Cranford Publications

Langan Book Review

The Life and Music of Chris Langan

compiled and edited by
Paul Cranford, Patrick Hutchinson and David Papazian


Review by Irish piper Kevin Carr, Oregon, USA

for Iris an bPiobaire (Journal of The Irish Piper's Club) Spring 2002

I met Chris Langan in the early '80s, and I remember a charming smile, an air of quiet competence and the great feeling of encouragement that he conveyed. Alas my visit to Toronto was short, and I was sorry to have to leave soon thereafter. Now after reading "Move Your Fingers" , compiled and edited by Paul Cranford, Patrick Hutchinson and David Papazian, I have a real sense of what I missed by not spending more time around this grand gentleman.

Chris 'Kitty' Langan was born in 1915 in Rush, Co.Dublin. He apprenticed with his father, a blacksmith, and while a teenager he took up the highland pipes. He was also fascinated with the Irish language, and spent a summer in the gaeltacht learning to speak it fluently. Chris eventually got a bag, bellows and chanter from Leo Rowsome, and started in at the pipes. In 1958 he moved his family to Toronto, and soon the demands of work and the reed unfriendly climate in his new home took their toll on his piping. He kept at the highland pipes however, helping to found the Gaelic Pipe Band of Toronto. In the early seventies Chris visited Ireland and realizing that the only way to keep pipes going in Canada was to learn to make reeds in the new environment, he spent some time with noted piper and reedmaker Dan O'Dowd. Upon Chris' return he began making reeds, and eventually pipes. He helped found the Toronto branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, and soon found himself at the center of a burgeoning interest in Irish music and piping. He became deservedly known as a generous mentor to new musicians, a welcoming host, and a prolific composer of good tunes.

The editors have done a remarkable job in presenting not only Chris' music, but a loving and valuable portrait of the man, assembled from memories, anecdotes and tributes by grateful friends and musical compatriots. One gets a sense of the depth of knowledge, the generosity of spirit, and the sheer love of the music that Chris both conveyed and embodied.

The musical contents include reels, jigs, hornpipes,marches, highland pipe tunes and airs of Chris' composition, as well as Chris' pipe settings of other traditional tunes. As I played through Chris' tunes, and through his settings of tunes I am familiar with I had the lovely sense of somehow touching his spirit. I particularly enjoyed playing "The Lament for Breandan Breathnach", his tribute to the passing of the great man. Chris understood very well the expressive qualities of the Irish pipes, and his tunes make wonderful use of the chanter's capabilities. They fall to finger easily - though there are some movements that will challenge the novice and experienced piper alike. But the music has a sweet flow and musicality to it. Some of his jigs have a Scottish flavor to my ears - not surprising considering his long association with the highland pipes, but they are still great fun to play. Many of his hornpipes and reels are a delight.

Most valuable are Patrick Hutchinson's contributions on how Chris went about 'honing down' a setting, and his sections on Chris' unique piping style. One is treated not only to challenging and instructive exercises to increase one's repertoire of ways to ornament tunes, but to a way of thinking about ornamentation, along with Chris' own encouraging words allowing that we all will, and by rights must, develop our own styles and preferred ways of playing.

All in all this is a great piping resource and a rich and rewarding glimpse into the music, the life, and the soul of a man who gave so much to Irish piping and to Irish musicians, not just in Toronto, but through this book, everywhere.


The Life and Music of Chris Langan
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last upddate 3/2/03