Sweet Celtic melodies drift from Emily Bryant’s guitar when she is not working in the Engineering and Computer Science dean’s suite as communications associate.
Bryant created the three-person Irish band three years ago when fiddle player Jason Huntley arrived in Texas for work at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
Craig Scotland, drummer, and Bryant met Huntley while playing sessions at Trinity Hall, where Irish musicians get together to play traditional tunes.
Huntley, a three time Mid-American Irish Fiddle Champion, works as an assistant professor and researches vaccine development to prevent bacterial diseases of the lung.
“In Irish music you always need a really good, strong melody player on the melody instrument,” Bryant said. “So basically, we talked to (Huntley) and snatched him before anyone else could get him.”
Originally, the band’s name was Busker’s Gate, but the British term for street performers did not catch on, Huntley said.
“There’s lots of new Irish music, it’s good to take some of the old (music) to and kind of shift it a little bit. That’s what our name comes from, taking what people think of as Irish music and putting just a little bit different twist on it,” Huntley said.
He comes from a Scots-Irish family that has played musical instruments for generations, which inspired his interest in traditional Irish music when he was young.
“That’s part of my grandfather’s influence — we’d go to fiddle festivals and fiddle contests. I did that back in grade school, high school and college,” Huntley said. “It’s kind of a family legacy. There is a lot of family history behind that.”
The band learns traditional Irish songs and tunes, then adds a modern arrangement for performances at venues such as Bryant’s favorites, the Austin Celtic Fest and North Texas Irish Festival. The festivals feature traditional music and cultural activities.
“In Irish music, the large majority of what you hear is part of an old repertoire that’s been passed down through the generations so you have a large amount of tunes that people have been playing for hundreds of years,” Bryant said.
The Irish scene is communal, and the music lends itself to international recognition, Bryant said.
Huntley played on National Public Radio’s internationally broadcast program “A Prairie Home Companion” in 2002 after submitting some of his work to the station.
“You go get up in front of an audience of 10,000 people and play just in the auditorium. Then you realize that it’s broadcast worldwide — that’s pretty special,” Huntley said.
Shift released an album in March 2008 and mailed copies to radio stations to increase their audience.
“We’ve been trying to send out some flyers and get into national festivals too, but Emily works there at UTD and I work here at UT Southwestern, so it’s kind of hard to be someone with a full time job and get into that circuit,” Huntley said.
Finding the time for four to five days for national competitions and other gigs is difficult, Huntley said. They mostly try to play locally at North Texas Irish Festival and in Austin.
The band members’ jobs do not allow for many group practices, Bryant said.
She has played guitar for 20 years and sung in several bands, but has stayed with Shift the longest.
After studying abroad in Ireland, she began to be more involved with traditional music.
“I think that the more younger people that get involved that it keeps traditional music alive,” Bryant said. “(Musicians) learn (the tunes) so they can go to other parts of the country and the world and be able to play music with someone they don’t even know.”
Visit www.goodantmedia.com/shift for more information about Shift, and check out www.oflahertyretreat.org to learn more about the retreat offered on Oct. 23-25.
Shift’s next performance is an O’Flaherty Retreat Benefit from 9-10 p.m. on Sept. 26 at Trinity Hall.