This project has been in the works for over 2 years. All bagpipe bands entertain the idea of making a CD, but few understand how much effort it really takes. The best bands in the world can record live and make beautiful recordings. The rest of us may not be so fortunate. Some will go to a recording studio, play their sets a few times and leave it up to the studio to pick the best one, throw them together on a CD and call it a day. This is fine but eventually they all sound the same and the band has little control over the content. In addition they do not necessarily capture what the band is like as a group or follow any story line.
We did a lot of research on how to actually make a CD. What became very clear from the beginning, from many sources, was you wanted the CD to be different. So how do you make a bagpipe CD different? We decided that we wanted to do a CD to cover the tunes we played, but also leverage our relationships with some very talented musicians in our area. We also wanted to tell a story. But what story?
We tried many themes including a theme related to our name, Irish Thunder. Eventually we came upon the idea of telling the story of why we play the bagpipes. In digging deeper, this is really the story of all the influences on us collectively that make us love playing in a bagpipe band, the Irish culture, all Irish history, and the modern struggle for Irish independence. We even have a set that we play called An Irish History Lesson. Thus the idea of calling the CD "An Irish History Lesson" was formed.
To do all of this at a reasonable cost, we decided to do our own recordings so we could minimize mistakes, control the sound, the mix and the content. This is all explained in the companion document "The Making of An Irish History Lesson" on our web site irishthunder.org. We researched how to do this. There was a lot of material about recording,but very little about recording a bagpipe band. The popular consensus was to record in an open field. We tried that at one of our concerts but there was too much outside sound and noise that it ruined the experience.
One thing in our favor was, when playing, we all adhere to the beat. We eventually decided and tested recording each instrument and part separately but using a click track to keep us on the beat. This required a lot more time but allowed us to pick and choose the best of each set. We then synced, processed, blended and mixed it together to produce the sound that we thought best represented us. Some might call this cheating, but we have a product that we can be proud of and pass to our kids.
Our band plays many tunes and sets. We decided from this list what fit the name "An Irish History Lesson". The others were recorded, mixed and are available free as additional content:
* Parts of these sets were played on the CD, but are presented here as the band plays them in a set.
In the introduction we wanted to lay out for the listener what we were doing and why we were doing it. Leo Connelly (piper) was selected to do the narration. He has a unique voice that we felt set the stage for the CD. The background tune, the Dark Island, is played by Michelle Maloney (piper). It is a tune that most, if not all, pipers are all familiar with and love.
This band set is played in 6/8 time. It was placed here because it is a proud set of Irish tunes that really sets the tone for our piping. The set consists of:
Father William (Bill) Grogan (piper) said he would like to recite part of the eulogy given by Padraig Pearse at the grave of Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa. This is a glance at the men and women who fought for Ireland's freedom. It has the effect of making the listener understand the struggle. The background piping is performed by Joe Cassidy (pipe sgt.) and Mike Brown (piper). It consists of tunes of the era:
We play this set in every parade and it's often used as we march into the circle when giving a concert.
The Minstrel Boy is a very common tune that most, if not all, Irish pipe bands will play. For many of us it is the very first tune we learn. It's also the first tune in our band set called Irish One. Here we enlist the help of a local Irish singer, Tom McHugh.
It starts with Tom singing over Frank Larkin (pipe sgt.), playing The Minstrel Boy. Andrew Duncan (drum sgt.) provides the lone snare along with Brian Creech (drummer) on the Bass drum. Part one is played up to speed (90 bpm) as we would march to it. The second part starts with the words "The minstrel fell ...", so we slow it down (60 bpm). Only Tom, the snare drum and bass are playing as if it is a funeral march. Tom does a great job in this part starting out slow and somber but ending strong. It is a fitting tribute to the Minstrel Boy.
Amazing Grace is a piping standard. Here Pipe Major Cullen Kirkpatrick starts. He trills the notes to give it a haunting feel. The band joins in on the repeat. Always a crowd pleaser. Many times we see folks crying when the entire band joins in. It is great to be able to get so much emotion from a tune.
Our drummers get in the act with their own set. This is new, but is becoming a favorite. Usually when they complete this, they will roll into our next set called Merrily Danced.
This is another of our band sets. It consists of 3 tunes of varying speeds. This makes it a nice concert set.
We are very fortunate to have Paul Moore from the Paul Moore Band to sing Let Erin Remember. It was his suggestion. Might it be a coincidence this was written long ago by the prolific Irish celebrity for his time, Thomas Moore (1779-1852)?
