He can wrap his fingers around Irish tunes quite effectively and make the $12 tin whistle sing in a way that many can’t. And his parents aren’t the only ones who think so.
“Dev’s a big where ever he plays,” says Kathie Jackson, Devon’s stepmom. “Whether it’s at the Legion, or he played last St. Patty’s at the Music Cafe, and at the RCH Club in Kingston. He gets standing ovations and I hate going on after him, he’s so good.”
Devon comes from a musical family – his dad is a skilled guitar and mandolin player, and both dad and step mom Kathie play in bands around the Kingston and Napanee area, including their own band the Worst Case Scenario. Finding his own musical path involved hearing his dad casually playing the tin whistle now and then.
“It was kind of a random question: can I learn the tin whistle?” says Devon. “Then a few days later dad taught me my first song.”
That was when Devon was nine years old, and Tom made him work for the privilege of playing music. “I had to earn it from dad,” he says.
“Getting homework done, going to bed on time,” says Tom of some of the daily chores Devon had to fulfill to earn the whistle. But once he got his own whistle he took off, learning whatever he could get his ears on. “He’d hear me playing the tunes on guitar and mandolin, and get them. And for Christmas one year I think I got him a CD.”
Not only does Devon have the notes down, he’s got a good handle on Irish ornamentation too – all those little musical twists, swirls, cuts, and rolls that bring the skeletal structure of a tune’s notes to life.
“We did go to an Almonte CeltFest, and some minor ornamentations were learned there, but most of the time after that was just adaptation to the instrument itself,” says Devon.
He’s taking music in Grade 7 at school, and starting to learn how to read sheet music while playing the flute. But most of his learning until now has been by ear – listening, and translating those notes to his fingers. A couple of times Tom took his son to an Irish session at a pub in downtown Kingston.
“The funny thing is one of the sessions I took him to at Ben’s pub, we’re driving home and Devon says, ‘I learned five songs today.’ And I was like, five songs? It takes me a month to learn five songs.”
Both Tom and Kathie are impressed by the speed at which Devon can pick up new music.
“Tom will play a song, Devon will go into the other room and ten minutes later come out and he’ll know it,” says Kathie. “It’s interesting to see the dynamic between them.”
Devon’s future goals include becoming an author and potentially an architect, but he says music will also hopefully remain a part of his life on an informal and enjoyable level.
“I will definitely keep playing, probably as a hobby,” he said.
Music, especially in the Irish tradition, has historically been a bonding and social experience for families, before entertainment was to be found in television, movies, or radio. And Tom and Kathie both see the benefits of having music in the home.
“It’s a bonding experience,” says Kathie. “Even in our home, it’s neat, I’ll be puttering about making supper and I get to hear them play. It’s better than watching TV.”
“It actually gives you one more reason to get together,” says Tom, whose extended family has an annual musical festival in Collingwood called GulleyFest, which features bluegrass and country music and hundreds of people.
For Devon, music is both an enjoyable pastime as well as a challenging endeavour to push himself out of his comfort zone.
“I think there’s an immense satisfaction in the completion of various songs and techniques, that’s helpful in my development as a musician,” he said.
That dedication and self-starter curiosity and desire to learn will only help Devon in his future pursuits.
Keep an eye open for any upcoming performances by Devon Gulley.
Young tin whistle player’s got talent - Napanee Guide - Ontario, CA