This weekend, 24 world-renowned Irish musicians will gather in Midlothian to teach over 250 students about their culture and music.
Hosted by the Traditional Irish Music Education Society, the 15th O’Flaherty Irish Music Retreat will take place Thursday through Sunday at the Hoblitzelle Camp and Conference Center in Midlothian. During that time, participants will be treated to barbeque, Ceili dancing and music played on instruments ranging from fiddles to flutes to accordions.
“When people come, they’re going to be saturated in Irish music for three days,” retreat director Ken Fleming said.
Passionate about Irish music as far back as 1980, Fleming said Irish music is one of the musical roots that Americans most identify with.
“A lot of American fiddle music comes from Ireland and from the Celtic nations; Scotland, Wales, all that,” Fleming said. “Irish music is very familiar to Americans, and I think that’s why it’s so loved in the United States; because a lot of music came over here with the immigrants from Ireland.”
Fleming said he founded the non-profit in 2005 to educate people on the history and technique behind traditional Irish music. And even though he identified himself as Irish, Fleming said he didn’t grow fond of Irish music because of his heritage.
“I wasn’t attracted because of that,” Fleming said. “I was attracted because it’s a very exciting kind of music: it has a pulse to it.”
Noting the genre’s distinct rhythms, captivating melodies and unique instruments, Fleming said traditional Irish music has an almost neighborly culture where you can walk into a random pub anywhere, sit in on a session and start jamming out with complete strangers.
“I’ve played all kinds of music,” Fleming elaborated. “Rock and Roll, Bluegrass, Old-timey. But Irish music is what I landed on 40 years ago. This form of music drives me to play music.”
With several Irish artists recruited all over the world, Fleming said many of these artists reside in many parts throughout the United States, including Boston, New York, Chicago, Colorado and even Texas.
“These are some of the top players in Irish music,” Fleming explained. We’re literally bringing in some of the best players in the world.”
Several of the featured artists excite Fleming for their involvement in this year’s retreat. One name that stuck out in particular to him was Mairtin O’Connor, a button accordionist from Galway. He has played the accordion since age nine, was featured in the 1995 theatrical production “Riverdance” and tours regularly with his bandmates, tenor banjo player Cathal Hayden and guitar player Seamie O’Dowd.
“They have a long history of playing in some of the premiere bands in Ireland,” Fleming said. “They have been in demand by every Irish music camp in the world. We’re just lucky to be the ones to bring them in.”
Fleming said he’s grateful for all of the artists that are coming to the retreat and credits them among many that are helping keep traditional Irish music alive.
“It’s not like you have to be an Irishman to play Irish music,” he said.
To register or learn more about the retreat, go online at www.oflahertyretreat.org.
David Dunn, @DavidDunnInTX