My wife Deborah & I a few years back. I have hair now and less go-tee.
The task of writing your own bio, at least for me, is an arduous one. First, it seems a bit self indulgent, second, being a chronic perfectionist, I’m never happy with my writing and third, is anyone really going to read this?
Well, for those of you who just want a quick bit about who I am and what I’m up to, here’s the short of it…
I was born in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to an industrial engineer / designer father and a sportscaster mother. My dad, Roger is the guy that came up with the Rear Window Louver (a.k.a. “Chastain Shadow”). My mom, Jane was actually the first woman sportscaster, broadcasting for many years with CBS until a later move to ABC. You may remember her from her syndicated show “Everything You've Always Wanted to Know About Sports But Were Afraid to Ask”. Mom transitioned into being a much sought after political commentator while dad left the grind of managing 100+ employees at Chastain Inc. to developing products for the automotive and model aviation industries from his home-based design studio.
About a year after I was born, we moved out to southern California, eventually settling in the Hollywood Hills so that dad could be closer to the aftermarket automotive industry and mom could continue her work as a sportscaster. I grew up there until moving away for college.
Mom & Dad were star parents and were always supportive of my various interests. It was my father that got me into flying remote controlled (RC) airplanes at about age 6 and he helped with most (if not all) of the building-duties when I started competing with rc sailplanes at age 13. My mom’s writing abilities no doubt rubbed off which led to me writing a few articles for RC Modeler Magazine during that time.
My parents also had me pick a sport & a musical instrument when I was 6. I used to watch a lot of tennis so I picked that as my sport. I really wanted to play guitar but the folks being influenced by a piano teacher friend, thought I should take up piano first instead. Looking back, I’m glad I had the piano background, but as most kids do, cried my way out of lessons when I was 13. Around that same time I also transitioned from tennis to long distance running and BMX racing.
I attended a jr. high school that overlooked the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. I was a pretty shy kid at that point and had a hard time fitting in at first, especially since I came in halfway into the school year (6th Grade). My only real acquaintance initially was a kid named Rich who was charged with the task of showing me around the first day. One day while eating a sack-lunch, I noticed an RC sailplane, circling overhead and was amazed at how it stayed up without need for a motor. I remembered that my father used to fly an RC glider when he had his plant in Long Beach and that he still had it, though a bit busted up, hanging from the ceiling in his shop. After a bit of arm-twisting (not that much really), my father agreed to bandage it up and take us flying. To my surprise, Rich (the kid that showed me around school) was out there that afternoon flying a glider! We fast became best friends and spent most of our free time either at the field or behind our workbenches.
With the support of my father and all the flying with Rich, I progressed very quickly as an RC pilot. The Chastains, being über over achievers, decided to have me give a try at flying in the RC Soaring Nationals that same year. A long story made short, I came home with a bunch of wins and finished out the year on the front cover of RC Modeler Magazine.
I finally picked up the guitar in high school when I was 15. At first I dabbled but when my guitar teacher told me he wouldn’t teach me anymore unless I started taking my lessons more seriously, I progressed much more quickly (duh…) and really started to enjoy it. After playing a bit, I found myself in a couple rock bands, which whet my appetite for music as a career. I remember really confusing my high school guidance counselor with whether or not I should choose the music or aeronautical engineer path as I was still winning RC soaring competitions at the national level. After a recruiter from Berklee College of Music showed up to the school, my fate was set and after graduation, I moved straight to Boston.
As great an experience that Berklee was, I was a bit burnt out and disillusioned after finishing up my first year. I don’t think I touched my guitar that entire summer. I still wanted to pursue music but I think being exposed to so much musically really did my head in. Being practically minded and knowing that I didn’t want to be in school the rest of my life, I decided to finish what I started. After much soul searching, I found that I had a natural ability in songwriting and excelled at it. I finished out my time there with a BA in Music Business with guitar being my principle instrument.
Songwriting & Music Business naturally led me to Nashville. I got my start working for a small music publisher and later moved on to artist management, all the while doing a bit of songwriting and performing on the side.
It was in Nashville that I met my wife Deborah. We met at a free David Wilcox concert that was held downtown by the Cumberland River. I think we were the only two that were up front singing all his songs word-for-word. Wilcox had been a big influence on my music up to that point. Turns out that she was a good friend with the friend that I came with and as such we were soon introduced. Another long story but made short, we were married a year and a half later. One thing to know about Deborah is that she is an exceptional singer. You’ll hear her singing on some of the mp3 clips of my hymn compositions on this site.
Wanting to take my music more center stage, I quit my day job at the artist management company I was working for and started teaching guitar privately from our home while managing and playing guitar for folk artist Katy Bowser. Deb also performed with us, singing background vocals for Katy. Between teaching and performing I stayed fairly busy.
