Pipeline The First Unitarian Universalist Church (part of the Music For Robin series),
Arlington, Massachusetts, USA, 13 January 2006

If you enjoy bagpipe music as well as Celtic music in general, then you're likely to enjoy Pipeline. If, on the other hand, you think you dislike bagpipe music, you should definitely give this group a try anyway. Pipeline, the duo of Dermot Hyde and Tom Hake, features Dermot playing uilleann and Scottish small-pipes. Both are more amiable instruments than the more-famous Scottish Great Highland bagpipes: in Hyde's hands, they are quieter, less nasal, and blessedly well-tuned.

The tunes were from all over the greater Celtic world, including songs from Galicia, Scotland, Ireland, and Brittany. Both musicians are technically excellent -- and they know it. On one Scottish tune, they played whistles in unison down to the crooking of their fingers. It was impressive, but it was also showmanship that had nothing to do with the music, really, and left an impression of polite, restrained playing that only cracked into excitement near the end.

Their showmanship is polished from the clever mic arrangements, to patter, to body language during the songs, and even to the extent of mildly heckling an audience member (who relaxed into heckling them back -- they never did answer her question but they did dedicate the encore to her). It turned the concert into a warm intimate winter evening in the lovely wood-and-soaring-ceiling of the church's sanctuary.

Their showmanship was also evident when Dermot switched to or away from playing the uilleann pipes. Getting into and out of the pipes is a bit involved, what with the belt and elbow straps, but between banter and misdirection, it never held up the show. Dermot also played low and high whistles, with some especially lovely playing on the low that evening. Tom played guitars, bouzouki, great harp, and whistle. Both switched instruments often in the middle of a tune. In the most extreme case it was comical: until Tom demonstrated, I wouldn't have imagined that a fellow could sit at a great-harp, with a guitar on his lap, and still have room to play whistle.

Dermot and Tom also sing. For most performers, voice comes first and all the other instruments are accompaniment, but Pipeline treats voice as just another instrument, of equal or less importance than the others. The words were often unintelligible (partly because of the language) although the harmonies were delightful.

As a part of the Robin Blecher Celtic Arts, Inc. (RBCA), a.k.a. Music for Robin series, this group had to prove it had the chops to live up to this well-respected musical series. With a little more passion, it could have been an evening of great music. As it was, Pipeline gave us a pleasant evening of excellent playing.

Vonnie Carts-Powell

Here are the links to the official site for Pipeline and Music for Robin
for those who would like further information on the group or the RBCA series.