the uilleann pipes at the age of six, taking his first lessons from his grandfather Leo and his father, Leon. During his
teenage years Kevin played clarinet and tenor saxophone with the Artane Boys
Kevin gained public recognition when he won first prize in the uilleann
pipe competition at the Oireachtas, and is widely regarded as one of today's
finest uilleann pipers.
has gained vast experience as a performer and instructor of the
uilleann pipes, performing extensively and lecturing and instructing at
a number of traditional music festivals throughout Europe and USA.
As well as his own debut recording "The Rowsome Tradition", five
generations of uilleann piping in 1999, Kevin has recorded and performed over the
Kevin also has a number of musical compositions to his name. He gained
wide recognition as a composer in 2006 when he won the prestigious Cuisle
Ceoil an Bhlascaoid (the musical pulse of the Blasket islands) competition.
& Lorraine Hickey - 2001
Seattle Pipers Club (February 2010) by
Daniel Smith & Rod Margason
It is the 16th of February 2010, we are here at the University of
Washington (Seattle) and we are going to have a chat with Kevin Rowsome
Piper’s Review. Thanks Kevin for being willing to do talk with us. So
if I may I am going to start out and just ask you some background
information. When and how did you start playing uilleann pipes? KEVIN:
I started playing when I was six, I started on a small
practice set with a chanter pitched in "G". It has a similar
as a 'D' tin whistle. Leo, and my father Leon actually started on that
very same chanter. Leo set me up with this practice set and gave me my
a teenager I played clarinet and tenor saxophone with a local marching
band, the Artane Boy’s Band. I used to attend band practice a few
evenings a week. I played with the Artane band a few times at Gaelic
football and hurling matches at Croke Park, the GAA stadium in
Dublin! I didn't play pipes much during those years. I was in my
20's when I took the pipes up in earnest again.
Leo Rowsome is your grandfather, and you mention that he gave you
lessons when you were a young boy. Do you remember what kind of teacher
KEVIN: Personally I have very fond
memories of Leo, always very encouraging and positive. He was a very
intuitive music teacher.
evident that Leo was very conscious throughout his lifetime that there
were very few uilleann pipers around, and of these, very few, if any
were actively passing it on by teaching. One of Leo's life goals was to
bring the uilleann pipes back from obscurity,
ROD: Did you get any pressure to
play the pipes from your family?
My parents never put any pressure on me to play. During my teenage year
my grandmother, Helena (Leo's wife), used to encourage me to take the
pipes up again.
I mentioned, I came back to traditional music in my 20's, and it took a
good few years until I gained confidence as a player and became
proficient. People would say to me “O, you’re a Rowsome! you’re Leo’s
grandson! you don’t play the pipes?” so it was more external self
the mid 1980's I spent some time working in New York. At that time I
was just getting back into the pipes and practicing a couple of hours a
day. I remember meeting some really well known musicians that would
have known Leo, people like Paddy Reynolds, Andy McGann etc. I remember
Paddy invited me to call around for a few tunes, I was terrified
because I felt that I should have been alot more accomplished at the
DANIEL: Did you ever compete when
you were younger?
KEVIN: I did very little competing.
I never entered Into a fleadh/comhaltas competition.
hindsight it probably would have kept my focus on traditional music in
my teenage years if I had. I did enter the Oireachtas competition a few
times when I was in my late twenties. After I won I decided to pack in
DANIEL: But you definitely feel that
there is value in competing.
own opion is that competitions are important to get to a basic level of
playing, ie no timing and fingering mistakes and the ability to do some
ornamentation. Competitions keep kids interested in the music and
also gives them a goal to work towards. After that, competitions are
largely subjective and down to the particular musical taste of the
judge on the day, and that, in itself can have the opposite effect in
saying that, my own two girls play both traditional and classical music
and we encourage them to enter competitions. I think that the
competition scene also fosters a strong sense of awareness, camaraderie
focus and discipline, especially in early life.
So you mentioned that you were a teenager and playing clarinet and you
were learning music theory at that point. And later on you went to
college in London for more than just music theory but actually went to
learn how to make instruments. Can you tell us a little about
your experiences in school?
Yes, as I mentioned earlier, I took a career break in the mid 1980's
and initially I lived in New York. I also lived in Massachusetts.
Subsequent I spent a few years living in England. When I was based in
London, I applied to the London College of Furniturie to do a course in
woodwind musical instrument making.
really enjoyed my time there and I met a lot of interesting people and
studied different techniques used in making different early woodwind
instruments, baroque flutes etc. As you can imagine, the tutors at the
College were very interested in my uilleann piping heritage.
agreed to demonstrate some of the reedmaking techniques that my family
used. One of the lecturers in particular was totally blown away by the
tools and the method that we used. It was very different from to the
approach that was commonly used nowadays. He was convinced that this
was a missing link in the history of woodwind reed making. In essence
this is the tone chamber concept that has subsequently been adopted by
many uilleann pipe reedmakers.
