For 25 years, Grey Larsen, an accomplished player of the Irish flute and tin whistle, was music editor of Sing Out!, the folk music magazine started by Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and other musicians in the late 1940s. His recording career spans 40 years, and he still performs and teaches across North America. But most Tuesdays you’ll find him sharing music and friendship at the Runcible Spoon’s Irish music jam session. “Playing music, for me, can’t be separated from the experience of getting to know another person, and really caring about who they are,” Larsen says.
One person Larsen, 63, has gotten to know over the years is Bloomington composer and dulcimer player Malcolm Dalglish. “I would put him in the category of a generous genius,” Dalglish says.
The two met in their hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, where Larsen—who began reading music before he could read words—dropped out of high school to attend the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, later transferring to the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, also in Ohio. While formally studying avant-garde classical composition, Larsen also was learning folk music in a community of Irish immigrants. “They were wonderful elders who had spent their whole lives immersed in those traditions and were eager to pass them along,” Larsen says.
In 1977, Larsen and Dalglish recorded what Larsen thinks is the first American album of Celtic music, Banish Misfortune. It sold 80,000 copies before going out of print. More albums with Dalglish followed, and in 1981 Larsen moved to Bloomington, captivated, he says, by the town’s rich folk music community. “People had parties and would just pull the furniture out of the room and have a dance,” he remembers.
Soon, Larsen was receiving invitations from across the country to teach flute and tin whistle workshops. He found it challenging to communicate to pupils in a few days the distinctive playing techniques it had taken him years to learn, so he created a novel system for notating them, which grew into a 480-page book. First published in 2004, The Essential Guide to Irish Flute and Tin Whistle has sold more than 10,000 copies and has been followed by additional volumes.
It was also in 2004 that Larsen met singer-songwriter Cindy Kallet at a recording session. “We started participating in each other’s repertoire and eventually started making music together,” Larsen says. Married in 2012, the couple live in Bloomington and have released two albums as a duo.