The traditional music of Ireland is a body of tunes and song that has been handed down over several centuries. New tunes have been added steadily along the way as each generation of musicians makes its contribution to the repertoire. At our school we are currently focusing on the instrumental ensemble music, which primarily evolved to accompany solo or social dancing or was written for the harp. The tunes are given names like reel, hornpipe, jig, waltz, polka, slide or mazurka based on their rhythm and the type of dance steps they were written to accompany.

Traditional Irish music is played on a variety of acoustic instruments including violin/fiddle, flute, tin whistle (or pennywhistle), mandolin, tenor banjo, accordion, concertina, harp, uilleann pipes (Irish bagpipes), and bodhrán (Irish frame drum). Chordal and rhythmic accompaniment by guitar, cittern or bouzouki entered the tradition during the last century. These are also taught by our instructors.

Irish traditional music today is performed sometimes for listening, sometimes to accompany dancing, and sometimes just for the fun of it! In the latter category, “sessions” (which might be called jam sessions in other types of music) are held all over the world in pubs, coffee houses, kitchens and living rooms, where a group of musicians will gather on a regular or ad hoc basis to play for fun.

The Houston School of Irish Music accepts students between the ages of 6 and 21. Students should have at least 1 year playing one or more of the traditional instruments listed above and should be studying with a private teacher (with the exception of tin whistle, which is easy enough that a committed beginner may participate in the ensemble). Although what we do at HSOIM is often particularly interesting to families with Celtic heritage, the HSOIM is open to all students of any ethnic background. All that is required is an interest in Irish music!
Many of our students are in middle school band or orchestra and are looking for something fun to augment their music studies, and also a chance to play in a smaller ensemble where they can be more easily heard.
Each class starts with learning a new tune. The music is taught by ear in the class, but audio or video recordings and sheet music will be available to the students after the class for review at home. During the class, the tune will be broken down into sections, and each section repeated until most of the students have it. Teaching by ear is part of the Irish music tradition, and it’s a skill that improves with practice. So if a student has had no experience with this learning method, no worries– even if he or she can only pick up part of the tune in the class, they can work on it more at home using the tools provided. 
After we work on the new tune for each class, we will spend the rest of the class time reviewing and polishing the tunes learned in previous classes. By the end of the year, our intermediate/advanced class will have learned 12 tunes, and our beginner class will have learned 7 or 8. 

Ensemble playing is very different from playing solo. Things like timing, rhythm, and tempo all become very important. When you play as a group in this type of performance you don’t have a conductor leading you, so students must all learn how to work together and stay at the same tempo. Irish music is played with a variety of rhythmic subtleties that don’t translate well to written music. Each type of tune has distinctive rhythmic and stylistic features. We will be talking about this in the classes as we polish the tunes, and students can work on imitating these style elements using the recordings at home.
Performances are great because they give the kids some incentive to practice, as well as experience playing for a live audience and the thrill of the appreciation of the crowd.

Our school in Houston is starting with a small number of students. As the school grows we will begin to arrange occasional short concerts or recitals for family and friends, to be held in private homes. As an added bonus, a few of the instructors or other more advanced local Irish musicians will come out and play a set or two to finish out the concert, to give the students a chance to hear what they can aspire to, with practice!
When we have grown larger we will begin to plan for public performances at retirement homes, nursing homes, and churches. Eventually we hope to arrange for the band to perform at local or regional festivals and at other public venues as part of the St. Patrick’s Day celebration. We will also plan for a year-end party/session for the students’ enjoyment without the pressure of a performance. 

Uilleann is pronounced roughly like “eel-an or eel-in.” Uilleann means elbow in Irish, indicating that the bag is inflated with a bellows driven by the elbow.
Bodhrán can be pronounces several different ways. A good pronunciation is “bow-rahn” (where bow rhymes with cow). This frame drum looks like a big tambourine without the jingles (although in the past bodhrans sometimes did have the jingles).