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The article below appeared in an April, 2010 edition of Portland's "Neighbors" newspaper and features an interview with Claddagh Mhor's Pipe Major, Tom Ryan. Posted here with permission of the author.

Leader of The Clan
by David Moran

Neighbor Tom Ryan has had a lifelong love affair with the bagpipes and Scottish music. That passion is shared by his dad, his brothers, and his wife, Jodi. Tom says he wants to share this joy of bagpipes with whomever is willing to learn.

When you hear the sound of bagpipes, do you automatically think of Scotland?
Most people do.

Bagpipe Heroes?

According to Tom Ryan, a North Deering resident and bagpipe player, they were used in clan battles. The bagpipe players went first, using their sound to scare the enemy away. Unfortunately, the bagpipers were also the first ones to die.

The venerable bagpipes might actually be decidedly older than most people imagine, although there is some debate about how long they have been in existence. Tom says there are ancient drawings of Egyptians holding instruments that appear to be, yes, bagpipes. But, no one knows for sure.

Tom started playing bagpipes at the age of seven, inspired by his father who had launched a band in New York, where Tom grew up. He and his brothers have played and competed throughout their lives. In fact, one of them has won the World Championship in Glasgow, Scotland.

A Major Part of Tom’s Life

Bagpipes have brought Tom other victories in life, including meeting his wife, Jodi. She became interested in his music, wanting just to understand it initially but eventually took up drums. Tom proudly announces, “Jodi has become a competitive musician in her own right on the tenor drum."

These days, Tom is continuing to pursue his passion with his Claddagh Mhor Pipe Band. The group has eleven active players, four of whom are student-players (two on the bagpipe and two drummers). They made their first public appearance last year at the Portland Expo, playing for the color guard at the beginning of the Red Claws/Celtic night. Tom hopes to reach the point where they can compete in the Northeast region but realizes it will take time, additional membership, and sponsorships.

The Chanter: Like Training Wheels For The Beginner

As far as learning to play bagpipes, Tom emphasizes that it will take one about a year to “get up and running.” Students begin by playing a chanter, or melody pipe, then advance. In fact, he points out, the chanter is something that one will use throughout their career.

“It’s easier to learn new music on the chanter,” Tom says. “And it’s definitely easier on the family to use it when practicing!”

It’s also an inexpensive way begin. “A chanter will run you around $50,” Tom shared. “Bagpipes start at about $1,000.” Given the number of years that bagpipes have graced our civilization, I asked if they were something that people collected. “Not really,” he replied. “You can find some pre-World War II or even pre-World War I bagpipes in the $10,000 to $20,000 range, but if you own a set, you should play them. They are made of wood that require moisture. They tend to rot just sitting on a shelf.”

By the way, Tom is open to sharing his enthusiasm for bagpipes through group presentations, sharing the history and magic of the instrument to students and adults alike.

And if you have an interest in playing in the Claddagh Mhor Pipe Band as either a bagpipe player or drummer, Tom encourages you to contact him.

He welcomes students of any age into his “clan.” Contact Tom Ryan, The Claddagh Mhor Pipe Band, at:claddaghmhor@yahoo.com www.claddaghmhor.com

Jim Duran, Publisher
Neighbors Newspaper
105 Harris Ave.,
Portland, ME 04103
207-797-4915

 

 

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