Séamus Begley and Oisín Mac Diarmada, Carrying the Torch Together

By Amelia Mason - December 11, 2013


Fans of traditional music love to extol its intergenerational aspect, but old and young mix less often in professional settings than we would like to think. Which is why, when a duo like Séamus Begley, 64, and Oisín Mac Diarmada, 35, appear on the scene, it’s so refreshing.

“In a way it’s easy to see the appeal for a musician of my age to sit down with a legend like Séamus and play,” says Mac Diarmada, an Irish fiddler from County Sligo with a round, boyish face and a succinct-yet-expressive style of playing. “I have great admiration for him at his age and all the things he’s done, that he is so open-minded that he doesn’t mind touring with someone who is quite a bit younger. That sums up the man... He’s always up for fun and he’s always up for music.”

The two, who will perform on Concert Window on Thursday, Dec. 12 at 8:30 p.m. EST, first collaborated when Begley joined Mac Diarmada’s self-produced U.S. touring show, Irish Christmas in America. Begley has since been added to the lineup of Mac Diarmada’s band, Téada.

Mac Diarmada says that he relishes the simplicity of their duo shows, which do not require much arrangement or planning, unlike his other endeavors. “It’s quite a spontaneous process with Séamus,” he explains. The two shift effortlessly from jigs to hornpipes to airs sung in Begley’s fluttering tenor. They have an easy, mischievous rapport onstage.

“He’s a great leader of audiences,” says Mac Diarmada of Begley. “He’s very perceptive in that way. He’s a born entertainer, really.”

Begley is one of Irish music’s most renowned accordionists and singers. Hailing from County Kerry, he is known for his humor and energy, which he brings as much to his playing as to his stage presence. He has toured extensively with such luminaries as multi-instrumentalist Steve Cooney, Irish supergroup Altan, and folksinger Mary Black.

“[The project is] exposing me to different tunes, like polkas and slides, and in the part of Ireland I live in there isn’t much of that polka-and-slide tradition,” says Mac Diarmada. “It’s interesting for me to learn those types of tunes. And Séamus has a pretty unique rhythm as well.”

Mac Diarmada finds plenty in the collaboration with which to challenge himself. The fiddle, he points out, is a versatile, accommodating instrument. While Begley plays tirelessly away, Mac Diarmada follows gamely along, eagerly soaking up the subtlety and wisdom in every note.

If there is a lesson here, it’s that traditional music is endlessly giving, as long as you play it together.

Photo credit: Sara Piazza, www.sarapiazza.com

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