Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Musical Vocation

I'm in a bit of a writing mood this evening, so I thought I'd put down something of my musical vocation story. Since I started posting videos on YouTube and on here as well, my site has seen an ENORMOUS surge in traffic, much of it due to people's interest in Irish music.

Since I do not have children of my own, I often wonder what it would be like to hold my own son or daughter. I wonder what kind of dreams I would have for him. I've never asked him this, but I have taken to wondering what my own father and mother dreamt for me when I was a baby. Did they want me to be a baseball player? A doctor? A teacher? Rich? It's just so amazing to think that a parent holds a lifetime of potential is her arms, a potential that will be so shaped and molded by the parents' love and care.

So when I was little I did the things most kids did, I guess. I played 'hot stove' baseball, softball with the parish, and flag football. By the time I was in the second grade, my sister Torrey had already begun taking Irish dancing classes and I saw how much fun she was having. My mother, wise as she is, probably saw that I had little to no physical coordination and signed me and my brother Colin up for tin whistle lessons with a local music teacher.

Interestingly, neither of my parents play music. Nor did my grandparents. But both of my great-grandfathers were great musician - Grandpa Hagan played the piano throughout Cleveland and my Grandpa Kilbane was a fine fiddle player. His sister, Sister Margaret Anne Kilbane, was an Ursuline sister who was a nice button accordion player in her own right. Some traits skip generations, but the musical trait skipped two in my case!

It may come as a shock to readers, but I really wasn't a very good music student. It took years for me to attain any level of proficiency on the whistle. I liked playing it, to be sure, but I probably was about eleven or twelve before I started to show forth some promise as a musician. Perhaps I exaggerate - I might have actually been pretty good, but it seems now so long ago that it's hard to recall. I do remember, however, struggling a lot to learn tunes and having a hard time learning by ear.

During this time I also picked up the accordion. For those youngsters reading, the accordion is not, contrary to popular belief, the way to go if you want to make a lot of friends. I think most of my past self-esteem problems stem directly from having learned to play the accordion (which I have taken to calling "the box" as it sounds better than saying accordion).

By the time I was in the eighth grade, I had begun to find my voice in the Irish musical tradition. I began playing in a band called "Tap the Bow" with a Jesuit regent, Brother Jim Boynton. Jim was the first Jesuit I'd ever met, so it seems fitting now that he was in his first year as vocation director the year I applied.

I started teaching music relatively young - I was sixteen, I believe. So I've been a music teacher now for ten years. As I write this, I chuckle: I've gone from learning the whistle from Tom Hastings in a musty second bedroom in his house to teaching out of my kitchen for six-dollars a lesson (when I started) to now teaching a college course at Fordham University. That's a lot of mileage on one $10.00 instrument!

I began playing for feiseanna (Irish dancing competitions) as I moved through college. My two years of graduate school seem a blur now, as I went to school during the week and played nearly every weekend. There is a part of me that misses that life, the friends I made and the various places I would travel. Some of my best friends are the result of being a part of the Irish dancing circuit.

After spending a whole day trying to isolate the Trinitarian dimension of Karl Rahner's anthropology, what I write here seems to lack a cohesive bond. I'm not much for narrating history, so let me offer a few thoughts on the career of Irish music.

I chose quite deliberately not to make Irish music my life. My vocation has obviously led me into the Society of Jesus, but that does not mean that I was not called to be a musician. I would like to think that my musical vocation has called and will continue to call me out of myself and into a world where I can express my deep love for my Irish heritage through music and song and dance. You see, I do not see music and priesthood as opposed to one another. In a real sense, both try to free others. For so many, our hearts are so burdened that we seek out a healing word that will free us from the doubt and anger and sadness that weighs on us; so many of us are scared to step out onto the dance floor that it takes a compelling rhythm to summon us into the dance. Had I made music my job, I fear I would have begun to concern myself with "performing" the music than encountering others in the music.

Music can be a movement of hospitality, a making space for another person. Words can be bulky, but a tune or a song is often able to squeeze its way into even the narrowest of hearts. We don't recite epic poems or read Rahner to napping infants; we do, however, sing soft lullabies that sooth and reassure them of our presence.

I began by wondering about parental desires for children. I doubt sincerely that my parents ever dreamed that I would be an Irish music playing Jesuit. But through their love and support, I have been able to claim my place in my religious and cultural heritage.


Joe said...

You may not be destined to become a dad, but I have a hunch you'll do A-OK as a Father.



P.S. My only REAL wish for my sons' future is: "Please get to Heaven, I want you to meet my grandmothers." Oh, and to get educated by Jesuits.

Anonymous said...

Congrats, on getting the message out.

In Jesus,
Maria in the UK

Karen said...

Sadly, these days I wonder if my children will have a chance to grow up, or if they'll be murdered by marauding bands of radical Muslims. Or nuked by North Korea. Or 25 other horrible possibilities. I can't imagine hoping for a particular profession, as my parents must have done. I should follow Joe's lead and just worry about them getting into heaven.

On a lighter note, I dream of my daughter passing Alegebra II, this time.