It’s less the pitter patter of little feet and more the purposeful stomping of dancing feet in the Wood home, an idyllic oasis in the woodsy outskirts of Ojai where the Wood family practices its knack for Irish dancing, fiddle playing and classical violin.
(Note: The overwhelming display of talent in the Wood clan is enough to make any run-of-the-mill human being feel like a complete loser. Read on at your own discretion.)
Populated by chickens, birds and the odd goat or pig, the walkway up to the Woods’ front door is a bit like a walk down memory lane — if you grew up on a farm — or like an episode of Little House on the Prairie, if you grew up in front of a TV.
The Wood children, including Elizabeth, 20; Deirdre, 18; Sean, 16; Patrick, 13; Maire, 9, and Aidan, 5, did not grow up in front of a TV. In fact, there isn’t a single television in the entire Wood house — and that’s just the way that the Wood parents, Mary and Greg, like it. They just don’t buy that South Park is a fair trade for the musical education of their family.
“My general philosophy of life is that, if you want to do something, you should do it well — much to the chagrin of some of the people in this family,” Mary said with a grin in the family room of the Wood household as a couple sets of feet stomped in the general vicinity of the kitchen. “They know that, to do anything well, it requires hard work.”
Yes, they certainly do.
The Wood children, along with their father, are better known as Celtic Spring, a singing and dancing phenomenon not unlike the world-renowned Riverdance troupe — that is, if the river dancers fiddled while they performed the intricate, gunfire-rapid steps of Irish dance. Watching the Woods perform is perhaps a bit like watching a group of geniuses taking their SATs while performing open-heart surgery.
“The kids have put in thousands of hours to be in that area of expertise,” Mary said after Elizabeth, Deirdre, Sean, Patrick and Maire fiddled a trio of tunes that ranged from what sounded like the well-known and achingly lovely “Greensleeves” to a lively Irish ditty on the hardwood floor of their living room. Greg accompanied the fiddlers on the bodhran, the traditional Irish drum.
There was just barely enough room for Patrick, who was wedged next to the family piano as the band of siblings danced, to shake his groove thing, Irish style. Not a note was off as they played in harmony; the pleasure on their faces obvious as the complex strands of music reverberated from the walls. “The music that comes out of the heart is a gift for the people,” Mary said.
And if that’s the case, plenty of people stand to receive a Wood-family gift on Dec. 24, the day Celtic Spring is scheduled to perform at the 46th Annual Los Angeles County Holiday Celebration, a free six-hour music and dance extravaganza. Celtic Spring is the only act from Ventura County scheduled to perform, but the little tightly-knit group is used to being out of the ordinary.
It all began with Mary’s grandparents, who hailed from Ireland and instilled in their children a devout passion for music and Irish culture. Following suit, Greg and Mary enrolled each of their children in violin and Irish dancing lessons when they turned 5.
“When you start something that young and you get good at it, people want to see you play,” Mary said of Elizabeth and Deirdre who, as the two eldest in the clan, were trailblazers when it came to lessons, recitals and annual participation in fiddle camp.
Then came the first of their countless public performances, at the Santa Barbara Farmers Market. At the time, the girls were 7 and 9.
“I remember my dad said, ‘You should fiddle at the farmers market,’” said Elizabeth, whose eyes smile when the corners of her mouth lift and whose long and wavy dark hair falls all the way down her back. “He said, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ Then we made a pile of money and we realized it wasn’t so bad.”
The sisters, who were playing Bach concertos at the ripe old age of 8, began with classical violin lessons at 5 but started learning how to fiddle a couple years later. “We found that learning the fiddle made them want to play and that they enjoyed it,” said Mary, who plays the piano but said she simply doesn’t have time to perform “We made it part of our culture early on and made it fun to play. The older kids started it first and then the younger kids wanted to do it, too.”
Before Elizabeth and Deirdre started attending Thomas Aquinas College, in Santa Paula, where they are liberal arts majors, a typical day for all the kids in the Wood family began at around 7:30 a.m. with an hour of group fiddle practice. Afterward, the family of devout Catholics headed off to daily mass, followed by an hour of individual classical violin, monitored closely by Mary. The remainder of the day was taken up by home-schooling, also lead by Mary. Days in the Wood house are still much the same, though Elizabeth and Deirdre are off at school.
The family also attended Irish dancing classes three days a week, but much of the dance and practice is lead by the two eldest siblings.
“We found fiddling to be more social because we had a lot of friends doing it,” said Deirdre, whose long hair is wound into a loose knot on her head. “It’s like a bunch of friends hanging out, but our version of hanging out is playing music.”
This year, like his sisters before him, Sean is the concert master of the Ojai Youth Symphony. “It makes it much easier to know what to do and what people expect of you,” he said of being concert master. “It seems like it’s always been a Wood child in that chair — so it doesn’t feel that amazing.”
Amazing or not, performing has always been the highlight of being a member of Celtic Spring. The family has performed at countless schools, festivals and concerts. They have driven as far as Nova Scotia to perform, made a special performance trip to Oklahoma just last November and have even performed in Europe. They will continue to perform into the future, but say that college educations and well-rounded lives are the highest priority.
The pleasure of performing, however, will always remain.
“It’s like the music takes over,” said Greg, a marriage and family therapist, of being on stage. “It’s like something outside of you just takes over.”
The rest of the Wood clan agrees.
“Music is meant to be shared,” Elizabeth said. “You give everything to the audience — but you get so much more back.”