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The Value of Music

An Interview With Brendyn Montgomery

Brendyn MontgomeryBrendyn Montgomery is a New Zealand born Irish traditional musician who plays and teaches the wooden flute, whistle and fiddle. In 2003, Brendyn earned an M.A. in Traditional Irish Music Performance with first class honours from the University of Limerick – the first person in Australasia to do so. His debut album Mountain Air collected the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand’s 2004 Tui Music Award for Best Folk Album. Brendyn records, travels and performs regularly, and is involved with Ceol Aneas in Nelson. Brendyn also designs websites and offers music courses online.

In this interview Brendyn offers his thoughts on growing up around the folk music scene, his development as a traditional Irish flute player and teacher, and shares with us his view of Irish music in New Zealand. This interview was recorded on Thursday July 15 – 2004. Our thanks to Brendyn Montgomery for kindly giving his time to record this inspiring and informative interview.


Shardul: You were born in Dunedin and now live in Castle Hill. What do you like about living in Castle Hill? [Since the time of this interview, Brendyn has moved to Nelson.]

Brendyn Montgomery: For me really it’s the stillness. Castle Hill is not even really a village – there are no shops, no petrol station – nothing! There’s a little collection of houses and about ten of us live there permanently – the rest are all holiday homes. So in that sense, it’s still as there are not a lot of people around. But in a greater sense for me there is tranquillity about the place that I haven’t really encountered anywhere else, and because I do so much travelling, it’s really nice to be able to come home to Castle Hill and relax.

S: Is the proximity of the Southern Alps a factor? I hear you’re a big fan of the mountains.

BM: I just love the stillness. If I could, I would live in a place by the sea where I could see the mountains, but living amongst them is the next best thing. I love the cold and the effort of having to stay warm. Keeping the fires going is very vital; it’s very raw. Most of these experiences have been removed in the society that we live in now.


The Wooden Flute In New Zealand

This article was written by Pat Higgins in 2004 for the quarterly Flute Focus magazine (now an online publication) and is reproduced here with the permission of Flute Focus and Pat Higgins.

The Wooden Flute in New Zealand

Pat Higgins playing a nineteenth century Rudall & Carte fluteThe simple-system wooden flute has been relatively rare in New Zealand; and in comparison to the Boehm instrument, it still is unusual. However, in recent years we have seen a steady growth in interest in this instrument. It used to be that people would say, “but that’s not a flute… ” on seeing a wooden instrument, obviously expecting the Boehm instrument familiar to thousands from school music classes. The increase in numbers of people becoming interested in and playing this instrument has come about as people became exposed to the sound of the wooden flute as part of the enormous world-wide surge in interest in Irish culture over the last ten years or so. (Riverdance, Lord of the Dance, Guinness Tours of New Zealand, etc…)

The wooden simple system flute [also known as Irish flutes] is used almost exclusively for Irish traditional music, (though there may be professional musicians using it for classical performance, as is the case overseas). The author is aware of one musician in Wellington, Barnard Wells, who uses the simple system flute for playing Cuban and Latin music in a band situation. In nineteenth century Ireland, traditional music survived amongst the poor and impoverished; the classical music of the drawing room being the preserve of the rich. In 1831 Theobald Boehm invented his metal flute and sometime after, the wooden instruments it replaced gradually became un-fashionable; thus becoming affordable or at least more available to ‘folk-musicians’. It is not known (at least to the author) when exactly this occurred, but the transition must have been slow as classical musicians would have had to re-learn a whole new fingering system. In any case Irish traditional music formally played on pipes, fiddle and whistle could now also be played on the simple system eight-key wooden flute.


An Interview With Pat Higgins

Pat HigginsPat Higgins is an Irish traditional musician who plays wooden flute, tin whistle and guitar. Originally from County Galway in Ireland, Pat now resides in Wellington, New Zealand, where he works as a computer engineer in the IT industry. Very active in the local Irish traditional music scene, Pat is a regular at the Kitty O’Shea’s sessions on Monday evenings and is a past chairman of Ceol Aneas – New Zealand’s Celtic music school.

In this interview, Pat shares his insights and inspirations concerning the Irish flute, Irish traditional music and life in general. This interview was recorded on Saturday June 19, 2004. Our thanks to Pat Higgins for kindly giving his time to record this inspiring and informative interview. Go raibh maith agat Pat.


Shardul: Would you like to tell us a little about where were you born Pat?

Pat Higgins: I’m from rural County Galway in Ireland – a place called Annaghdown which is on the eastern shore of Lough Corrib. It’s about twelve miles north of Galway city. When I say I’m from Galway people usually say, “Oh, you’re from the city”, and of course I’m from a farm – I’m a farm boy.

S: Did you grow up around music?

PH: Not really. My Mother loved music, but in fact there was no active music in the house at all. My Grandmother, who I didn’t really know, she played the accordion, but I have no memory of the accordion being played in the house. I kind of got into music, well, in Ireland, mostly we were listening to music on the radio. I was twenty-one when I started playing my own music for the first time.


An Interview With Bob Bickerton

Bob BickertonBob Bickerton is a stalwart member of the Celtic/Irish traditional music scene in New Zealand and a past chairman of Ceol Aneas – New Zealand’s traditional Irish music workshops that are held in Nelson each year.

