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Musical trio tunes up for Irish Ceili

Winona Grange hosts Bronnie Griffin, Bob Soper and Conor O'Bryan this Friday, Dec. 5


Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Brongaene Griffin, middle, plays the fiddle with Conor O'Bryan, left, and Bob Soper at Paddy's Bar & Grill.When Brongaene “Bronnie” Griffin started playing the violin as a child, her dad started making sure she played it where people could hear.

“Playing the violin meant that I wasn't going to sit home and watch cartoons on Saturday,” she said. “It meant that my dad and I left town all the time and went all over Oregon to fiddle contests and fiddle festivals.”

By the time she was 8 in the 1970s, Griffin and her father would go out to the then-brand-new Portland Saturday Market and play for passersby. He on the guitar, her on the fiddle. Somedays, they'd make upwards of $100, and Griffin's dad let her keep it all. By a young age, she understood what it felt like to play for an audience, what it felt like to play with another musician, and what it felt like to get paid for it — before she entered middle school, Griffin knew what it felt like to be a musician.

She started with a classical and bluegrass background, but by her freshman year of high school, she found a teacher who taught her to play Irish music, and she credits that teacher for her musical success today.

On Friday, Dec. 5, Griffin will be joined at Winona Grange in Tualatin by Bob Soper on guitar and Conor O'Bryan on flute to play the monthly Ceili dance.

“Bob and I play a lot, and Conor and Bob play a lot, but Conor and I haven't played much together,” Griffin said, before explaining why practicing a lot all together isn't necessary. “There's kind of a universal language with Irish Ceili music, wouldn't you say?”

“Well, there's a common repertoire of tunes,” said Soper, who's been playing Irish music for 25 years.Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - A baby listens to Irish music at Paddy's Bar & Grill.

“If you start it, I'll be able to play it,” said O'Bryan, a flutist of 18 years. “There's a push and pull, a back and forth.”

While Soper and O'Bryan had taken a brief respite from playing a session at Paddy's in Portland to chat, they soon joined back in so flawlessly it was hard to believe they didn't know exactly what was coming. Though not scheduled to play, Griffin eventually jumped in on a borrowed fiddle and matched her bow to the tune at hand. For these musicians, playing is important, but playing together is more important.

“I love these sessions, because I never know what tune is gonna come next. It might be something I've never played, or something I haven't heard in five or 10 years. So it's full of surprises,” Soper said. “It's a great social thing. That's the great thing about sessions, and I think that's the reason people like them so much. You might hear something that you know, but you haven't played in years. It's like meeting an old friend.”

“It does have a lot to do with the people,” Griffin added. “If you like the people you're playing with, the music can be great. If you don't like them, they can be stellar musicians and the music will sound awful.”

For the crowd's sake on Friday, it's a good thing the musical trio likes each other.

“It's just like having a nice conversation,” O'Bryan said.

Without that conversation, Griffin probably wouldn't be playing music at all. Her dad taught her what it was like to have an audience and a partner, her teachers taught her technique and style. And in the decades she's been playing, she's learned that without the joy of playing with other musicians, it isn't really joyful at all.

“The only reason I like playing music, the only reason, is the other musicians. I don't get up on stage and sing a capella, or play fiddle solo. I only want to do gigs if I'm playing with people I like, because then it's so much fun. It's like tossing a football back and forth, you know?” she said. “It gets very lonely all alone in your bedroom. Suddenly, if you play with other musicians, the music takes on a life of its own.”

Sitting around a table in a dimly lit Irish pub in Portland, the three play alongside several other talented musicians. The booths are filled with chatting friends, a baby may or may not be crawling on the floor, and the glasses are filled with stouts. But around this table, what matters are the jigs and reels. What matters is the slight shrug of Soper's shoulders as a down beat strums on his guitar, O'Bryan's downcast eyes as his fingers dance across his flute, and the slight smirk on Griffin's face as she pulls a bow across a borrowed violin.Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Conor O'Bryan plays the flute at Paddy's Bar & Grill.

Catch the show

What: Bronnie Griffin, Bob Soper and Conor O'Bryan perform Irish music for a Ceili dance.

A Ceili dance is called out the same way line dancing might be, but it is done in groups. No prior knowledge or a partner are required to participate.

When: Friday, Dec. 7; doors open at 7 p.m., show ends at 11 p.m.

Where: Winona Grange, 8340 S.W. Seneca St., in Tualatin

Cost: $10 for adults, $8 for veterans, students and seniors ages 65 and older

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