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  • Kieran O'Hare

Musical Notes: The Boyne Water Set

From the liner notes of 'The Joyful Hour':

Track 1: Boyne Water Kieran learned ‘Boyne Water’ from the brilliant CD collection of the music of Micho Russell, Rarities and Old Favorites,1949-1993, compiled by the late Bill Ochs of New York. It is a tune that exists in many versions in Irish, Scottish, and American traditions. John Skelton taught Kieran the second tune, ‘Let Us Leave That As It Is’, though Kieran has heard a version of it, known as ‘Lord Elcho’s Favourite’, played in Cape Breton (most notably by the great Mary ‘Hughie’ MacDonald). Martin Rochford’s infectious version of ‘Happy to Meet, Sorry to Part’ was transcribed by Peter Laban, and published in An Píobaire, the journal of Na Píobairí Uilleann (Vol. 3, No. 18) in Dublin, in 1994.

Additional comments from Kieran:

Boyne Water: The late Bill Ochs is to be commended for his great, scholarly work on Micho Russell (1915-1994) and his music. I met Micho in Gus O’Connor’s pub in Doolin, County Clare, in the summer of 1988, I think it was, when I was visiting the piper and pipemaker Eugene Lambe in Fanore. We had a great session of music, and he was very welcoming indeed to a young piper! I met him several times after that, both in Ireland, and on the east coast of the US, where he played some concerts in the early ‘90s, some of which Bill recorded and included on the CD mentioned above. Micho was always witty and charming on those trips. As the years have gone by, I have come more and more to appreciate his music and style of playing. Micho’s individualism and rootedness in the musical traditions of his home area are a sort of musical tonic as far as I’m concerned, and I would venture to say that he’s one of my very favorite musicians to listen to: there’s always something new to be surprised by. (For whistle players, I will say that Micho had a very interesting technique whereby he would ‘tongue’ what would normally be the ‘tap’ grace note in a long roll, creating an effect that has always for me been reminiscent of some of the ornamentation in his brother Packie’s concertina playing.)

Let Us Leave That As It Is: John Skelton showed up at Liz’s and my house with this jig when we were putting together material for our second CD together, ‘Two-Tone’. This tune is another example of the fascinating overlap that exists between the Irish and Scottish traditions, especially where Scottish music still exists in its older, traditional form, Cape Breton Island. I had been spending a lot of time listening to another musician who played it, Mary ‘Hughie’ MacDonald (1897-1982), one of the greatest Cape Breton fiddle players of all time, and it really appealed to me. She played it a note lower than we do, and at a very slow, stately tempo, rather than at ‘jig speed’. There are a couple of fascinating videos of Mary MacDonald on Youtube, and I've linked to one below. Her technical mastery of the fiddle, not to mention the tradition of Scottish music in Cape Breton, is just stunning. Such luminaries as Angus Chisholm were awed by her control of the bow, and the nuance and depth in her bowings – so clear to see on this video.

Younger players like Shelly Campbell, Kenneth MacKenzie, Mike Hall, Robert Deveaux, Robbie Fraser, Ian MacDougall, and Brent Aucoin are among the next generation of players – all friends of mine I’m delighted to say – who are keeping that most-fragile tradition alive.

Happy to Meet, Sorry to Part: When we started playing this jig together, we jokingly agreed that it might be the most perfectly constructed tune in Irish music, and it is without question an utter pleasure to play. It’s a beautiful melody that lays out perfectly on the pipes and fiddle. Martin Rochford, whom I used to meet at the Templemore Tionól in County Tipperary in the early ‘90s (a fantastic piping event that’s still going strong), was a great fiddle player and piper from Bodyke in east County Clare. Peter Laban did a great service to the music in making these transcriptions for the journal An Píobaire, which can be found on the website of Na Píobairí Uilleann here.

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