Four students, each double the age of their 28-year-old instructor, Brian Hart, take their seats in a room inside the Unity Center and begin playing a song on tin whistles.
After a few minutes the music stops, and Hart takes a deep breath. He then looks at his eager students.
“It’s hard to play Irish songs from a music sheet,” he says. “You have to take the music home and listen to it over and over. That’s how you will really learn.”
Hart grew up in St. Louis where, as a young adult, he took an interest in Irish music. Irish studies aren’t just his hobby; they’re his passion.
He has two master’s degrees: one in Irish traditional music performance from the University of Limerick and another in post-colonial Irish studies from the National University of Ireland, Galway.
After being hired by the Central Missouri Celtic Arts Association, Hart moved to Columbia in June. Only here for the summer, he teaches classes on playing the tin whistle, button accordion and Anglo-concertina, along with courses in Irish language and singing. After returning from his studies in Ireland, he took a position working at a primary school in St. Louis. In September, he will teach Irish language literature and translation at St. Xavier University in Chicago.
“I offer introduction classes for those who want to get started,” Hart explains. “But for those already with a background, I bring new songs and traditions they might not have already known.”
Hart doesn’t spew facts left and right. He has a method that keeps his students interested and wanting to learn more. In his Irish culture class, Hart uses his iPod to play recordings of Irish singer Joe Heaney. After listening to his songs, Hart explains that Heaney died in 1993 and was buried in a small, “pretty and serene” graveyard next to the ocean.
“The class is full of sad music,” student Carolyn Martin says. “Brian said in America, we don’t know real Irish music. This was new to me.”