Mulligan Stew releases CD, aims for Ireland

Members of the band Mulligan Stew, clockwise from top left, Barry Grant, Peg Willis, Holly Warne, 17, and Kodria Haddock, 16, rehearse recently in Pendleton. Additional member Blaise Grant was not photographed.<BR><I>Staff photo by E.J. Harris

For the five members of Mulligan Stew, the call of Ireland is strong.

The group of fiddlers will head to Tubbercurry County this July for intensive training in fiddle, whistle, pipes and button accordion, as well as learning to sing and dance, Celtic style. When the musicians aren't in class, they will sling their fiddles onto their backs and explore, playing music wherever they go.

To pay for the trip, Mulligan Stew recently released a CD called "Sounds of Time."

The group plays a variety of genres including old-time dance tunes, Irish reels, polkas, airs and jigs, French Canadian tunes, Scottish lullabies and laments, Scandinavian dance tunes, ragtime, German waltzes and some original music.

The five musicians have traveled to gigs in Anchorage, Alaska, Portland, Estes Park, Colo., and on Queen of the West, the 230-foot sternwheeler that cruises the Columbia, Willamette, and Snake Rivers.

People often ask if Mulligan Stew - two adults, Peg Willis and Barry Grant, and three teens, Kodria Haddock, Holly Warne and Blaise Grant - is a family.

"We just laugh and say, 'Yeah, sort of,'" Willis said.

"We're around each other so much, it's like we're a family," Warne said.

Mulligan Stew evolved from a dream team of young fiddlers Willis put together in 2002 during the Summer Strings program. Originally, 10 fiddlers aged 8-12 performed together under Willis' tutelage.

Some of the current members play other instruments, in addition to the fiddle.

Haddock, a home-schooled high school sophomore, plays hammered dulcimer, piano, whistle, whistle, guitar and the bodhran, an Irish drum.

Warne, a junior at Pendleton High School, plays mandolin and guitar.

Barry Grant plays the bass, keeping the rest of the group on beat.

Blaise Grant, a freshman at Oregon State University, sticks to the fiddle.

Willis, the director, accompanies on guitar and has trained over 500 guitar, violin and fiddle students during the past 45 years, including all the Pendleton grade schools at one time or another. She played guitar backup for The Round-Up Fiddlers in the early '90s and has directed a number of youth bands including Grace Notes, The Young-Time Fiddlers, The Pick 'n' Bow Company, Blazin' Bows, StringSong, Shenanigans and Smokin' Strings. She took Shenanigans to study in Ireland in 2004.

The members of Mulligan Stew are obviously close, often finishing each other's sentences. The bon ami is a good thing considering the time they spend together. Last summer, they spent hours recording their latest CD.

"We went down to the coast and rented the cheapest beach houses we could find," Willis said. "We recorded about half the CD."

The musicians named one songs after a wreck on the Oregon coast - the Peter Iredale - so they decided to go there and play the song standing atop the wreck.

The back cover of the group's CD shows the quintet on the beach with their instruments, walking toward the Peter Iredale, a four-masted sailing ship that ran aground in 1906 near Warrenton.

The musicians like to enrich their music with the unusual. They occasionally play spoons or inject a little taper du pieds - beating of the feet.

Willis is unabashedly proud of her three teenage protégés. All three learned to play fiddle by ear with the Suzuki method. Now, they play with such ease that the fiddle seems merely an extension of their arms. They switch roles and learn their music almost instantly.

"Their ears have been trained," Willis said. "They can hear sounds before they even play them."

All three teenage fiddlers have taken on their own students.

Barry Grant, Blaise's father, is legally blind. He learns his bass music with special sheet music created for him by Willis, made up of letters representing chords, blown up big. He quickly learns them and plays from memory.

Mulligan Stew puts on a barn dance about once a year and has performed at benefit concerts for Habitat for Humanity, Pregnancy Crisis Support Center, Pioneer Humane Society, a child in need of special medical attention, and a Pilot Rock church that burned to the ground in 2007.

The group has amassed about $8,000 so far toward its Irish study trip, but is shooting for at least $14,000. The group hopes to sell CDs and hire themselves out during the holidays to grow the fund.

Mulligan Stew's new CD and a previous recording, "The Mountain Road" are available at the Pendleton Center for the Arts, Armchair Books and Heritage Station Museum. Cost is $15.

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