Caitlín Nic Gabhann is bringing the Irish concertina to fans across the globe.
When she is not spending quality time with husband Ciarán Ó Maonaigh (Fidil, Na Mooneys) and their two-year-old twins [Frankie and Rosie], or swimming in the Atlantic with local friends, Caitlín is kept busy liaising with concertina students all around the world.
While she launched the website in September 2018, Caitlín said subscriptions quickly rose following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I launched the website with the Starter Course which features over 30 individuals lessons, beginning with how to hold the concertina, bringing you up to playing a couple of reels. I then added the intermediate Improver Course in September 2019 for people who are still learning, but want to improve.
“The Advanced Course I added in October is for those who get to the end of that Improver Course and want to press on, and the ‘whizz kids’ who are missing playing in sessions with their friends, or going to the Willie Clancy Summer School, or Scoil Gheimhridh Ghaoth Dobhair.
“The packages are all complete, but I keep drip-feeding to them, to make sure that they stay fresh for my subscribers,” she said.
Caitlin’s lessons have attracted participants from nearly 30 countries, with most subscriptions coming from outside of Ireland.
“They’re everywhere! I have subscribers, from Ireland, the UK, all over Europe – Poland, Estonia, Finland, even as far as Taiwan, Japan and Argentina.”
While there is always a strong interest in Irish music, Caitlín said the popularity of the concertina, and the interest people around the world have in learning Irish traditional music on it, has been very surprising.
“There is always a demand for learning Irish music around the world from people, with and without Irish descent, who want be engrossed in the music, because it’s so infectious and they want to connect with it.
“But I’m still shocked that there is such a demand for the concertina, even a couple of years later. The fiddle is always going to be number 1 I’d say, but the concertina is definitely enjoying a surge in popularity at the moment, and I’ll work with that,” she laughed.
While live performances and sessions are on hold, Caitlín said the website has not only benefited those wanting to continue learning, but also herself.
“The website has been my bread and butter since we had to stop gigging and it has kept me busy throughout lockdown, from launching the new Advanced Course, to staying in contact with the participants on a daily basis..
“It’s good for them [the participants] as they can still make progress from their comfort of their own home, and can contact me directly if they are having difficulties, run into trouble on any of the lessons, and have any questions I can answer.”
Caitlín’s website has not only connected her with Irish concertina enthusiasts around the world, it has also brought participants together.
She said: “We set up a private Facebook group for our subscribers, as I wanted them to meet and interact with each other. They’re posting videos of themselves playing tunes that they’ve learned through the website and are encouraging each other. It’s a lovely, supportive community, and they help each other along.
“But I also wanted them to meet one another, just in case any of them are close to each other and that has actually happened where two subscribers in Michigan, who have said they will meet for a session whenever they’re allowed again.”
Caitlín also had a number of other opportunities that kept her busy since the first lockdown in March, from recording a performance with her husband Ciarán for the Culture Ireland #IrelandPerforms series, recording new material with Na Mooneys for Earagail Arts Festival, to being commissioned to compose a new piece for Music Network’s Butterfly Sessions.
She said: “During the first lockdown we seemed to be doing online things constantly. One of the biggest challenges was recording a television broadcast quality performance for a BBC Alba Series in Scotland.
“We had to hire in the equipment, set up all the microphones, cameras and lighting ourselves at home. It was challenging enough. Preparing and doing online concerts was sometimes as stressful as organising an actual live event.”
Caitlín said she feeds off the energy of other musicians in sessions, and from the audience at a concert, so she definitely misses playing and performing.
“We a hundred percent miss it. Hiudái Beag’s open for five nights when the lockdown lifted and before Donegal went into Level 4, and we managed to go to three sessions. You could tell how hungry everyone was for the music, we really enjoyed those sessions.
“There are always bits that need to be recorded, so I am playing all the time, but for my own enjoyment, I don’t generally play by myself at home. I feed off the energy of people that I am playing with, the camaraderie and craic. I won’t be taking it for granted as quick in future.”
Caitlín’s RCC SOUNDS Spotify playlist features artists she looked up to growing up, but also friends and peers. But in addition to this, she has given us a list of albums she highly recommends and encourages you to visit the artist’s websites directly, as not all of them are on Spotify.
“The Bonny Men, a band from Dublin, are friends of mine and this is from their self-titled first album. They had a number of guest singers featured on the album and Caoineadh Na dTrí Mhuire is sung by Róisín Chambers who is also a good friend of mine.
“I just love her voice. I think she is powerful, and I love her delivery of the songs. Her singing would stop me in my tracks when ever she starts singing and this track certainly has that effect.”
Caitlín was very influenced by Clare musicians growing up and another friend featuring in her Spotify playlist is Clare button accordion player Damien O’Reilly with Kerryman’s Fling / I Have No Money / Donald Blue from his debut solo album, Dúchas.
“My mam is from Clare and all throughout my teenage years I was up and down to Clare where I learned most of my music, as well as from my dad at home. I made lots of really good lifelong friends in those teenage years, like Damien. We’d go down and play in the sessions and at the house all day and all night.
“This is his solo album which he only recently made. This track is on the melodeon, I think, and he [Damien] has such as lovely rhythm in his playing.”
Another band featured in her list is Garadice with their track, Gan Ainm / Sunny Hills of Beara / The Castleblaney Piper. “The piper in this group is Pádraig McGovern and it’s a gem of an album. I’m a big fan of his playing. He’s a great musician and love his taste in tunes. He has a great ability to include tunes on albums that I can’t wait to learn myself.”
Other artists and albums Caitlín highly recommends you to check out and hopefully purchase, thereby supporting artists during these times, are: Conal Ó Grada – The Top of Coom; Noel Hill & Tony McMahon – I gCnoc na Grai; The Star above The Garter – Denis Murphy & Julia Clifford; Ré, featuring Liam Ó Maonlaí, and their self-titled album; Liam O’Connor – The Loom; Steve Cooney – Ceol Ársa na Clairsí; Danny O’Mahony – In Retrospect; Peter Carberry & Padraig McGovern – Forgotten Gems and Caoimhin Ó Fearghail – Lá Ag Ól Uisce.
The Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny is proudly funded by Donegal County Council and Arts Council Ireland.