Bill Ochs, a contributor to Sing Out! in the 1970s, and a world-class performer and teacher of Irish traditional music – called a major figure in the “renaissance of the tin whistle” by NPR – passed away on Oct 5th at age 70.
A New Jersey native, Ochs studied French and Theater at Connecticut’s Wesleyan University. He found that his calling, however, was in playing and teaching the history of Irish wind instruments, such as the uilleann pipes, tin whistle and wooden flute. He sought out direction and tutelage from teachers of these instruments in the United States and Ireland. His devotion to this endeavor brought about a major resurfacing of Irish wind instrument tradition, and a wealth of information about these instruments to a new audience.
Although he spent years producing and playing alongside esteemed artists, such as Micho Russell, with whom Ochs produced two albums, his greatest passion was found in his teaching the history and playing styles of these unique instruments. His book The Clarke Tin Whistle, an instructional book on the tin whistle, has sold more than a quarter million copies since its publication in 1988.
Beyond his musical life, Ochs was a steadfast political activist who has devoted much time to the campaigns of Democratic candidates for congress. He also loved the outdoors, as a bird watching enthusiast and frequent hiker. Ochs is survived by his wife Margaret Vetare, and sister Sara Ochs. A memorial service is planned for the spring. Memorial donations may be made to Doctors Without Borders (doctorswithoutborders.org).
You can catch a short glimpse of Bill’s playing at 1’03” of this tribute to the tin whistle: