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Band plays Irish music, teaches others to play too

Martin+Koop%2C+Bob+Midden+and+Mary+Dennis+are+the+key+players+in+Toraigh.+In+Toraigh+an+Sonas%2C+they+are+joined+by+others.

Martin Koop, Bob Midden and Mary Dennis are the key players in Toraigh. In Toraigh an Sonas, they are joined by others.

University chemistry department faculty member Bob Midden does more with his time off from teaching seminars and independent research than watching TV and sitting around the house. He likes to occupy himself with traditional Irish dance music like reels, jigs, hornpipes, slip jigs and polkas.

“It’s good for the human brain to have a change of focus once in a while,” Midden said. “It gives the chemistry part of the brain a chance to refresh itself and recover.”

Midden, a University faculty member since 1987, became enamored with Irish music after completing graduate school. He started playing flute and other woodwind instruments in a band called Paddy’s Night Out, which eventually evolved into his current band, Toraigh, Gaelic for “to seek” or “to search.”

“We think that’s a good name for a band because music can be used to search for what you want, what you desire, what you lost,” Midden said. “It has a lot of possible meanings.”

Toraigh is a primarily three-piece band consisting of Midden and guitarist Martin Koop as well as fiddle, drum and banjo player Mary Dennis, with other musicians occasionally taking the stage with the trio. The band has released an album, “Tripping up the Stairs,” and regularly plays at Irish-themed festivals and venues including The Stones Throw, Logan’s Irish Pub in Findlay and The Blarney Irish Pub in Toledo.

In addition to their core band, Midden and Dennis have started another in recent years, Toraigh an Sonas. The band’s extended name means “in search of happiness” and the band lives up to its name, flute and tin whistle player Kathy Moss said.

“If we’re playing for a festival and we’re all performing together, everybody wants to be there,” Moss said. “It’s just like our name, we’re all happy playing Irish music and it’s a nice social outlet.”

Toraigh an Sonas plays the same style of music as Toraigh but, according to Moss, can have anywhere from five to 15 members performing at once during one of the band’s regularly-held “sessions” at a variety of area Irish pubs and festivals. Midden and Dennis started the group as a way of allowing those interested in classical Irish music to get involved and spread Irish music.

“Some people have always wanted to play music before but are too afraid to try or think that they couldn’t do it because they’re too old or not musical,” Dennis said. “When they come and they try it and they see that they really can do it, they really enjoy it.”

Toraigh an Sonas hosts rehearsals in Moore Musical Arts Center 2002 every first and third Monday of the month at 7:30 p.m. The group welcomes students and community members who wish to play fiddle, tin whistle, banjo, mandolin, Uilleann pipes, Irish guitar, flutes and other instruments used in traditional Irish dance music from beginner to advanced.

“I would encourage anyone who has even the slightest amount of curiosity or interest to check it out,” Dennis said. “I think people will be pleasantly surprised at how they can actually play an instrument.”

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