Irish Accordion player Tony Mac Mahon talks about his love for music
Tony Mac Mahon, a renowned Irish accordion player introduced reality shows for music in Radio Telefis Eireann (Irish television). He was the one who identified and introduced Clannad, an Irish band to television audience. Thereafter, the band rose to fame winning Grammy and BAFTA with their haunting vocal harmonies and mellow harp-based instrumentals. He was the first person to compile traditional Irish music for the radio to preserve it for the posterity.
Tony’s love for music goes beyond just the instrument . “There is a big difference between playing notes and playing music,” says the 74-year-old. Tony says the spiritual component of music can never be written because you can write notes but not music. “Millions of people play instrument and make the same sound like a cat that presses its paw against a note in a piano but,” he says, “only the person who feels for music and has a high understanding can play soulfully.”
What made Tony pick up the accordion? “It is accidental,” he says. in Born and raised in the Turnpike in Ennis, not far from Miltown Malbay, a centre for traditional music and dancing, young Tony always nurtured a soft corner for music. As his mother also played the concertina, musicians regularly visited Mac Mahon house including accordion player Joe Cooley, who worked in Ennis for several years. “One day, I found an abandoned accordion at my home. I was 12 at that time. I started playing it. Enthused by the sound I continued ,” he smiles.
His chance meeting with the then popular piper and singer Seamus Ennis in New York changed his perception to music. Tony Mac Mahon worked as his assistant. “He is the most impressive Irish musician I have every met,” he says.
Seamus Ennis was his mentor who taught him all that he knows of music today. “He made me realise music is magic and a spiritual experience. It cannot be taught in any university. It is beyond that.”
Tony’s search for divine music has brought him to India. . “I feel more at home here than in my country,” he says, adding that he is not sure how it happened. . “There is soul in the music I hear here. The essence of spirituality and a long developed history attracts me,” he says.
Though an accordion player, Tony rates veena, Indian musical instrument, very high. “It is my favourite instrument. It talks to me like no other instrument . It is an instrument of God and has a divine sound that pierces heart,” he says.
He chides at the crass commercialisation of music today. “It has become noisy these days and at sometimes also . Tinsel, glitter and consumerism have replaced the tenderness and intimacy of music,” he rues.
. The modern musicians who play Irish folk are no exception, he says. “They imitate American singers as a short cut to popularity and easy money.”
Hailing the spiritual quotient in music kept alive in India temples, he says, “People here are connected to their roots, their sense of belonging is very high and that gives the country a strong identity. The youthful energy which is absent in the West is found here in abundance.”
Though a trapped nerve in his wrist restricts his movements now , Tony still loves to play the accordion and performs occasionally. Right now he is occupied with writing his memoirs. While many oppose his candid comments, few can deny his contribution to the world of music.