The bodhran is the keeper and guardian of rhythms in Ireland. Although it is a fairly new instrument in Ireland’s repertoire of sounds, it has been treated with respect since its earliest days. It is a single frame drum, akin to similar instruments around the world, except for the variety of tones it can produce. The bodhran is made of wood and skin, with many variations of the two, and is played with both or one end of a single stick, traditionally the hind leg of a dog.
Rohan Young has been making bodhran drums since he was ten. He knows every part of the instrument intimately and brings the drum to life with every touch. In his hands, the bodhran can be a single steady beat or a drum kit and practically everything in between. He plays with a wide variety of groups including traditional Irish sessions, blues groups and his acoustic folk group Scorpion Jack. He molds his drumming skills to fit any ensemble and many types of music, taking only seconds to fit his sound seamlessly into the music. To watch him play is a performance in itself. Without going overboard with theatrics, he lets the music guide his movements and envelope him in a nearly trance like state.
Rohan makes his drums with the same passion with which he plays them. A perfectionist in his trade, he chooses the best materials and frequently goes beyond traditional techniques to explore new ideas to create different sounds. He explained that some of the best skins to use for his drum heads come from lambeg drum makers, because the skins that don’t make good lambegs make great bodhrans and vice versa. The lambeg is an old massive war drum used today in street parades to celebrate historic Protestant victories over Catholics. Rohan yields from a Catholic community and although he disagrees with the tradition for which the lambeg is used, he still holds great respect for the drum makers. He explained that even though the political and religious views of bodhran and lambeg drum makers differ, the fraternal bond of drum makers has remained an unspoken undercurrent during historical and recent conflicts. This is another example of music’s ability to transcend cultural differences and realize the value of unity for the purpose of achieving the best results.
Rohan is a genuine spirit with no pretenses and a kind heart, and this shines through beautifully in his music, his style of performance, and the drums he makes. He uses his authentic nature to conduct business as a musician and a drum maker around the world, though difficulties in global performance pale in light of the risks taken when dealing across the cultural divides of Northern Ireland. Yet he performs alongside his friend and Protestant co-band member, David Preston, and embraces the drum maker’s fraternal link with the lambeg makers with little thought beyond the desired objective of captivating music. By simply being himself and loving his trade, he has stepped through boundaries that may take other people years to accept.
For a look at Rohan’s work with folk rock group Scorpion Jack please visit here.