|Mance Grady, ICC Academy Instructor, Master Bodhrán Player|
Mance Grady describes his decision to become a Bodrhán Instructor with the Academy of the Irish Cultural Centre of New England as a "kismet moment." About four years ago, Louise O’Shea, ICCNE Director of Programming and Membership, called to invite him to teach the bodrhán. From that moment, as he tells it, "there was a magic of connection with the place and its students." He found the ICC "quick to engage, welcome and help teacher and students alike." As a performer, he’s delighted "to bring his 49 years of living as a percussionist" to the ICC Academy. As a teacher he discovered that the ICC encourages instructors and students to gather, relax, learn and share in a way that opens paths of quality for individuals to discover their unique connections to Irish arts and culture.
To hear Mance speak of the Irish drum is to become aware that each student of the bodhrán is on a "singular journey to find the tones of the instrument." Unlike an instrument like guitar which has specific surface areas or frets where the player applies pressure to create melody and dynamic range, the bodhrán is an instrument with a surface of horizontal bands of low, mid and high tonal ranges which the player must visualize, feel and use to make sound. Mance finds that for many of his ICC students key moments of learning occur when they internalize his adage "I don’t want you to play like me, the teacher, I want you to play like you. Delve into what you have to offer." Mance believes that "just as a weaver at the loom moves to her own rhythm, or a ballet dancer moves to his own style, the bodhrán player is able to do his or her individual work for connecting with universal beats and tones."
There is such a wide tonal palette to this frame drum that he encourages each student to be playful and "relax into playing well." For one of his beginner students, this happened on a hot August day at the ICC. The student came to class tense. Without needing to know any details of the student’s specific work day, Mance was able to get him to focus on the drum, throw out the tension and seek relaxation with purpose. The student left class amazed that he had indeed "played well."
Mance is thrice-blessed by his bodhrán passion. First and foremost he is a performer. His musical talent and skill has earned him the distinction of being the first American Bodhrán player to be named a Master Player by the national Endowment for the Arts. Secondly, Mance is a teacher. He realized at some point that as a teacher he could connect curious folks to the expressive qualities of the bodhrán and share the facts about the drum as an instrument indigenous to Ireland. And so, he began giving classes and workshops and especially looks forward to his course at the Irish Cultural Centre in Canton, Massachusetts each year and an upcoming winter workshop in Charlemont, Vermont.
Thirdly, Mance is a maker of the bodhrán. For him, the bodhrán holds many unique playing qualities. He makes drums of beauty and tone for people to play and "not to use as mere wall decorations and tourist items." There’s a smile in Mance’s voice as he says, "take the bodhrán off the wall; play it; playing it is good for you."