Martin Hayes: Strings from an Interview

Fiddler Martin Hayes now lives in Connecticut, but he was born and raised in County Clare, the son of renowned fiddler P. J. Hayes. Martin first honed his craft in an area known for such musical legends as Tommy Potts, Paddy Fahy, Willie Keane, John Doherty, and Joe Cooley. And he learned those lessons well; he is one of the most-celebrated players of his time, known for mesmerizing concerts that lull audiences through grace rather than pyrotechnics. Here are some snippets of an interview conducted with Hayes in February, Look for a longer feature in an upcoming issue of Celtic Life.

On learning to play through the folk process: The music got in my bones early. It was like my first language…. Growing up in the midst of a community demystified the music and freed me. It was not something I had to ‘work’ on and I never felt I had to get to the bottom of it.

On what makes Clare-style fiddling unique: There’s an effort to play emotionally and this often gives the music a melancholy feel. It also tends to be more lyrical and less driving, with gentle melodies. Even in set dances it’s syncopated without having to go too fast.

On constructing concert sets: It’s my signature to play slowly, but I play fiery material and middle ground tempos to create relief. There has to be opposites… to contrast with regimented and formulated melodies. I look at the comprehensive picture and try to make the music appeal to everyone.

On his long collaboration with guitarist Dennis Cahill: Our longevity and accumulated knowledge of each other’s viewpoint is an advantage. But with Dennis, each tune is totally new thing. He never takes a one-size-fits-all approach; every melody is a new journey.

On what he’s thinking on stage: If things are going really well, nothing at all is in my head; I’m hearing, experimenting with, observing, and feeling the music.

On how his music has changed over the years: On the technical level … I can now play with better intonation, tone, and control of the rhythm, and that I’ve gotten rid of some nervous tics, but now I try to not try to let go of control so I can be available to things that emerge in the moment.

On being an award-winning musician: I don’t want to sound smug, but as soon as I get an award I let go of it. I know that I have a very tenuous grasp on the music. There’s no way to quantify music, and at the end of the day, all the awards mean nothing unless I can get up on the stage and make the music happen.

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