“Energy” and “Beauty’ are the two words that Máiréad feels best describe what she strives for as a musician and as a person. A fiddle player since the age of 6, Máiréad’s Loughmore, Co.Tipperary background is steeped in music in the way that only those who grow up in a family of accomplished musicians can be. Her parents John and Kathleen, her sister Frances and brothers Sean, Michael, Noel and Karl are all musicians and in addition to them, Máiréad cites such diverse influences as classical violinist Itzakh Pearlman, Irish Fiddlers Liz Carroll, Michael Coleman and Andy McGann, Jazz musician Stephane Grappelli, Country player Alison Kraus and rock performers David Bowie, Sting, U2 and Bjork.
A former All-Ireland fiddle champion, Máiréad began formal training in music at the Ursuline Convent in Thurles, and continued at The Waterford Institute of Technology, the Cork School of Music under Cornelia Zanidache and at the London Royal Academy, London Trinity College, with post graduate studies under Emanuel Hurwitz on violin and piano. She is also a past member of the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland.
All along, Máiréad ‘s career has been one that has encompassed the contrasting styles of classical and traditional music. “Growing up, I split the two in my head,” she explains. “You can count on your hand the number of fiddle players that play both classical and traditional music professionally. It’s an easy thing to mix styles up badly but an altogether harder thing to do it in a professional, tasteful way given that both styles are completely different disciplines and ways of playing with distinctive techniques.” Although she was advised by her teachers not to try to learn both methods of playing, she was driven to master the two differing styles.
Whereas in classical music, players read sheet music, Irish music is typically improvised or played by ear. Classical music also includes a vibrato sound not typically found in Irish music, but which Máiréad has introduced into her playing. “I knew from an early age that I wanted to play in both styles so I developed different bow-holds for each. Then I learned to compartmentalize everything in order to play both styles to the level that I wanted to. Once you get to a certain level you can bring a few elements from Irish music into classical music and vice versa. I’ve also brought in elements of jazz as well. I studied hard because before you break the rules, you have to be able to do everything perfectly and then you can break the odd rule and it will be tastefully done and true to the music.”
Staying true to the music has been a focus for Máiréad who began her professional career as violinist with the RTE Concert Orchestra. Her blend of traditional Irish and classical styles earned her Irish Music Magazine’s title of Best Traditional Female (2003) and has given her the opportunity to work with such illustrious acts as Nigel Kennedy, Van Morrison, Sinead O’Connor, Clannad, Emmylou Harris, Aslan, Chris De Burgh, Jimmy Webb, and Irish acts Donal Lunny’s Coolfin, Sharon Shannon, Paul Brady, Frances Black, Cooney and Begley, and Jimmy McCarthy. She’s played on the original soundtracks of the shows Riverdance, Lord of the Dance and Feet of Flames and subsequently performed in three world tours as the original lead fiddle in Lord of the Dance and Feet of Flames. She tours with her own band and has also played and recorded with the Afro-Celt Sound System. She has composed the original music score for the new dance shows ‘Invasion’ to tour in 2006. Máiréad also had the honor of performing privately for HRH-The Princess Royal (Princess Anne) on her secret visit to Dublin in September 2004.
Máiréad is a musician who believes in giving herself fully to the music. “I’m drawing on every background that I have,” she says of her playing. “Whatever grabs me at the time is what comes out. The most important thing to me is that you have to be versatile and people have to know that they can depend on that. The main thing for any type of music is versatility. If you can bring in different elements, it’s tastefully done, it works musically and it works emotionally from your heart, it will sound believable to other people. If it touches them in a certain way, that’s the main thing.”
Due to this versatility and her intense playing and stage presence, Máiréad was invited by Sharon Browne of Celtic Collections and David Downes to become a soloist in the show ‘Celtic Woman’. “It’s been great for me,” she says. “I’ve been given a lot of flexibility on stage in both the way I play as well as from a visual point of view because I do a lot of moving around.”
“Raining Up”, Máiréad ‘s first solo album captures her wide range of styles. From traditional Irish tunes to those composed by and for her, the 14 tracks have been praised by the likes of the Irish Post who said “Raining Up is an album of considerable beauty and shows Nesbitt with one foot in the traditional camp and another in a chill out ambient groove.” The Birmingham Post called the CD “a contemporary Celtic masterpiece.”
Máiréad ‘s success in achieving “energy” and “beauty” are easily recognized when you see her on stage. “I like things to be very exciting and fiery but I like it to be done in a certain way. I like something to sound exciting but I always think that things should be controlled as well. The best fiddle players in the world are always in control of what they do. It can be spontaneous but it has to be delivered in a certain way, to make it sound easy to other people.”
The connection of performer to audience is also very important to Máiréad. “People have been so supportive and that means that you’re doing something right. You’re touching people in an honest way which is the most important thing an artist can do. Music is a very primary, very emotional form of communication. ‘It’s clear from the accolades that Máiréad has received that she’s successfully communicated both her ‘energy’ and her ‘beauty’.’
More information about Máiréad can be obtained on her website www.maireadnesbitt.com