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.
Jim DeWan is an acclaimed accompanist of Irish traditional music. On guitar and bouzouki, he has recorded and performed across the US and Europe with, among many others, Liz Carroll, Maurice Lennon, Laurence Nugent, Paddy Keenan and the World Champion Trinity Irish Dancers, for whom he also served as musical director.
Also an accomplished composer and lyricist, Jim is a former staff songwriter for Nashville’s Acuff-Rose Publishing Company, home to Hank Williams, Roy Orbison and Kenny Chesney. His songs have been recorded by such diverse artists as Robbie Fulks, Eric Lugosch and Sarah Jory.
A teacher of music for nearly three decades, Jim serves currently on the faculties of both the Irish Music School of Chicago and the Old Town School of Folk Music.
Sean Gavin’s playing on the flute, whistle and uilleann pipes reflects his lifelong immersion in and love for traditional Irish music. This was no doubt encouraged by his father, Co. Clare fiddler Mick Gavin. Growing up in Detroit, Sean played a variety of Irish instruments until settling on the flute at age 11, inspired by Scariff flute player Leo MacNamara. Not long after, he began work on the uilleann pipes with late teacher Al Purcell—himself a student of famed piper Leo Rowsome. Currently residing in Chicago, he deeply values his many opportunities to spend time with Sligo flute legend Kevin Henry. Sean is a member of the critically acclaimed groups NicGaviskey and Bua, as well as often performing with Sligo based band Téada. He is an active member of the Irish music community of Chicago where he performs and teaches regularly.
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
Robert McLeod is a multi-instrumentalist who started playing classical violin at the age of 7 where learning fiddle music was part of the repertoire. He became more and more interested in learning Irish Music and in 2008, started taking lessons under Seán Cleland at the Irish Music School of Chicago. Robert holds a B.A. in Music Education at North Park University, and a Professional Educator's License in the State of Illinois. At North Park, he was trained to teach brass, percussion, and stringed instruments especially violin, piano and cello and was involved in many classical ensembles. In 2012, Robert joined the faculty of the Irish Music School and teaches Irish fiddle, tin whistle, cello, and beginning piano, flute and guitar. He regularly performs and plays in sessions around town. He has taught general music, music theory and guitar to classes of 30+ students. Robert is also very involved in the music program at his church where he plays violin and cello, and has arranged music for string quartet. “My goal is to empower a diverse group of learners through music education, encouraging community, self-expression, acceptance, and positive attitudes through a fun, challenging educational environment.”
Jesse Langen is an Irish guitarist 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 also a passionate and committed teacher of young musicians.
Kathy Cowan has a BFA in Theater and a Master's Degree in Vocal Pedagogy and has been steeped in Irish music and song since childhood. Kathy has also been the featured soloist, singing Irish songs, with several major symphony orchestras. She has several recordings available - "In the Deep Heart's Core", songs from the poetry of William Butler Yeats; "The Red-Haired Man's Wife", a collection of Irish folk songs, now in its third printing; and "A Kiltartan Road Christmas", a fresh, eclectic collection of music for the season. Kathy performs at festivals, universities and other cultural institutions, and presents workshops in Celtic song and master classes in acting and voice performance. She also created and performs the roles of Anna Rogers and Catherine O’Neill in Music Mad, the story of Francis O’Neill, one of the greatest preservers of Irish traditional music. She has also been a teacher for many years providing a challenging but safe atmosphere for the discovery of the voice, while guiding the student with technical and artistic advice to develop his or her own voice and style while having fun. In addition to the Irish Music School of Chicago, Kathy is on the faculty at Northeastern Illinois University and the Old Town School of Folk Music.
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.
Rebecca Brooke began playing folk music as a child in her uncle’s Bavarian polka band and at age 17 started studying Irish fiddle in Milwaukee with Ed Paloucek. From 2002-14 she performed with Chicago based band, The Tossers, recording five albums. With The Tossers, Rebecca toured the US and abroad most notably with Dropkick Murphy’s, Stiff Little Fingers, Flogging Molly, The Pogues, Social Distortion, The Proclaimers, and others. Rebecca joins the Irish Music School of Chicago faculty teaching fiddle and tin whistle.