The Irish button accordion is an accoustic instrument that can fill a dance hall with a melodic heart beat few hands but those of a true box master can finger. Joe Burke is an Olympian in the pantheon of Irish traditional musicians that will forever be beloved in the memory of this magical tradition.
A master musician, and brilliant speaker, Joe Burke wrote a note to Monsignor Father Charlie Coen as they sat near each other in the beautifully designed Irish American Center in Mineola before either had yet been called up to accept their awards. As he gave his speech, he pulled the note from his pocket, and read aloud what he had written in question:
"Now that I seem to be on the same level as a Monsignor, what am I supposed to do?"
The napkin with this query also had Monsignor Coen's response written on it. Joe called Paul Keating, the Master of Ceremonies over to read to us what Charlie had scribbled in answer before passing it back.
"I feel like I'm being set up," Paul said as just before he read the word Father Charlie had written, which was: "repent."
You can listen to the burst of laughter that followed in one of the audio clips of the night, embedded in this article below. Heart felt feeling and joyous laughter was the order of the night.
Also honored was Mike Brady, from Leacain an Éadain (Flagmount, "cheek of the bank"), in the paróiste of An Fhiacail (Feakle, "tooth") Co. An Chláir (Clare), just south of East Galway (Gaillimhe). He was a former student of P.J. Hayes, and a member of the Patsy Touhey club that was named for one of the earliest recording artists in any music. The Brady family was present, and his grandson was brought to tears by the DVD presentation and ceremony that inducted grandfather into the hall of fame. I'm sorry I missed the family presentation, but I'm glad to have watched the film. The picture of them is by Philip Armstrong.
It takes ears, heart and love for the music to understand people like Joe Burke, Charlie Coen and Mike Brady. Not everyone who dances hears, but those that listen love the music made by musicians of this caliber, who enrich melodies with uniquely Irish ornament and Irish swing and Irish lift. It is important to listen to melody while feeling the pulsing rhythm of a well chosen céilí group.
Among the musicians who came out to honor these máistir-ceoltóirí were Ann Conroy Burke, Martin Mulhaire, James Keane, Billy McComiskey, John Nolan and Mikey McComiskey on button accordions; Seán Quinn, Willie Kelly, Brian Conway, Rose Conway Flanagan and John Reynolds on fiddles; Mike Rafferty, Deirdre Connolly, Margie Mulvihill and Brendan Dolan on flutes; Mattie Connolly and Michael Cooney on uilleann pipes; Don Meade on banjo; Brendan Fahy on drums; and Felix Dolan on piano. There were many other musicians as well, and I'm sorry not to list everyone's name, and have everyone's photo.
The queen of the evening was Theresa Rafferty, whose tireless work on behalf of her community is a credit to her husband, Mike Rafferty, and to all of us who love the music and tradition that makes a happening like this so momentous. I'm glad to have taken a picture of the very talented Ann Conroy Burke and Joe Burke--husband and wife--playing together.
You can listen to the fine acceptance speeches made by the honorees and some of their music from the night.
This is a clip of Joe Burke's acceptance speech. It is a testimony to his spiritual position in Irish music, as it comes from a great soul informed by a genius for humor and very serious gratitude. It's just beautiful. Pay close attention to his description of old Ireland, pre-electricity, and the explanation of electricity in the form of a long dog with its back legs in (Cillín a Díoma) Killeenadeema and its front in (Baile na Coille) Ballinakill. It's priceless:
Listen to a clip of Joe Burke playing the reels Bonnie Kate and Jenny's Chickens with Felix Dolan:
and Listen to Monsignor Father Charlie Coen's music, played on concertina, first with a haunting Gregorian chant, followed by powerful and swinging reels composed by Father Kelly, the first called The Ben Hill and the second called The Rossmore Jetty:
I would like to interview Charlie Coen, as I interviewed his brother Jack Coen, maybe the two of them together soon. When I was a kid, Father Coen and Jack were kind enough to give me a lift down to Mick Moloney's Irish Week at Elkin's College in West Virginia. We drove all the way down, and all the way back. You can hear my interview with Jack Coen, here. I'm sorry now I didn't have my tape recorder on in time to catch Felix Dolan's thorough biography of Father Charlie. If someone has that, I would be happy to embed it later into this article.
Listen also to the biography given of Mike Brady by his friend Denis O'Driscoll, the third inductee:
Before going on to the pictures, I want to relate a story I was told by a man Paddy Kearney introduced me to--very fittingly--on this night. The man's name is Pat Murray, and he's a relation of the great Joe Cooley, a name obviously associated with Joe Burke. He told me that one night Joe Cooley was on his way to visit his cousin on 110th street in upper Manhattan back in the 1950s. The cab left him off at his cousin's building, he jumped out, and hadn't realized he had left his accordion in the back seat until it was too late and the cab was gone. Frantic with worry, he made his way to the cab depot, and then was sent to the police station where they had left it in the Lost and Found. Joe walked in, asked about a missing musical instrument. The box was there they said, but he would have to prove the accordion was his own. Gladly, Joe picked it up off the table, and played with the joy of someone who found a lost child again. When he finished, the police needed no more proof. "It's yours," they said.
Beneath are some pictures in no particular order of just some of the luminaries from the event. I'm sorry not to have taken pictures of Tom Madden or Maureen Donachie or Brendan Dolan and so many others who work so hard for the music and who made the event happen so smoothly. There were so many people present, I was overwhelmed by the significance of so joyous an evening. Thanks to Rose Conway Flanagan for providing me with the pictures of Seán Quinn, Margie Mulvihill and Deirdre Connolly.