Band: Irish Blessing
Members: Jim, Cushla, Joshua and Jonathon Srour
Who we talked to: Cushla, 55
You are heading to the world championships this summer? This year, Josh and I competed in the Fleadh (qualifiers). Last year, Jonathon, Josh and I competed and all qualified, which was pretty staggering. There's only four age groups. They only take two (people) from each of those categories . . . (who) qualify to compete at the world championship level.
How does the event work? There (are) two parts to it. We did the two parts (last year). The first part . . . is a music school for one week and then the weekend is the competition. People from all over the world come. They have a quarter of a million people crowd into the town. There is music playing inside and outside of every pub, on a street corner, in a gutter, in the mall (and) in a hallway. There's just music everywhere. Everyone is carrying their instruments and you just start playing with a group of people, strangers.
What was the experience like last year? We didn't know what it was going to be like. We'd been to the world championships for dance about eight times, but that's a different field. I think 800 kids (and 80 teachers) . . . came for the music camp. It's a good feeling to see kids with their fiddles on their backs, or their banjos, or their flutes, or their whistles or guitars. I was doing flute last year. Jonathon did flute, and Josh did fiddle. I cannot tell you the nerves we had the night before. To come from York . . . and think you're going to be with the world's best . . . was very intimidating. The teacher would play a tune one time and expect you to have it in your head and . . . to repeat it.
Was the competition portion even more nerve wracking? Yes. But it's not a lot of competition in my (age category) to be honest. The kids have a lot more competition. The fiddle would be the most competitive. As a mother, I was nervous for my kids. You wonder if their level will be up to the (competition) level. We didn't go there to win . . . but just to be considered and judged. There are other brilliant players out there. Being immersed in that level of musicianship was . . . awe-inspiring. You can't describe the music. You can just say it was wonderful.
Did you have to arrange a couple pieces? (It) depends on the age level. Each piece has to be a different rhythm like a jig, hornpipe, reel and a slow air. Your tune selection when you do these competitions is of utmost important. You look for obscure tunes that are very difficult. They have to be traditional. They want to uphold the Irish tradition.
When did you and your sons start playing? Irish music is traditionally taught within families. It's passed down from parent to child. It's an oral transmission. You do it more by hearing than reading. I've been in an Irish band I think for 20 years. My kids would be in bed listening to us practice. There is music in the house all the time. When they learn to play by ear, that's when they start spitting it out. I haven't grown up playing Irish piano. I started taking Irish piano lessons from Donna Long, who lives in Baltimore. She's been in the women's super band Cherish The Ladies.
Is your family from Ireland? I'm from New Zealand. Everybody from New Zealand has roots in England, Ireland or Scotland. We actually had them in all three countries. My job is to be as . . . pure to (musical) form as we possibly know how to be and then present that to the local people here.
What is Jonathon up to? (He) just took time off of college to tour with Michael Flatley in "Lord of the Dance." We took him . . . to the airport . . . at the beginning of December (2009). Flatley was joining (the show) in Taiwan. He hasn't been in the show himself for four or five years. I said to Jonathon, "take your flute with you." One day . . . he was playing his flute . . . while the other guys were playing cards. Flatley's manager walked by . . . and an hour later, he came back with the dance captain and said, "Mr. Flatley would like a private audience with you. And bring your flute." Michael Flatley used to be the world champion flute player as well as the world champion dancer. For half an hour, Jonathon and Michael Flatley traded tunes and stories and jokes.
And Josh? He (recently) graduated (from the Christian School of York). We bought him - for a graduation gift - a mandolin, and he's never played one. He is taking off at lightning speed. I'm hoping we can do one little set with the mandolin at the Penn-Mar Irish Festival. Josh . . . takes his lessons from the world champion Brian Conway (who lives in White Plains, New York). We do it by Skype.
- ERIN McCRACKEN, FLIPSIDE STAFF
Joshua Srour, 19, and Cushla Srour qualified in New York to take part in the Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann (Irish Music World Championships) - Joshua on the fiddle and Cushla on the piano. The world championships will be held this August in County Cavan, Ireland.
In 2009, Cushla, Joshua and, Jonathon, 22, competed at the Fleadh in Tullamore, County Offaly, Ireland.
For details, visit www.fleadh2010.ie.
If you go
Irish Blessing performs at 1 p.m. Saturday on the North Stage at The 10th Annual Penn-Mar Irish Festival, which is held at The Markets at Shrewsbury, 12025 Susquehanna Trail, Shrewsbury Township.
Group member Joshua Srour will be dancing with The Broesler School of Irish Dance at noon.
Tickets cost $7 in advance and $10 at the gate. For details, visit www.penn-mar.org.