Produced by the Department of Media Relations & Publications
 

Growing Up With Irish Music and Dance

March 13, 2009

Bernadette Fee grew up in Woodside, Queens, where she learned traditional dance and fiddle under some of the community's most highly-regarded teachers. She talked about that experience, and about her musical career, at a lunchtime performance sponsored by the Institute for Irish-Ameican Studies at Lehman College.

6 Minutes 9 Seconds

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Transcript

00:00

[MUSIC]

SCOTT SPENCER:

This is Scott Spencer of the CUNY Institute for Irish-American Studies. Bernadette Fee grew up in Woodside, Queens, where she learned traditional dance and fiddle under some of the community's most highly-regarded teachers. She talked about that experience, and about her musical career, at a lunchtime performance sponsored by the Institute for Irish-Ameican Studies at Lehman College. Accompanying Ms. Fee is our artist in residence, John Redmond, on the button accordion.

00:32

[MUSIC PERMANFORMANCE BY BERNADETTE FEE AND JOHN REDMOND]

00:46

BERNADETTE FEE:

I was a civil engineer. And I was working, out in Long Island. And I said, "Ooh, I'm gonna take my fiddle in on St. Patrick's Day and play, you know, a few tunes." Well, they were all jaw dropped, and then I get up on a table. And I do a little step dancing. (LAUGH)

My story was I wound up being in Woodside. And I suppose I had first cousins that had already started. And that was probably how we were all then part of not only the music, but also the dancing.

"God bless mothers," because it was my mother who would take a whole rack of us down to Brooklyn. And there'd be 14, including (CHUCKLE)-- including our dog, Rusty would be hangin' over the back seat. And I have to say, down in Brooklyn -- and you can imagine on the Gowanus, and it would be traffic galore. And it would be durin' the summer when we had these band practices. But she used to round up the kids in Queens, throw 'em in the car, and off we went. And she did that a lot.

02:00

It was something that we all did and were all grateful for it later on. It's something we can always share with other people. I think that what was also great was there weren't that many sports for girls in those days.

I went to Bronx Science for high school. And I remember one person in particular, he was Irish-American. But his father wanted nothing to do with Irish music. And I thought, "How sad."

It's always an interesting thing when you're in it and you don't realize all the different nuances and the things that are part of what you take for granted. Occasionally, I get an insight from people who have nothing to do with Irish music and I think in that respect, that's when you say, "Oh, wow! Oh, I can see now how unique it is." Because I think being-- or growing up with it, you don't see it as that.

03:07

[MUSIC PERMANFORMANCE BY BERNADETTE FEE AND JOHN REDMOND]

03:21

BERNADETTE FEE:

I belong to an organization. It's called the Parents and Students of Irish Dancing and Music. Now, their whole thing was dancing. When they started -- and I should say it was probably 1972 or thereabouts, they wanted to improve the competitions for the dancers. And in doing so, they established this organization.

It was kind of like a lobbyist group in order to get the teachers to do the right thing, 'cause there were-- competitions were poorly organized in the beginning. But now it's down to a science.

We've been in the parade, the Irish-- Saint Patrick's Day Parade up 5th Avenue every year. And I guess it was 1972. And I did march as a-- as a dancer, but later on, we started doing little dance routines, on 5th Avenue. Later, then, I decided to become kind of like the teacher or the organizer of the dancers.

04:32

And 15 years ago, I-- I'm doin' it 15 -- and of those 15, we got 13 first-place awards. And-- so every year-- and last year we had 60 kids. And I wound up teaching them. It was kinda boot camp for five Sundays before Saint Patrick's Day. They learned how to march with the tin whistle and also three dance routines, those that move progressively up 5th Avenue and also a great one outside the Cathedral.

And it is difficult because it is our big time. You know, it's like Christmastime. Saint Patrick's Day for musicians is big. So I wind up being out late on Saturday nights, having to get up early on Sunday mornings and by the end of-- right after Saint Pa-- it's not even after Saint Patrick's, 'cause it continues for the-- the rest of March, really. But after that, I-- I said I could never be an accountant and (LAUGH) an Irish musician.

05:39

[MUSIC PERMANFORMANCE BY BERNADETTE FEE AND JOHN REDMOND]

05:52

SCOTT SPENCER:

Visit us at www.lehman.edu. This is a production of the Lehman College Media Relations Office.

[MUSIC]

06:09

[END OF AUDIO]