What Whistle Would You Play at Your Mother’s Funeral?

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 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.).

Buy Book Here!

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 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.”

In the Authors Words
“When you’re young, you sometimes do things just because they seem like “fun”. Logic and reason rarely enter into the process.

Writing a 408-page Ph.D. dissertation about Irish Traditional Music when I was 25 years old was one of those wild’n’crazy things that just “happened” while learning tunes and haunting sessions.

Turned out, the 1978 publication of Irish Music in Chicago:  An Ethnomusicological Study was the first doctoral dissertation on Irish Traditional Music ever written and published in the U.S., Ireland, anywhere. Ever. By anybody. Anywhere.

Either academia hadn’t considered Irish Traditional Music worthy of Ph.D.-level study, or folks just took it for granted and didn’t see the need to lay it out and show its cultural vibrancy and incredible musical sophistication in telling the story of a people and their history.

And here we all are, 40 years later … when Irish Traditional Music is played and heard by millions in possibly every nation on the planet.

It’s been called a landmark document in the field of Irish music research, and I still see it quoted all over the ‘net and in various books and papers. I was just happy to contribute something of value, something others could build on as they forged their own scholarly pursuits in the field.

If you’re interested in reading Irish Music in Chicago:  An Ethnomusicological Study in full, it’s been re-published in a new 2-volume book, buy book here!

And if you’re young and crazy enough yourself, you might just whip up your own dissertation on the subject.

Four decades from now, somebody’s going to have fun reading it, too.”

L.E. McCullough