L.E. McCullough started writing about Irish Traditional Music in 1974. He hasn’t stopped yet.
A 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.
Issued this month by Silver Spear Publications, 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.
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 has 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.”