As much as I enjoyed teaching, I knew that I wanted to take my music a bit further (whatever that means). One evening while smoking our favorite pipe tobacco (Green Hills Blend) at a wine bar with my friend Gabe, we asked each other the question: “What would you do tomorrow if you had a million bucks in the bank?” I said that I would always want to grow both musically and in my faith. I think it was Gabe that helped me to see that I might find a fit working for a church as a music director. So I put that in my proverbial pipe and smoked on it for a while.
Some time afterwards, Deb and I went to go see a friend’s band play – can’t remember the details – other than I was hopped up on a bunch of sugar and caffeine after a pre concert visit to Krispy Kreme. After coming home from the concert I found that I couldn’t sleep so I decided to do a bit of googling and came across an article about a husband and wife (Shane & Jean Sunn) that were to start a church in Greeley, Colorado called Saint Patrick Presbyterian Church who’s mission is to “See the city of Greeley become more and more like the city of God.” The article also had a nice back-story on why the name Saint Patrick. Being intrigued, not only by the call of Colorado Mountain fly fishing and skiing, but also by the possibly of working for such a church, I sent an email to Shane that went something like this…
I know that you probably can’t afford to bring on more staff but I’ve been looking to work for a small church as a music director… yada yada…
I didn’t really expect to hear from Shane but I thought I’d throw it out there. I think it was about 2 in the morning when I sent the message. When I woke up the next morning Shane had responded something like…
Are you serious? Yada yada… Call me.
Turns out that he and Jean had been praying that a couple like us would be drawn to helping out a new church plant like theirs. They needed the help in getting things going. They wanted the arts side of the church to be strong and didn’t want to start official services until the music element of worship was strong. Deborah and I spoke with them both on the phone the next day I think for a good 3 to 4 hours. A couple weeks later they flew us out for a visit and a few months later we moved to Greeley, where I write this from today.
So, if you’re still reading you might be asking… “Yes, but when did you get into Irish traditional music?” Believe it or not, the whole time I was in Boston, I never was into the Irish traditional scene nor did I really know the extent to which it existed. I was more focused on songwriting and my studies and my tunnel vision kept me from it. I joke that it was a good thing as I’m not sure I’d have ever moved from Boston if I’d stumbled into a session.
No, the way that I stumbled into Irish traditional music was while listening to the local NPR station, KUNC, while running errands in the car here in Greeley. There was a special segment where a local Irish group Siucra did a live-in-studio performance to promote an upcoming show that evening. Siucra was made up of singer and bodhrán player Beth Leachman, Irish flute and tin whistle player Shannon Heaton and guitarist Matt Heaton. Their music FLOORED me. I owned a cheap tin whistle at that point and could play a few simple tunes but had never heard the tin whistle played as Shannon did nor did I even know what an Irish flute was at that point. As my dear friend Katy Bowser used to say… They “rocked my face off”. So, I pulled off the side of the road – wherever I was – and wrote down their name and the particulars of the upcoming show that evening so that Deb and I could go see them perform.
All I remember from seeing Suicra’s first performance was Shannon’s tin whistle and Irish flute playing. A flurry of fingers and clever phrasing on pipes with six holes drilled in them. Simple yet jaw-drop inspiring. I made a beeline after the concert and introduced myself to Shannon and asked her more about the music. As she and husband Matt were about to move to Boston, she graciously helped me with local contacts of folks who played the music as well as a few websites to look at and encouraged me to attend a session that Denver based Irish flute player David Migoya led.
Armed with a newfound “where have you been all my life?” kind of passion for Irish traditional music (on the tin whistle) and Shannon’s contacts and resources, I spent the next couple years entrenched in the music, learning tunes by ear from all kinds of recordings; playing and practicing about 4+ hours a day and attending Migoya’s weekly session. Whenever Shannon would be in town I’d be sure to grab a lesson, record it and study it backwards and forwards until she’d be back in town again. Also, another byproduct of my passion is our online store www.WhistleAndDrum.com.
Playing the tin whistle naturally led me to the Irish flute though I struggled to learn it at first, as I had never played any kind of flute prior. I almost gave up on it completely when a trip to Ireland reignited my passion for it. It seems as though I was meant to play the flute as everywhere I turned on that trip, I ran into some fantastic flute players. When in Dingle, visiting legendary uilleann pipe and low whistle maker Cillian O’Briain, we attended a session where All Ireland Irish flute champion Aoife Granville was playing. Also, Cillian’s wife, Brid, is a lovely flute player who teaches there in Dingle. I took a lesson with her the next morning.
