I had known Chris Langan a couple of years, from the Willie Clancy Summer School and his frequenting Henrietta Street each summer; so, when planning a visit to Toronto in the summer of 1989, I made a definite promise to myself to call in and see him, if this was at all possible, while there.
Well, it just so happened that luck was with me, as the house in which I was holidaying was a mere three miles down the road from Chris’s own house.
My few visits to Chris during that week were very enjoyable and informative, as Chris had such a lot to show and tell – not only in relation to piping, but also about places of interest and beauty in Toronto and its surrounding areas.
I reckon I paid him about four visits in all. On one occasion we must have spent about two hours below in his workshop, with Chris guiding me through some finer points in reedmaking – a skill I cannot seem to get the hang of! On another visit he strapped on a set of pipes and played for me some of his own tunes, composed by himself; ‘Henrietta Street’ and ‘Dan O’Dowd’ are the only two that come to mind now, but I’m sure there were many more. He was disappointed I did not have my own set of Johnny Bourke pipes with me bit it did not take him long to root around downstairs in his workshop and produce a bag, bellows and chanter for my use that week.
The chanter was perfect – made of iron-wood by Chris himself; it played very softly and sweetly. I found it hard to put the thing down! Chris proved a great teacher. With such a quiet gentlemanly nature he could put any pupil at their ease. In my short stay there he gave me some very useful and valuable tips on chanter playing.
The highlight of the week was meeting a group of Toronto pipers which gathered every Tuesday evening in Chris Langan’s kitchen. There was a great mixture among them – some fine pipers, some beginners. We spent the evening playing together the tunes we knew and swopping those some of us didn’t know. Chris, being the ‘host’ of the evening, was definitely not one to take the limelight, preferring to quietly go about his business of giving lessons to the beginners, dropping some words of advice to others and generally making everyone feel relaxed and comfortable. It was obvious the Toronto pipers had great respect and admiration for Chris – him being a kind of focal point for their piping.
On my last day in Toronto I called to say goodbye to Chris and to thank him for his time and attention. He had ready for me, on my calling, a manuscript with all his own tunes written down in it, and also a tape of himself playing each tune – in case I had difficulty with the note-reading. I remember him making me promise not to play the tape to anyone else, especially not another piper. But the greatest memento of my visit there, apart from my memories, was the iron-wood concert pitch chanter I had played all week. Chris insisted on me taking it home with me, as a parting gift and memento of my visit to Toronto.
I have met Chris since, in the Willie Clancy Summer School and the ‘Club’ and I was very proud to tell him that I was still playing his chanter, with the same reed still intact and it sounding just fine. I think he was half-surprised, half-amused to hear this, for he replied: “Of all the reeds I’ve made in all these years, I would have to end up giving the only decent one away!”
Deirdre Leech (An Píobaire, Vol 3, no. 11 July 1992)