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Mike Rafferty

Sept. 26, 1926 - Sept. 12, 2011

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Mike Rafferty, an outstanding proponent of the East Galway style of flute playing, devoted more time to performing and teaching students on both sides of the Atlantic after he retired in 1989. Bethesda, Maryland, 2010, photograph by Alan Govenar
Mike Rafferty, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Govenar
Mike Rafferty, courtesy Mike Rafferty
Mike Rafferty, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Mike Rafferty and his ensemble, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Mike Rafferty, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Mike Rafferty and his ensemble, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Michael G. Stewart

Mike Rafferty was a native of Ballinakill, East County Galway, Ireland. While growing up on a small farm, he learned to play the flute from his father, Tom “Barrel” Rafferty, whose nickname referred to his lung power. Mike Rafferty also learned to play the tin whistle and the uilleann pipes, the national bagpipes of Ireland. As a teenager, he began playing with bands at ceilis, social gatherings featuring music and dancing.

In 1949, Rafferty immigrated to the United States, where a sister was already living. He settled first in White Plains, New York, and later moved to New Jersey. While raising five children and working two jobs, he had no time for music. But in the 1970s, with the encouragement of other musicians, he began playing again. He was invigorated by performing at the 1976 Bicentennial Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., and, three years later, toured with Green Fields of America, the premier Irish music and dance group.

After retiring from his longtime job with a grocery chain in 1989, Rafferty was able to devote more time to music. With the encouragement of his wife, Teresa, he began teaching, though he found that he lacked the patience to teach beginners. “They bring their tape recorders and I put on the tune for them,” he said of his students. “I show them like my father showed me, and they get used to me after a little while and they pick up the tune rather than read it out of a book. It’s faster this way. You can learn a tune much faster.” Two books of transcriptions of his tunes have been published.

Rafferty also taught in a number of public venues, including the summertime Catskills Irish Arts Week, and through the New Jersey State Council on the Arts Folk Apprenticeship Program. Among his most successful students is his daughter Mary, an accomplished flute and accordion player who also studied with the late Martin Mulvihill at his school of Irish music in New York City. Rafferty recorded with her and with her husband, guitarist Dónal Clancy.

The veteran musician played in the lyrical East Galway style, which he described as slower than the styles played in other counties when he was growing up. “You’ll hear a lot of players saying: ‘Well, I’m playing for the dance, and you have to play it fast,’ ” he said. “And it gets into your bloodstream. You’ll play it fast all the time. My ambition is to play it slow. You’re pronouncing it better, you’re getting more feelings, you’re getting more satisfaction, there’s more fun in playing, anyway. You put more body into it, as Joe Madden would say.” Madden, a button accordion player, was a close friend, and a branch of the Irish traditional music organization Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann bears the names of both men.

Bibliography
Harker, Lesl, ed. 300 Tunes from Mike Rafferty. Harker (2005).
Hitchner, Earl. “Pitch-Perfect Player: East Galway native Mike Rafferty’s playing the flute better than ever.” The Irish Echo (March 12-18, 2003): 56+.
Wells, Paul, and Mike Casey. “An Interview With Mike Rafferty.” 2002,

Discography
Mike Rafferty. Speed 78. CDBY 2005.
Mike and Mary Rafferty. The Dangerous Reel. Kells Music 1995
Willie Kelly and Mike Rafferty. New Broom. CDBY 2009.

Watch

Mike Rafferty, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Mike Rafferty, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts


Mike Rafferty, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Listen

Mike Rafferty, 'The Stolen Reel/Feeding the Birds,' The Dangerous Reel, Kells Music, 1995

Mike Rafferty, 'Saving the Hay/The Dangerous Reel,' The Dangerous Reel, Kells Music, 1995

Mike Rafferty, 'Garrett Barry's-The Woods Of Old Limerick,' Speed 78, CDBY, 2005

Mike Rafferty, 'Bonnie Scotland/The Midnight Hornpipes,' The Old Fireside Music, Larraga Records, 1998, LR093098

Mike Rafferty, 'The Millpond/Andy McGann's Fancy,' The Old Fireside Music, Larraga Records, 1998, LR093098

Mike Rafferty talks about growing up and learning to play the flute. Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Mike Raffeerty answers the question 'Where did you grow up?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Mike Rafferty answers the question 'When did you start performing in public?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Mike Rafferty answers the question 'What kind of day jobs have you had?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Mike Rafferty demonstrates his flute style. Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Mike Rafferty describes the group he plays with at Irish music festivals. Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Mike Rafferty answers the question 'What does traditional Irish music mean to you?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Mike Rafferty answers the question 'What do you think is the future of traditional Irish music?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Mike Rafferty plays 'Kitty's Gone A-Milking,' interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Mike Rafferty plays the hornpipe 'The Black Bird,' interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Mike Rafferty answers the question 'How many tunes do you know?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Mike Rafferty answers the question 'What keeps you going?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010