Joanna Hyde ’05: A translatlantic musician

Joanna Hyde ’05 is a professional musician, writing and performing American folk and traditional Irish music throughout Europe and North America. We recently caught up with her for a conversation.

Let’s start at the beginning. When did you start playing the fiddle?

Around the age of 6. My two older brothers—Anders Hyde ’99 and Iain Hyde ’02—had been playing by the time I came along, so I was automatically interested in violin/fiddle. We were also exposed to a lot of music in general, given that our mom taught piano in our house, going back as early as I can remember.

I think the appeal of an instrument like violin/fiddle is that you can explore so many styles on it. I began with classical music and quickly got interested in other styles like Irish, bluegrass/American folk, swing, and even a bit of jazz.

And now, you’re fiddling for a living!

Yes, I’ve gotten to gig in a couple dozen states in the United States, as well as in Canada, Ireland, France, Italy, England, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Iceland. As my mother-in-law would say, music is a great passport!

In Ireland, we’ve done gigs in Dublin, Cork, Galway, and a lot of smaller towns in more rural areas. One memorable gig was as a grad student playing for an event at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Dublin.

In fall 2019, we did a fun little Colorado tour, with concerts in or near Denver, Boulder, Ouray, Salida, and Durango. One of our very favorite places to play in Denver is Swallow Hill Music. And my brother, Iain, and I used to do a yearly show with the Denver Brass at the Gates Concert Hall in the University of Denver Newman Center. That room is so beautiful and amazing to play in.

A lot of Colorado Academy teachers have been very gracious in their support of my music over the years since I graduated. They have come out to our concerts in the Denver area and stayed in touch with us along the way. It all reminds me of how encouraging my CA teachers were of my musical pursuits through my time as a student there.

We’ll continue to gig in Denver whenever our tours can take us there. I really cannot wait to get back to Colorado!

You received the prestigious Jack Kent Cook Foundation’s Graduate Arts Award and earned a master’s degree in Irish Traditional Music Performance from the University of Limerick’s Irish World Academy of Music and Dance. How did you make all that happen?

It might have been sometime in high school at CA that I first heard about a course at the University of Limerick that was all about studying Irish traditional music. I filed that away in the back of my mind, thinking I’d love to go to Ireland some day.

Fast forward, and shortly after graduating from Colorado College, one of my professors told me about the award from the Foundation. When the grant came through, I was able to go ahead.

I stepped foot for the first time in Ireland to do that master’s program, thinking I’d just be staying for 9-12 months. Now, nearly 10 years later, I’ve married a musician from Dublin and am a resident here!

You’re part of a trio called One for the Foxes, along with your husband, musician Tadhg Ó Meachair. What’s that like?

It’s a constant learning process. I enjoy co-writing. For our recent One for the Foxes album, Take a Look Around, Tadhg and I collaborated on a lot of original material together. We also do quite a bit of work as a duo.

We live in Ireland in the tiny West Cork village of Inchigeelagh, but we’ve lived a very transatlantic life, working and living in both Europe and North America. We often say that we play “transatlantic folk” music, because we’re bringing together various influences that don’t necessarily sit neatly under a distinct genre label.

You attended CA from Seventh to Twelfth Grade. What role did CA play in your path to becoming a professional musician?

In addition to encouraging its students in the arts, CA taught me to build a diverse set of skills and perspectives. Being a self-employed musician requires a more varied skillset than many folks might realize. I often joke that it’s really more like having a bunch of different jobs within the title of “musician.”

You’re constantly working on writing, arranging, and rehearsing the music itself, but you also have to be engaged in a plethora of other tasks, from networking and promoting, to tour logistics and sound tech. And you have to be an especially diligent accountant. There are, of course, agents, engineers, hosts, and other people who help you along the way, but there are so many moving parts that require your constant attention.

CA gave me a great foundation for being able to adapt to different situations, to maintain an openness to taking on new information, and to approach any given circumstance with both critical thinking and flexibility as my navigational tools.

What was it like for you when COVID-19 hit?

In February 2020, I was flying from Dublin to Italy to do a show, and the news of the coronavirus having spread to Italy literally broke as we were in the air. We landed to find COVID-19 flyers and temperature checks in the airport and learned that our gig was canceled. That was such a distinct beginning to the pandemic for me and signifies just how abruptly everything began to change.

One for the Foxes had released our debut album just before the pandemic began to take hold in Europe and the United States. We had a lot of touring planned for 2020, in the hopes of taking a step forward and introducing ourselves to a wider range of audiences. We are keeping things going as we can until live performance can return.

Has the pandemic impacted your future in music?

Truthfully, it has been a tough year for us, as it has been for so many.

But this has also been a time to remind myself of why I really love music and have pursued this fun, creative, sometimes chaotic, and challenging path. Music is something that can really lift you and carry you to another place. Those moments when you’re really inside the music, not thinking about all the other stresses in life, are at the heart of why I love it.

No matter what, I’ll always be making music—writing, playing, performing. I’ll continue to be receptive to where music takes me and enjoy the process as much as anything. And I’ll excitedly await our return to live performance and connecting with people in person through music again!