Its winter on the range, a time of sparkling days and flying fiddles. In Maleny, a town with a long musical history, the Maleny Ceili Band is excitedly preparing to play for the dance, and musicians of every ability are coming to learn from world-class teachers. The Maleny Celtic Winter School is a weekend of classes at all levels, and local musicians organise it with one great aim in mind: to get everyone playing music together.
"Irish music is social music," said Nicole Murray, organiser and this year's singing tutor. "Its welcoming, its huge fun. You don't have to play well to start joining in, so its very satisfying from early on. And we have brilliant tutors coming to show us the art of great playing."
The teachers at this year's school will be working with raw beginners, right through to top players. Kristen Kelly, from the Barleyshakes, renowned Irish band from Noosa, will introduce total beginners to their fiddle. At last year's class, these total beginners were playing a tune by the end of the lesson. Raw beginners in tin whistle also get a class, and can start to play this affordable and portable instrument straight away.
"We keep everyone busy with lots of activities over the weekend,"said Nicole Murray. "Fiddle players learning intermediate or advanced Irish fiddle in the mornings can fill out their repertoire with Scottish fiddle and Quebecois fiddle in the afternoons." The Quebecois teacher, Pria Schwall-Kearney, is coming up from Melbourne to teach crazy Canadian tunes and foot percussion, after studying this music while living in Quebec.
Brisbane is very rich in top Irish players at the moment, with many young musicians working in the city. "We’re pretty excited to have Maria Cafferkey, an All-Ireland Banjo Champion, taking the banjo class," said Steve Cook, another Winter School organiser. "And the sessions at Finbar's Lounge Bar will be really cranking. This is the dream, really, to have all this great music happening right here where we live.”
The idea for the Winter School was born when a small group of musicians on the Blackall Range dreamed aloud about recreating the sort of sessions and summer schools they had all attended in Ireland, Scotland and southern Australia. “We thought Maleny was the perfect home for this music, because we live here and we love the music!” said John Thompson, whose determination has helped locate venues and tutors and inspire the group to take the risk and run this not-for-profit event. “Any money we make goes into getting the best teachers in Australia for our Winter School,” he said.