Updated: Jun 7, 2022
It's interesting when I realised that most of my musical references in traditional Irish music are fiddlers, even though I'm a flute player. I always get inspired and learn new tunes by listening to recordings of Liz Carroll, Kevin Burke, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Frankie Gavin and especially Martin Hayes. There's something about these fiddlers that fascinate me and that, even though I also have several other flute references, they haven't been as constant in my life as the names I mentioned above. For this and other reasons, as soon as I saw the news that Martin Hayes was releasing a book about his experience in the musical journey, I ran to the bookshop to secure mine. And what a book!
I had no idea what to expect from Shared Notes. I didn't know if it would be something more technical and extremely direct from a musical point of view or if it would address other things. The book is basically an autobiography of Martin. As he says at the beginning of the book, in a conversation with his current wife at the beginning of their relationship, they had a conversation about marriage and she said "But I don't even know who you are!" - and he replied - "Do you like my music? Well that's all I am!"
But for those who has just arrived in the Irish music world and doesn't have a clue of who I'm talking about, I'll give you a little introduction -
Born in County Clare, the fiddler Martin Hayes is one of the greatest references and a renowned musicians in traditional Irish music. His most recent projects are The Gloaming, Martin Hayes Quartet, Martin Hayes with Brooklyn Rider and his newest Martin Hayes + The Common Ground Ensemble. In my opinion, listening to his music means deeply feeling what Irish music means and carries through generations. And you don't have to be an expert in the style or in music in general… just listen thoughtfully, and you will see it's all in there. It's not just about the technique or the repertoire that Martin picks, but the way he is telling the tune, in a timeless way. Even with The Gloaming, which has several musicians from different backgrounds or just the duo with Dennis Cahill, their melodies always have the same intensity and expression.
Martin comes from a traditional Catholic family and always had music around him. His father PJ Hayes was also a well-known fiddler in the region for playing with the famous Tulla Ceilí Band, which Martin has also participated when he was a young lad. In other words, he always witnessed the “real” traditional music very closely.
Like many other artists who come from families of musicians, we tend to think that their lives has always been a bit easier for having a “golden cradle” and godparents who helped in the artistic trajectory. Not that I thought that clearly about Martin Hayes, but every time I've had the opportunity to see him play I had the image of success, seeing that majestic posture and unparalleled confidence on stage. But reading the book I learnt that it hasn't been always like this and even our "heroes" go through many similar situations we go through. Even though he was born in the mecca of traditional music, Martin had to go through a lot to get to his current sound, even moving to another country for about 26 years.
For the reality of the 70's and 80's, living on traditional Irish music was something unimaginable (not even for those who lived there), Martin had several non-music jobs - he even set up his own business selling lunchboxes! Can you believe it? He gave up university in Limerick and migrated to the US hoping for a better life than the one he had living on a farm in the Irish countryside. In Chicago, while working in constructions and exchange runner, he managed getting some gigs as a musician, but he was never satisfied with his sound. Not for playing badly, but for not finding his true voice. He went through all sorts of bands and pub gigs that weren't necessarily the ones he dreamed of, attending the necessity of playing anything to satisfy drunken crowds and pub owners, living in financial straits to pay his rent. He even broke his fiddle on his bandmate's head because he couldn't take the fact of "playing for playing" anymore. Deep down he always knew he had more to show the world and that there was something inside him that he hadn't discovered yet. Passing through several interesting stories, some funny and others a little tragic, he also tells how he met his greatest stage partner and friend Dennis Cahill. The duo still work together to this day and complement each other in their different styles.
In addition to telling all of his journey and all his musical collaborations, Shared Notes also addresses his political and spiritual side, in which they were very important in the whole process of his musicality. It's interesting to see how things changed and matured as the years went by until he became the great Martin Hayes we know nowadays. Reading this book got me closer to this musician that I admire so much, perhaps because I go through similar experiences and see that even the musicians who inspire us also get frustrated and also have their moments of glory. As well as opening my ears to another point of view of traditional Irish music.
Unfortunately, I believe that there is still no translated version of the book into Portuguese and that it is even more difficult for Brazilian friends to find it. But I highly recommend it to everyone who has the opportunity, both musicians and non-musicians.