Irish traditional fiddle has been Alan's specialty since 1993, when he moved to Madison, Wisconsin, and got introduced to the addictive world of Irish sessioning thanks to the regulars at the glorious weekly session at the old Mickey's Tavern. At that point he happily and utterly abandoned his lifelong experience playing and performing classical violin and immersed himself so deeply in Irish music that it could take over every habit of every muscle in his body. In fact he simultaneously dove into the Irish dance scene, learning ceili and set dancing both on the floor as a dancer and up on stage as a musician.
Alan went on to become a founding member of a number of long-lived Irish traditional bands, including The Snug, Public House Ceili Band, and West Wind (see Gigs for some career highlights). He also broadened his understanding of Irish music by teaching himself several other instruments, each to a professional level: tin whistle, bodhrán (the Irish drum), and Irish melodeon (one-row button accordion). He developed into an anchor player at the Mickey's session, one of America's longest-running trad Irish sessions, which later moved to the Brocach, and in 2017 became the leader of that session. For a few years he also ran his own monthly musical showcase at the Brocach under the name McFadden's Fancy, borrowing a family name from his pint of Irish ancestry. His newest bands are the Capitol Ceili Band and Birch (see Ensembles).
For more about Alan's musical influences and styles, visit the Music Samples page.
Alan is widely known in the Celtic music scene both in Wisconsin and globally for a number of reasons, not just as a musician. He has spent many years organizing Irish dance events in Madison, and bringing great traditional musicians from Ireland to Madison with Madison's Celtic Music Association. He has been teaching adult, evening Irish music classes at the University of Wisconsin since 1995, and teaches Irish fiddle and other instruments to private students on occasion.
He is certainly best known for his volunteer work on the Web, on behalf of both Irish music worldwide as well as Madison's local Celtic cultural scene. He founded celticmadison.org in 1996 to give all of Madison's Celtic activity a presence on the Web, and he still maintains it to this day. He wrote the world's first online, noncredit course on Celtic music for the University of Wisconsin, titled Celtic Music: Regional Cultures and Modern Success. And he has long been writing and updating a popular Web site called "Tips for Learning Irish Traditional Music."
But his primary claim to global fame, and his lifelong, ongoing research project is irishtune.info, the Irish Traditional Music Tune Index. It is a massive database in which he has, to date, individually compared well over 20,000 different audio and printed tune sources with each other, and exhaustively identified their musical relationships and similarities. This is no mean feat given that Irish tunes have no standard titles or any other reliable way to distinguish them other than by simply listening to them with expert ears. Essentially this project permanently solves that age-old problem and makes the results freely available to the world.
The Irish American Post wrote an entire article about Alan's involvement in Irish music, published in Summer 2006. And in March 2007, a Madison filmmaker named Shelby Floyd made a short documentary film (posted on YouTube) about Alan's take on Irish traditional music: