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    « BACK to Meera Subramanian's portfolio

    Posted 03.13.06

    The New York Times
    March 12, 2006 Sunday

    There are no ''songs'' in Irish traditional music; there are ''tunes.'' A young woman, packed in a tight circle in the corner of this dark bar, starts one off with a series of smooth draws across the strings of her fiddle. A man joins on banjo, a woman on the concertina, then two more fiddlers. Feet stamp the worn floor. It is Monday night at Mona's, the time when one can hear a bit of Ireland on Avenue B in the East Village.

    But which is more unlikely: that one of New York's longest-running and most highly regarded Irish music sessions is held in a pub owned by Italian-Americans? Or that a majority of players don't have a drop of Irish blood in them? The guitarist, Danny Littwin, is a mix of French and Russian. The concertina player, Luisa Bennion, comes from a Welsh background. The lead fiddler, Dana Lyn, a 31-year-old classically trained violinist, is the child of Taiwanese parents who was born and raised in Southern California.

    These non-Irish musicians and aficionados stumbled upon Irish music in different ways: an impulsive tin-whistle purchase, say, or a concert at the Beacon Theater with an old Irish girlfriend. Ms. Lyn happened upon Irish music when she played in a band that covered the Pogues, the Irish group, while studying at the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio 10 years ago.

    But what, more fundamentally, attracts the non-Irish to the genre? For some, it is the thinness of their own musical heritage. ''If I was to restrict myself to Taiwanese music from L.A.,'' said Ms. Lyn, ''I wouldn't have much to play.'' Emmet Henry, a wiry Dubliner who works as a bartender at Mona's and helped form the bar's Irish session in 1994, put it more simply: ''People pick up on it.''

    On stage, the question of heritage is moot; the only thing that matters is sound, and these largely non-Irish musicians seemed to pass the test.

    ''The people here are high caliber,'' said Frank Floyd, a member of the audience who is African-American, with roots in Cape Verde.

    Joanie Madden, a member of the Irish group Cherish the Ladies, who stopped into Mona's on break from a national tour, nodded toward the circle of musicians. ''This is the real deal here, people sitting in a corner, playing music together,'' she said. ''It's more Irish here than in Ireland.''

    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company