Most of my music I originally learned from my dad. He kept a small collection of whistles next to his favorite seat in the living room, and he often used to pick one up in the evening after dinner and play for a few minutes. I just loved the sound. And so when in elementary school we started to learn the recorder, while all the other kids dreaded having to practice it in music class, I took right to it. My dad saw this and he bought me a silver E-flat Generation whistle. At home I listened to as much traditional music as possible And so the first video I will show is of Mary Bergin, a whistle player from Dublin, whose debut album, Feadoga Stain, I listened to over and over on our record player, trying to learn her technique.
Besides listening to tin whistle music, I loved the sound of the wooden flute. And as soon as my grade school offered flute lessons (in 5th grade), I signed up, even though it was for a metal Boehm flute. And I practiced and practiced, until my parents had to lay down some rules for when I could play my flute, e.g., not before everyone else was awake! My favorite Irish flute player growing up, and still today, is Matt Molloy, who is well known for his work with the Bothy Band and the Chieftains. I also felt a little more of a connection to him when I found out that he owns a pub (which I visited during my Rome semester) in Westport, Co. Mayo,, my grandfather's hometown. Here he is playing a set of tunes on a low-pitched B-flat flute, starting with the slip jig "A Fig for a Kiss" (the video, unfortunately, is just a slide show of Scandinavia):
I also especially love this set of reels that Matt Molloy plays with Sean Keane, a fellow member of the Chieftains, with whom he recorded another album I loved to play at home, Contentment is Wealth. The middle reel, "The Providence," was written by Michael Coleman, the famous New York fiddler, when he visited Rhode Island.
Finally, while I do like some experimentation within traditional music, the most enjoyable Irish music really is the old-fashioned way of playing. It shouldn't be too slow, because you can't dance to that. But it also shouldn't be too fast, because you can't dance to that either. The best musicians can set a brisk, but steady rhythm that makes you instantly start tapping your feet. And last of all, this music is about friendship. This final video shows Noel Hill on concertina and Tony Linnane on fiddle, two men who made a duet album together (with Alec Finn accompanying them on bouzouki) toward the end of the 1970's. The album was a fruit of their friendship and the many hours they spent playing tunes together. And this video--starting with a rainy day, a humble cottage, a pot of tea and a plate of scones--conveys some of what this music is really about. They play two reels: "Esther's" and "Jenny's Welcome to Charlie" (an allusion to Bonnie Prince Charlie).
Happy St. Patrick's Day!