By Andrew Bova
The second movement of Antonín Dvořák’s 9th Symphony will likely be more commonly known to pipers as the theme of the tune Going Home, which I’ve been called on to play at funerals on a number of occasions. This theme, while frequently thought of as a folk song, was actually borrowed from Dvořák 9 by William Arms Fisher, a pupil of Dvořák’s, who wrote the lyrics in 1922, long after the composition of the symphony in 1893. As I was a classical musician before I was a piper, and had experience playing Dvořák’s 9th Symphony, I was initially familiar with the tune from a classical perspective but did, in time, come to know it equally as a pipe tune. The divide, and at times union, between my roots and life as a classical musician and my life as a piper are things I’ve considered extensively over the course of my PhD. Recently, I had the opportunity to talk about my schoolboy musical roots in my American hometown as a part of a fundraiser for the arts in my community. ‘Going home’, a tune that exists simultaneously in both the classical and piping traditions, seemed an appropriate title for this blog.
Also, I actually did go home.
About six months ago, I was approached to help a campaign for the arts in my home town of Perrysburg, Ohio as someone who came through the Perrysburg School System’s music programme and went on to pursue a professional career in the arts sector. The idea was to cite the influence my public school education had in supporting my long-term professional career. While my experience in American public schools was a classical training (I was trained as a flautist) and my career has evolved to focus primarily on traditional music, I still appreciate and give much credit to the musical education and experiences I received in school, as the principles of musicianship tend to cross cultural boundaries and the values of hard work and practice most certainly do.
As luck would have it, I found myself in a last-minute and fortunate position to take a much needed trip back to America to visit with my family last month. Jeff Abke, son of my 2nd grade teacher and the gentleman heading up the Perrysburg Schools Campaign for the Arts, caught wind of this and asked if I would be willing to do some PR for the campaign. Naturally, I agreed and it was decided that I would give a public recital, as well as a talk and a few tunes for the 3rd grade class at my old elementary school. It also meant I had to keep my pipes going while away on holiday as the competition season is right around the corner! Of course, this resulted in a few impromptu living room recitals at friends’ houses while traveling around to visit with friends and family, as well as piping at my mom’s church (she’s a pastor) for one of the services. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that when you take your pipes on holiday, leisure trips can quickly become pseudo gig trips. But it’s also a great opportunity to share traditional music with people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to experience it.
The turnout for the recital was as good as could be expected given the last-minute nature of the trip. About 50 people showed up, a mix of old school friends, local pipers (yes, believe it or not, there is a small piping scene in northwest Ohio), and community members who heard about the concert and were simply curious to see what it was all about. I gave a short 45-minute recital featuring a mix of traditional and modern tunes, including a rendition of the Cabar Feidh MSR, which I use in recitals for non-piping audiences to demonstrate the difference between marches, strathspeys, and reels. As professional musicians, I think it’s our responsibility not only to entertain, but to educate our audiences when possible. It can also be a way to bring some levity to a recital. Did you know G.S. MacLennan said it was nearly impossible to play The Jig of Slurs twice through with no mistakes? That’s why I only ever play it once. I also took the opportunity to play a set of tunes by friends of mine, featuring An Gnocchi Beag, which I wrote, Gordon’s Thing by Ryan Canning, The Squirrel Herder by John Mulhearn, and Bova’s by Scott Wallace. I’ve included a clip of these tunes, but unfortunately the video ends before my eponymous tune was played:
The following day I went to my elementary school to answer questions and play my pipes. It was my first time back in the school in as long as I can remember, and I do remember everything being much larger! The students listened to my playing with rapt attention and asked questions you would expect of eight-year-olds, i.e., “Why are you wearing a skirt?” and “Are you Irish?” But some of the kids asked thoughtful and curious questions about how my pipes worked, what kind of music I played, and how I got into piping growing up in Perrysburg. One girl asked what my favourite part about going to Frank Elementary was. I replied that I really liked my teachers, asked them if they liked their teachers, and immediately panicked because if they replied, “No” I was afraid I would have a riot of 75 angry children on my hands. Fortunately, the answer was a resounding yes!
This trip home was an interesting one. I’ve played loads of recitals and gigs on my visits home over the years since I moved to Scotland but this one forced me to consider and discuss my musical roots. While my career moved away from classical music, playing flute, conducting choirs and orchestras, and generally being involved in the classical scene, I’m still thankful for the opportunities that I had growing up to study a wide variety of music. They have shaped the way that I listen to music and influenced the path of my career, which has taken me to The National Piping Centre and Glasgow. Early childhood music education is hugely important and I encourage anyone reading this to support music education in schools wherever you are. Write to your local government and demand music be taught in schools, make a donation to The National Piping Centre or the Perrysburg Schools Campaign for the Arts, or encourage your own children to pursue music. Be actively involved. Who knows, it may result in a future career in music for someone else.
• Andrew Bova is a PhD candidate at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, where he researches competitive piping from 1947 to 2015. He also works part-time for The National Piping Centre as their Administration Officer, plays in Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band, and is a solo competitor in the CPA.