County Armagh, Northern Ireland
Spellbinding singer and award-winning uilleann piper Jarlath Henderson is setting “a benchmark for the new generation” of Irish musicians, and thrilling audiences with his soulful interpretations of traditional songs from his native Northern Ireland.
Born in Armagh, Henderson was raised in nearby Dungannon in a family that loved—and played—both classical and traditional music. When Jarlath was about 10, his father brought him to the famous Armagh Pipers Club (APC). Soon “the pipes and the music became what I lived for,” he recalls. With familial support and the world-class training and camaraderie of the APC, Henderson began to make a name for himself: as a teenager, he was a three-time All-Ireland piper in his age group, and in 2003, at 17, he won the BBC Young Folk Award. He was not only the first uilleann piper and first musician from Ireland to win this prestigious British award, he was also the youngest musician ever to do so. More surprising still, he captured this prize—and undertook the ensuing opportunities to perform throughout Europe—while studying for his qualifying exams for medical school.
On the heels of this auspicious beginning, Henderson has crafted a delicate balance between his musical and medical careers. Since 2010, he has lived in Glasgow, Scotland, where he works as an acute care physician. The work, he says, reinforces his musical sensibility, because in providing care, “You see it all, all the human fundamentals, which gives plenty to reflect on.” In his recent musical explorations, Dr. Henderson is mining the traditional songs of County Armagh and of Northern Ireland more generally, drawing attention to similar “human fundamentals” and timeless experiences within the specific conditions of the place he calls home: “I wanted to use songs that were thematically linked to things we see today … we still fancy people and get dumped; people still die and families still feud—these are things that we all feel regardless of where we’re from or which century we live in … these songs transcend borders.”
In addition to a two-album arc with Scottish piper Ross Ainslie, Henderson has recorded with a long list of Celtic greats including Capercaillie, Phil Cunningham, and Paddy Keenan, and his music was featured on the soundtrack to Pixar’s hit film Brave. When he performs today with his five-member Jarlath Henderson Band—and on his inventive solo album Hearts Broken, Heads Turned (2016)—the work often expands to haunting electronic meditations springing from the fertile ground provided by traditional tunes. However, in his performances in Richmond, Henderson and his fellows, guitarist/fiddler Pablo Lafuente and pianist/flautist Hamish Napier, will double down on the acoustic roots of Armagh’s musical legacy, treating listeners to songs that speak to both heart and home.