Jacob McCauley : All About Bodhrans(Interview)

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Here is an interesting interview I did with Jacob McCauley which all started after my article about his performance. It’s done via facebook. It is not often you are able to get someone get back to you with the questions you sent in real time but hey the universe works in mysterious ways. Jacob granted me with all the answers about how the instrument works, the techniques, his upcoming projects and  a lot more. Join me in this wonderful insights into the heartbeat of the Irish music.

I sent him what I wrote and he got back with this:

Hi Baxter,

Thanks very much for featuring me in your blog. It’s always nice to see people taking a liking to the Bodhran, and appreciating how it is evolving. With it being such a young instrument, there is still much to be discovered, and that is one of the main goals in my career. To push the limits, invent new things, and most importantly bring that out into the world. Obviously Bodhran designs are another way that the instrument is evolving, and my work with Christian (Hedwitshchak) demonstrates that very well. I could go on.. but thanks again and feel free to ask any questions you may have.



The bodhrans I am seeing today are quiet revolutionary compared to say ten or twenty years ago. What’s with the heated up interest recently do you think?

To put it quite simply. As Bodhran techniques evolve, it is only natural that the instrument itself will also begin to evolve. The player needs a drum that can properly complement their playing style, and totally suit them. And thus we see the age of Custom Bodhrans, as well as a much larger range of different style Bodhrans. For example, since my back-hand technique is something new that I have developed, I require an extremely respsonsive Bodhran. I will always be striving for the Bodhran that complements me best. It is a never-ending quest in my career, but I am continually astonished by what has been made possible, and how that will further evolve.

People like you make the instrument a joy to listen with , with or without other instruments…tell me…what got you into this passion for this so-called the heartbeat of Celtic music?

I grew up in a house filled with Irish Traditional Music. I was exposed to music from a very young age. It wasn’t long before I had found the old Bodhran in the house and began to start beating the drum. It didn’t take long before I knew that this instrument would be the instrument for me. I was already interested in other instruments, but the Bodhran truly spoke to me as the right instrument. I felt I had a natural ability on it, and very much wanted to pursue that. And so it went from there… hours of practicing every day, striving to be the best I could be.

What are your plans for this year musically? I see a lot of projects and collaboration but that do you think is the biggest that waits for you so far?

I still have several projects to finish up this year. One of the largest projects being my Instructional Bodhran DVD, which I am currently filming. Another large project is an Experimental album that I have been working on since last year. It features some things that have never been done on the Bodhran, as well as the music itself being very unique. I have a couple more traditional albums to be recorded this year, as well as several other smaller projects. Touring is of course another thing to be expected in the near future. It is difficult to say what the largest upcoming project would be, but there are surely many possibilities for the future.

The albums! Yes I am interested what you have in mind . A full-length album or compilations? It would be interesting to devote an entire album with bodhran as the primary instrument .

Each recording for this year is a full-length (minus smaller projects and guest appearences). The Experimental album does feature the Bodhran a lot, as I am doing solos, as well as adding my own unique melodic approach to the music. But I have yet to create an album of which the Bodhran is the primary instrument. That is just another feat that could of course be accomplished in the near future.

As an instructor what are the challenges you faced in translating what you know to newbies?

I have to say that the most difficult challenge I face these days is essentially what I would call “damage control”. Many many new players today are influenced by or in some cases even taught by players who do not play with proper technique. The majority of players (and even many teachers) today still do not have proper technique. Without having the proper technique you first are limiting yourself, but are also risking possible health issues to your body (arm or wrist pain or worse). Every one of course has their own opinion as to what is proper and not. However, it has been my experience after many years of teaching and playing to realize what is beneficial to the player and what is not. So in short, many new students that come to me have either been influenced (by Youtube, session players etc) or taught wrong, and I need to help them break bad habits and form a proper technique. Lastly, I do not teach one style, or just my own style, I teach proper technique and allow the student to truly become their own player with their own technique that works for them.

That is a valuable information! What type of audience go to your sessions? And what are the preparations you do prior to conducting the sessions?

By sessions do you mean teaching workshops?

Or private lessons?

Good clarifications. Ok I will say for both teaching workshops and private lessons

Private lessons and Workshops are something I do all the time. In private lessons, the influx of new students usually range from either someone who has long been a fan of Irish Traditional Music, or someone who is new to this genre. In either case, my preparation and execution is the same. I first like the student to know the history of the instrument, have a good knowledge of the music, and then of course learning the proper technique and beginning to develop their own style. For workshops, depending on if they are beginner or advanced workshops, the students generally are already aware of the instrument and music. However, I still like to present them with some basic information and try and get a feel for the audience. I like to try and tailor my teaching to who is in the audience, as opposed to always teaching a workshop in the same manor. This of course depends on the size of the workshop and who exactly is in it, but I always like to get a general feel for what the attendees are interested in learning.

Being where you are now in your career, what do you think is satisfying part of it?

It is tough to say what is the most satisfying part of my career thus far. I would have to say it is a combination of things. First, teaching is incredibly satisfying because I love seeing new students learn this wonderful instrument and truly start to enjoy it for themselves. Second, performing always is satisfying because I love spreading my art of the Bodhran to many people and witnessing their enjoyment of it. Lastly, it is very satisfying to know that there is still a long way to go and at this point, the sky is the limit!

Thank you so much for your wonderful responses. It’s been a pleasure spending the time with you and putting into writing what you think. I will let you know when it is up OK? Enjoy your weekend Jacob.

You’re very welcome. I am always glad to share my experiences and help spread awareness of the Bodhran. I’ve done several interviews this year (and a few more coming up soon) so I am very comfortable with them.

Thanks and enjoy your weekend as well!




4 Replies to “Jacob McCauley : All About Bodhrans(Interview)”

  1. It’s fascinating to think that someone could play it wrong! I’d love to see exactly what he means by that. Most of the players that I’ve seen both and the Irish festivals I’ve attended and while in Ireland watching various traditional groups seem to play all the same way, but I’m sure that there are little techniques that make for not only a better time for players, but also for the sound they produce.

    Great article, Bax!


  2. Great interview. Very informative!
    I have a bodhran & although a pro once gave me a quick lesson, I just don’t think I’m going to get the hang of it. I totally admire those who play it well!


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