The Requisite Intro

L.E. McCullough’s Whistle Blog


I’ve been playing the tinwhistle since 1972. Started out learning Irish traditional music, but gradually absorbed other idioms as well.

LOVE this little instrument.

Finally got around to starting a blog about it. Which will be observations about playing the whistle and learning Irish music. Trying to organize thoughts on the inner essence of what mentally happens when I play the thing… and if you play the whistle, you well know things DO mentally happen.

Will try not to be too intellectual or ethnomusicologically intense… (do you realize the amount of caloric energy expended in just spelling “ethnomusicologically”? … probably an extra day of your life depleted…) Can’t promise, though — like the scorpion said when he stung the frog carrying him across the raging river knowing they would both drown, “Sorry, dude, it’s just my nature.” [Stith-Thompson International Folklore Motif-Index K815.6].

Not going to give reviews on whistles or whistle players. Just wanted a space where I can spin out some thoughts I’ve been having the last number of years about this crazy little pipe and the music rolling around my head.

Just stuff I think about the whistle that you might think about, too, if you play it.

And, yes, feel free to respond and even send in your own thoughts on whistlery or Irish music. Probably will publish them if they’re interesting. What have we got to lose?

This is the new landing place for – the Irish music part of it, anyway. If you’re looking for L.E.’s playwriting activities and book sales go here: … you’ll find his public policy/grantwriting/marketing etc. info at

LEMcCullough-2Fead on!

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See Trian This Thursday in Chicago!

SURE WISH I could be in Chicago this Thursday. Cause this:

Not yet skilled in the techniques of psychic bi-location, I will that night be in Burlington, NJ at Third State Brewery sitting in with an amazing singer/songwriter from Australia, Brien McVernon. Which will be pretty darn fun, as well.

But, I’m thrilled to know Trian is performing again, even if for a few shows. Their formation was a very exciting moment in the late 1980s’ Irish Traditional Music world; when I got a phone call from Liz Carroll in September, 1990 (how in the pre-internet days she tracked me down is a kind of wonder) asking if they could record my tune “Not Safe with a Razor” for their debut album on Flying Fish Records, I right away said, Absolutely Yes and Thank You.

The album appeared the next year … “Not Safe with a Razor” was the final tune in the final medley — and they totally rocked it.

Other musicians picked up the tune, and it’s been played and recorded here and there the last number of years … Lúnasa, Padraig Rynne, Noel Sweeney, Teyr, Jez Hellard Djukella Orchestra, Brian Finnegan, Cormac Breatnach & Deiseal, others.

The Irish Times has dubbed it “flippant”; Paste declared it as “triumphant”. It appeared as incidental music in a 2002 National Public Radio segment titled Rev. Moon in Brazil.

(Seriously. THAT Rev. Moon, go figure.)

But it was Trian’s superb recording and stellar reputation that first sent it rippling out among large numbers of ears. Returning the favor, I eventually composed tunes commemorating each of the players:  Liz Carroll’s Fancy, Billy McComiskey’s Reel, Sproule’s Rule.

I’ve always thought they could be played together in a medley – The Trian Trilogy … not sure what the order would be, but maybe this:


Liz Carroll’s own compositions are phenomenal, and if you’re very lucky, you’ll hear Trian do several. Not sure if Billy or Daithí compose, but probably they do. Ask them!

If Trian is in your area (or if they aren’t, but you have mastered the Art of Bi-Location), stop at nothing to hear them live, starting here this Thursday in Chicago.

They’re that good and likely even better than you can imagine.





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The Birthday Jig

PEOPLE AROUND the world keep having birthdays … seems to be built in to the whole life-mechanism thing happening to all of us existing in this current dimension.

For anyone celebrating their Earth Entrance Day, here’s an Irish Traditional Music tune in your honor — “The Birthday Jig” composed by master string player/dance caller Larry Edelman way-way-wayyyyy back in 1979 and released on the Devilish Merry album titled The Ghost of His Former Self (followed by “The Drumshambo Jig”).

