[feather_share] March 12, 2015
Séamus Pender is a vocalist who sings folk songs and Irish music. I visited him in his office at Franklin Pierce University, where he is a Senior Lecturer in the Humanities Department. His recounting of becoming a musician, and his approach to performing, were filled with humor and an obvious joy in bringing music and folklore to his audiences.
Séamus was raised in Clinton, Massachusetts, which has a large Irish population, and remembers his singing debut in second grade. “I needed a party piece for St Patrick’s Day at my school,” Séamus recalls, “and my Dad taught me the Irish classic Molly Malone.”
Growing up, he became attracted to folk music in the 1960’s. He started playing in coffee houses in the area and was contacted by Scottish singer Billy Carson, who asked Séamus if he wanted to go to Chicago to sing folk songs. “We went for three weeks and I discovered there was an Irish pub circuit so I learned every Irish song I could.” He came back to the Boston area and played in such pubs as Plough & Stars and Purple Shamrock, and soon was touring fulltime throughout New England and in Washington, D.C. His travels included Key West, Lake Tahoe, Nashville and New Orleans.
Séamus views songs as a reflection of the culture and history of a particular time or group. When he was on the road would visit libraries to research different music styles, a time consuming labor of love before the internet made such efforts easy. “Once I was asked if I knew James Connolly and I didn’t, so I researched it. I didn’t just want to know the song of someone, I wanted to know their story. And I continued to love the research of music and its history.” During his performances, Séamus shares the background stories of his selections.
Séamus can perform over 1000 songs, accompanied by his twelve string guitar. “I was never a purist. I will sing folk, Irish traditional, and popular Irish American. I am more of a song and dance man.” In the Monadnock region he plays at Waxy O’Connor’s and has performed at the Inn at East Hill Farm for 25 years. Occasionally he performs with Eileen Moore Quinn, a linguistic anthropologist with a specialization in Irish culture. I asked Séamus about popular requests and he explained that his audiences loosely fall into two groups: those who like the traditional Irish music, and those who like popularized Irish American songs. When I asked him about popular requests, he said these also fell into two groups. Lovers of traditional Irish songs, which includes jigs and reels, often ask for Wild Rover and Whisky in the Jar. Those who want to hear popular Irish American music, which is often an older crowd, ask for Shel Silverstein’s The Unicorn (popularized by The Irish Rovers). While noting that some might take exception to considering the latter Irish music, Séamus mused, “Some people take music too seriously, some people don’t take it seriously enough. Some of us take it with just the right amount!”
Séamus will be playing at Waxy O’Connor’s in Keene from 11:00 – 7:00 on St Patrick’s Day with Eileen Moore Quinn. He will also be at McNally’s in Westminster, Massachusetts on March 15 from 2:00-6:00.
As we finished up our visit, I asked Séamus about what he saw as a highlight to his career. “I don’t really have any,” he replied. “Every venue is Carnegie Hall. For every performance I play like it is New Year’s Eve.”
To learn more about Séamus Pender, visit his page on Creative Ground.
What is Monadnotes?
Monadnotes promotes live music opportunities in the southwestern New Hampshire area. We list musicians, venues, community ensembles, and events in Keene, Peterborough, Milford, Henniker and surrounding towns, as well as in the greater Connecticut River Valley and Pioneer Valley regions. Monadnotes has the most complete calendar listing of events and continues to expand. Contact us to be listed on our website.