ILLEANN piper David Power has played with some of the top names in traditional music and appeared on stages all over the world, from Broadway to the Sydney Opera House.
But it was only two years ago that the 44-year-old decided to take the plunge and become a professional musician. Power, from Coolnasmear in the foothills of Waterford’s Comeragh Mountains, has followed a winding path to a full-time career in music. He has a degree in biotechnology and worked in industry in Waterford city for 10 years before moving to the US in 2003 with his wife, who was working as a designer for Waterford Crystal.
“When I was there, I was going off every weekend performing around the country; I was in a Broadway show [Eugene O’Neill’s A Touch of the Poet] with Gabriel Byrne. I also recorded two albums on the Claddagh record label, which was a feather in the cap. That period gave me some notion that I was a bona fide musician and that others thought so too.”
When Waterford Crystal closed, Power and his family returned to Ireland and he retrained as a primary school teacher, working in a school in Kilmacthomas for five years before making the break to become a professional musician in 2015.
Power is the main mover behind the Dungarvan Summer Music Festival, which will have its inaugural performances in the Waterford town this weekend. It was born out of a 1916 centenary-themed event called Love, Loss and Rebellion, which was held in the town last year.
“We sold all the tickets and Waterford Council were so impressed, they asked us to consider making a weekend festival from it,” says Power.
He has used his extensive contacts to bring a slew of high-profile performers to Dungarvan, including dancer Colin Dunne, singers Maighréad and Tríona Ní Dhomnaill, fiddler Martin Hayes, and guitarist Dennis Cahill, as well as acclaimed baroque ensemble Camerata Kilkenny. Power will also be participating in various performances at the festival. There will also be free public sessions on Waterford’s new Greenway.
Power came to play the uilleann pipes through the intervention of Professor Aloys Fleischmann in UCC. “There was a man from Youghal called Jim Horgan who was deputised by Prof Fleischmann to go into West Waterford and do a survey of musical awareness in the schools. When they came to my school, I was the only kid that played; so when I played the tin whistle for him, competently and capably, he decided I was going to become a little piper and that was the way it started.”
Power went on to be taught by some of the top pipers in the country but unlike many of his cohort, he did not go on to study music full-time.
“Funnily enough, I seem to be the only one working in music now. I’ve done it backwards in a way,” he laughs. “Many of my friends had careers in music for a while when they were young and carefree and didn’t have mortgages and children; whereas I did the mortgage and children and kept my head down, and when I was getting to the other side, I made the decision to go professional.”
Power also teaches the uilleann pipes and says the instrument has been growing in popularity in recent years.
“Uilleann piping has always been healthy in west Waterford; my first piping teacher was Tommy Kearney, from Dunmore East, and he would have been one of the people who saved it from extinction, because there were serious questions about it post 1900 to about 1960.
“Him and a number of key families, most of them up the east coast, they kept it alive, families like the Rowsomes and the Potts and the travelling pipers. Now, piping is cool and hip. The Pipers Club in Dublin, na Píobairí Uilleann, are doing great outreach work. I would say it is in very good shape, but I still think the best quality piping comes down to an individual. At its best, it is a very individual thing, just like singing.”
- Dungarvan Summer Music Festival runs from August 4-6; www.dungarvansummermusicfestival.com. Tickets are also on sale at the Wine Buff and the SGC cinema in Dungarvan.