Club Members enjoyed both hot weather and hot piping at the 2011 Catskill Irish Arts Week in East Durham, NY. Attending were Katie Carmen, Tracy Kingsley, Rich Wolff, Liam O’Neill, Jim Reilly. It was also a chance to catch up with piper friends from other Clubs for a few tunes and a few pints. Guest piping instructors were, above, Benedict Koehler, Ivan Goff and Michael "Blackie" O'Connell sharing duties at the Basic, Intermediate and Advanced classes. Each brought their own signature style of piping and teaching giving the students a well-rounded experience. After class they were found everywhere around town playing at various sessions, many of which ended with the sun well up in the sky. They also performed at the main concerts in the evening as part of larger groups. There was an abundance of younger pipers in the classes and at the sessions, boding well for the future. On Friday, the classes were suspended and all the piping students gathered together where Benedict, Ivan and Blackie performed individually and as a group. They also fielded questions and offered their opinions on different styles of playing, covering Rowsome, Reck, O'Flynn, the Doran's and others. It was an appropriate wrap up to a great week of piping instruction. Once again, CIAW delivered some excellent piping classes and great entertainment.
The Hudson River Pipers Club held its inaugural meeting almost eight years ago in Piermont, NY, along the western shore of the Hudson River, north of New York City. Since then we’ve grown our membership to some fifteen pipers and we now hold our monthly gatherings in nearby Valley Cottage, NY. Our original group is still intact and we’ve welcomed many new pipers. We have been extremely fortunate to have attracted as visiting teachers some of the very best pipers in the world; such All-Stars as Michael Cooney, Paddy Keenan, Jerry O’Sullivan, David Power, Cillian Vallely, Mattie Connelly, Ivan Goff, Bill Ochs, Martin McCormack and Tommy Martin. Our excellent “Teacher-in-Residence,” Club member Rich Wolff, lends his considerable musical talents to the group during the rest of our meetings.
Members of the Club send their very best wishes and greetings to Pipers and Pipe Clubs around the world and extend an invitation to visit us at any Club events. We also welcome inquiries from interested pipers. The Club meets the first Saturday of each month, except during July and August as we normally attend the Celtic Irish Arts Week in East Durham, NY, and October when we usually attend the Northeast Tionol. If you are interested in joining us, please contact any HRPC member or e-mail Liam O’Neill, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Jim Reilly, at email@example.com. See our Links page for other Uilleann Piping websites.
Gay McKeon gave a very informative presentation on the history of NPU as well as some details on upcoming initiatives. The Saturday Concert was outstanding with all instructors performing, along with top tier fiddlers Patrick Ourceau and Rose Conway Flanagan, who also ran fiddle classes and workshops. Of course, Sessions popped up all over and, in once case, apparently upstaged the Gavin Rooster who was clearing his throat getting ready to do his thing. Once again, High Fives to all the organizers for a great weekend in the best traditions of our Club’s Motto : “Ceol Ceili Craic!”
Friend Of the Club Margaret Stalker. second left, from Toronto with Club members Bonnie Yancoskie, , Rich Wolff, Joe Leathem and Katie Carmen.
Michael and Pat relaxing before their Concert.
While one Major League All-Star event was coming to a close in St. Louis another was starting in the Catskills of New York as a global All-Star Team of Irish Traditional Musicians took over the roads and pubs of East Durham for the Fifteenth Annual Celtic Irish Arts Week. Armed with pipes, whistles, flutes, guitars, bouzoukis, fiddles, bohdrans, harmonicas, concertinas, banjos, mandolins, spoons, harps, pianos, dancing shoes and other assorted Weapons of Mass Enjoyment, a small army of players launched a foot tapping assault on the entire community.
Triplets, Crans, Doublings, Backstitching, Shakes, Cuts, Vibrato and Off The Knee techniques were featured in the Piping classes with perennial first ballot fan favorites Benedict “Talks to Reeds” Koehler and the Queen of Toronto Piping Debbie Quigley who were joined by the newest piping personality from Ireland, Michael “Blackie” O’Connell. Blackie, a consummate piper as well as a crowd-pleasing showman, quickly won over a large following of pipers and other musicians for his exuberant session playing, excellent teaching skills and good humor. As evidence of the latter Blackie, fiddle player Matt Cranitch and guitarist Paul deGrae all donned bright colored wigs and continued playing away while performing at Furlongs Pub. Even with excessive humidity, Blackie’s Cillian O’Brien drones and regs were perfectly tuned and used to great effect, especially in some of the beautiful slow airs he played at the concerts and sessions.