I played whistle on the track and feel entirely confident in stating that this is Appropriate Music for the 21st Century.

The Birthday Jig-The Drumshambo Jig by Devilish Merry

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New Book on Irish Music by L.E. McCullough

It’s time … decades of articles, papers, dissertation copies rescued from the nether regions of my dusty file cabinets … now the entire motherlode of Irish Music Knowledge can reside in one comfortable package at 1 Literary Place, Your Bookshelf.

Kindly reprinted from New York Irish


L.E. McCullough started writing about Irish Traditional Music in 1974.

He hasn’t stopped yet.

What Whistle-Flyer 150dpi-trimA new publication titled “What Whistle Would You Play at Your Mother’s Funeral? — L.E. McCullough’s Writings on Irish Traditional Music, 1974-2016″ gathers in two volumes the more than 300,000 words on Irish music and culture the prolific musician/scholar has published in 43 years of teaching and research.

Published by Silver Spear Publications in PDF and paperback formats, Volume I contains Dr. McCullough’s three major academic works — his landmark Ph.D. dissertation (Irish Music in Chicago: An Ethnomusicological Study) and earlier M.A. and B.A. theses (The Rose in the Heather: Irish Music in Its American Cultural Milieu and Farewell to Erin: An Ethnomusicological Study of Irish Music in the U.S.).

Volume II, subtitled “Everything Else”, covers a wide range of Irish music performers, instrument-makers and music events — 122 essays and reviews, journal articles and concert reports, blog reflections, album notes, newspaper features, seminar presentations, whistle-playing tips … and a screenplay.

Though Dr. McCullough’s works have been widely cited by Irish music historians over the years, his 1970s dissertation and theses were never published outside of academia. The bulk of his copious newspaper and journal articles have also been long out-of-print.

“Having everything in a single collection lets readers see how Irish Traditional Music has become a greater part of American culture over the years,” he says.

Trained as a jazz and classical musician, L.E. McCullough took up the tinwhistle in 1972 after spending his sophomore college year in Dublin, Ireland. Returning to the U.S. he became immersed in studying Irish Traditional Music and spent the next few years interviewing scores of Irish musicians, singers and dancers en route to earning an ethnomusicology Ph.D. in 1978.

As a musical performer, Dr. McCullough has appeared on 48 recordings with Irish, French, Cajun, Latin, blues, jazz, country, bluegrass and rock ensembles for Angel/EMI, Sony Classical, RCA, Warner Brothers, Kicking Mule, Rounder, Bluezette and other labels — including five Ken Burns PBS soundtracks (The West, Lewis and Clark, The Dust Bowl, The Roosevelts, Not For Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony) and the Neil Jordan film Michael Collins.

He has composed filmscores for three PBS specials produced by WQED-TV (Alone Together, A Place Just Right, John Kane) and three Celtic Ballets for Dance Kaleidoscope co-composed with T.H. Gillespie and Cathy Morris (Connlaoi’s Tale: The Woman Who Danced On Waves, The Healing Cup: Guinevere Seeks the Grail, Skin Walkers: The Incredible Voyage of Mal the Lotus Eater).

Says Dr. McCullough:  “When I started out, my goal was simple — describe what Irish Traditional Music was and where it came from and take the reader as deeply as possible inside this exciting yet hidden tradition. Everything I’ve ever written is about celebrating the unsung men and women who shaped this music over the centuries and who continue to make it thrive in our time.”

Traveling the country in the ensuing decades, L.E. McCullough continued to write about Irish music and culture for a variety of newspapers, magazines and online blogs.

“Irish music is an intensely intimate tradition,” he says. “As a writer, I’m always looking for vivid insights into the interaction between performer and audience, those fleeting snapshot moments that reveal the Essence of what this music, this culture, this moment is about … and why it matters to me, you, all of us.”

“What Whistle Would You Play at Your Mother’s Funeral?” is a far-ranging tour guide of the many unusual places scholar/performer L.E. McCullough has visited in search of the Irish music grail, and the hundreds of other performers, session-attenders and concert-goers met along the way.

