Mara Shea

music

teaching

writing

I live in North Carolina, USA, where I am a fiddle player, fiddle teacher, writer, and editor. I play Celtic music. Generally speaking, that means Scottish, Irish, and other music from the British Isles. Dance music is what I love best—Scottish country dances, English country dances, and Irish set dances, as well as contra dances, parties, and concerts with the fiddle-guitar duo, The Elftones.

 

I teach and coach students in the fundamentals of fiddle playing, introducing them gradually to techniques that make the music sound more Irish, or Scottish, danceable, lyrical, and most important, fun to play.

 

Before I decided to be a full-time musician, I wore a technical writer and editor hat, working for 25 years with various large corporations. I am now a part-time freelance technical writer on the side (more emphasis on music!); a volunteer, part-time assistant orchestra librarian with the North Carolina Symphony; and I also write a few articles and essays just for fun. In 2011, Mel Bay published a book that I wrote about Scottish strathspeys—one of my favorite types of tunes! Airs and Dances, a Collection of Scottish Strathspeys for Violin and Other Melody Instruments, is full of interesting tunes, some well-known, some not, with historical notes about the music, the composers, and the subjects of the tunes! You can also download audio files for each of the 100 strathspeys—nothing fancy, just me on solo fiddle playing the tunes.

 

You can hear me play on several recordings with The Elftones: an album of waltzes, and two albums of Irish and Scottish tunes. We also have a wonderful recording, All the Pretty Horses, graced with Rhiannon Giddens’ beautiful voice. One of my favorite CDs, Heather Hills, is with Dave Wiesler on piano, as we have a splendid time playing Scottish tunes for dancing, and for just listening. In June 2014, Julie Gorka and I recorded some of our favorite waltzes, for an album called In 3/4 Time.

 

Visit me on YouTube--click here for a look at English country dance (what you might see in one of the Jane Austen films like Pride and Prejudice). Here’s a link to a YouTube video of a dance called “Northdown Waltz,” and one with the intriguing title, “The Physical Snob.” In the “Northdown Waltz” and “Physical Snob” videos, the music is played by a trio with the whimsical name of Syllabub--Julie Gorka on piano, Walt Robinson on recorder, and me on violin. We have had so many people ask us to record "Mister Beveridge's Maggot"—the famous English country dance music from the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice—that we finally released a recording of it, now available for download. Enjoy!

 

I play with many other delightful musicians. Rebecca McCallum, Jim Stevenson-Mathews, and I formed a Scottish music ensemble called Highland Oasis when we began performing at Mohonk Mountain House each year for their Scottish Weekends. Dean Herington, Pete Campbell, and I play in a very-much-fun Scottish country dance ensemble called The MacRowdies. Julie Gorka and I play as a piano-fiddle duo called Copious Notes. Laura Lengnick, Karen Gaughan, and I are Good & Plenty—providing lots of twin-fiddle-and-piano energy for dancers. We are also all contra dance musicians, so you will find us occasionally playing for contra dances throughout the country. Our goal: to have fun and make good music!

 

...Some more videos: Syllabub playing for the dance called "Sprigs of Laurel" at a Jane Austen Ball in Chapel Hill, North Carolina... Good & Plenty showed up in Charlotte, North Carolina to play a contra dance in 2013; here's a video of one of their sets (some of the dancers were having way too much fun!).

 

Some music you might enjoy...

And a book of stories about music..

One of my favorites is Heather Hills...a CD of Scottish country dance music (with Dave Wiesler on piano), available from cdbaby.com. Listen to some of it here.

This delightful writing and musical project took me on two journeys to Scotland to find history and stories about a treasure trove of tunes. It’s available from melbay.com, and includes recordings of me playing each of the 100 strathspeys.