listening to a mesmerizing piece of traditional music,
Irish music played by a young American from Indiana. The
title cut is “Return of the Rivers” featuring
an instrument I believe I’ve heard before, but never
identified as the “Uilleann” (pronounced “Illian”)
pipes Christopher Layer has mastered and performed around
The day I met Christopher he was preparing for “tryouts” of
sorts, hoping local musicians would come out of the woodwork to help
him put together the Moab Community Dance Band. This is Christopher’s
first project as the Moab Music Festival’s new Artist in Residence.
Christopher is replacing outgoing Resident Artist Eric Thomas, who
conducted classes and workshops in the Moab area for the last three
years. The Moab Community Dance Band will rehearse twice a week, perform
two social dances in August and offer monthly Contra Dances, a social
event locals gave a vote of popularity for by sheer attendance figures
While Christopher makes his debut in Moab this year as the Festival’s
Artist in Residence, it is his fourth year performing in Moab with
the Moab Music Festival. A now happily transplanted New Yorker, Christopher
said he has known since he was very young he would play music in New
York. He was cautious not to barge in on any music scene, pointing
out that he waited for an invitation, be it a direct invitation or
simply a set of circumstances favorable to such a move.
York is a city that possesses tremendous creative
energy,” Christopher said. “And I know
that every act of creation is balanced by an equal
and opposite act of destruction. You just ride that
kind of energy; I don’t know if you could harness
“As a professional musician in my 20s, I knew I wouldn’t go to New
York without an invitation.”
Christopher grew up with music, live and alive in his living room.
His father is a fiddler and his mother a singer, and every Tuesday
night the family hosted a meal followed by lots of traditional music.
His first instrument was a fife, a six-hole flute Christopher began
to play when he was 11 years old. Shortly after he began playing he
saw a very young Chicago fiddle player, Liz Carroll, perform.
“I fell in love with Irish music,” he said. Christopher now performs
with Liz once or twice a year.
Christopher studied classical music at the Hargreaves School of Music
at Ball State University in Indiana, and the Indiana School of Music
in Bloomington. He played bassoon and bass fiddle. Right out of college
he was recruited by Pete Sutherland to play bass and flute for the
Clayfoot Strutters, a dance band in Vermont.
“The cue for me to go to New York came when I was 29 years old. I had a
friend in New York who was looking for a roommate, and a couple of days later
I got a call from Paul Woodiel, who gave me my start.
“Those two things happened independently in a matter of a day or two of
each other,” Christopher said. “When I talked to Paul, we were talking
about traveling to do some music and he asked, ‘what are you doing in Vermont?’ Move
to New York and I’ll help you find work.’”
and Paul Woodiel
A few months later, the day he moved, Christopher
got his first parking ticket in Midtown Manhattan. Now
he walks or bikes everywhere, knows his neighbors, the
butcher and “the guy who owns the cheese shop.”
“It’s hard for people in a small town like Moab to comprehend that
in the middle of the city I live a small-town lifestyle,” he said. “It
doesn’t really cater to aggressive-type people who want a big house, a
car and five kids,” he adds. “Space has to be efficient. In New York,
you’re always in a make-do situation.”
New York is where Christopher met Moab Music Festival founders Leslie
Tomkins and Michael Barrett. With numerous orchestral appearances behind
and ahead of him, he was a shoe-in as one of the many pros recruited
for the September Festival in Moab. In New York he is the principal
pipe soloist and flautist for the Trinity Irish Dance Company and says
there is no greater compliment than to make someone want to dance.
“The effect that New York has on my music is that it is meant to be accessible
and recreational,” Christopher said. “My personal goal is to make
people feel good. I play dance music. The music I play is traditional, very social
and lacks pretense. It’s like New York – honestly straightforward
and not pretentious.
“I still occasionally go down into the subway and play. The audience votes
there with their feet, and often with more energy than an audience in the Metropolitan
Museum of Art. There’s no difference for me between playing in front of
the Pittsburgh Symphony or the A Street sub stop. The audience in each place
is equally important to me.”
Christopher’s goal with the Moab Community Dance Band is “to
share the excitement of music with other musicians,” he said.
In addition to leading the workshops, rehearsals, socials and monthly
Contra Dances, Christopher will perform “Greengrass to Bluegrass” with
his musical partner, Paul Woodiel with a Cameo appearance expected
by his father, who plans to travel to Moab with his fiddle in tow.
On September 9 there will be a Contra Dance featuring the Armerding
Trio, Paul and Chris. The Socials are scheduled for August 7 and 21
at the Moab Arts and Recreation Center.
For more information about how to get involved with the Moab Community
Dance Band, or future Contra Dances, contact the Moab Music Festival