After our visit to Dingle we headed over to Galway. The first night we stopped into the pub Tigh Coili’s and enjoyed a session where fiddle player, maker and poet Paul Bradley was playing with some rippin’ flute player. Someone we met at the pub mentioned that flute maker Sam Murray had a workshop right around the corner so we stopped in the next day and visited with him. Sam was gracious to take the time in the midst of his flute making to talk flutes and play a bit.
I’m not remembering the order of it all but at some point we wound up in Ennis, Co. Clare and caught an evening of the Ennis Trad Fest. The festival is held every year in early November. During that time you can go from one pub to the next and hear some of the finest Irish traditional music around. Deb and I just had the one evening to check things out so we wandered from one pub to the next, finally settling in at The Copper Jug. We had arrived a bit early for the session so we grabbed a seat and some pints and relaxed for a bit. A few moments later, a flute player and concertina player started playing in the corner. The room was fairly empty at this point (calm before the storm) so we could hear their playing without the roar of a pub crowd. Their music was tight yet fluid; the concertina being quick and precise while the flute bubbly and flowing. That flute player’s name was Éamonn deBarra and he was playing with Slide band mate Aogán Lynch. While they were taking a break, I introduced myself and we chatted about the flute a bit. That was a huge night for me as I think it was the night that I decided to really give the flute a proper go. Besides Shannon Heaton’s influence, Éamonn continues to be an influence in my flute playing today.
Later that trip I had the good fortune of meeting up with flute maker Desi Seery who Eamonn is good friends with. I got a chance to see his shop and we all had a good time talking music while having tea with him and his wife.
So, I’m feeling like I’m going a bit long winded on this portion of my story, but suffice it to say that this was a really turning point in my life musically; this period where traditional Irish music and I collided. Ever since that first encounter with it where I heard Siucra on the radio, my musical life was transformed. It’s funny; most folks that meet me these days assume that I’m Irish. Though my ancestry is mostly English (Patterson) & French (Chastain), I did have some distant relatives that came to the new world through Ireland. Perhaps the music rubbed off on them enough for it to transfer all the way down the line to me. All I know is that it strikes a solid chord within me. I also really like potatoes & fried fish.
For the next couple years I practiced the flute as I did the tin whistle, clocking in hours a day and progressing a bunch. I remember playing once for a flute maker and after telling him that I had been playing for a couple years, remember the look of astonishment on his face. He had assumed all along that I had been playing all my life. It just goes to show that when you have a goal in sight, it’s a lot easier to reach it. Perhaps that might be inspiration to all of you out there that are working towards something but finding the journey akin to hiking a 14 thousand foot mountain – painful and slow. Lighten up a bit and enjoy the journey. Take time to enjoy where you are. These days, I’m still reaching as a player and have by no means “arrived” (whatever that means) but I still take moments to glory in how fun it is to play music with others.
In 2005 / 2006, Deborah and I took a sabbatical from our work at the church and moved to Ireland so that I could attend the University of Limerick’s Irish World Academy of Music & Dance to study the flute. They have the world’s only master’s degree in Irish Traditional Music Performance. I liken the experience to the pilgrimage someone learning a language might make to its country of origin in order to master it. Needless to say it was a great opportunity for me to just focus on the music without the distractions of the day-to-day of home.
Saturday Morning Flute Session at the Milk Market in Downtown Limerick with Friends Jan Banis & Norah Rendell
During my time at UL I had the good fortune to study with flute players Niall Keegan, Éamonn deBarra, Harry Bradley, Brian Finnegan, Kevin Crawford, Jean Michel Veillon, Marcas O Murchú, John Kelly, and Iain MacDonald. It was like drinking water from a fire hose but I was ready & willing to soak it all in. It did do my head in a bit, turning my own style on its head, but I simply made a deal with myself that I’d be open to any and all approaches in regards to technique and style during my stay.
It’s been almost 3 years since our return from Ireland. I’ve had the chance to settle into my playing and am enjoying it more than ever. Deborah and I came home with a “souvenir” from Ireland, our daughter Erin who is now just over 2 years old. I am still working with the church and am grateful for the creative freedom they give me. I am now also developing an online training library for the Irish flute and tin whistle that should be released early summer ’09. I continue to write new music for ancient hymn texts and hope to have them all available for download on this site very soon.
Well, that’s about all I have the energy I have to write on about me! Thanks for taking valuable time out of your life to read it. I hope that it at the very least helps you to know where I’m coming from if you’re interested in either my work as a hymn music composer or Irish flute player. Some of you might be friends of mine that I fly RC sailplanes with and stumble into this site because of my photo gallery and somehow find yourself at the end of this article. Whoever you are, thanks for reading and I hope our paths cross, either through the music, through the flying, or by “chance”, whatever that means.