Tommy Martin took his first Uilleann Pipes lesson from Dublin piper, Mick O'Brien in 1984 at the age of 12. By 1988, with the great help of Mick's tuition and guidance he won his first competition at the Annual Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann (traditional music competition festival), an event run by "Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann", (Literally, traditional musicians of Ireland).
This organisation was founded in the 1950's to promote and foster Irish traditional music throughout the world as well as Ireland.
From his late teens to his early 20's Tommy was very much involved with the work of promoting traditional Irish music by teaching younger musicians in Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann branches around Ireland.
His professional career started in 1996 when he took a job organising and playing at Irish music nights in Irish pubs in Hong Kong.
This led to more work in Asian cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Singapore and Tokyo over the coming years.
Back in Europe, Tommy's talent and experience took him to perform in almost every country.
Performances varied from solo events to playing with 5 piece folk bands. Since then his gigs have as diverse as being an Uilleann Pipes tutor in New Zealand to performing with "Riverdance" in New York to recording with past members of rock band "Thin Lizzy". In January 2004 Tommy had the honor to play a newly composed piece of music with the Chicago Virtuosi Symphony Orchestra.
His first solo CD, "Uilleann Piper", was released in 2000 and Tommy can be also heard on another 12 albums.
Tommy now lives in St. Louis Missouri where he now works for St. Louis Irish Arts teaching Irish traditional music on fiddle, flute and Uilleann Pipes.
University of St. Louis Missouri. Jan 2005
For the European folk music layman, it would be rather difficult to make the distinction between the bagpipes of Scotland and the Uilleann pipes of Ireland. It would be equally difficult for him to tell the difference musically between a 'reel', 'air', or a 'lament'. Thankfully experts and the uninitiated alike were treated to a lively and informative free concert by Dublin uilleann pipes player Tommy Martin in the Music Building on January 20.
The charismatic Martin indulged his audience, giving a thorough explanation of the pipes, as well as their individual parts and functions.
The Uilleann pipes (pronounced "ILL en" in Gaelic) typically consist of a chanter, a set of drones, regulators, and a bag. The piper rhythmically compresses the bag, pushing fixed drone notes through the pipes, and using the chanter and regulators to play melodic lines. The melodies are played simultaneously with the drones, making an alluring and hypnotic juxtaposition of sound.
Martin explained that Uilleann pipes originated in 1700s Ireland, and that their songs were passed on through strong oral tradition, often lending themselves to unique renditions. They often marked Ireland's tragic past (in laments), but also joy and jocosity (in airs and jigs). Often a vital element at celebrations, pipes players would be instructed to play until the dancers were exhausted.
Brief questions were answered, then Martin quickly stirred the audience with beautifully syncopated tunes, including "Leg of the Duck", "Four Knots", "Maple Leaf" and "Blackbird". Certain red-haired ladies in the audience could hardly control the tapping of their feet in unison with Martin's time-keeping heel stomp, marking the pulse for his lively, though sometimes hauntingly midieval-sounding songs.
There were certain moments of contemplation over the sad-yet-oh-so-pretty ululating of his drones, but all were certainly consoled by the alternately fun, flitting, scatting notes of the chanter.
As an added treat, Martin played a couple of short tunes with the irish pennywhistle. The sweetly high pitched songs he played were a welcome addition to the set of pipes classics.
Martin closed with "The Fox Chase". This was a prime example of involved Irish folk music, sonically suggesting a hunter family's heated pursuit of a "red dog." Martin portrayed this vividly, as with closed eyes you could hear the progression from the initial trumpet call, to frenzied horses and dogs, to the chaotic chase through fields and forest, finally the riotous cornering of the fox.
Martin truly gave a lovely musical performance, and there will be more great Irish music to come.
This concert was presented as part of the Center for International Studies' 'Irish Music Today' program.
Check out the artist's website:
1. The Dawn / Buckleys Fancy. (Reels)
2. Sir Festus Burke (Carolan)
3. The Shaskeen / The Flax in Bloom (Reels)
4. Poor but Happy at 53 / Tom Martins Reel
5. Mick Hands Polka / Yannicks Gavotte
6. Jenny's Folly / The Merry Thatcher (Reels)
7. Sir Sidney Smiths March
8. Father O'Flynn / Dinny Delaney's Jig
9. The Jolly Tinker / The Merry Thatcher (Reels)
10. An Clar Bog Deil (Slow Air)
11. Splendid Isolation / The Copperplates (Reels)