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Gradam Ceoil TG4

Sharon Howley – Young Musician of the Year


Sharon Howley grew up in Kilfenora Co. Clare with parents Pauric and Geraldine and her two sisters Eimear and Tara. She was immersed in traditional music from a young age with a rich musical lineage; her father sings and plays and both her grandfathers, Micky McCormack and Michael Slattery sang and played music. Her great grandfather, Paddy Slattery, played the fiddle and concertina, and also composed music. Her wider relations include the Mulqueeney’s and McCormack’s who played with the older formations of the Kilfenora Ceilí Band. Growing up, Howley and her sisters learned to play a wide variety of instruments, She started taking tin whistle lessons at age five, with teacher and flute player Garry Shannon. With cello and fiddle, she took lessons in both traditional and classical music. Having began playing fiddle in bands with Garry Shannon, and later Padraic O’ Reilly, she also attended fiddle lessons with Maura O’Keefe. She is also a former piano student of the late Mrs. Phil McMahon of Kilfenora and was taught accordion by Colin Nea. Just several months after starting to learn the cello, she began playing it in Shannon’s grúpa ceoil, and so, traditional music was always inherent in her cello playing.

Given that the cello is not usually associated with traditional music, Howley did not at the time have many Irish traditional cello players to look towards for inspiration. Instead she experimented with and adapted technique from other traditional instruments in order to create an authentic traditional sound. This was further developed during her time in UL completing her second MA degree, in Irish Traditional Music Performance; a practice-based masters degree, in which she specialised in cello. She had master classes with guest musicians such as American cellist Natalie Haas, composer and cellist Neil Martin, Dónal Lunny, Ryan Molloy and Steve Cooney. She also took weekly classes with fiddle player Eileen O’Brien, who introduced her to slow air playing. Growing up, Howley’s most significant influence as a musician was The Kilfenora Céilí Band, with whom she started playing cello in her late teens, and later became a full member of the band, the first cello player ever in the ceilí band tradition. Her favourite fiddle players would include Martin Hayes, Liam O’Connor, James Cullinane and the late great Tommy Peoples and Sean McGuire, which would also have influenced her playing. Although she has not yet released an album of her own, Howley has recorded on many traditional and folk albums as a guest musician. In addition to working as a primary school teacher, currently in Fanore National School, she has her own music school ‘Burren Notes’. As well as this is she also composes and arranges music, which have been played by the Kilfenora Céilí band and used by programs in Music Generation Clare, with whom she is also a tutor. She aims to record and release her debut album in 2020.