One has deep Irish roots and the other not so much. But both Patrick Finley and Hollie Greenwood share a love of Irish music and the ability to play it like a dream. In August, Finley became a two-time world champion of the Irish fiddle at the 2017 All-Ireland competition in Ennis, Ireland. The Atlanta International School senior took first place in the under 18 fiddle slow airs competition. (Last year, he placed first in the fiddle for the same age group). This year, Greenwood placed third among thousands of young people in both the fiddle and fiddle slow airs. The Roswell High School senior also is a member of the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra. Luckily, you don’t have to go travel across the pond to hear these two perform. They’ll be playing together at IrishFest Atlanta, Nov. 3-4.
Q: What instruments do you play and when did you begin playing them?
Finley: I play the fiddle, flute, whistle and bodhrán (Irish drum). When I was four or five, I saw both of my uncles play the Irish fiddle and that got me excited about playing. My mom got me a violin and I started with classical music.
Greenwood: I’ve been playing the violin since I was five and the bass since I was 12.
Q: What drew you to Irish music?
Finley: I had been playing classical violin. I wasn’t a prodigy but I was pretty good at it and it came naturally. Then, when I was around 13, I attended the Swannanoa Gathering Celtic Camp in North Carolina and started playing with some friends and it really just clicked with me. I liked it and I wanted to become better and to push myself. I have family in Ireland and we go there all the time. I have so many friends over there and we play together.
Greenwood: Five years ago, I went to a classical violin camp that had these mini-courses. I took bluegrass and Irish music. My teacher there, who was my band director and private teacher for many years, told me to try out to attend the Atlanta Irish Music School, which I did.
Q: Describe Irish music?
Finley: With classical music, there are long pieces composed by someone, like a sonata by Beethoven. Most Irish music consists of tunes passed down from generation to generation that you learn by ear. There are a lot of short tunes like jigs and reels. I probably know a few thousand tunes at this point. You can sit down to play with other Irish musicians and will undoubtedly come across some tunes that you all know. This year I won the slow airs competition, which is truly a song, a slow piece of music.
Greenwood: Irish music is really a fast-paced type that you can enjoy playing with people throughout the United States and the world, really. The music is beautiful but it also is just really fun to play. I don’t have a preference between classical and Irish. Irish music is very laid back and fun and you can be more creative. At the same time, classical music has beautiful melodies. Both help you become a better musician.
Q: Do you have a style of Irish music that you play?
Finley: In Ireland, there are different counties and areas and not surprisingly, those areas developed their own overall style. Musicians in Sligo and Donegal can play the same tunes but those from Sligo might play with a more fluid bow while those from Donegal might approach them more aggressively. My style is a mix of Sligo and Clare but I try to be as unique as possible and to take from as many areas as I can.
Greenwood: I would say that I have a New York Sligo style — Sligo with a nice swing to it.
Q: Do your plans for the future include performing Irish music?
Finley: Absolutely. I love Irish music and want to be extremely involved as an Irish musician throughout my life.
Greenwood: I am hoping to go to college to either perform bass or become a music educator. At the same time, I will probably keep up with Irish music and continue to compete and play.
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The Sunday Conversation is edited for length and clarity. Writer Ann Hardie can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.