Benedict, Debbie and Blackie put in long days, nights and early mornings yet never failed to embrace old friends and first time pipers attending the weeklong event. Benedict embellished his reputation by generously and graciously providing “Roadside Assistance” to pipers whose “Reed was OK yesterday but seems to be acting up today.” “Where’s Benedict?” was the question on opening day as the princes and paupers of the piping world sought an audience. Small groups of supplicants gathered at his side meekly putting their little wounded reeds into his healing hands, hoping he wouldn’t disapprove of their condition. (Note: Glasses on forehead – prognosis pretty good.) Glasses on the tip of the nose with quizzical frown – humiliation in front of other pipers.) Hint: handing over the reed in one hand and a Guinness in the other might reduce the
Morning and afternoon piping classes were followed by Slow, Intermediate and Open sessions later in the day and evening. By week’s end many a piper taking a morning and afternoon class was showing symptoms of Chronic Tune Overload Syndrome.
Attendees at Benedict’s Beginner Class were pleased that he was so “encouraging,” recognizing weaknesses and offering solutions. He worked on a variety of crans and expanded their thinking by showing them the low octave “off the knee E.” He taught two tunes, The Floating Crowbar, a popular session tune during the eighties and The Flying Wheelchair, a jig composed by Leitrim pianist and fiddler Charlie Lennon in honor of Donncha O’Brien (1960-1990,) brother of piper Mick O’Brien. Donncha, a well-known Dublin whistle player, was confined to a wheelchair by muscular dystrophy for much of his life. Apparently, the tune got its name after an incident involving some young girls racing the wheelchair down the road at pretty good speed.
Benedict's Intermediate Class was over-subscribed with over a dozen students, averaging 2-5 years on the pipes, and occasionally joined by visitors from other classes. Benedict divided the class and asked the ever-popular Kara Doyle, one of the leaders of the East Coast Irish Piper’s Tionol, to share teaching the class when learning tunes. He started the class by asking what technique the students wanted to work on. He then focused on finger placement, off the knee, tuning drones and spent some time on regulators to round out the technical end. (A regulator tip from the Professor: practice the off beats on your right wrist when you're listening to music in the car.) He explained technique both in its isolated form and in the context of tunes. He showed F and G rolls “off the knee” as well as shakes on the upper F and “three, four and five syllable” crans.
The class learned Brendan Tonra's Jig, (incorporating the low octave off the knee E,) the hornpipe Kilcooley Woods and the Trip to Birmingham. The week ended with tune reviews with Benedict and Kara together playing about fifteen tunes at a speed that could be recorded for later study. The rousing duets included The Wise Maid, Toss the Feathers, The Cup of Tea, The Yellow Tinker, Tell Her I Am, Madame Maxwell and more. Students commented that Benedict's class was “low pressure and he was unselfish with his time,” often staying late to answer questions. One discerning student commented that “Benedict's melodic phrasing incorporates tiny silences and subtle alterations of rhythm that add to the lovely flow and lift of the music.”
Debbie Quigley’s Intermediate Class consisted of working with students on their tunes and demonstrating variations. She played a number of tunes during the week and taught the group The Dairy Maid and Miss Lyons. She also introduced an interesting jig, Eddie Kelly's, also known as The Hungry Rock and she touched on slow airs. She was extremely patient and every student had a chance to play and be helped. Her Advanced Class was run more like a session. She taught some tunes and then tried to find other tunes that went well with them. The group worked on The Crock of Gold, Paddy In London, and The Dawn Chorus.
Blackie O’Connell’s Intermediate Class had four students. He taught the group Speed The Plough, Tumble the Tinker and Barr Na Cuille. He taught by playing the tune slowly, then had each piper play it back individually until they learned it. One student’s comment: “He was very patient with repeating the tune phrase by phrase until each of us got it.” Toward the end of the week he demonstrated some techniques to add to the tunes.
One of his Advanced Class students described Blackie, from the Ennis / Doolin area, as having “a flowing, assertive style, effortlessly punctuating tunes with tight triplets, shakes, and backstitching.” The Advanced group worked on both unfamiliar and common tunes that employed some of those effects. One tune that stood out was an untitled jig that Blackie recorded from the playing of Paddy Keenan, from what Paddy called "The London Set." He also taught a simple unnamed jig that had good backstitching opportunities, as well as demonstrating different ways to play The Fairy Reel. Late night listening rooms were always “standing room” only as instructors and other guest musicians displayed their outstanding skills and repertoire for the admiring crowd. iPhones and Blackberries were jammed with text and e-mail messages asking where
the “action” was around town with the usual, “Where’s Debbie, Blackie and Benedict playing?” And, just when you’re feeling pretty good about lasting until 4:30 AM listening to a session at McKenna’s, the door opens and about two dozen twenty-something’s carrying a variety of black cases race through the bar into a backroom to start another! From the sound of the tempo coming through the door (and floor) it’s possible that NASCAR may have sponsored the session. Apparently, there is an age where “sleep deprivation” is not an issue.
