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Guest Post: Influences of a Flute, Tin Whistle and Fiddle Player

This is a guest post following last week’s post on Irish song and dance.


My name is James Chan. I’m a 19 years old Chinese guy living in Singapore.

I am a budding Irish trad musician. I play the Irish flute and tin whistle, and I’m just about to start on the fiddle. I started in end-2008 after watching a video on Youtube of someone playing the uilleann pipes and the tin whistle. I got my whistle in December that year, and was introduced to the rich, living and breathing Irish music tradition by a friend, who learnt the music through the way that many of the old greats did – by ear.

The Early Recordings

That friend introduced me to a number of old greats – pipers Felix Doran, Willie Clancy, and fiddlers Neillidh Boyle and Dennis Murphy. Many of those recordings were old and playback quality isn’t very good and many of the old players like Sligo fiddlers Paddy Killoran, Irish-American Michael Coleman and James Morrison had a deep style of the 40s era, which is quite unusual as compared to modern tastes. But I knew that these recordings contain the essence of the music; the pure drop.

Recording of Felix Doran.

Riverdance and Lord of the Dance definitely brought Irish folk culture to the world, and have shown us all how wonderful it can be. But I count myself privileged and blessed, that despite being in Singapore on the far side of the planet and that I would be more exposed to the modern sights and sounds, I am able to savour Irish folk music the way it was played for a long time – before the age of the internet and jet airlines. Since at the heart of the music is the dance, the music is rhythmic and we should celebrate the very quality that makes the music unique – its rhythm, and that’s very noticeable in the older recordings.

Davy Spillane playing the uileann pipes as part of Riverdance.

I stand by my opinion that the best way to learn all that is by ear, especially because there isn’t really a trad culture in my country. Thus, all musicians whom I’ve listened to on my iPod are my favourites, and have influenced me one way or another. However, there are a number of musicians whom have left a huge mark on my playing.

My Influences

The first musician I listened to was flute player Michael Tubridy. A former member of Ceoltoirí Chulainn and a founding member of probably the best trad group ever – The Chieftains. Born in Kilrush, his Clare style is just irresistible. It shows to me that Irish music can be simplistic, yet heart-touching and is full of flavour and rhythm. He is one of those musicians who stayed true to the old style, despite being in a professional touring band.

Tommy Peoples, a fiddler, had a life marked with many ups and downs (he left  school when he was young and traveled to Dublin to work in the Gardaí – the Irish police force), and through a TG4 documentary made about him in the video below. In it, you can really see his life experience shining through, and through his playing you can see how these experiences have humbled and mellowed him. From Donegal, he spent much of his musical life in Clare and elsewhere. As such his playing style contains little nuggets from the many styles he was imbued with, but is still ultimately Donegal.

Tommy Peoples documentary on TG4.

Though I like the Clare fiddlers like Paddy Canny, Sean Ryan, John Kelly, Junior Crehan amongst others, since I play the flute, the most influential flute music for me came from the Sligo region. The very first time I heard Sligo-Roscommon style player Seamus Tansey on the flute, my breath was taken away. His pace is fast, but still full of texture and nuance. As a Roscommon player, he and Roger Sherlock is known for the more elaborately ornamented playing.

Seamus Tansey playing the flute.

Eventually, I moved on to learning more about Kevin Henry. From Coleman country, he eventually moved to America. Unlike most the flute playing we are used to, Kevin Henry plays in a heavy, pulsing rhythm. You can see his playing on the below video. This style makes the musical phrasing stand out strong, and is a refreshing style against the usual, more stringy and melodic playing. Kevin Henry’s style influenced me the most in my flute playing, as I feel it defines me the best. Also, did you know that both Kevin Henry and Seamus Tansey also taught Michael Flatley the flute? Michael is a fantastic flute player too, and was a winner of a few All-Ireland flute titles.

Recording of Kevin Henry playing the flute.

Music’s Further Reaches

Through my process of learning the music and having a feel of authentic Irish folk culture, I gained an interest in other areas of the folk tradition: dancing, singing (especially sean-nós singing), story telling and especially, the language. It is difficult to find Gaelic teachers in Singapore (even Scottish ones), and I’m hoping to be able to learn the language formally one day, but for now Bitesize Gaelic Lessons are great for me.

Finally, my dream is to participate in the Fleadh Ceoil one day.

Thanks all!
— James

Please feel free to leave a reply or a question for James below.

24 thoughts on “Guest Post: Influences of a Flute, Tin Whistle and Fiddle Player”

  1. Hi James, are you still playing the Irish flute and tin whistle?
    I’ve been looking for Irish music enthusiasts and never really thought there were any in singapore at all..! I have my own Irish flutes and tin whistles, and would love to share what I currently know about the instruments, as well as learn more about improving my technique.

    Hope to hear from you soon!

