Studio Visit: Margaret Duffy

Studio Visit appears in Sunday editions of The News-Gazette. Here, a visit with musician Margaret Duffy.

Q: When did you start playing the button accordion?

A: I started when I was 8 — 13 years ago. I started with the pennywhistle when I was 3 or 4. I was begging my dad to let me play the harp because I wanted a new instrument, and he asked if I would want to play the accordion. I'm glad I followed his advice and didn't start playing the harp.

Q: Why?

A: Harps are a lot bigger. And I love my instrument.

Q: I hear you're from an Irish-American family into traditional Irish music.

A: Yes. My older sister, Rose, is really into it. She plays fiddle for a band called Chicago Reel, and she also toured with Riverdance. My other sister, Hannah, plays pennywhistle and flute.

Q: Are you in any bands?

A: I'm not in a band. I play on Wednesday nights at Dublin O'Neils (in downtown Champaign) with Jake Schumacher's Irish music sessions, and when I'm in Chicago I go to whatever sessions my sisters are going to or wherever my friends are.

Q: Do you play traditional Irish music?

A: Solely. That's all I play. That's what I was taught. I grew up with it. I tried other kinds of music, but this is what my roots are.

Q: Did you play in a band up in Chicago before you came to school here?

A: I grew up in a suburb. I started playing gigs with my sister and my dad and I played with the Irish Music School of Chicago. Actually, some friends and I did start a band when we were all under the age of 18. It was self-run and called Saoirse, the Gaelic word for freedom. We competed and did really well, which was a lot of fun. Once I left for college, they continued it, but I wasn't really around.

Q: What are you majoring in at the University of Illinois?

A: Earth, society and environmental sustainability.

Q: Do you also compose music?

A: No. The interesting thing about trad Irish music is it's taught, mostly by ear, and that's what I'm most comfortable with.

Q: Did you take accordion lessons?

A: I started right away, when I was 8. I took lessons from a man named John Williams. A few years later I got busy with sports, and after that I took lessons with a man named Declyn Fahey. He's Irish, and he was in Chicago for a few years on work.

Q: What do you like best about playing traditional Irish music?

A: I love the music, the type of music, and how unique it is. What's most fun to me is I can walk into a room with other Irish musicians and we'll have a repertoire of tunes that we know and can play together, which leads to a nice sense of camaraderie.

Q: How did you become part of Jake's sessions?

A: My oldest sister went to school here. She played the sessions with Jake, and when her band was in town I went to her show. She introduced me to Jake, and I decided to take part in his sessions.

Q: Will you be playing anywhere today for St. Patrick's Day?

A: Unfortunately, I'll be out of the country. I'll be in Costa Rica for a school program.

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