The Celtic Heart

At just 22 years of age, Shannon Quinn is already making a mark on the international music scene. The Nova Scotia-born composer, recording and performing artist, multi-instrumentalist and dancer will be center-stage this weekend at the Cunard Centre in Halifax for Symphony Nova Scotia’s annual ‘Beer & Beethoven’ fundraiser.

What is your own heritage?
My lineage all stems from Ireland. My grandparents and beyond originate from the West of Ireland, specifically County Clare. My father was born in the UK and my mother is from Nova Scotia.

What inspired you to start fiddling?
Jealousy, actually. My arch nemesis in grade primary brought in a fiddle to class for show and tell and was very good at it. I was a jealous little monster and could not handle this, so I asked my mom if I could get a violin. Haha! That goes for specifically learning the fiddle – my reasons for gravitating towards Celtic music come mainly from my father. He has been a musician his whole life, as a very gifted performer and producer and has always been my biggest inspiration. My dad bought me my first Celtic fiddle book when I was 9 – I played classical violin for a few years before that, but when I started learning those fiddle tunes there was no going back.

Are they the same reasons that you still do it today?
Absolutely. I am even more in love with the fiddle now than I was when I was young. It’s such a versatile instrument. I’ve been studying classical again these last few years which I found has influenced my style in unique ways. Fiddling will always be a part of my life and I feel very fortunate to have a supportive musical family that understands how important music it is to me. As far as my arch nemesis .. she has gone on to skip two grades in school and is now attending medical school so there’s no hope for me in keeping up with her now. Ha!

What do your family & friends think of your fiddling experiences?
My family is extremely supportive – fiddling has led me to other instruments and real curiosity towards music in general. I’ve been song writing a lot these past few years, and I’ve been living in Toronto for the past four years studying music. I think a life in music freaks any parent out – it’s not extremely stable and there can be a lot of rejection. I’m lucky to have parents who are just as creative and weird as me and understand that I’m simply not good at anything else, so they have no choice but to support me! Ha! As for my friends most of them are very creative and musical and extremely supportive. The celtic community really is that, it’s a community – and it’s all about the music. My friends within the celtic community have never been anything but supportive (and always up for a late night jam in the kitchen).

Are young people still drawn to fiddling?
More than ever I’ve been noticing. With the rise of fiddle camps, workshops fiddle seems to be a really “cool” thing these days. It’s a great way to meet friends and socialize and feel like you’re a part of something special in your community. Especially with most of people’s lineage in the East Coast stemming back to Scotland/Ireland it’s nice to feel a connection to your roots through music.

How are you involved with the fiddling community these days?
I’ve been a fiddle teacher for 3 years in Toronto at a great music conservatory, and attend many community events promoting music with the youth. I had the opportunity to teach fiddle last summer at an “Irish camp” which was so much fun! The kids were learning tin whistle, fiddle, Irish set dancing and Gaelic. It’s exciting chatting with young kids who are proud of where their families originate and want to become connected to their own culture through music.

What events will you be involved with this year?
I’m going to be playing at several Irish dancing competitions (Feiseanna) in North America which is really fun. They have music competitions as well – it’s all live Irish traditional music and the events are really full of Celtic spirit.

In your estimation, is enough being done to promote Celtic culture today?
I think there is a lot yes, especially in the East coast. So much live music, many social events. I found the Irish community in Toronto the last few years to be extremely strong. The organization Comhaltas is so instrumental (pun intended) in helping to promote Irish culture within the youth through social gatherings, sessions, clubs and family events.

If not, what could we be doing better?
I would love to see more people my age getting together to create volunteer opportunities with younger kids. Maybe a jam session specifically geared towards youth and teaching them aurally the traditional Irish/Scottish repertoire since most of the sessions are at bars where there is of course an age requirement.

What’s next on your own creative agenda?
I’m going to be doing another Celtic album this year, as well as touring this year/next summer. I’ve been doing a lot of song writing and will be working towards an album in that genre as well for this year.