“Somewhere in these 726 pages you’ll recognize yourself,” he says. “And be happy you did.”


What Whistle Would You Play at Your Mother’s Funeral?
L.E. McCullough’s Writings on Irish Traditional Music, 1974-2016

  • Edited by L.E. McCullough
  • 2 volumes, published January 2017
  • Silver Spear Publications, P.O. Box 352, Woodbridge NJ 07095 USA

Volume I: Dissertations & Theses

  • 8.5 x 11 format, 284 pages
  • ISBN 978-0-9970371-4-2 (pdf)
  • ISBN 978-0-9970371-3-5 (paperback)

Volume II: Everything Else

  • 8.5 x 11 format, 442 pages
  • ISBN 978-0-9970371-6-6 (pdf)
  • ISBN 978-0-9970371-5-9 (paperback)


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Three (now 9) New Happy Birthday Tunes

AS OF TODAY, July 2, 2016 Feb. 19, 2017 Mar. 18, 2017,  Apr. 18, 2017, I have composed 175 190 195 original instrumental compositions in (or derived from) the idiom of Irish traditional music.

Here’s the latest:  “Paul Keating’s Birthday”, a snappy double jig in G major.

You’ll notice it has a 3rd (additional) part to it because, of all the people I know in today’s Irish Traditional Music milieu, Paul Keating may well be the:

  • hardest-working
  • hardest-organizing
  • hardest-writing
  • hardest-marketing
  • hardest-dancing
  • hardest-volunteering person in Show Business.

And he calls a great céilí, too. If anyone deserves an extra tune part, it’s Paul Keating.


DURING A recent signing event for my new “What Whistle Would You Play at Your Mother’s Funeral?” book, the subject of composition in Irish Traditional Music came up, and an audience member shouted out:  “My birthday is in August!”

It was concertina stalwart Doug Barr … just 4 days later, he had his fondest-ever birthday wish granted:  a Personalized Commemorative Composition by L.E. McCullough.

It’s just that easy!

Would you like a commemorative tune of your own?  Perhaps for a special friend or family member?

For a small fee, immortality can be achieved!

Email with pertinent details … Operators are standing by!

Covering Any Notable Occasion including (but not limited to) birthday, wedding, wedding engagement, funeral tribute, Sweet 16, quinceañera, walkabout, ordination, graduation, enjoying a great meal, surviving rumspringa, reaching the unreachable star, getting a job, leaving a job, falling in and/or out of love, first body piercing, winning the Nobel Prize — and more!

    . . .     . . .     . . .

While you’re pondering, here’s Doug Barr’s Birthday, a delightful hornpipe:


Adding a birthday tune for Iris Nevins“The Marbling Harp of Iris”


It will sound much better on her harp, certainly. And if the “marbling” term seems odd, well, welcome to Irish Traditional Music naming norms — and go here to see the Marbling Mystery Revealed!


Here are 2 compositions from the last couple weeks, both also in the natalic commemoration genre and composed for Jane Kelton and Frank Curran,
who are 2 outstanding flute players:

“Jane Kelton’s Birthday”


“The Pride of Derradda” (“Frank Curran’s Reel”)


As far as topical areas of the 190 tunes:

  • 43 have been tributes to musicians and performers (Cuz from Castleisland, The Piper Joe Shannon, Fiddlin’ John McGreevy, Freeman’s Tweaking Bluebird, Harker’s House of Happiness, Ms. Traci Lamar, Greer’s on the Rocks …)
  • 19 have celebrated weddings (The Pastor & the Piper, Jason & Cassandra’s Vegas Nuptials, The PinSota Fusion, Acacian Harmony, Marriage on the Monocacy …)
  • 11 have marked family occasions (The Manions of Mt. Laurel,
    Sean Francis Horvay,  Olivia’s Welcome to Terra, The Bonnie Hills of Riverton …)
  • 24 have commemorated someone’s passing (Farewell to Mac McKinley, Birds Sleep Safer on Bellerock Street Tonight, The Wizard of Portobello, Spirit on the Move, Aunt Terry’s Angels …)
  • 16 were inspired by current events (Middletown Meltdown, Tea & Skittles, Humours of Hiroshima, Azadi A’alan, Farewell to Kandolhudhoo …)

