Seán Cleland is an Irish fiddle player, Irish music teacher, adjudicator, collaborator, producer and executive director of the Irish Music School of Chicago, a non-profit traditional Irish music, language, song and dance school, which he founded in 2003.
Seán grew up on the North side of Chicago in an Irish-American household. He started classical violin lessons at age 7, and at age 9 his parents took him to one of the first North American concert tours of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, Ireland's national music organization. The performers that fall night in 1972 were the absolute best traditional musicians, singers and dancers from Ireland including Paddy Glackin, Paddy Ryan and Antoin MacGabhann. That night was so impactful that he decided right then and there that he would play the fiddle.
His musical education through the 1970s was energized by such local legends as Liz Carroll, Michael Flatley and Jimmy Keane who were bursting out of Chicago onto the world stage. Additionally, there were quite a few older Irish musicians who had emigrated to the United States in the 1950s and Sean was incredibly privileged to get to know them and to spend so much time listening to their music and stories.
Both of Seán's parents were teachers so it was natural for him in 1980 to begin to teach Irish music continuing to teach part time for many years in between touring and in 1998 started teaching at the world famous Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago where he taught until 2003.
In 1982 he co-founded the traditional Irish music band Baal Tinne, leaving in 1987 to found the Irish-influenced folk-rock band, The Drovers. The Drovers were much beloved in Chicago, played to packed houses all across the US, recorded 4 albums and appeared in two major Hollywood films: Backdraft and Blink, contributing songs and tunes to the soundtracks.
In 2000, Seán co-founded the traditional Irish band Bohola with piano accordion master, Jimmy Keane. While with Bohola, they recorded four critically acclaimed albums on the Shanachie label and toured throughout the US, Canada and Australia. In 2003, he took his extensive musical and teaching experience and founded the Irish Music School of Chicago to preserve and pass on this rich legacy. He continued to tour and perform and ultimately decided to leave Bohola in 2006 to focus on his growing School.
Seán has collaborated with many great artists over the years including the band Aengus with Robbie O'Connell; The Green Fields of America with Dr. Mick Maloney and Lowen and Navarro. He has served as fiddle player/musical director for Chicago's acclaimed Trinity Irish Dancers and for the Steppenwolf and Long Wharf Theaters' productions of “The Playboy of the Western World."
Along with teaching and performing, Seán was the fiddle player/musical director of Adam Whiteman's critically acclaimed play, Music Mad, about the life and impact of Chief Francis O'Neill. Currently, Seán is focused on making sure that the next generation of traditional Irish musicians is educated and nurtured through the Irish Music School of Chicago. He has been an instrumental force in maintaining traditional Irish music in the city of Chicago and works tirelessly to ensure its integrity.
Seán is an in-demand feis musician playing at feisanna all across North America. Sean has taught at such festivals and camps as the Catskills' Irish Arts Week; Musical Arts and Dance (MAD) Week in Bethesda, Maryland; St. Louis, Missouri Tionol; Milwaukee Irish Fest Summer School; California Traditional Arts Society; Goderich, Ontario Celtic Roots Festival and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia's Celtic Colours International Festival, among others. Seán also teaches regularly in Ireland at Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh in Baile an Fheirtéaraigh Co. Kerry and at Scoil Éigse, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann's annual international Summer School for students of all ages.
The foundation of Irish traditional music is the pulse of its drum, the Bodhrán. And no other percussionist tills that ground better than Jackie Moran.
Born in Tipperary, ten-year-old Jackie and his family immigrated to Chicago where he quickly began drumming with the best players in the Irish music scene. The young boy became the man who is preeminent in Chicago Irish music.
A founding and driving force of such influential bands as The Drovers, Comas, and Bua, Jackie is a fixture in the studio and in concert settings, sympathetically accompanying such great artists as Alphonso Ponticelli, Kevin Burke, Dennis Cahill, Liz Carroll, John Doyle, Martin Hayes, Paddy Keenan, Michael Londra, Philip Masure, David Munnelly, Howard Levy, and Jimmy Keane.
