The following material was kindly provided to me by Jim Taylor, aka Seamus Mac an Tailleur, a musician and Gaelic scholar living in Southern California. He performs in a group called "An Fior Bhlas". I met Seamus a few years ago at the Dunsmuir House Highland Gathering in Oakland. Seamus notes:
I'd like to add a personal note. As a lad, I had the pleasure and privilege to learn from Tom, John, and Canice, in the now almost extinct oral tradition. They were great men, always helping a learner along. They were always encouraging, patient, and kind. I want to thank them all for their instruction and friendship.
I've known Tom over 35 years, as my first mentor in Irish language and music, and my good friend. I want to especially thank him, on my own behalf, and on that of the many students, now numbering easily in the hundreds, who have benefited from his knowledge, willingness to freely share it, and his infinite patience and kindness.
Many times he obtained loan instruments, books, music, tapes, etc. for students, never charging for his services, and often spending money out of pocket to "further the cause!" I recall writing from Vietnam or other foreign posts, asking for some Gaelic song or tune, or a pennywhistle, and getting it forthwith! From all of us; Go raibh mile mait agat, a charadh mhoir!
Tom Standeven wrote: "I well recall that day in July, 1962, in Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare when John Vesey asked Willie Clancy his opinion on Irish traditional music and how it should be played."
Willie Clancy: "The standards are set! As far as fiddle playing goes, you can ask anyone all over Ireland and he will refer you to Sligo. Can you pass the master, Michael Coleman? I haven't many of his records but I heard quite a few and it is the "Ceol Draoichta" as is said in West Clarethe "fairy music"that's what I think of Michael Coleman's music.
The pipes, of course, is another instrument, but they are (the fiddle and pipes) first cousins. The flute is a grand instrument, too. If I were asked to choose my favorite instruments to do justice to Irish music, I pick the uilleann pipes, the fiddle, and the concert flute. I don't know what you boys think, but those are my three. I won't say anything hard against the other instruments, but those are the three to do justice to it.
"Micín" Coleman, as they called him, I think, was the "boss." Some fellows have tried to improve on it or change it but by God, they never will, nor I hope......
Now, we have the piper, Patrick Touhey, the American, Chicago, but we are proud to say that he was horn in Loughrea, Co. Galway, went to America at the age of four years. I had some records of "Patsy." He was a "citeog" (left-handed) like m'self, but, by God, I think no better man ever handled the chanter.
We have two men here today, John Vesey, ... and who is my other friend here?"
John: "Tom Standeven."
Willie: "By God, they uphold the prestige of the Old Country in every corner of the world. We are very proud to have them here in Miltown."
John: "Thank you, Mr. Clancy. It is a pleasure to meet you and to hear a man play the pipes like you play them. Not alone does he play the pipes but he plays a wonderful fiddle, and he is a traditional man all the way down the line, and hates to hear the Irish music spoiled as some of our friends are spoiling it today. 'Tin pan alley' boys."
Willie: "I heard a man say something one time, and I think it was very wise: he says that jazz was the folk music of the Negro before it became "tin pan alleyed". That is what is happening to our Irish music today - that's a very sad case. You have men taking up their fiddles and just because they got a classical knowledge of the fiddle, they try to apply that classical knowledge to folk music which is a sacrilege. They can play Italian* music too, but they try to put Italian touches into the traditional Irish fiddle, and it's a catastrophe, in my opinion!"
* (NOTE: i.e., "classical", the old term for which was "Italian"FJT)
John: "Mr. Clancy, I thank you for your comment on that particular point."
Willie: (In answer to a question from Tom on the origins of Irish music) "Well, like most folk musics, it comes from the soil. What people sang when cutting the hay and cutting the turf, their sorrows and joys. It is not something you get from somebody who came back from the U.S.A., or came hack from England; it isn't a borrowed thing. It is something that Mother Nature gave us and unfortunately, some have gone astray from it."
John: "Is that the way it should be kept?"
Willie: "Good God, of course! Can anyone copy from Mother Nature?"
John: "Would you like to see it kept that way?"
Willie: "By God, there is no more staunch a supporter than I for that! ' I don't like to see it given the "new look." When that happens, God help us!"
John: "You say yourself that they are trying to give it a new look today,are they?"
Willie: "Well, they are, but it is not in ignorance or on purposebecause I don't blame the people so much from the cities. You know you can take the man from the bog but not the bog from the man or something like that.
It is an awful thing to see a man giving his own impressions of Irish music when he has no real background for it, you know? Somebody takes up an instrument after a couple of months or a couple of years and says; "This music needs a 'permanent'!" (As in a beauty parlor) ...What do they call that beauty? ...'raise your faces' (i.e.; a 'facelift'"), or something like that? That's the wrong impression altogether. You understand what the roots of the music is? It came from the songs, the old Irish songs: Casadh an tSugain (Twisting the Hay Rope) and An Caisideach Bán (Fair Cassidy). I think a lover of Irish music should also be fond of what gave it its root. That's the Gaelic songs and all that sort of thing. That's my impression of it, anyway."
By the way, the above is the lead article in the newly published CD of John Vesey's music. It is now available at $25 from Gael Force.