A multi-instrumentalist performer, recording artist, composer, producer and recording engineer, Bob is also a past director of The Nelson School of Music who has encouraged the development of community programmes, with particular emphasis on children’s education. He has performed to over 150,000 students in schools over more than two decades and has received critical acclaim for the quality of his educational programmes as well as his ability to engage children in an inspiring way.

In the development of his personal musical capacities, Bob has studied Uilleann pipes, Irish flute and fiddle in Ireland. He was a founder member of the popular Irish group Gael Force, is currently a member of the exciting six piece Irish band Bana Nua and has performed at most major concert venues and folk festivals around New Zealand for over two decades. During this interview, Bob talks about the development of his passion for folk, traditional Irish and Celtic music, and how a career in the field of performing arts and music events promotion has blossomed alongside his own evolution as a musician. He also talks about the development of the traditional Irish music scene in New Zealand; of the evolution and future of Ceol Aneas, and offers insights into the history and evolution of traditional music in general.

This interview was recorded on Thursday June 14, 2007, two weeks after the annual Ceol Aneas weekend in Nelson. Our sincere thanks to Bob Bickerton – a man of many capacities and a generous heart – for kindly giving his time to record this inspiring and informative interview.


Shardul: Hi Bob – you’ve recovered from Ceol Aneas?

Bob Bickerton: Oh, I think so – just about. It was a full-on weekend, but good – very good fun.

S: A successful weekend?

BB: Oh yeah, it was great! We’ve found a formula that seems to work really well and people really get a buzz out of it. I guess because I’m involved so much, I get a slightly different feel on things as perhaps other people who’re from out of town. But yeah, it was great.

S: Excellent. We’ll get back to Ceol Aneas a little later. Tell us a little about yourself Bob – where were you born?


Spontaneous World Music

Sitar, balafon and caxixiSome friends of ours, members of the Sri Chinmoy Centre in Europe, were gathered together for a weekend of meditation and joy a few years ago. Many of them are accomplished musicians and singers and during the weekend there were many performances of Sri Chinmoy‘s music as well as a number of spontaneous performances.

The piece of music below is a recording of one of those spontaneous moments and it features two musicians, Kanala Auer (an art teacher and sitarist from Austria) and Alap Jetzer (a very talented multi-instrumentalist and instrument maker from Switzerland). Both have been Sri Chinmoy’s meditation students for many years. Kanala is playing a sitar and Alap is playing a balafon with caxixi attached to the strikers. So the mix is an Austrian musician playing an Indian instrument and a Swiss musician playing African instruments – I think we can call that world music!

Please enjoy the spontaneity of our friends Kanala and Alap…


Music and Meditation

“Music transcends the barriers of nations, nationalities and religions. It is through music that the universal feeling of oneness can be achieved in the twinkling of an eye.”
    – Sri Chinmoy.

Have you ever wondered about the realm of spirituality and consciousness and intuition while playing or performing on a musical instrument and pondered on how to get in touch with these capacities more easily? It’s that lovely realm that we sometimes access when we go beyond technique and mind and become one with the music itself, as though we ourselves are an instrument and some beauty that is not our own is flowing through us. Athletes call it ‘being in the zone’ – a rapture of pure consciousness when the mind is free of all thought, constraint, self-consciousness and everything we do flows from some deeper part of our being. The ego ‘I’ that separates musician from music has gone and we have become the music itself.

The artist Paul Klee compared the artist-performer to a tree and wrote,

“From the root, the sap rises up into the artist, flows through him, flows to his eye. Overwhelmed and activated by the force of the current, he conveys his vision into his work. And yet, standing at his appointed place as the trunk of the tree, he does nothing other than gather and pass on what rises from the depths. He neither serves nor commands – he transmits. His position is humble. And the beauty at the crown is not his own; it has merely passed through him.”

How can we gain access to this intuitive and deeper part of our being? Meditation is the easiest way that I know. This is the process where we learn to cultivate an absolute stillness in our mind and body and by gradually mastering any one of a number of possible techniques such as concentrating our awareness on our breath, we can enter into a much deeper and more intuitive part of our being.

My own interest in meditation was greatly heightened when in the mid 1980’s I attended a free concert featuring the musician-composer and renowned spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy. It was at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York city and I had heard much of Sri Chinmoy’s music from a pianist friend.


Inspirational Music Quotes

For some time now, we have been collecting inspirational quotes on music and writing them into a note book. Music plays such a valuable role in this world and we have found it beneficial to ponder this from time to time. We hope that these meaningful words inspire the musician and music-lover in our readers as much as they have inspired us.

“Sound is the force of creation, the true whole. Music then, becomes the voice of the great cosmic oneness and therefore the optimal way to reach this final state of healing.” – Hazrat Inayat Khan.

“For me, music and sound are both the language and underlying architecture of the cosmos.” – Tom Kenyon.

“If a musician wants to become a finer artist, he must first become a finer person.”
Shinichi Suzuki.

“I was obliged to work hard. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed just as well.”
Johann Sebastian Bach.

“Delight must be the basis and aim of this art.”

“Music is an art form that doesn’t need to be explained. It needs to be performed; it needs to be felt; it needs to be listened to; it needs to progress.”
Roberta Flack.