Hailed as one of New England’s leading songsters, Brendan Taaffe has been working with choirs and leading workshops since 2003. In that time, he has become known for his generous and encouraging teaching style, compelling repertoire, and charismatic presence. Workshops with Brendan explore the richness of different harmony traditions from around the world, including traditional American harmony, Zimbabwean makwayera singing, Occitan repertoire from the south of France, and his acclaimed original material. Brendan has worked extensively with singers throughout North America and the UK, as well as in France, Ireland, New Zealand, and Zimbabwe.
Deeply versed in Irish and Appalachian traditions, Brendan plays traditional dance music on fiddle, banjo, and guitar. Currently, he performs old-time string band music in a duet with Kelsey Wells and with Lone Prairie, a band devoted to preserving the repertoire of Jon Bekoff.
In addition to these traditional instruments, Brendan has found a truly distinctive voice on the mbira, blending Appalachian ballads with traditional Zimbabwean rhythms. The ripple of the mbira, an instrument over a thousand years old, combines with gourd banjo and Taaffe’s lush tenor to cast these old songs in a new light, creating “the kind of hushed, lonely warmth you experience sitting by a fire in a drafty house.”
When he performs solo, Brendan also presents his crankies, scrolling illustrations in a wooden theater that accompany songs or stories and which evoke the magic of shadow puppetry.
Brendan’s original songs have been sung by thousands of people around the world, from Alaska to the southern reaches of New Zealand, and even atop Mt. Kilimanjaro. Growing out of the American shape note tradition, Brendan’s songs are known for their lush harmonies, interweaving rhythms, and reverence for the poetry of the text.
Brendan thinks of his songs as hymns for the modern world, hymns that are not tethered to any one religious tradition but which still ask the big questions: what does it mean to love and where can we find solace, what does it mean that we shall, someday, die, and how does that impact the way we live our lives now?
Brendan’s deep curiosity about the world has led to in-depth music studies in Ireland, Appalachia, Zimbabwe, France, Cuba, Bulgaria, and India. He holds a Master’s Degree in Traditional Irish music from the Irish World Music Center at the University of Limerick and has published a book about the Irish fiddle tradition. Most recently, Brendan was a Research Fellow at the Appalachian Sound Archives at Berea College, Kentucky.
“When I’m singing with you, the world resolves.”—R.B.
“Your mbira playing is beautiful!” —Pete Seeger
“My husband and I joke about ‘talking each other down’ when things get too crazy and overwhelming, especially the things you can’t control, no matter how you try. I might need to listen to your song ‘Wester Caputh’ daily. There is so much hope and joy and certainty in that tune: it sings me down.” —L.B.