One of the goals of their apprenticeship has been for Schwartz to research and interpret sheet music. Such interpretation requires awareness of the cultural context for a tune as well as understanding of the style of tune, what tempo and type of ornamentation is appropriate for it. While the traditional method of learning to play the tunes relies on the student’s listening to the teacher and playing back the melody, contemporary students have several options for learning tunes. Schwartz has searched for music online and found versions of pieces that he is interested in learning. He then can bring in the music, which McCoy comments on. Variations in the transcription of the tune allow for discussion of the core elements of the tune and of different styles and versions of traditional tunes. McCoy can comment on the transcription and point out stylistic variants, perhaps note their provenance, and, if necessary, suggest a version of the tune that illustrates the standard, unembellished tune. Because one of the focuses of the apprenticeship is ornamentation—and ornamentation is not included in sheet music—Schwartz also has to determine which of the several types of ornamentation is appropriate to the tune he is working on. This approach reinforces the master and apprentice’s discussion of theory and the history of the tune’s composition and focuses the apprentice’s attention on the skill of incorporating ornamentation.
Brian McCoy has been recognized by numerous performers and organizations as an accomplished player of Irish traditional music, with expertise in flute and related wind instruments. McCoy gained his love of traditional Irish music from his parents, who come from Ireland, and has studied with musicians in Ireland and Irish musicians living in the United States.
While living in Chicago, McCoy was an apprentice for 14 years to an Irish native, during which time he learned not only the music, but history, culture, and language, much of which he has included in his lessons for Schwartz. His play has garnered him numerous honors, including eight first prizes and a number of seconds at the Midwest Fleadh Cheoil (Irish Music competition) and fourth place at the World Championships in Ireland.
Sir James Galway, an internationally recognized flute player, invited McCoy to lecture and perform at the 2009 National Flute Convention. Galway has also endorsed an instructional DVD on playing traditional Irish music created by McCoy.
Parker Schwartz had already been studying with Brian McCoy for several years when their OAC apprenticeship began. Schwartz’s commitment to the art, his involvement in the traditional music community, and his level of expertise convinced McCoy he would be a good candidate for an apprenticeship that would take his study to a deeper level. Schwartz’s mother’s family is Scotch-Irish, proud of their heritage and passionate about Celtic music in particular.
From a young age, Schwartz enjoyed the Irish music he heard on CDs his aunt, who had played in a Scottish pipe and drum band, had given him. From McCoy, he has learned both Irish flute and tin whistle, and he actively participates in jam sessions in the Columbus area.