Not too many traditional Irish bands have a cellist, but Liz Davis Maxfield is going to Ireland to change that.
The Orem native and recent Berklee College of Music graduate has received a Fulbright scholarship to study Irish music, with plans to write a book on how to adapt Irish instrumental styles to the cello. She's the first cellist accepted to the University of Limerick's Irish Traditional Music Performance masters program.
Maxfield's Fulbright award is the first for Boston's internationally acclaimed Berklee College of Music, said school spokesman Nick Balkin. He called Maxfield's work "groundbreaking," as the cello is rare in Irish traditional music.
"I look forward to acting as a cultural ambassador for Berklee College of Music, the folk cello community, and for the United States," Maxfield said.
Maxfield, 22, developed a love for Irish music when she performed in FiddleSticks, a family band that played Celtic and American folk music regularly around Utah. "Through this group I was able to develop my own folk style on the cello," Maxfield said.
After high school and years of cello lessons, Maxfield attended Brigham Young University for two years before transferring to Berklee, where she graduated last month.
In May 2008, she said, she bumped into a friend who was on his way back to Ireland to complete a master's degree in traditional Irish dance at the University of Limerick. He told her the university had a music performance master's program. After researching it, Maxfield learned that the master's program would coincide perfectly with the aims of the Fulbright program.
Sponsored by the U.S. State Department, the Fulbright program provides funding for students, scholars, teachers and professionals to undertake graduate study and advanced research in other countries. The application process is rigorous and extremely selective. Alumni of the program include novelist Jonathan Franzen, author Joseph Heller, actor John Lithgow, poet Sylvia Plath and designer and director Julie Taymor.
Last summer, Maxfield spent the summer organizing her project proposal, then endured many months of waiting before she received award notification in April.
Maxfield credits her grandmother, Betty Jo Davis of Orem, as her "wonderful inspiration." Davis has traveled to Ireland, and is giving her granddaughter some ideas about what to see while she's studying and traveling in the country.
Maxfield's husband, Andrew, is working on a choral album based on the lyric poetry of Southern writer Wendell Berry and will travel with his wife to Ireland when they leave in August for a year. "It will be a creative time for both of us," he said.
"Because the cello is rare in this genre, I will explore new ways to adapt Irish fiddle and guitar styles to the cello and I will publish a method book to help the next generation of cellists play Irish music authentically," Maxfield said. "I look forward to getting to know the music, people and culture firsthand."