We had never heard the words to this but have all played it from the moment we started piping. When he came to us with part one, we asked him to go learn part 2 and come back. (Kinda nervy, don't you think!!!)
Fortunately he did come back, bringing
one of his fellow band members, Nick Morolda . Together
they created a beautiful arrangement with no less than 4 guitar voices. We
added pipes in the musical interlude, and at Paul's request we assembled a
chorus group as backup to him singing part 1 again. Now we and you will know
the words, so we have no excuse for not singing along.
This set really says it all about our music. It is obviously American, but written by a great Irish-American songwriter. This is a crowd favorite in concerts and pubs (if we happen go into any).
We decided to include audio clips from the past as they help tell this story. We picked this short clip from the speech given by John F. Kennedy in Wexford, Ireland because it exemplifies Irish tenacity. He was the first Irish-American Roman Catholic President. Many of us older pipers had pictures of him hanging in our homes. This speech is significant on many levels. We hope you agree. The words continue to ring true today.
Here again we engaged a good friend of our band, Sarah Agnew (not a piper). Her unique voice is known to all of us. The song is Suo Gan, a Welsh lullaby. Our influence here was the film Empire of the Sun. We play this as a slow march with seconds. We challenged Sarah to sing the first part in Welsh and second part in English. I assume she thought we were nuts but she came back and clearly delivered. Another talented friend of ours Mary Malone is a wonderful Irish violinist. She provides the music to complement Sarah's beautiful singing. We pushed a little asking her for melody and harmonies. Clearly they both delivered.
We finish this with the band playing our Suo Gan set...
Typically a pipe band will start together and end together. We have been exploring other ways to do this. We are all familiar with Amazing Grace. One piper starts and the whole band joins in. In the first tune, The Bells of Dunblane, one piper starts on his right foot. All the piping is keyed off the right beat while the bass drummer only beats the left. This sets up an interesting syncopation.
Eventually two pipers join in with the first piper on the repeat of the first part. The entire band joins in with seconds on part two. We knew this tune would be one of our favorites when Cullen first brought it to us. It unfortunately has more somber beginnings.
This really is the set that describes our history. All these tunes we have heard many times as we grew up. Here we start it with a poem called "Requiem for the Croppies" written by Nobel Prize winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney. The voices are current and past band members, Lansdale Catholic Students and siblings to get as many different male, female, young and old voices as we could. The last voice of a young girl represents the children that were killed in the massacre that this poem represents. It has a chilling effect, as it should.
Poem voices in order: Sean Murray (president/piper), Gerry Corrigan (piper ret.), Trish Chabaud (piper), Mark Ryan (piper), Jay Murray (piper ret.), Mike Gould (drummer), Danny Martin (piper). Additional voices were siblings and students from Lansdale Catholic High School.
Many of us never thought we would see the day when hostilities in Ireland would end. In April 2014, Queen Elizabeth II of England visited Ireland. In Dublin Castle she gave a speech that included these words. Check out the entire speech to see the reaction of the Irish hosts and guests to her opening remarks in Irish Gaelic.
This is the most challenging set that we play. Again it includes staggered starts, quick fingering, syncopation and seconds.
It is a tradition for Irish bands in pubs and at weddings to end the night with the National Anthem of Ireland. All will usually stand and sing it in Irish Gaelic. We cannot speak Gaelic, but we follow this tradition with an American flavor. We always end our playing with this set. It is fun to look around and see who stands for the first tune. Usually it's a little old man or woman. They are smiling and singing (usually in Gaelic) while some cry.
When we play "God Bless America" all stand and sing.
When we go and play as a band,
we do everything as a band. We often tune in one area and then march as a band
to our starting point. When we are done we stay in formation until we are dismissed.
These are the steps Drum Major Pete Hand
will use to dismiss us. At the end, when dismissed, we turn right together,
Tiocfaidh Ar La Pronounced
"Chuckie Ar Lah", this is Irish for "Our Day Will Come".
This tune has been around for two hundred years in one form or another. It is sung in pubs, parties and funerals. Here we have Sarah Agnew and Matt Brescia (Paul Moore Band) singing along with our band members and friends as the chorus.
It is meant to be fun as if we
went to the pub after we finished recording the CD. (Nothing like that ever
happens.) After the modern ending we included a chorus that was sung back in
the 1800's. It is a very fitting ending. We hope you enjoy it and will sing it the
next time you hear it.
We dedicate this tune to our dear friend Oliver McElhone. God bless you Oliver!
Shusher: Frank Larkin (pipe sgt.)