Fighting Fear, One Irish Tune at a Time

Panic at the thought of doing a thing is a challenge to do it.  

~Henry S. Haskins

Kathleen Boyle and Pam Asberry

Last Sunday I had the privilege of spending an hour exploring Irish piano melody with Glasgow based musician Kathleen Boyle. In town for a house concert along with Gráinne Murphy & Mirella Murray, Kathleen made herself available as a teacher prior to her performance. I am so glad I took advantage of the opportunity.

I almost didn’t. Initially, I registered for a group workshop. But due to a shortage of participants–the entire event materialized on very short notice–a private lesson became the only option. I was terrified. Classically trained, I read music well and can play just about anything you might set on the music rack in front of me. But learning and harmonizing music by ear is an entirely different animal. And the thought of doing it with a world renowned Irish musician privy to my struggles made my heart pound and my palms sweat.

Still, I agreed to a one o’clock time slot. Sunday morning, though, our hostess emailed me and asked if she could change my lesson time to three o’clock. Since that would affect other plans I had made for the day, I was relieved to have an excuse to bail out. “Let’s just skip my lesson,” I volunteered. But my friend didn’t let me off the hook so easily. “Come on at one,” she said. “We’ll make it work.” The truth was that three o’clock wasn’t really a problem for me. “Okay, okay; I’ll see you at three,” I caved, filled with fear and trepidation. My only solace was the knowledge that my suffering would last only an hour.

It turned out all my worries were for nothing. Kathleen was warm and encouraging; she taught me a simple tune, George Brabazon, by ear, then showed me how to harmonize it. It was a thrill for me to play the finished piece on the piano while she accompanied me on the accordion.

The concert that evening was delightful, too, and afterwards I stuck around for the session. What fun it was to pull out my whistle and play a handful of tunes with the likes of Kathleen, Grainne, and Mirella, as well as the many accomplished area musicians who joined in.

Kathleen at the piano, Grainne on fiddle, Mirella on accordion, me in the green sweater.

As a result of this rich experience, I am more motivated than ever to develop my ability to play piano by ear as well as to develop a vast repertoire of tunes on the whistle and the mandolin and participate in local sessions on a regular basis. Most important, I am reminded to face down my fears whenever they try to keep my down. I am stronger than they are. I’m not going to let them keep me from my dreams.