Soundbox / Fiddler on the move
Lily Henley was six years old when she heard Celtic music for the first time. In her parents' home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, there was a record by Irish fiddler Kevin Burke, and its sound captivated her. Shortly thereafter Burke came to the United States and she heard him live. She was a little girl weeping with excitement at the sounds of the Irish violin.
"I always wanted to play music, but it was only later, when I was already 11 years old, that it happened," Henley says. A year later she was already playing in an ensemble and after hearing a concert of Canadian Irish violin virtuoso Natalie MacMaster, Henley fell in love with her Cape Breton Island style and decided to study with her.
"I attended a musical camp she directed. There were hundreds of children there but she paid special attention to me," Henley says. "Apparently she noticed immediately there was someone who was mad about this music."
Henley will be performing this week with the Barrocade baroque orchestra and the Youth Efroni Choir at the Einav Cultural Center tonight in Tel Aviv; tomorrow at the Culture Hall in Ein Hahoresh and Thursday at Weill Hall in Kfar Shmaryahu, all at 8:30 P.M.
In the concert, called "Mysteries of Celtic Music," the ensemble will play works by Henry Purcell and John Dowland with soprano Yeela Avital. The Young Efroni Choir will sing pieces ranging from island songs to Beatles music.
At the center of the concert will be the real McCoy, folk fiddle music and authentic singing, with violinist and vocalist Henley.
Henley was born in 1986. "My parents, Jews born in Boston and New York, were still hippies," she explains, "and this spirit never abandoned them: My father studied and became a family doctor at a time when a profession like that was part of public health and was considered avant-garde, and my mother was a midwife. Before I was born they worked in a community of Inuits and then in Native American communities. I was born and grew up on Indian reservations in Arizona."
With her parents and her younger sister she moved all over the United States: "Colorado, Illinois, Alaska - I moved 20 times during my childhood and I lived in nearly all the states," she says.
Fortunately for her, her love affair with Irish music began at a time when her parents were living in the Chicago area - "And there Irish music is crazy. There are lots of bands, competitions and festivals and groups that are interested in this music and develop it; it's simply a tremendous wave."
The folk musicians in the area supported her but not her classical violin teacher, who frowned upon her student's taste.
"My teacher was against my style of music. She didn't allow me to play it and that was sad. Therefore, when I was 14 I stopped taking lessons. I held out for three years with her but I never went back to studying violin - only on my own."
She performed at the most important Celtic music festivals in the United States and even sang at Carnegie Hall. At the age of 18 she started studying at the New England Conservatory of Music - the famed Boston academy, and there she matured. "Everyone there was familiar with classical music and could read notes, whereas with me everything was in my head and I played only by ear - that is the tradition of folk fiddling," she relates. "I already knew thousands of tunes by heart but I was afraid of how they would look at me, of the reactions of the professional musicians who would have suspicions about my authenticity. What is a Jewish girl doing playing Irish music? What does she know? And especially the clash with my musical personality made me apprehensive: Playing with folk musicians is like inviting people into your home and compared to that in the academy I felt the competition and the showing off, the 'pose.'"
Henley followed her musician boyfriend to Israel about a year ago and immediately found her place: She plays Celtic music with the Black Velvet ensemble and new music with the Musica Nova Consort.
"Unlike in America," she says, "here it is possible to earn a living from music and playing an instrument, and especially to encounter so many kinds and styles of music in such a small geographic area. Pop, jazz, Celtic, classical, avant-garde and Baroque - there is everything here and at a high level. It's funny how people are lazy about traveling, saying Jerusalem is far and never thinking of traveling to a concert in Haifa - while in America a three-hour trip to play in a gig is completely natural. But this phenomenon has mainly positive sides because that way so many kinds of music have been able to flourish. If people were to travel long distances, nothing at all would happen outside Tel Aviv."
The Barrocade ensemble, whose programs are always daring, and the Efroni Choir, which has musical multiculturalism in its blood, found in Lily Henley the ideal person for the new program.
"Hats off to Barrocade," says Henley, "because with them, in Baroque music, everything is played from notes and with me everything is in my head, and this didn't deter them. It was they who initiated this combination, this decision to find a bridge between musical styles. This is exciting, and really avant-garde."
As for the Irish and Scottish music - "A knowledgeable person easily discerns the differences between them: in the melodies, the rhythm, the adornments," she says.
Henley did the adaptations herself, mainly adding chords to the music's minimalist harmony ("Jazz players hate it because of the harmonic meagerness," according to her).
She is also enthusiastic when she talks about the work together with the Efroni Choir: "They are wonderful, and very serious," she says of the girls in the choir.
In Israel Henley is also teaching violin, in a unique musical education project in a Palestinian village east of Jerusalem.
"This activity, of looking around me everywhere I go, and looking for the population that has no chance and no hope, that needs nurturing and development, is already a part of me. I had the luck of being born to parents like mine," she says. "By the age of 15, when we were living in the midst of the Hispanic population in America, I was already teaching children and I also looked a bit like them. One of my grandmothers was a Jew of Mizrahi origins (from the Muslim world) and I resemble her - apparently I got the genes from her. That's the case here too: Music and children - these are the only things about which I have direct and real understanding, and I know exactly what to do and how to act with them. Sometimes 15 children show up together for a lesson, all of them in one room, and they don't speak English, but this isn't a problem. They totally understand me. And sometimes I come to teach them in the refugee camp, where there is no place to practice or even store the instrument except in their bed."
Irish music is in her soul, she says. "It's exciting, moving music that makes people want to dance and I am happy I was the one who chose it: I wasn't born into a musical family and certainly not into an Irish musical tradition, and it used to be that only if you were part of that culture you could become an Irish musician. I heard it on a disc and I chose it."
But your name is a perfectly Irish name - How does a Jewish girl come to be called Henley?
She laughs: "My grandfather, when he was born, was called Arthur Segal but when his parents came to the United States they knew it was necessary to add a middle name that didn't sound Jewish, and they chose Henley. Arthur Henley Segal. He himself was a musician and for a stage name he dropped the Jewish 'Segal' and stayed with his two names Arthur Henley. That's how I got my name."