by Day, Celtic Rock by Night
I graduated from college two years ago with a degree in jazz
studies and an emphasis on piano. I’ve spent the past two years
basically working as a musician, discovering where I should take
my musical interest. I’ve been working at churches, conducting
choirs, doing a lot of classical organ music. I’m music director
at a Lutheran church.
I’m also a singer in a Celtic rock band with my family, MacTalla
Mór. Two of my younger brothers play bagpipes and while I was in
college studying jazz my mother got very into traditional Irish
frame drums, so we all decided it would be nice to have an
outlet to play music together. We brought to the table all the
influences from the various directions we were coming from and
created this Celtic fusion sound.
We just started playing some small gigs, and in the past two
years it really has taken off. We have three albums out, we’ve
sold more than 2,000 copies of our first album, we’ve played
Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, we’ve toured the Northeast and
we’ve played at Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in North
Carolina, which is the biggest Scottish clan gathering in North
America. The band is a lot of fun.
Our band’s genre definitely is niche. There’s this neat movement
happening now where musicians are blending traditional Celtic
music with more modern sounds such as rock, rhythm and blues,
jazz and world music, and that’s really becoming very popular. I
think what we’re doing is particularly unique because most bands
don’t involve the keyboards or the organ, and they don’t have
the mix we do as far as instrumentation.
Homeschooling has helped. It has helped me think more fluidly,
and see the world and meet people who have alternative
lifestyles. I witnessed in college what institutionalizing music
can do to some people; it can really close off certain paths of
creativity because everything is so over-defined, especially in
the classical fields. What I’m trying to do with my music is not
define a musical genre. I’m melding and grabbing what I can.
Family on a Friday Night
Everybody asks me what I’m doing now that I’m out of college. I
tell them I’m in a band – with my parents. They think that’s so
awful and they can’t imagine anything more odd than going out
Friday, Saturday nights with my family. But I love my family and
we enjoy spending time with each other!
Homeschooling is a big part of why it works. My brothers and I
really grew up together, whereas if we had been in school our
schedules would have divided at such an early age that we
probably wouldn’t have been as close, or as able to spend as
many hours rehearsing together as we do.
Our rapport is such that we’re used to spending a
significant amount of time with each other. Many people my age
seem to see family as just an event for holidays – something
just to get through. Not us.
Because we were homeschooled, we had no choice but to learn how
to live and
work together. We worked on our conflict resolution because we
had to work on it, because that’s who we were relating to every
day. Now we relate to each other much more as human beings, not
as siblings or parent-child. I never saw my mom just as someone
who helps me with schoolwork at night, for instance.
I definitely recognize that there is an insular quality to my
life, though. I live with my family, I studied with my family, I
have a business with my family, I’m working with them – becoming
almost codependent with them. There definitely are times when I
feel it is extremely abnormal, and I think that I need to get
out and get some breathing space. But that’s something people
also have to face if they have gone to school. They just have to
face it in a different way; they have to face being an
independent individual away from their old friends.
Everybody has his or her comfort zone. As a homeschooler, my
comfort zone just happens to be blood relatives. I think if you
recognize that there are certain downsides to your comfort zone,
you can deal with it. I just have to think for myself and make
sure I’m not being insular.
Resisting Cultural Expectations
The band is getting itself off the ground. They always say a
business takes about five years to start and we’re not at the
five-year mark yet; we’re still buying equipment and recording
with the money we’re making. This year we’ve started making a
decent amount of money, though, and hopefully it is just going
to keep going. Everyone is trying to a make a living from the
band, so we’re definitely working to make the business viable. I
think it will be viable soon; we have a really decent fan base
now and we’re playing one to two times every week.
Making the choice to homeschool when I was younger has actually
given me the courage to give music a try as a professional
musician, in a band, with my family. Homeschooling is a mind-
opening thing. The possibilities aren’t cut and dried, I’ve
learned. For me, I don’t have to graduate from college, get my
master’s degree and work a nine-to-five job. There are
alternatives, like the band.
But I do battle in my head with what I should be doing. Society
says I should be pursuing a degree. Because I can get my
master’s or go to law school, I should. Society says I have to
make as much money as I can and have as big a house as I can. I
definitely feel pressure. Right now I’m happy as a church
musician and as a member of my family’s band, but a lot of
people look at me and ask what else I am doing. There’s a status
I’m missing. I’m not a businesswoman. I don’t have a fancy
degree or a 401(k) – I don’t even really know what a 401(k) is!
Right now, I’m trying to resist the pressure.
I also think that homeschooling has helped me realize that there
is no real rush in life. More than the career-woman pressure,
there’s the pressure to rush and establish a life. I have to
keep going to school and then get that job to make that salary
cap so I can start my life, society says.
I think one thing homeschoolers realize is that life has already
started. You don’t have to wait until you’re done with high
school; you don’t have to wait until you’re done with college to
really experience life and learn and challenge yourself. So, I’m
not really worried. If we go on the Tonight Show in a few years,
that’s great. But if not, I’ll study law or English or
musicology. There’s no rush. I don’t need to have it all figured
Peter Kowalke grew without schooling. He is a journalist and the
producer of “Grown Without Schooling,” a documentary about grown
homeschoolers and the lasting influence of home education. To
listen to music from Ilana’s band, visit