Comments on Volume I 
by Jerry O'Sullivan

I first became acquainted with the music of Mr. O'Farrell through the unfailing generosity of New York uilleann piper Richard O'Shea. Richard kindly provided me with photocopies of all the O'Farrell collections: the four Pocket Companions and the National Irish Music tutor with its accompanying tunes. The idea behind this recording came from a long-held desire to make a solo uilleann piping CD, the most challenging task musically for any uilleann piper. My instant attraction to the music of the O'Farrell collections made it clear to me that this was the music that I would feature on the recording. 

What struck me initially about this music was that it was both very familiar and logical stylistically, yet somehow different from the majority of today's popular Irish and Scottish traditional dance music. In particular, the melodies themselves very frequently took unexpected twists and turns compared to many of the tunes that are currently in the tradition. Also, it struck me that there was an older, simpler approach to multi-part tune composition. Specifically, most traditional Irish and Scottish dance tunes have a two-part form. In the O'Farrell collections, there are many tunes with more than two parts and it becomes obvious that the further parts are well-written variations that complement the original two themes. 

Another obvious point is that the material from Mr. O'Farrell is very clearly uilleann pipe music, though some of it is virtuosic by today's standards. I was also attracted to the diversity of the repertoire in these collections; Mr. O'Farrell in many ways collected and performed the hit tunes of his day. The majority of the pieces are Irish but there are many Scottish tunes, some English ones and a good number of strongly baroque-flavored melodies. Some of these baroque-flavored pieces are the most challenging pieces in the entire collection due to their expanded melodic range and extensive use of chromatic notes. Another baroque influence is the inclusion of several duets for the uilleann pipes. This was a standard practice in classical baroque music; it afforded an ideal opportunity for a teacher and student to practice and to perform together. It was a common feature in other 18th century classical music tutors and collections. 

Mr. O'Farrell's work parallels other 18th century manuscripts in both the Irish, Scottish, and English traditions in that one finds a body of traditional folk music interspersed with "folk-baroque" fusions. O'Carolan's compositions and English Country Dance Music from Playford's Dancing Master are two examples of folk music forms strongly influenced by the Western Art Music style of the day. The same phenomena took place in the French court of Versailles in the late 17th and early 18th century; there was a conscious blending of the pastoral with the courtly in music and other art forms. 

For this recording, I focused on pieces from the O'Farrell collection that were clearly more from the folk tradition (rather than from the "folk-baroque" genre) as these tunes are more effective as solo uilleann pipe pieces. Baroque-influenced melodies normally need the harmonic underpinnings of harpsichord and cello to make them breathe properly (a future volume in this series will focus on the more baroque-influenced O'Farrell repertoire). 

My only criteria for selecting tunes for this recording was that they be representative of the variety of the collection itself in addition to being personally appealing to me melodically. It was then a case of arranging medleys that made good musical sense. In terms of the uilleann piping approach to these O'Farrell tunes, I treated most of them as pieces of dance music. Since Mr. O'Farrell writes of only tenor regulator usage in his tutor, I used a more sparing regulator style in terms of using primarily single regulator notes against the melody and drone rather than using two-note regulator chords that are standard practice today. 

It is my sincere hope that this recording will encourage others to explore the O'Farrell collection more fully and hopefully bring back into the living tradition more of these musical gems, many of which have lain dormant for close to 200 years.