Considered a Master Folk Artist (Minnesota State Arts Board), Laura MacKenzie has learned from many tradition-bearers on both sides of the Atlantic. Of Scottish heritage (through Rankins and MacKenzies), her people came to the United States by way of Nova Scotia and Northern Ireland. In St. Paul, Minnesota, Laura learned to play traditional music at ceilis (dances or social gatherings) within the local Irish-American community and soon became immersed in both the music and dance. Along with the formal study of anthropology and music, her best education has been with her comrades and favorite "teachers"—the players and singers of traditional music—in kitchens, folk schools and dance halls across Ireland, Scotland and the United States.
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Laura and her colleagues played a major role in the revival of Irish music and dance in the Upper Midwest as the Northern Star Ceili Band. During this time, she was also a founding member of a dance performance ensemble, the Mooncoin Ceili Dancers, and studied Irish step dancing. Laura has received numerous honors and performing arts awards for her participation and dedication in this realm of music, including being selected for the original Cherish The Ladies series, featuring noted women in Irish music in America. Laura was also awarded a Bush Foundation Fellowship in Traditional and Ethnic Performing Arts, as well as a McKnight Foundation Artists Fellowship.
In November of 2014, the Irish Music and Dance Association gave tribute to Laura with an event honoring her contributions and work in traditional music in Minnesota and beyond. November 22 was declared, by proclamation, "Laura MacKenzie Day" by St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.
Laura performs and teaches on an array of wind-powered instruments, including wooden flutes, whistles, concertina, Scottish smallpipes, border greatpipes, French cornemuse, medieval greatpipes, gemshorn and voice. Enjoying a richly varied career in traditional music, Laura has performed and recorded with diverse ensembles, worked with theatrical productions and for public radio, and has performed at festivals across the United States. She can be heard on a multitude of recordings and on several documentaries.
In an intriguing program, students learn how air is transformed into music, and what makes these airs, dance tunes and songs “Celtic.” Laura MacKenzie presents traditional Celtic music on a fascinating variety of wind-powered instruments, including wooden flutes, tin whistles, concertina, an array of bagpipes (smallpipes, border pipes, medieval greatpipes, French cornemuse), gemshorn and voice.
A Celtic Breeze With Dancer
The music of Ireland comes alive with the addition of an Irish step dancer from a Twin Cities Irish dance academy. Students learn about traditional Irish music and culture, how they are combined, and the meaning of the dancers’ costuming. Jigs, reels, hornpipes and airs are demonstrated on traditional instruments, voice and dancing feet.
Celtic Music: Tin Whistling
This hands-on musical experience is suitable for beginners, on a type of instrument central to traditional Irish music. Students enjoy an introduction to the tin whistle, while learning what makes Irish music sound “Irish.”
Note: Tin whistles in the key of D are required, and may be purchased for a fee, with advance notice.