I also enclose some info on the CD & bios:
"Without doubt, this recording of the work of a master fiddler is long overdue."T. L. Standeven.
This excellent double CD is a true "labor of love", issued by John's old friend, student, and musical partner, Thomas L. Standeven, one of America's senior uilleann pipers, from field recordings made between 1954 to 1975, and features some of the great men of Irish music in America in their heyday.
The collection honors one of the finest Irish fiddlers of our time. Most are solos by John Vesey, the late, great Sligo fiddler, though other luminaries are also featured, including Martin Wynne on fiddle, the late Eddie Cahill on flute, and the late Michael McIntyre on flute and piccolo. Less well known, but equally worth listening to, are the late Peter Canice Fahey on flute and penny-whistle, and Thomas L. Standeven on uilleann pipes and fiddle. Of the group, only Martin and Tom are still living, and only Tom is still playing and teaching.
The tenor of the recording is set at the beginning of the notes by an interview with the late Willy Clancy in 1962 in Co. Clare. This was at a time when the first stirrings of an Irish music "revival" were being felt, and the beginning, with John Reidy's work, (perhaps better known as "Sean O'Riada"),of a fundamental restructuring of the music itself. John Vesey asked Willie Clancy his opinion on Irish traditional music and how it should be played. I will quote a bit of it:
Willie Clancy: "The standards are set! ...Can you pass the master, Michael Coleman? ....it is the "Ceol Draoichta" as is said in West Clarethe "fairy music" ...You understand what the roots of the music is? It came from the old Irish songs: "Casadh an tSugain" (Twisting the Hay Rope) and "An Caisideach Ban" (Fair Cassidy). I think a lover of Irish music should also be fond of what gave it its root. That's the Gaelic songs and all that sort of thing."
After "setting the standards", we are treated to a tremendous rendition of the old music played the old way. Vesey, a student of Michael Gorman's, and a follower of Michael Coleman and Paddy Killoran, plays beautifully in that great old West Ireland style still found in parts of Clare and Sligo, and even in America, (by such greats as Joe Murtagh), at least where it has not been "face-lifted" by doubtless well-meaning "improvers".
There are 42 selections, many of them "sets", and the playing is superb. You can follow the growth and maturation of John as a player, as it has extensive liner notes referring not only to the tunes, but the times and circumstances surrounding them. It is one of the features that makes this a "must-have", not only for the musical content, but the historic and archival nature of the recording. It is a bench-mark for serious students of the music, a permanent reminder of how the music should be played, and a treat for those who love real Irish music, the music of the country and the Gaeltacht, the "hidden" Ireland.
There are many tunes not commonly heard, as well as better known pieces, ranging from lively reels (Bonnie Kate & Killoran's; McFadden's & Music in the Glen; An Sgeach; Fermoy Lasses; Lord Gordon's Reel & many others) to jigs (The Miller of Glenmire & Joy of My Life; Old Man Dillon; The Butcher's March and more) to a Set Dance, The King of the Fairies Rinnce Fada (Long Dance)... the list goes on! John's incredible expertise, drive and "lift" are clearly heard, as well as his mastery of the "Gaelic in the Fiddle"
The CD finishes with the soul-wrenching "An Raibh Tú ag an gCarraig?" (Were You at the Rock?) a haunting Fonn Mall (Slow Air) from Penal Times, rendered by Tom on the uilleann pipes, a most fitting tribute to the memory of his departed friends and fellow musicians.
As a lad, I had the pleasure and privilege to learn from Tom, John, and Canice, in the early '60s, in the (now almost extinct) oral tradition. They were great men, always helping a learner along. They were without exception encouraging, patient, and kind.
At that time, the old music looked to be on the way out, especially the pipes. John, Tom and the lads, among others in Ireland and America, kept it alive, and transmitted it in the ancient oral tradition to those of us who were willing to learn. It has since been passed on to many others by John's students and "Tommy's lads and lasses".
The recording is not perfect. It is a digitized version of old reel-to-reel tapes, made informally in homes, and played many times. However, the genius of Larry Czoka, the sound engineer at Good Vibrations/RJR Digital in Bonita, CA, has cleaned-up and greatly improved the sound quality. Overall, it is crisp, clear, and clean, and the music comes through clearly.
As with the other music I recommend, there is nothing of the modern heredon't expect the " New-Age Celt", rock/jazz/fusion that is all the fashion, or the commercialized garbage issued by the "gold chains and chest hair" crowd that has high-jacked Celtic music and culture.
This is just good, old-fashioned, Irish music, played by working men in their spare time, not Celt-Rock "gurus" and show-business types. But it is the real thing. I hope that those fortunate enough to receive this treasure will prize it for what it is.
le gach durachd math,
John Francis Vesey
by Thomas L. Standeven, Jr.
