Music as a metaphor for living: Martin Hayes at Trailblazery event in the Mansion House

Martin Hayes was the first speaker and musician at the Trailblazery event broadcast from the Mansion House on St Patrick’s Day. Before playing he spoke about the power of music a s metaphor for living. This is a slightly edited version of what he said off the cuff, without a teleprompter.

Music is a wonderful metaphor. It teaches a lot of lessons. Now I haven’t learnt the lessons but I’ve observed how they work in the form of music.

I started to play the fiddle sitting across from my father in the kitchen. He would play a few bars and I would imitate that as best I could, trying to figure out where my fingers should go and desperately trying to figure out how this bow could draw a tone from the fiddle that I would even like.

The first years of music were centred around very basic elements likes that, and after I got some control I started on my journey of preserving what it was I was learning from my father, from my neighbours, people around east Clare, old musicians, musicians of fame, musicians that nobody had heard of. My job seemed to me at the time to be to preserve, and that lead me to understand more and more about these musicians as I went on. Many of the musicians were fellas who would be driving cattle to the mart on another day of the week, or tramming hay, yet as they revealed themselves to me, I saw a great subtlety and heart in how they would talk about such things as a plaintive note – one single note in a melody that would be significant. I realised that sometimes their hands didn’t always deliver what their heart felt, but once you were willing to journey towards them to find out what they were saying from their heart then you really heard the music in all its power, and realised the depth of feeling they had to talk about how significant one note in a melody could be.

So I learned a lot about that heart and the passion. It was a great lesson. What I learned was that all I needed to know was around me, very close at hand. I learned more from the not-so-great musicians than from the great ones, which was another lesson. I learned about the courage and the need for freedom, the need to be spontaneous, the need more than almost anything else to be present. I imagine that as music is a metaphor for me in my own life and I attempt to try to live my life trailing after that ideal, I feel there is something in the wisdom of knowing [taking in] what’s all around you and “playing” that, that applies to us in many other aspects of our lives.

Martin then played very simply and briefly three pieces: I think an air written by Peadar Ó Riada called ‘Ceantar Glas Mhúscraí’ (found on the Triúr Arís album), a jig that might be ‘Down the Back Lane’, and the reel ‘My Love is in America’.


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