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2020 Contest Winners Concert Review by Ava White

Andrew Caden is a recent high school graduate from Bethesda, Maryland. Primarily an Irish fiddler, Andrew has won numerous All-Ireland medals for slow airs on the fiddle as well as being the 2017 All-Ireland fiddle champion (15-18). He plays in the old Sligo-style, characterized by more ornamentation and rapid playing in comparison to other traditional Irish fiddle music, that was made famous by Michael Coleman in the 1920s and 30s. Along with studying from the acclaimed New York Irish fiddler Brian Conway, he received the Frankie Kennedy Memorial Scholarship awarded to traditional Irish musicians by the Greater Washington Ceili Club in 2014. He has performed with the Chieftains at Strathmore, the Kennedy Center, the Irish Embassy, and for a number of various political dignitaries in the Washington D.C. area. Andrew will be attending Boston College in the Fall of 2020. 

François-Félix Roy (20) was born in Missouri, but he has lived almost the entirety of his life in Quebec and has since developed a substantial interest in the Québécois traditional music, as well as other related styles. He is currently studying traditional music full-time at the Cégep de Joliette with Éric Beaudry, expanding his knowledge of the guitar, mandolin, tenor banjo, and Irish bouzouki. In his video for the competition, he played his own arrangement of a traditional song that included guitar accompaniment and Québécois foot-tapping about a young man who tries to meet his loved one, but she finds excuses to not meet him and ends up sending him away.

Abi Sandy (19) is primarily a choral singer, but she has been surrounded by folk and traditional music her entire life. In 2017 she travelled to Ireland with The Way of the Bard Touring Group, and in 2019 she played guitar with the Young Tradition Youth Commission.  Sebastiaan West (18) began as a pianist with a classical and jazz background, but he decided to explore traditional music with the Young Tradition Touring Group in 2016. He has since dived into the Vermont trad community, picking up piano accordion along with Québécois foot-tapping. In 2019 Abi and Seb began making music that was influenced by a variety of traditions, primarily Irish, Scottish, and Québécois. Their dynamic repertoire showcases Gaelic and French songs to marches and jigs, to polkas and reels. Learning from regional masters such as Jermiah McLane, Moira Smiley, Nicholas Williams, and Pete Sutherland, their music aims to connect with listeners as well as the people the music originated from. They recently returned from a gap-year trip of busking and learning tunes in Edinburgh, Brittany, and the Netherlands. 

Andrew, the winner of this last Young Tradition Contest, began the concert, including a set of 2 jigs that he learned from an album by John Carty: The Old Grey Goose and The Pathway to the Well. They begin gritty and low, with climbs to the high range. Each note is clearly articulated, with occasional double-bowing to add emphasis. He played a set of reels next, including Farewell to Leitrim and The Longford Spinster. The triplet ornamentations were distinct, as well as all the notes on the runs. The double-bowing contributed nice harmonies with the melody, as well as the ending. Andrew continued with the reels from his contest video, Bonnie Kate and Jenny’s Chickens. The tunes included many jumps from high to low which were wonderfully executed. The chords added interesting and engaging layers, a nice way to end his set.

François begins his segment by saying he enjoyed Andrew’s set so much, he started strumming his guitar along with Andrew! He also talks about how he only began playing traditional music around 3 years ago and loved it, and it has since spread through his family. He starts with a French song about a prince who goes hunting, an elite activity not widely accessible but it makes a good story. The guitar accompaniment wonderfully complements the beautiful vocals, and as the foot-tapping is added the layers increase. A Waltz titled My Father’s Waltz followed. His little sister playing it on flute first introduced the tune to him, and he soon made an arrangement. The guitar is beautiful and expressive, with lovely chords to end. The next tune François learned from Keith Murphy’s latest album, and received permission from Keith to use the version from the album. It is a soothing combination of guitar and vocals. François finishes his set with a song about a young man saying goodbye to his family before going to war, and though the conscript is not optimistic, the melody is light. The guitar has a varied rhythm that deeply enhances the vocals and complete experience of the song. Merci François!

Abi and Seb start off with two tunes, one from Nicholas Williams in the French tradition and the second learned from the Touring Group called the Coming Dawn, from the group Nightingale. The first begins with accordion drones, and then the guitar on melody joins in as the two merge into complementary harmonies. The second tune is jaunty and up-tempo, complete with foot stomping, syncopation, and a stop ending. Their second set is called Kitchen Stories from Denmark, with an emphasis on the upbeat. With many changes in tempo and dynamics, the minor chords and singing harmonies got me swaying. It ended with a three-chord progression.

The next set of Abi and Seb’s are two reels in D, the first an Irish one called Morning Nightcap and the second a classic Scottish reel titled High Drive. It starts out relatively simple, but as the set continues the arrangement complicates with riffs, and dynamic and tempo changes before ending with a drone. The last song Abi learned from the Woods Tea Co. and decided to play it, ‘In honor of the battles everyone is going through.’ The song is about encouraging the younger generation to be socially aware and act on one’s beliefs. The song is titled Your Daughters and Your Sons, and begins with guitar that is later joined by Abi’s voice. Seb starts singing with Abi during the chorus, and then his accordion begins playing long chords. Throughout the set, the voice, guitar, and accordion switch melodic and accompaniment roles with ease. 

The concert ends with all the performers and Mark on screen, to thank each other for the beautiful music. 

review by Ava White, Celtic harp player, Young Tradition Touring Group vetern and student at  South Burlington High School