Kevin Rowsome started playing the uilleann pipes at the age of six, taking his first lessons from his grandfather Leo and his father, Leon. During his teenage years Kevin played clarinet and tenor saxophone with the Artane Boys band.
Kevin gained public recognition when he won first prize in the uilleann pipe competition at the Oireachtas, and is widely regarded as one of the today's finest uilleann pipers.
Kevin has vast experience as a performer and instructor of the uilleann pipes, performing extensively and lecturing and instructing at a number of festivals throughout Europe and USA.
Kevin has a number of musical compositions to his name. In 2006 when he won the prestigious Cuisle Ceoil an Bhlascaoid (the musical pulse of the Blasket islands) competition.
Kevin Rowsome & Lorraine Hickey - 2001
Interview for the Seattle Pipers Club (February 2010)
by Daniel Smith & Rod Margason
DANIEL: It is the 16th of February 2010, we are here at the University of Washington (Seattle) and we are going to have a chat with Kevin Rowsome for the Piper’s Review. Thanks Kevin for being willing to do talk with us. So if I may I am going to start out and just ask you some background information. When and how did you start playing uilleann pipes?
KEVIN: I started when I was six years old. I started playing on a practice set with a chanter pitched in "G". It has a similar stretch as a 'D' tin whistle. Leo, and my father Leon actually started on that very same chanter. Leo set me up with this practice set and gave me my first lessons.
As a teenager I played clarinet and tenor saxophone with a local marching band, the Artane Boy’s Band. I used to attend band practice a few evenings a week. I played with the Artane band a few times at Gaelic football and hurling matches at Croke Park stadium in Dublin. I didn't play pipes much during those years. I was in my early 20's when I took the pipes up in earnest again.
Piping tionol in Cornwall - Nov 2007.
DANIEL: Leo Rowsome is your grandfather, and you mention that he gave you lessons when you were a young boy. Do you remember what kind of teacher he was?
KEVIN: Personally I have very fond memories of Leo, always very encouraging and positive. Leo was a very intuitive music teacher. Leo was very conscious throughout his lifetime that there were very few uilleann pipers around, and of these, very few, if any were actively passing it on by teaching. One of Leo's life goals was to bring the uilleann pipes back from obscurity.
ROD: Did you get any pressure to play the pipes from your family?
KEVIN: My parents never put any pressure on me to play. During my teenage year my grandmother, Helena (Leo's wife), used to encourage me to take the pipes up again.
As I mentioned, I came back to traditional music in my 20's, and it took a good few years until I gained confidence as a player and became proficient. People would say to me “O, you’re a Rowsome! you’re Leo’s grandson! you don’t play the pipes?” so it was more external self imposed pressure.
In the mid 1980's I spent some time working in New York. At that time I was just getting back into the pipes and practicing a couple of hours a day. I remember meeting some really well known musicians that would have known Leo, people like Paddy Reynolds, Andy McGann etc. I remember Paddy invited me to call around for a few tunes, I was terrified because I felt that I should have been alot more accomplished at the time!
Kevin, Lorraine and Tierna Rowsome - 2011
DANIEL: Did you ever compete when you were younger?
KEVIN: I did very little competing. I never entered into any Fleadh competitions.
In hindsight, if I had, it probably would have kept my focus on traditional music when I was a teenager. I did enter the Oireachtas competition a few times when I was in my late twenties. After I won I decided to pack in competing!
DANIEL: But you definitely feel that there is value in competing.
KEVIN: I think that competitions are important for children to get to a basic level of playing, ie no timing and fingering mistakes and the ability to do some ornamentation. Competitions keep kids interested in the music and also gives them a goal to work towards.
Kevin, Lorraine and Tierna Rowsome - 2011
My own two girls, Tierna and Naoise play both traditional and classical music and we encourage them to enter competitions. I think that competitions develop their awareness, focus and discipline.
DANIEL: So you mentioned that you were a teenager and playing clarinet and you were learning music theory at that point. And later on you went to college in London for more than just music theory but actually went to learn how to make instruments. Can you tell us a little about your experiences in school?
KEVIN: Yes, I took a career break in the mid 1980's and initially I lived in New York for a few months, the following year I spent some time in Massachusetts. Subsequent I spent a few years living in England. I spent time in the London College of Furniture studying woodwind musical instrument making.
I really enjoyed my time there and met a lot of interesting people and studied different techniques used in making different early woodwind instruments, baroque flutes etc. The tutors at the College were very interested in my uilleann piping heritage.
I demonstrated the reedmaking techniques that my family used. One of the tutors in particular was enthralled with the Rowsome reedmaking technique. He was convinced that this was a missing link in the history of woodwind reed making. In essence this is the "tone chamber" concept that has subsequently been adopted by many of today's reed makers.
CD Cover of recording of the concert in Augusta West Virgina USA in 1997
Kevin Rowsome & Benedict Koehler