On Sunday, May 15th, Cillian Vallely, the uilleann pipes and low whistle player of the renowned Irish band Lúnasa, will join Moroccan Gnawa master Samir Langus, accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Matt Mancuso, for an exciting performance at Flushing Town Hall. Read on for some great insights Cillian Vallely shared with us about his craft and musical journey.
Meet Cillian Vallely
How did you get your start with music?
My parents are both Irish traditional musicians, and so I learned directly from them. My father is an uilleann piper and my mother is a fiddler. They are teachers also and for over 50 years have taught classes and run a music school in Armagh in the north of Ireland.
You have experienced success with your band and have also ventured out as a solo artist. What is your favorite part about being in a band, and what do you enjoy about playing solo?
I find playing in a band to be very enjoyable musically and quite low-pressure performance-wise. I enjoy the interaction of players and instruments and the blend of melody and harmony. You also tend to play much bigger gigs and festivals with a band and do gigs that aren’t solely for world/traditional music audiences. Playing solo means small concerts for traditional music audiences where there is no arranging and it’s much more intimate. It’s certainly more pressure individually as there’s no one to collaborate with and lean on. You have to create the program of music yourself, but that also gives you the freedom to play exactly as you want and it can be very rewarding when you do it well. There’s a lot less organizing too!
There are many different forms of bagpipes. What makes the uilleann pipes unique?
Uilleann pipes have been around for over 200 years old but they are quite a sophisticated bagpipe compared to most others. They have 2 full octaves, have most of the semi-tones, and have quite a range of sound and tone, especially compared to the Highland bagpipes. They have one aspect which is totally unique – the regulators – which produce another layer of harmony in addition to the drones which play octaves of the same note. You can actually play 7 notes at the same time, chanter notes along with 3 octaves of the drone, and then play 3 different harmonic notes on the regulators. It’s hard to play all the parts physically but there’s an amazing and very unique sound when you play all the harmonies together, somewhat akin to a church organ.
Do you have any new projects on the horizon?
It’s been a quiet couple of years, but I recently played a concert in Boston with a great Irish fiddler Oisin McAuley and a jazz quartet. This was a debut for this music, and we hope to do it again soon. This summer, I will do a collaboration with The Fidelio Trio, a great classical trio based in London. It involves new music being written by a series of composers for uilleann pipes and classical trios. The traditional band I play with, Lúnasa will go on the road again in the summer for some festivals in Ireland, France, Sweden, and Canada. Recording-wise, I recently recorded with the great Natalie Merchant and in traditional music, I’m trying to finish a recording project that I started a few years ago with a great fiddler from Ireland David Doocey.
Join us for our next Mini-Global Mashup on Sunday, May 15th when Ireland meets Morocco at Flushing Town Hall. Purchase your in-person tickets HERE. $15/$12 Members. Those unable to attend in person can RSVP here to watch the livestream for free on YouTube. Donations are greatly appreciated.