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Instructors

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Fiona Balestrieri

Flute, Whistle, Singing & Dance

Fiona is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, and step dancer with strong roots in Irish traditional music.  Fiona studied Irish music and dance from childhood in both America and Ireland with players such as Aaron Olwell, Cleek Shrey, Kevin Crawford, Mike Rafferty, and Marcus Hernon and competed in the all-Ireland fleadh on Irish flute and voice as a teenager.  Fiona joined the Blue Ridge Irish Music School at age 10 and now teaches Irish step dancing, flute, whistle, and singing to all ages and skill levels.  With family ties on both sides of the Atlantic, Fiona has made many trips to Ireland to study music and dance, and has been a trip leader for BRIMS.

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Tes Slominski

Trad Ensemble

Tes Slominski is a fiddle player and teacher who specializes in the repertoire and style of Sliabh Luachra, a region in Ireland that includes parts of counties Cork and Kerry. Along with Sara Read, she co-founded the still-thriving Blue Ridge Irish Music School in Charlottesville, Virginia in 1999 and--with fellow BRIMS instructors Mimi Vidaver-Davis and Brenda Cox--is a member of the band Brightwood. Tes has also been on staff as a fiddle teacher at Sean Nós Northwest, the Catskills Irish Arts Week, and the Maoin Cheoíl an Chlár in Ennis, Co. Clare. She holds a Ph.D. in music from New York University and an M.A. in ethnomusicology from the University of Limerick, and authored Trad Nation: Gender, Sexuality, and Race in Irish Traditional Music (Wesleyan University Press, 2020). Along with Kimberly Francis (University of Guelph), Tes is co-editor of the gender/sexuality revision of Oxford University Press’s Grove Music Online, and served as Secretary of the Society for Ethnomusicology’s board from 2019–2021. While working as a Teaching Fellow and then Assistant Professor of music at Beloit College in Wisconsin from 2012–2019, Tes founded and directed the North Atlantic Music Ensemble, which introduced more than a hundred undergraduate students to Irish traditional music. Tes also owns an editing and coaching business, The Feral Freelancer, and routinely coaches musicians, writers, and other creative workers.

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Brenda Cox

Celtic Harp

Brenda has been playing Celtic harp nearly all her adult life, after studying piano and classical guitar as a youth, and obtaining a B.S. with a minor in music at Ball State University in her native Indiana.  As a Celtic harper, she has studied under luminaries such as Kim Robertson and Deborah Henson-Conant, as well as with Irish harper Maire ni Chathasaidh in Ireland.  More recently she has focused on the traditional Celtic music of Cape Breton Island, after taking courses there under pianists Joey Beaton and Hilda Chiasson.  This association led her to publish two books of Cape Breton tunes that she arranged for harp.  Brenda has taught privately and at harp conferences and schools in Canada and throughout the US.  She has also taken her harp into therapeutic settings at hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices as a Certified Music Practitioner.  In support of this effort, Brenda has published a book of therapeutic harp music that is used by many therapeutic harpists.  She has an M.Ed. in Deaf Education and Audiology from UVa, and was a teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing for many years.

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Alex Davis

Tune Repertoire Workshop

Alex is an original member of BRIMS and studied fiddle with Tes Slominski and Sara Read as well as concertina with Paddy League and Aaron Olwell. Alex has also learned from Rose Conway, Andy Cleveland, Patrick Ourceau and Dylan Foley. The fourth Saturday of the month he hosts Atlantic Weekly Part 2 on WTJU 91.1FM radio dedicated to folk music from the other side of the Atlantic. He currently teaches at the Virginia Institute of Autism.

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Augie Fairchild

Flute and Tin Whistle

Augie has been playing tin whistle and Irish flute since he was 16. He has studied flute with Baltimore musicians Frank Claudy and Laura Byrne, and credits them with just about everything he knows about the flute. Augie also plays classical cello and has a degree in music education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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Lori Madden

Executive Director, Dance & Scoil

Lori has been providing Irish dance instruction in Charlottesville and central Virginia since 2001 and has been executive director of BRIMS since 2003.  Lori, along with her children Meg, Patrick & Marina, is a founding member of BRIMS and has been a trip leader on all four of the BRIMS Ireland Study Trips. 

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Mimi Vidaver-Davis

Dance, Cape Breton Stepdance, Trad Ensemble

Mimi took up classical flute in the fifth grade, and soon after stumbled upon the world of Irish music through a cassette tape of the playing of Matt Molloy. She got her first simple system flute at 15, and there was no looking back from that point on. She has since sought out opportunities to learn from many influential Irish flute players, including East Galway flute player, Mike Rafferty, John Skelton, and Marcus O Murchu, among others. She also studied with Conal O’Grada while attending University College Cork in Cork City, Ireland. 

Mimi first studied Irish step dance under Carmel Tighe at the Tighe School of Irish Dance in Charlottesville, VA, and later with Peggy McTaggert in Cork City. She has been teaching Irish dance to all ages since 2002. Mimi is also a Cape Breton-style step dancer, and she worked intensively with Malke Rosenfeld, a percussive dancer and dance educator based in Bloomington, IN. Mimi has an M.A. in Ethnomusicology from Indiana University in Bloomington.

 

Mimi is a founding member of BRIMS and was a part of the group of teens that fundraised for the study trip to Ireland in 2000 that started it all…

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Carolyn Ward

Dance

Carolyn started Irish dancing at age 7 with the Sheila Tully Academy of Irish Dance in Illinois. After moving to Florida, she joined the Drake School of Irish Dance and competed from 2007 to 2011 in both solos and teams. During her time as a competitive dancer, she won 1st place at the Southern Region Oireachtas, 20th place at the North American Nationals, and attended multiple World Championships. She remained involved in the Irish dance community while attending the University of Florida, becoming one of the founding members of the university’s Irish dance club and dancing with the Hogan School of Irish Dance. Before moving to Charlottesville, she taught classes for beginners to advanced dancers in Sarasota, FL.

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Matthew O'Donnell

Bodhran, Bouzouki, Guitar

Matthew is a lifelong musician and a passionate performer and teacher of traditional Irish music. He began his musical journey as a bass guitarist, relentlessly gigging with various rock groups and cover bands since the age of 12. But from early on, he made a quiet study of Irish music alongside his louder musical pursuits. Inspired by recordings of The Dubliners, Clancy Brothers and Irish Rovers, he taught himself to play the fiddle, tin whistle, mandolin and tenor banjo in his early teens. He later took up the piano accordion, bouzouki, mandola and bodhran. This long-nurtured passion went from a hobby to a vocation in 2014 when he hung up his bass and began a successful career as The Blue Ridge Bard, Virginia’s most multi-instrumental pub singer. Since then, Matthew has spent most of his waking hours sharing his excitement for Irish music with others, through live performances, teaching lessons, and leading Irish music sessions.

 

Matthew received his prestigious musical education from marathon pub sessions, house concerts with incomprehensible 100-year old fiddlers, bleary-eyed overnights at recording studios, obscure folk albums discovered at thrift stores, a doctoral thesis worth of research time spent on thesession.org and the Mudcat Archive, and innumerable heated arguments at kitchen tables concerning the appropriateness of F Major chords when accompanying reels in the key of A Dorian.

Matthew Bio
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