DANIEL: And of course Rowsome pipes
are some of the best in the world even today, and they are still very
KEVIN:Yes, they are still
very sought after. If I had a dollar for every time that I was asked
about Rowsome pipes, I could retire!
father, William made mainly narrow bore, flat pitch pipes. He also did
alot of research and development into wide bore concert pitch pipes.
Leo was very fortunate to have spent a number of years working under
the guidance of William.
his credit, Leo acknowledged that he learned everything from his
father, William. There are recordings of an interview with Leo where he
refers to people coming up to him and complimenting him on his
pipemaking and what he has done for the instrument. Leo would reply by
crediting his father for the knowledge that he passed on to him and
enabling him to continue the family tradition.
of the more interesting sets of Willie Rowsome pipes that turned up in
recent years, included a multi page handwritten booklet, titled
Instructions on playing the Uilleann Pipes by William Rowsome of 18
Armstrong Street, Harolds Cross, Dublin ". It really brought it
home to me how much time and effort that went into the whole process.
After completing the set by hand on a treadle lathe, long before there
was any electricity of course. William would have handwritten this
lengthy instruction manual and include it with the package.
was amazed with the amount of detail in the tutor. William goes into
many different aspects of playing the pipes, fingering charts, how to
get into the high octave etc. Clearly these instructions formed a very
solid foundation for Leo's uilleann pipes tutor, published in 1936.
ROD: Do you still have Leo’s
KEVIN:Yes, I have the pipemaking tools. Over the generations a lot of the
reamers, some hand forged and even some old bayonets, customised to
work as reamers were accumulated.
ROD: If you were to describe Leo’s
playing, if you were to describe the Rowsome style. How would you put
it into words yourself?
general sense of the Rowsome style probably would be thought of as
Leo's piping style because he is the most documented. I think it
would be accurate to categorise Leo’s style, especially in his later
life, as a relatively open style. Leo
did play for the popularity. He had to make a living at it and his
playing was very popular throughout the country. Over the years, I have
had hundreds of people recount to me how they would make their way to a
house in the locality who were lucky enough to own a "wireless", and
listen in to Leo's regular radio broadcasts.
I dont think there is any such thing as "The Rowsome Style" per se,
because there were so many Rowsome pipers and they all had individual
Francis O'Neill referred to William Rowsome as having a stacatto style,
while my father played in a more legato style, but with a different
regulator style from Leo.
There are reference's
to Tom Rowsome, Leo’s brother's playing as having a more imaginative
regulator style than Leo.
ten years ago I was lucky enough to interview Josephine Rowsome, the
last surviving daughter of John Rowsome, who would have been Willie
Rowsome’s brother, who immigrated to Canada. Josephine recounted her
memories of the famous travelling piper of the time, Jemmy Byrne
visiting the house regularly. Her mother would wash his clothes for him
and feed him and put him up for a couple of days. And he would play
pipes and swap tunes with the family. She said that they all had
a lot of respect for his musical ability.
they emigrated to Canada, she said that her father would play from time
to time, but no professionally. She had memories of him playing
O'Carolan type pieces. I am not aware of any particular references
about his piping style, but O'Neill refers to him being held in high
esteem for his ability to get a great tone from the pipes.
DANIEL: Well let’s switch gears and
talk about your piping style.
I never consiously tried to copy anybody else's style. My
philosophy is that if there is something that impresses me or if I like
something I try to incorporate my interpretation of it into my playing.
So when you are developing your own style over time, is there a
particular method that you like, or is it a hodge podge. For example do
you listen to recordings or play with other people to develop style?
KEVIN: Em, its quite varied. I dont
have a "formula" or anything like that.
When I got back into
traditional music in my 20's I was more taken in by the more clever,
technique focused playing.
over time I came to value the spirit behind the music much more than
note perfect playing without feeling. I am much more drawn to
playing where I get a sense of the musician drawing the music
along with their mind. i.e. the sense that the musical instrument is an
extension of the musician. There are plenty of musicians that exibit
that ability. Some of my favourites that come to mind are Bobby Casey,
Denis Murphy, Paddy Canny, Mrs Crotty and Johnny Doran.
I would like to think
that my own style is evolving all the time.
tionol in Cornwall - Nov 2007.
Cover of recording of the concert in Augusta West Virgina USA in 1997
Kevin Rowsome & Benedict Koehler
Folk Festival 2001
& Lorraine Hickey (1998).
& Leon Rowsome c.1983
Kevin, Leon Rowsome &
Con Durham (Dingle, c1989).
Con took lessons from Leon when he lived in Dublin, he later moved to
"The Ace and Deuce of Piping" Concert in the National Concert Hall