And 38  were composed in relation to, hmmm, uhhh … let’s call them Romantic Episodes … Not Safe with a Razor, Last Tango in Tarrytown, Demasiado Corazón, The Catnip Lady from Lubbock, Shoulda Seen It Coming, The Immaculate Deception, Grits & Kool-aid, A Nickel’s Worth of Nothing, The Sporting Lass of Tel Aviv… etc/etc/etc/etc…

Here are three birthday tunes from 2016, and I’m thrilled because they were composed about people who are alive and still playing great music:

The Piper Pat Sky on youtube!

* Larry Edelman’s Birthday Polka

* Knockin’ a Squeeze Out of It (Pete Farley’s March)


“Tones sound, and roar and storm about me until I have set them down in notes.”

– Ludwig van Beethoven

“Irish music . . . it’s the only music that brings people to their senses, I think.”
– Joe Cooley          


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The Blues Have Found Gary Fortine

VERY SAD to learn of the passing of blues musician/78 record collector/longtime friend Gary Fortine in Cincinnati this week …

He possessed a massive collection of pre-WW2 recordings (including several choice Irish/Irish-American rarities) and was a literal “walking encyclopedia” of knowledge concerning American Roots Music …

He played a great blues guitar and harmonica (once gigged with Big Walter Horton!) and was an outstanding human with an indomitable sense of humor …

Made a tune for him just now, “Gary Fortine” … a moderately slow Slow Air – works as a sort of pegleg strathspey, too.

* Gary Fortine – L.E. McCullough, piano

I’ve got rocks in my bed, and I just can’t lay down there no more, no more.
I’ve got rocks in my bed, and I just can’t lay down there no more, no more.
Old rockin’ chair’s got me, and the blues is knockin’ on my door.
— Lonnie Johnson

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Happy Birthday, Pete Ford! (and All of Us in the Magical Mystery 1-in-400 Trillion Club)

beatles-birthdayTODAY, 18th of September, is the day marking the celebratory entrance into this Temporal Planetary Dimension of New Jersey ceoltóir Pete Ford …  in other words, it’s his birthday.

Happy Birthday, Pete!

Here’s a tune to jam on — “The Birthday Jig” composed by master string player/dance caller Larry Edelman way-way-wayyyyy back in 1979 and released on the Devilish Merry LP The Ghost of His Former Self (followed by “The Drumshambo Jig”).

I played whistle on the track and feel entirely confident in stating that this is Appropriate Music for the 21st Century.

SCIENTISTS have calculated the odds of each of us being born at the exact moment and time we were born … to the unique pair of parents to whom we were born … with the precise DNA structure that we and only we possess … as 1 in 400 trillion.

In round zero-type numbers, the odds of us actually being us is 1 in 400,000,000,000,000.

I’m not a mathematician, but I believe that represents far more than a bazillian.

So, for all of us in the 1-in-400 Trillion Club, let’s take time out today to make or hear or think some music.

The Birthday Jig-The Drumshambo Jig by Devilish Merry

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Apocalypse Maybe — One Nite Only!

Here’s a new tune for shutting off the lights … or celebrating the Winter Solstice.

Depends on whether you’re a Glass Half-full or Glass Half-empty type of person … (or a Glass Half-full but with a Leak in the Bottom).

Apocalypse Reel

New York actor/comedian Booth Daniels has sagely pointed out that — if the Mayan calendar has 260 days in a year — the End of the World has already in fact come and gone … and humanity clearly isn’t as important as we think we are, since nobody bothered to send us the memo through proper channels.

Anyhow, enjoy the tune and see you on the Other Side of Wherever.


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