It’s honeybee season. And if all is well, bee colonies are at or near peak population this month.
Also buzzing down the mountainside: a poverty of pipers, to help me dissect uilleann pipe logistics, lure, and lore. For “The Piper” I talk to the Rowsome family, Tim Britton, Tom Rota, Patrick Hutchinson, and Isaac Alderson.
Now, the Irish uilleann pipes CAN drip with sweet, rich melody. And they are also as temperamental as hornets, as Tom Rota describes:
“You know, I don’t want to play anything else, but sometimes I just want to throw them on a fire and just be done with it. They’re hard to tune and maintain. Some days they sound great, and then two hours later they sound terrible… so pipers have this kind of built in sarcastic irony going on, this kind of love hate thing with the instrument, which I think is part of the tradition, really. And it’s really kind of fun.” –T. Rota
Pipers can lead a double life — as Irish musicians who play tunes together and enjoy deep social connections. And also as players of this demanding, temperamental, complicated contraption that only fellow pipers can truly understand. Pipers seem to connect to pipers of the past, perhaps even more than other instruments do with their predecessors. Patrick Hutchinson explained this beautifully:
“The tradition is a conversation between those who’ve gone before us and those who are here now. And they’re not gone, because the way they play is preserved in people’s fingers. And when you play and you quote other players, as pipers do, those other players are brought into the conversation.” — P. Hutchinson
These days people play the uilleann pipes all over the world. Some do come from five generations of pipers, but many come to it from non-musical families. As Isaac Alderson notes,
“It doesn’t matter where you’re from: who you are, where you came from. But what matters is the spirit and heart you bring to it… If you approach it with respect and a genuine desire to become proficient, I think it’s wide open.” –I. Alderson
I hope you’ll tune in on this conversation about uilleann pipes. Whether you already know about Seamus Ennis—or you don’t know anything about Irish culture—these conversations speak about challenge, gratitude, and reverence.
Tune: “Silver Spear,” from Kitty Lie OverArtists: Mick O’Brien & Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh
Tune: “Heartstrings Theme” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist: Matt Heaton
Tune: “Tom Billy’s Butcher’s March,” from Swimming Against the FallsArtist: Joey Abarta
Tune: “Triumph Theme” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist: Matt Heaton
Tune: “Padraig O’Keefe’s 1 & 2/The Humours Of Ballydaly” from Notes from the HeartArtists: Louise and Michelle Mulcahy
Tune: “The Praties are Dug and the Frost is All Over” from 40 Years of Piping
Artist: Seamus Ennis
Tune: “Pipe Solo – Slow Air” from Standing Barefoot at the AltarArtist: Tim Britton with Chulrua
Tune: “McFarley’s/Mill Na Maídí” from Harvest StormArtist: Altan
Tune: “Jackson’s Frieze Coat” from Irish Wind MusicArtist: Bill Ochs
Tune: “Kesh Jig” from In ConcertArtist: Bothy Band
Tune: “The Old Coolun” from Take Me TenderArtist: Jimmy O’Brien Moran
Tune: “Garret Barry’s/The Bucks of Oranmore” from In ConcertArtist: Paddy Keenan with the Bothy Band