Another perennial piping favorite, Connecticut’s Mattie “The Pure Drop” Connolly was on hand for guest performances and visits to classrooms. The venerable All-Ireland Champion from North Monaghan clearly enjoyed sharing his memories and piping suggestions, especially with new pipers. Still playing a reed that Leo Rowsome made for him, when Mattie says: “Here’s the way Leo played the tune” it’s worth paying some attention. While visiting Debbie Quigley’s class, Mattie played some tunes and recalled the days before recording devices when he and his brother Mike, (attending the class) would cycle out of town to learn a tune. One brother would remember the first part of the tune and the other the second part then they would put it together back home. His pipes, once owned by Jimmy Cagney, are an Alf Kennedy Concert set that he compliments with his Leo Rowsome chanter. He also tells of ordering reeds from Leo and waiting patiently for weeks for the postman to deliver it while fearing the worst – that the clerk in the post office hand stamped the envelope so hard it destroyed the reed!
Beyond new tunes and improved technique, one of the strongest attractions of the annual event, as always, is the gathering of new and old piping friends from around the world. From Dublin to California, Alaska to Hawaii, the annual migration to the tiny hamlet and green hills of East Durham in New York is a wonderfully redeeming pilgrimage in the never-ending quest for the Irish musician’s version of the Holy Grail - Ceol, Ceili Craic.
It seems like a long time ago but it was only October that Club members may have set an attendance record at the 2009 Northeast Tionol. Attending were Liam O’Neill, Bill Keenan, Rich Wolff, Tacey Deyrup, Katie Carmen, Jim Reilly, Tracy Kingsley, Bonnie Yankoskie, John McAuliffe, Dan McNamara and Garr DiSalvo. A proud turnout!
It was a great weekend starting on Friday as a warm West of Ireland mist settled over the hills and hollows of East Durham and the thirsty reeds of grateful pipers. Congratulations to the Tionol organizing team for innovative classes and lectures that set a new standard for the event. A superb instructor corps headlined by Brian McNamara, Maire ni Ghrada along with Patrick Hutchinson, Bill Ochs and Sean Ryan had plenty to offer at all levels of skill. The elective classes and lectures were well attended and very professionally presented. A wonderful concert featuring the instructors joined by exceptional fiddlers Kathleen Collins and Cleek Schrey topped off a rowdy Saturday night. Sessions popped up everywhere and at all hours of the day, night and early mornings.
A few pipers appeared to be floating in a state of grace, glowing with some secret knowledge and a blissful smile. Turns out they were the few that experienced the sacred ritual of taking delivery of pipes from David Quinn, including our own Rich Wolff.
Rich’s newly acquired Concert D firepower is shown above, guarded by his attack cats, aptly named K and Q. Meanwhile, Benedict Koehler, a founding member of America’s Piping Royalty, continued his path to Sainthood by unselfishly performing triage on wounded reeds and broken spirits. All in all it was a memorable weekend of Irish Craic and Ceol. Thanks to Kara, Skip, Susanne and many more.
Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, the son of Leitrim born parents, Bill played the guitar for 40 years, mostly self-taught and by ear. For many years he wanted to get started on the uilleann pipes and finally did in August of 2006, with his first lesson with Bill Ochs, and later Jerry O’Sullivan. His enduring cheerfulness, positive attitude and his love for the pipes and the music made him equally welcome in any setting. He was happiest when he shared his love for the music with his wife Joanne, especially while enjoying the evening sessions and concerts in East Durham at the Arts Week and Tionols. It’s difficult to imagine not seeing him again but rather than remembering that he is gone we can keep our memories of him alive and let him live on through our collective love of the music. The Club expresses its deep sorrow and offers Joanne our support and prayers.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam
"Bill was a great fellow, always charming and gracious to everyone. Sharing a tall tale or quirk of the world over a pint with him could turn out to be a wondrous adventure. I'll miss Bill.”
A great turnout of family, friends, fellow NYPD police officers and Club Members joined together at Kelly Ryan’s restaurant in the Bronx to celebrate Bill Keenan’s all-to-brief but happy and rewarding life with remembrances, stories, food, drink and, naturally, Irish music. A slide show in the background showed wonderful images of Bill, Joanne and all the children during happy times as a family and other photographs showing Bill in his US Navy and later in his NYPD uniform. Bill’s son, Sean, spoke warmly and humorously about his Dad, toasts were offered, songs were sung , music cases were opened and out came the pipes and flutes and the room was filled with the music that Bill loved so much. Taking part in the session were, from left above, Dan MacNamara, Tracy Kingsley, Luke Powers, Liam O’Neill, Bill Ochs and Rich Wolff.