Tommy Sands plays TecumsehWritten by Chris Schwarzkopf | | firstname.lastname@example.org
How to take a life and career like folk singer Tommy Sands’ and condense it?
Growing up in a mixed Catholic-Protestant community in Mayobridge, Northern Ireland, Sands found himself caught up in the conflict between Catholic Republicans and Protestant Loyalists, which became known as the “Troubles.”
“We lived a stone’s throw from members of the Republican Guard,” Sands said. “There was always the frustration. Stones certainly could have been thrown.”
Sands said he began to see, despite the tension, there was still something holding the community together, the ancient Irish bardic tradition. His parents and his siblings were all musicians and his family’s farm was a place of frequent gatherings.
“Catholics and Protestants alike came through our door all the time,” Sands said. “In the countryside it was natural for people to gather. I saw that it was a sacred thing that we were doing.”
He decided to take what he learned from this turbulent period in Irish history and try to help others using the same tradition of music and storytelling.
His travels have taken him around the world many times and now Sands will bring his message of peace to the Tecumseh Center for the Arts March 27.
“Sooner or later, people have to realize the way they’ve been doing things isn’t working,” Sands said. “They should try to stop the killing and find ways to live together.”
Sands, along with his daughter Moya and son Fionan, will perform songs from his new album, “Let The Circle Be Wide.”
On the road, heading from Sheridan, Wyo. to Helena, Mont. Sands talked on the phone about how much he loves traveling and meeting people.
“It’s been so enjoyable,” he said. “I always feel inspired by the audience.”
Sands said people have been receptive, not only to his music, but also to his message no matter where he goes.
In 1990 Sands organized “The Music of Healing”, bringing together Catholic and Protestant musicians. This led to the founding of the Citizen’s Assembly in 1996, consisting of political and community leaders from both sides committed to peacefully resolving the Northern Ireland conflict. This commitment led to the signing of the historic Good Friday Peace Accords in 1998. Sands led a group children and politicians in song when the peace accords were signed.
“I think that was a powerful image for all the people there watching and seeing it on television,” Sands said. “They saw that if these two groups could stand together and sing together, peace was possible.” The “Music of Healing” celebration is held every year in recognition of this peace agreement.
In 2002 Sands visited Reno, Nev. and worked with teenagers at a juvenile detention center. Using traditional Irish storytelling techniques, Sands taught the boys how to compose songs telling their life stories, which they would perform when they went before a judge.
“It was a very simple format,” Sands said. “The first verse tells the past and the second tells the present and the third tells the future. There’s something very soothing, very humbling, in hearing a child perform in that way.”
Sands’ son and daughter helped him with this program.
“The kids may not have trusted me at first,” Sands said. “They didn’t know what to make of me, but Moya and Fionan were closer to their age and I think that helped the kids to open up.”
Sands adapted Irish music and stories for a traveling educational program he offers for schools, libraries, museums and universities. Readings from his 2005 autobiography, “The Songman”, are also part of the program.
Sands said after his show in Michigan he is heading to Germany to perform and then to Israel as part of a delegation involved in finding peaceful solutions to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
Sands’ children will accompany him on this trip. Sands said he is glad his son and daughter are taking part in the delegation.
“They’re very involved in the music, but also in the activism,” Sands said. “They both very intelligent and they read a lot and are well-informed.”
Sands said even if he hadn’t come from a musical background, he still would have become an activist.
“Anyone living in an area of conflict has a certain perspective, whether they are musicians, writers, poets or journalists,” Sands said. “I would have come to that no matter what.”