Player Profile: Aimee Farrell Courtney
This is part of a series I’m working on where I send interview-style questions to some amazing bodhrán players. I’m really excited about these, and I hope you all enjoy them!
Here’s a new interview with wonderful Irish player, Aimee Farrell Courtney. I’ve been so excited to share this one with you guys! She’s an amazing player and I loved reading about her approach to her music.
Hope you enjoy 🙂
How did you get started playing the bodhrán? Tell us a bit about yourself and your story.
I started learning the bodhrán in primary school from a wonderful teacher, Roisín Nolan. At that time, I was not too familiar with Irish Traditional Music and so the tape of Noel Hill and Tony Linnane became my soundtrack for those early years. At home, I was surrounded by every type and genre of music as my father was a DJ. This musical abundance would prove pivotal in my understanding and appreciation of music.
As a teenager, I surrounded myself with music and took every opportunity to perform before deciding to pursue music professionally. I was accepted in Ireland’s TU Dublin Conservatoire of Music and settled down for a 4 year Bachelor or Music degree specialising in Irish Traditional Music. This only fuelled the musical fire within, along with the burning need to take my instrument to new and exciting heights. I continued on in the Conservatory with a 2 year Masters of Music degree in Performance.
During my time studying, I won the World Bodhrán Championship which led to more exciting musical connections in the traditional field. I also collaborated with many musicians from a variety of musical backgrounds. I was determined to find the true voice of the bodhrán and to open a musical dialogue for the instrument in unusual and unexpected settings. This journey started out with many collaborations within the Early Music scene in Ireland, then on to Contemporary Composers, Jazz, Classical etc.
On this long road of discovery, I have worked with exceptional master musicians and composers who have inspired me every step of the way. I enjoy collaborative style projects as I take every opportunity to delve into unknown territories with the Bodhrán exploring it’s capabilities and extended techniques. From the far reaches of the Maramureș region in Romania to the Savannah Philharmonic Chorus, I have been honoured to introduce the Bodhrán to new musical audiences around the world. I returned to education in 2019 to train and conduct research as a Sound Therapist.
Apart from collaborative projects I have toured with Danú for number of years and more recently CARA. Prior to Covid, I toured / performed most weekends and spent my weekdays coaching, lecturing and working as a sound therapist. Nowadays, my work with music and sound has moved online. Over the last 15 years I have offered coaching and tutoring programmes to those looking to improve their musical and performance skillset.
Who has influenced your playing the most?
I have never looked to other bodhrán players for inspiration. I see the bodhrán as more a melodic/tonal instrument than a solely percussive instrument. There is room for development within our community to see the bodhrán as much more than the “stick hand” and understand the complexities of the textural and tonal qualities it has to offer.
In that regard, I have always looked outside my instrument for inspiration. Musicians that inspire the most are those who seek to express themselves fully by expanding the timbral parameters of their chosen instrument. From Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh to Melody Gardot, the list is endless…In terms of percussion, Noel Eccles (Moving Hearts and Riverdance) has been a guiding light in my journey. Noel is an exceptional percussionist and was a great source of encouragement during my time studying music. He continues to inspire and impact my playing to this day.
What do you do to stay inspired as a player?
To stay inspired I listen to new music and reconnect with musicians that bring joy to my life. We have all been in a situation when you hear a new piece of music and get overwhelmed with excitement. You instantly reach for your instrument or suddenly find yourself moving along to the music. I LOVE that burst of energy it can bring to your day.
Similarly, making heartfelt musical connections can be infectious (in a good way)! I have worked with incredible musicians during the last decade, those musicians continue to inspire me every time we reconnect. On a daily basis my students and those I’m coaching fuel my inspiration. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing your students achieve amazing results. From mini milestones to touring the world, those I coach bring such energy and motivation to the table. It gives me great joy to serve them and guide them along their journey.
Which bodhrán/sticks/case do you currently use?
What do you feel makes your playing unique?
I didn’t listen to other bodhrán players during my early years of learning. I was extremely focused on expressing myself and finding my inner musical voice. In doing so, I developed a style of playing that was unique to me. Being exposed to a range of musical genres enabled a sense of security in my own musical perception and facilitated my curiosity to delve further into the inter relational elements of music and music making.
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone just starting to learn the bodhrán?
I would tell someone starting out on their bodhrán journey to invest in a good tutor and get the fundamentals of playing mastered first. Learning the ground work for technique, sticking, hold and grip are essential to the learning process. Then you can go on to learn from every player or even better, follow your own sound. People can become overwhelmed by various techniques and styles and end up with a technique that limits their overall playing ability. I have had many students needing to start from scratch by adapting poor technique and grips from youtube. You will save time and money if you start right!
Any final thoughts/comments you’d like to share with us?
Your style is defined by your response to the music. If you listen to the music, you will have a response. You just need to trust yourself and you will connect. Connection is everything….