Leo Schott, Jr.
WHO IS LEO SCHOTT, JR.? Traditional Irish Music Multi-Instrumentalist CITY/COUNTY: Jermyn PA Lackwanna County Leo Schott, Jr. is a world-renowned musicologist, teacher, and performer of traditional Gaelic music on the Uilleann pipes, the Highland pipes, the Galician pipes, the Scottish small pipes, flutes, tin whistle, saxophone, and voice. He has performed Irish, Medieval, and Renaissance music with authentic period instruments for the past 30+ years. As a child sitting on the knee of his grandfather lilting Irish tunes to the children, Leo Schott hopes that his grandparents would be delighted to know that he grew up to become a revered traditional Irish musician. Born in Carbondale, PA in the 1950s, he was surrounded by music. His mother played piano by ear and his father played the music that his father allowed him to play on the instruments that were always in their home. “My parents encouraged my involvement with music in general and Irish music in particular. It’s always difficult to express what my love of Irish music means to me… there was something about society that lingered into my childhood. It was the way people interacted with one another, the way they got together to make music… I guess when I’m playing, it’s the closest thing to feeling connected to a world that I once lived in that no longer exists.” Leo was already a multi-instrumentalist in his late teens, playing saxophone and flute. A few years later, in 1975, he started listening to traditional Irish music recordings on a daily basis. He started learning Irish tunes on the flute and then the tin whistle the next year. He was hooked and has never looked back. Although he kept his connection to other styles of music, especially as a rock & blues performer, he is best-known throughout the region for being a trusted keeper of Irish music traditions. “I actually first heard a Clancy Brothers recording in 1966. But it wasn’t until 1979 that I saw a live performance – when I saw The Chieftains playing in NYC at Carnegie Hall. That same year, I started playing the uilleann pipes. Once I really got into it, I went regularly to New York City to study with Bill Ochs.” The uilleann pipes are the instrument for which Leo is most widely known now. Considered to be the “true Irish bagpipes,” they differ from Scottish Highland pipes in that uilleann pipes are chromatic, wide range instruments with greater musical capabilities and complexities. Other uilleann pipers that he listened to and learned from were Liam O’Flynn, Paddy Keenan, Seamus Ennius, and Willie Clancy. “It was at least 1 1/2 years from the time I started before what I was playing began to sound like coherent music. Then it was a solid 5 year period of almost daily playing to get to a point that I felt confident enough to play publicly as a soloist. And now, four decades later, I’m still learning. I feel compelled to play until I no longer can, as teaching and performing are truly the best expressions of what I do. I’ve taught a good number of people to play the tin whistle, flute, uilleann pipes, and highland pipes over the last 35 years. The best success that I’ve had with teaching younger students was with kids whose parents listened to traditional Irish music at home. One went on to compete in Ireland at the Fleadh Cheoil Na hEireann.” In addition to performing and teaching across the region, Leo hosts a weekly radio program to keep traditional Irish music alive and to increase public access to its rich history. “Music of Ireland and The British Isles” is broadcast on WFTE 107.5 from Scranton, PA. Each week, Leo presents traditional Gaelic acoustic music played in the traditional styles of the last 100 years, with the performances all on traditional instruments. Some of the performers are internationally-renowned stars of the genre, from both past and present generations. “The practice of playing and listening to traditional Irish music has grown substantially in the last 30 years in the United States. There are more uilleann pipers worldwide than ever before. However, in my locale, it’s always been difficult to generate any interest in music outside of the realm of popular music.” What does this multi-instrumentalist and teacher see as the biggest challenge for his traditional art’s sustainability? He answers in a single word: “Modernity.”