  2. hi james,
    i would like to pick up the tin whistle too. is it only abvailable online, or is there any shop in singapore that sells this? Really appreciate your help in getting started. regards, Chloe.

    1. Hi Chloe,

      You can get Susatos from a shop in Novena. Visit http://www.promusique.com/ for more information. Prices start from $64 for a D whistle.

      I suggest getting Generations. They are supposedly ‘hated’ on by others on the internet but I find them cheap and very, very good. You can get them over the net from http://elderly.com.


    2. Chole, it appears that they have moved to Tampines, so look out for the new address on their website, which is still not ready.

    1. Fair play, James! Nice tune you played during the interview.

      Those two last links that you pasted in don’t work. Perhaps you could email me the links, and I can insert them.

      Hope you’re liking your time in Clare.

  3. Hi, I have been searching high and low for Irish music but to no avail. Does anyone know any performance held in Singapore?

  4. hello james chan. nice post u got here. well, i play tin whistle and uilleann pipes here in KL. my tin whistle is a Feadog brand. anyway we can have a whistling practice if you want! since i live only 300++ kilometres away from your country.haha take care mate! Faliq Auri, KL Malaysia ….faliqauri@gmail.com

  5. Hi James, thanks for your post. I am Singaporean and live in Singapore. I am presently learning the concert flute and also trying out tin whistles…but I can’t seem to find anyone teaching tinwhistle in Singapore or where I can go for some formal lessons. You know anyone/school teaching tinwhistle?



    1. Further to my recent post, I am now in Singapore and am looking very hard for a fellow Tin Whistler or someone to practise with. Based on their website I thought Prince of Wales (POW) Pub at Boat Quay may have been help, so I went there this afternoon.Irish there did her best, but couldn’t really help me. I would be interested to play Irish, Scottish or English folk music with other whistlers or other instruments and a such have with me quite a lot sheet music scores. How about it? I can e contacted on email pmurphysg@hotmail.com or mobile 82637293

    2. Saw your post. Would be happy to meet up for some penny whistling. For contact info see my other posts on this site. Hope to hear from you and/or any other Penny Whistlers.

  6. Hello James,
    As a penny whistler myself, I really think you have done a great job of your website. I came across your while searching for someone to session/practise with while I am in Singapore.
    Yes, at 70 I am probably a lot older than you, but I play with a couple of groups/ and join in sessions here in Devon England. Alkl ages and all instruments too.

    I will be in Singapore to see my family from 9th Dec to about 15th Jan. I lived and worked in and out of Singapore for many years, so am familiar with things there.

    Would very much like to hear from you and get together with other folk music players/sessions you know of. I have can quite a lot of sheet music – Irish, Scottish, English tunes.

    Incidentally, you might wany to let me know if anyone needs a D Penny/Tin whistle – I like Generation or Clarkes Sweetone the best. I could bring one or two easy enough.
    Look forward to hearing from you sometime. Incidentally, I was in Singapore for the Christmas season last year too. had to practise entirely on my own- couldn’t find a soul to play with- so I hope for better luck this time.

    Best wishes
    Patrick Murphy


  7. Hey! It’s awesome to see a fellow s’porean who enjoys celtic instruments too. I personally love them very much but ironically none instruments I play are in this genre. Haha, but I would like to get a tin whistle on my own and learn it. Which key do you recommend for a beginner? I’ve browsed through the web that you posted earlier on where you purchased your whistle but the prices seems ridiculously cheap for an instrument. Is that normal for a reasonable good tin whistle to be under $20? 😀

  8. wow! had no idea there was a fellow itm enthusiast around this neck of the woods! XD i play whistle/flute too, if you ever come to malaysia, (kl to be more precise), i’d love to meet up, play some tunes! good for you! itm is such a joy to play, to listen to, to live and breathe. do you know C&Fer eldarion by the way?

  9. Hey Achint,

    Glad to here from a fellow Singaporean.

    I got my first whistle from my friend. Eventually I purchased my other whistles from http://elderly.com.

    You can get Susato whistles from Pro Musique at Novena. Visit http://www.promusique.com/ .

    I still prefer cheaper Generation whistles by the way, which is still cheaper with shipping than getting Susatos here, where prices start from $64.

    If you are new to the tin whistle, visit http://chiffandfipple.com to learn more.

  10. Hi James! This was a really informative post!
    I actually just got into the Tin Whistle a few days back after having picked up the ocarinas almost a month or so ago. I love both instruments to bits and am trying to learn more and more about them each day. Needless to say your post has got me looking up a LOT of new music and for that I am really appreciative =D.

    I was actually wondering, where did you get your Tin Whistle from? I’m in Singapore too and well, I’ve found zilch over here these last couple of days.

  11. James, a chara,

    go maith raibh agat for the post! And I join Eoin. As soon as possible, please 🙂 .

    I especially like that it is also spoken in Irish.

    You’ve done quite a research, J.! Bravo, hat’s off…

    Go n’éirí leat!



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