Jackie’s talents have also led him to appear on stage with “Riverdance,” and to help form and perform with the Trinity Irish Dance Company. And when Hollywood needs a musician to play the part, and look it as well, you’ll see Jackie. “Backdraft” (1991), “Blink” (1993), “Traveler” (1997) and “The Road to Perdition” (2002) all saw fit to feature Jackie and his Bodhrán
Jesse Langen is an Irish guitarist and multi-instrumentalist who is acclaimed for his beautiful, dynamic and powerful accompaniment of traditional Irish music. Equally comfortable on classical and electric guitar, he seeks to push both the technical boundaries and the conceptual functions of the guitar. Jesse and his brother Tim grew up learning Irish and Canadian fiddle tunes from their grandfather Clarence and that grounding laid the foundation for Jesse’s deep, loving approach to traditional music. Jesse also plays new classical music and can be heard throughout the US and abroad as a soloist, as the guitarist for Ensemble Dal Niente, in the trio Pesejet, in Hasco Duo with Amanda Deboer Bartlett, and in duo with harpist Ben Melsky. He is a passionate and committed teacher of young musicians.
James Reilly was born in New York City, James attributes his love of Irish music to his family. His father Tom, a well-regarded flute player himself, attracted many NYC notables such as Martin Wynne, Michael Reilly, Liam Shanahan, Johnny Cronin and Pat Henry to the house for tunes. James began his musical expedition sitting quietly listening to the discussion, interspersed with bursts of dance music.
James plays with a breathy style, heavy with rhythmic accents. It is easy to hear the influence of the button accordion in his playing, as well as the Sligo fiddling that was so popular in NYC in the 80's and 90's. Mostly though, his style is a part of 120 years of traditional Irish music lineage that began with his grandfather and namesake, James Reilly, in Mullahoran, Co. Cavan.
Emily Berken was born in the tiny town of Morton, Illinois, and began playing classical violin and piano at age 10. While teaching and performing classical violin throughout her teenage years and into her twenties, she would regularly travel to Chicago on most weekends to attend Irish Music concerts, secretly dreaming of playing Irish fiddle!
The defining moment in Emily’s musical career was when she arranged and performed traditional Irish tunes for a concert with the Illinois Symphony. It was at that moment that she decided to focus primarily on Irish fiddling and has never looked back.
She has since studied with fiddle masters Liz Carroll, Seán Cleland, and Brendan Bulger.
Irish-American musician and singer Eileen Estes has thrilled audiences for years with her extraordinary voice, which effortlessly combines vocal power with subtle emotional expressiveness. She works as a vocal instructor and performer and is a former instructor at Blue Ridge Irish Music School. Daughter of Nita (Conley) Korn, Celtic Thunder’s original lead singer, Eileen grew up immersed in the traditional music of Ireland and Scotland. She is a traditional singer as well as a songwriter who has performed throughout D.C., MD and VA. In 2015, Nita and Eileen released a beautiful album of Irish and Scottish songs called The Apple Tree Project. Eileen recently relocated to the Chicago area.
Rosemary O’Malley was first exposed to Irish music while spending her 4th grade year in Co. Galway with her family. There, she took Irish dance lessons and played tin whistle in her school’s band. Back home in Lawrence, Kansas, she played violin in orchestra and was an Irish dancer, but traditional Irish fiddle became her true passion. In 2009, she chose to attend college in Chicago to take part in its rich Irish music scene, and there she began studying fiddle with Seán Cleland at the Irish Music School of Chicago. She has also attended the Blas Summer School of Irish Music in Limerick on 3 separate occasions. Most recently, she studied abroad for a year in Cork, where she learned fiddle from Connie O’Connell and took classes in tin whistle and bodhran. Rosemary is a Loyola University graduate, and currently she enjoys playing in various sessions and performing throughout Chicago. In her teaching, she wants to share the joy of playing Irish music with her students.