John was born on April 21, 1924 in Ballincurry, near Tubbercurry, County Sligo, Eire. This rural area in South Sligo was well known for its grand Irish music on fiddle and flute. He grew up among some of the finest traditional musicians in Ireland, at a time when the music was still part of the way of life. As a child, he heard many of the best-loved tunes being lilted or hummed by his mother, Anna, as she worked about the family farm. His first fiddle lesson was given him by his father, John, Sr. An old friend of the family, Michael Gorman, offered to teach him some time after. Gorman was a master fiddler and possessed a powerful bowing style which best brought out the drive in the old Sligo dance music. A demanding teacher, he gave young John the basic bowing and fingering method required to play the many difficult tunes he was to later master.
After World War II, John emigrated, first to England, and later to America, settling in Philadelphia, PA, near relatives. In America he fully developed his fiddling style. He followed the two Sligo masters, Michael Coleman and Paddy Killoran. However, John retained the basics he'd received from Michael Gorman, and eventually developed his own style, while remaining true to tradition. John's music reflects the strong influence of the uilleann pipes. Many of the nuances and tones he brought out of his instrument were originally piping movements.
He soon became well-known in New York, Boston and Chicago, as well as Philadelphia, performing at Irish dances, house parties, radio broadcasts and on television. Often, he played in his own home with friends. In 1957, John decided to teach fiddle, offering his skill to anyone who wished to learn. I was one of his students. Today, there are very few who practice the intricate bowing and fingering which was his hallmark. John continued to teach the fiddle up to the final years of his life. As a teacher, he was the best, and his standards were of the highest.
John was also a strong advocate of proper comportment for musicians, expecting them to always be a credit to the people we represent as traditional players. Such was expected of anyone who would learn from him. John passed away on Feb.22, 1995. Ar Dheis Dé go rabh a anam uasail. (At the Right of God be his noble soul.)
Thomas Lawrence Standeven, Jr.
by Seamus Taylor
Tom was born in Philadelphia, PA, in 1931. He began music studies in school. He enjoyed church choir, especially Gregorian chant and the pipe organ. He also became interested in Greek and Turkish folk music at this time. He has maintained his interest, and has an impressive collection of music from these area, and the Balkans. He speaks Greek, Turkish, and Armenian, as well as some of the languages of the Balkans.
At 17, he became acquainted with Irish traditional music. Station WTEL in Philadelphia began broadcasting live musical programs featuring Austin Kelly and his All-Ireland Irish Orchestra. He began what became a life-time of Irish musical and linguistic learning.
In 1949, he began learning the Irish language, later getting instruction from Mickey Carr (Donegal) and Frank O' Hagan (Derry) beginning about 1951. He earned the "Fáinne Óir" (Gold Ring) from Conradh na Gaeilge, signifying fluency in Irish in 1961.
He began lessons on the button accordion from the late Dan Smith of Galway in 1954. In 1957, he began learning fiddle from John Vesey, and that Fall, began learning uilleann pipes from Thomas Busby of Fermanagh. His "piping lineage " extends back through Mr. Busby's teacher, Michael Carney, to the great "Patsy" Touhey, Touhey's father and grand-father, and on back over 200 years. In 1958, he began learning the tin whistle, and later the flute, with help and encouragement from the late Ed Cahill.
In 1963, he began teaching Gaelic and uilleann pipes, first at home, and later at the Commodore John Barry Club (Irish Center) in Germantown, Philadelphia, PA. In 1969, he competed at the Oireachtas (Irish cultural competitions). He won the "Craobh-chorn Éamoinn Uí Cinneide ar son Piobaireachta Uillinne Sinsearachta", (Eamonn Kennedy Award for Senior Uilleann Piping). Tom was the first American to win this award. Martin Ó Tailtigh, adjudicator, later told Tom that the tune that "clinched" the award was "An Raibh Tú Ag an gCarraig?" (Were You at the Rock?), a haunting air from Penal Times, learned from the playing of Seamus Ennis. (This is featured on the new CD featuring the music of the late John Vesey, the great Sligo fiddler.)
In addition to his many Irish instruments, Tom has and plays a collection of bagpipes and other instruments from other countries, including Macedonia and Bulgaria.
Tom has been little known outside uilleann piping circles, for several reasons. He has always been a "private" man, a working man with little interest in "show business", or self-promotion. Tom was always in it strictly for the love of the music and language. He took them up at a time when there was little popular interest in either, and it seemed as though the pipes might die out within a generation or so. Also, Tom has seldom been comfortable playing in public if he doesn't know the people he's playing for.
This unfortunately has caused some to reckon his skill lightly, especially among some who aspire to be "experts" on the music (now that it's popular). The best I can say of his detractors is that most have less than zero knowledge of the Gaelic language or its music, and are, at best, "technicians".
Tom's expertise is well known to those of us who are fortunate enough to count him our friend, and is amply displayed in the (too few!) piping selections on the CD mentioned above, issued to memorialize his friend and mentor, the late John Vesey, Sligo fiddler.
In addition to his musical abilities, Tom has a phenomenal mastery of the Gaelic language. His repertoire extends to both songs and poetry. I have heard him quote, at length, from the works of 16th century Gaelic bards, or sing Gaelic songs from Ireland, Scotland, and Nova Scotia, often learned from the native singers.
He also has a great body of knowledge about Irish music and musicians, snippets of lore and stories, which really should be recorded, as I believe some of this information is known to him alone.
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