Cayley Schmid, 24, the vibrant fiddler in Bellingham band Polecat, recently got the hankering to start a ceili club, a community gathering of musicians who play fiddle, harp, flute, guitar, mandolin and other instruments and who share the joy of playing Celtic music.
Their next meeting will be 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 25, at the Roeder Home, 2600 Sunset Drive. Everyone is welcome, and donations are appreciated. The club is sponsored by Whatcom County Homemade Music Society and by Whatcom Family and Community Network
For more about Cayley and her endeavors, go to cayleyschmid.com, bellinghamceiliclub.com or polecatmusic.com.
Question: What's your background?
Answer: I was born in Vancouver, B.C. and spent most of my life living in Bellingham. I was lucky in that my parents let me explore lots of different types of education, including homeschooling, Bellingham Cooperative School, Whatcom Day Academy, internet classes, distance learning, Squalicum High School and Western Washington University.
This was an incredible way to experience different teaching and learning styles. I consider myself a lifelong learner.
Q: When did you first become seriously interested in pursuing music professionally, and who inspired you along the way?
A: I am so grateful to my teacher and mentor, Anna Schaad, who has been a part of my life for 15 years. She introduced me to the idea of performing and making a life in music.
One of my first times playing music on stage was with her at Mount Baker Theatre! I played in groups around Bellingham until I was 19, then Anna set up an audition for me with a show in Lancaster, Pa., at the American Music Theatre. Two months later I was working and living at the theater!
When I came home from Pennsylvania, I knew that this is what I wanted to do. My parents have always been great supporters of my musical endeavors, even through the extra squeaky stages.
Q: What bands have you played with?
A: Giants' Causeway (traditional Irish music) was the first band that I started playing with, and we still play when the schedules align. We got our start at McKay's Taphouse playing every Thursday for many years. I have been able to perform with Robert Sarazin Blake, Janet Drew and other wonderful local artists.
In 2010, Aaron Guest formed a group that started out as a kind of bluegrass band, and he asked me to play fiddle. Since then, Polecat has become a blend of Americana, Celtic, world, rock, roots, folk and bluegrass music, and we are happy to be busy playing as much as we can. We average about 100 shows a year, ranging from a May Day celebration for a crowd of screaming 4- to 8-year-olds, to a packed and rowdy show at Bumbershoot, to a 6 a.m. set on the course of the Ski to Sea race.
During the week I teach fiddle lessons all around Whatcom County, and my students are kind enough to accommodate our tour schedule.
Q: What's the ceili club all about?
A: The Bellingham Ceili Club is an all-ages and all-abilities Irish music group. We meet monthly to play tunes together in a session format (no sheet music), as well as to learn new tunes and share musical knowledge. "Ceili" is the Gaelic word for "party."
Each session has three sections to it: a workshop that anyone (fiddle, guitar, flute, mandolin, banjo, whistle, accordion, harp, etc.) can attend to learn a tune by ear; a slow session for all levels of players; and a regular session for the faster tune-playing crowd.
Our website has a list of common tunes and guidelines for participating in a session, as well as information on upcoming events. This summer, we put on our first music and dance camp, which was a great success.
More workshops like this are in the works for fall. I would encourage anyone who plays or wants to play Irish music to come check it out!