By Ariella St. Claire
For 17 years as director of St. Clair Productions, I’ve been privileged to bring wonderful folk musicians to perform in Ashland. Besides the music of the U.S., styles have included Chinese, Japanese taiko drumming, Celtic, Turkish, Sufi, Jewish, South American, Mexican, Eastern European harmonies, Indian and Native American. Our 18th Annual Eclectic Music and More series will again feature a wide variety of musical styles. The season runs September through May and most shows take place at the Unitarian Fellowship, 87 4th St., Ashland.
I am sometimes amazed at which musicians have agreed to perform for St. Clair Productions. Many are considered masters of their instruments and style of music and have been performing for many years. Our first performer is one of them. On Friday, September 20, 8 p.m., at the Unitarian Fellowship, we are presenting Paddy Keenan on uilleann pipes accompanied by Richard Mandel on guitar.
Originally from Ireland, in the 70s Keenan was a founding member of The Bothy Band, a band that changed the face of Irish traditional music by merging a driving rhythm section with traditional Irish tunes. Bothy Band-mate Donal Lunny once described Paddy as “the Jimi Hendrix of the pipes”; more recently, due to his genius for improvisation and counter-melody, Keenan has been compared to jazz great John Coltrane. After the band disbanded in 1979, Keenan established a solo career. His recent awards include: 2002 named Irish National Traditional Musician; 2010 Irish Music Awards Top Uilleann Piper; and 2011 Irish Music Awards Lifetime Achievement Award.
If you’ve heard the bagpipes being played at the Fourth of July parade and are worried about the sound being way too loud in the Unitarian Fellowship, don’t be concerned. Uilleann pipes have a different harmonic structure, sounding sweeter and quieter than many other bagpipes and are often played indoors. They are almost always played sitting down as the bag of theuilleann pipes is inflated by means of a small set of bellows strapped around the waist and the right arm. The bellows relieve the player from the effort needed to blow into a bag to maintain pressure. The uilleann pipes are distinguished from many other forms of bagpipes by their tone and wide range of notes — the chanter has a range of two full octaves, including sharps and flats — together with the unique blend of chanter, drones, and regulators.