltas Ceolteori Eirann (CCE), a world-wide organization dedicated to the promotion of traditional Irish music, song, language and dance. In 2014 she released her debut solo CD The Fiddler You Are, which was produced by John.
At the academy, Jeanne teaches fiddle to children and adults, and believes playing music is beneficial especially for young people.
“Kids today are very busy with many things including sports and that is important and good, but learning to play an instrument among other things teaches discipline, as well as how to prepare and perform in public,” she said.
“We sometimes lose students to sports, but we try to encourage parents to support them playing music. It’s the best years for them to learn, and something they can do for the rest of the lives,” Jeanne added.
In all there are six instructors currently at the Academy. In addition to Jeanne there is John, considered to be one of the most accomplished Irish button accordian players of his time. He has toured extensively and earned numerous awards and accolades for his work. He also has multiple recording, television and movie credits to his name, including his 2013 release of original compositions, “Passage of Time.” At the Academy of Irish Music, John teaches button accordion, and works with young people in the youth ceili band.
Claudine Langille is the banjo, mandolin and guitar teacher. Claudine learned her craft while living in Galway, Ireland and is noted for playing, singing and songwriting with the band Touchstone, an Irish-Appalachian fusion band from Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Ellen Redman, a professional flutist with the Springfield Symphony, travels from Massachusetts to teach the whistle and flute. She is also an instructor of classical and Irish flute at Smith College, and performs regularly with her Massachusetts-based band, BlackSheep.
Mary Gardner, a professional percussionist, gives lessons on the Irish frame drum, and studied at the University of Limerick. She received her Bachelor’s degree in music education and performance from Ithaca College, and completed her Master’s degree in percussion performance at the University of Connecticut. Mary also studied at the Royal College of Music and the Guildhall School in London and is a music teacher in the Westport, Connecticut school district.
Singing classes are conducted by Dan Ringrose, who was raised on Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem music. He began singing their songs by the age of three and has appeared on a number of radio and television programs including a recent performance on Connecticut Public Television.
Lessons at the academy take place on Sunday afternoons at the Wethersfield Academy for the Arts, and attract many repeat students. Class times vary in length, but last usually 45 minutes and are divided into two 11 week semesters, (spring and fall). During a semester, students in the advanced classes will learn a tune or two a week, while beginners generally average one to two tunes by the end of the semester. Classes, which can be individual or as a group, are taught by ear and students are encouraged to record their lessons.
For more information, class descriptions and prices visit the academy’s website at www.ctirishmusic.com.