The Edwardsville sisters take part in the Irish music festival

EDWARDSVILLE — Gwen and Eliana (Ellie) Harkey won bronze medals last month at a music festival in Ireland.

Gwen Harkey is in eighth grade at Lincoln Middle School; Ellie Harkey is in fourth grade at Columbus Elementary School. Along with their parents, Jennifer and Jay Harkey, Jennifer Harkey’s parents and the girls’ cousin, the girls traveled with 16 St. Louis Irish Arts (SLIA) students to Mullingar, Ireland for the Irish Music World Championship .

Both won a bronze medal in Irish Lilting, a form of singing.

The Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann competitions have attracted more than 500,000 people, according to Jennifer Harkey.

“It’s amazing,” Gwen Harkey said of the bronze medal. “While I’m very proud of the medal and the competitions I participated in, the incredible experience of traveling to a foreign country and being able to understand many different things that I saw there was probably the most precious.

“It’s very special,” Ellie Harkey said. “I didn’t know if I would get a medal or not, and after winning the medal, I’m very proud of it.”

Jay Harkey said the awards were “the icing on the cake” of an incredible journey.

“Due to the pandemic, the girls had a relatively limited experience in competition and even in session, which makes those bronze medals all the more remarkable,” he said.

The girls have been at SLIA since 2018. With encouragement from their SLIA teachers, the sisters entered a virtual competition in 2021 and won medals, according to Jennifer Harkey. Their first in-person Fleadh was the Midwest Regional Fleadh hosted by SLIA in May where they received gold, silver and bronze medals.

“Gold and silver medalists qualify to compete in the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, as only the top two competitors in each event qualify to go to Ireland,” said Jennifer Harkey.

Gwen Harkey has a two and a half hour class every week at SLIA and Ellie has a two hour class. Lessons include band fiddling and Irish dancing. The girls also take private lessons in violin and traditional singing with Eimear Arkins, classical violin with Maggie Watts and piano with Linsey Calza.

Gwen Harkey is also in the orchestra and choir with Tom O’Malley at Lincoln Middle School.

“All of these teachers and musical experiences/educations helped shape them into the musicians they are today and deserve recognition for sharing their knowledge and love of music and for encouraging Gwen and Ellie,” said Jennifer Harkey. musical backgrounds and I truly believe it helps them to be better musicians and humans.”

The girls come from a line of musicians. Their father was an educator, instrumentalist and singer at the Ursuline Academy of Saint-Louis. Their mother is a private piano and voice teacher.

“Both my parents are music teachers and taught me a lot,” said Gwen Harkey. “They support me in all my endeavours, musical and otherwise.”

Jay Harkey said he tries to let girls “find their own voice” whether it’s in music, acting, knitting or training ninja warriors. His wife said her biggest role was as a cheerleader.

“I try to listen and ask girls to play and sing for me whenever they can and want to,” she said. “Sometimes I give advice, but I really don’t have much experience with traditional music. My background is definitely more in musical theatre, liturgical and classical music.

“I trust the girls’ wonderful teachers and support them as much as possible. I try to be very careful not to push/force – but rather to encourage,” she said.

The trip to Mullingar, Ireland included visits to historical landmarks and attractions in the area.

“My favorite parts were the times we spent on the beaches in Ireland,” said Ellie Harkey.

They also learned of their ancestry in the area.

“My godfather/uncle recently did Ancestry DNA and I found out he was about 3% Irish, which makes me about 1.5% Irish,” Jennifer Harkey said. “It’s quite funny. I never thought I had Irish ancestry, so I loved the tiny bit.

Jay Harkey said it was about 20% Ulster Scots.

“The first relatives to come from the north of Ireland were Robert McClanahan and his brother Blair, who incidentally co-owned a privateer – essentially a government-sanctioned pirate ship,” he said. “It was in the 1730s, I believe. They first settled in Roanoke, Virginia.

“I also have about 20% Scandinavian ancestry…so seeing all the ancient Viking ruins was super cool too,” he said.

The girls started their Irish Melody in January. According to Gwen Harkey, the singing style is “much like Irish scatting”.

“It’s like percussive singing that uses a lot of different syllables but no words,” she explained.

“I’ve always admired my teacher, Eimear Arkins’ ability to pace and thought it was amazing art,” she said. “After hearing her, I thought it would be really fun to learn, and she’s a great teacher.”

“I started singing because my teacher has been hearing me sing for a while now and thought I would be good at singing,” Ellie Harkey said.

Gwen Harkey also enjoys playing classical orchestral music, singing with choirs, playing violin with the Department of Music at St. Margaret of Scotland in St. Louis, and studying classical and pop piano.

“I love traditional Irish fiddling and also enjoyed participating in fiddle Fleadh with my Groupai Cheoil,” she said.

Ellie Harkey studies traditional Irish songs and competed on fiddle at Fleadh with her duet partner, Caitlin. She is also studying classical violin and piano and is starting to play the flute in a band this year.

“I like to hear the beautiful sounds of music and I like to share my music with others to make them happy,” she said.

Gerald R. Schneider