Monday, January 30, 2023

These musicians are keeping Irish culture alive in the area. Here’s how

The local band Poisoned Dwarf is keeping Irish history and culture alive through music. (WYDaily/Courtesy Mei-Lei Beane)
The local band Poisoned Dwarf is keeping Irish history and culture alive through music. (WYDaily/Courtesy Mei-Lei Beane)

While the Irish coast is thousands of miles from the Historic Triangle, the ballads and sounds of the culture have still rooted themselves here.

Mei-Li Beane said she fell in love with Irish music a decade ago after playing violin during a Celtic service at a church.

“It’s music that appeals to the human heart and draws you in,” Beane said. “And playing [Irish] folk music is just very freeing.”

Beane said she has played since then with a variety of different bands and organizations to help spread her love of the genre. She joined local Irish folk band, Poisoned Dwarf, two years ago and said she has learned more than ever what this music can mean to people.

Beane said most shows of Poisoned Dwarf sell out and during performances, guests seem to be dancing and enjoying themselves even if they previously hadn’t had a deep connection to the music.

“There’s the lyrical and peaceful side to Irish singing that really does tug at the heartstrings,” she said. “But there’s also the social part — it was music designed to be sung at a pub or at a dance hall.”

Stewart Pittman, who plays the Uilleann pipe with Poisoned Dwarf, said Irish music comes in many forms and that’s what makes it so unique and connects with various cultures. 

“It might be toe-tapping music one minute, and slow and somber the next,” he said. “A happy, cleverly concealed joke, then a morbid dirge.”

But for many people, the history of Irish music has been present in their families for generations.

Pittman said Celtic music had been a major influence in his life for as long as he can remember. His father was part of a Scottish pipe band which meant Pittman spent a lot of time at Scottish festivals and band practices growing up.

When he was just 10 years old, he became a drummer with the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums Corps where he learned more about historic Scottish music.

“By this point, music from the British Isles was coming from everywhere,” he said.

Beane said the historical aspect to the music is important to many people and that’s why most songs performed at their concerts are introduced with a little bit of the piece’s history and meaning. 

Pittman said the music is also important because it was a way to record Irish identity through an oral, musical history. 

“It’s important to understand and honor the history so that you can better appreciate the music and culture it’s stemming from,” he said.

Many of the songs connect with people on a cultural level. 

“As our country is always looking to the past to connect to the future, Irish music has been a constant through-line in forming our American identity,” Pittman said. 

Beane said one of the beautiful aspects of American music today is how it has blended together with traditional music from other countries. For American bluegrass, modern-day country music, sounds from Appalachia and folk music, most of the songs and history comes from music derived in the British Isles, she said. 

“It’s really fun to see how different cultural music strains blended in the U.S. to come up with things that are simply American,” she said.

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Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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