Music is Sound of Home for Sailors

RYAN PILE
El Vaquero Staff Writer

For Dennis Doyle, a lifelong passion was born when he opened a Christmas present more than 20 years ago.

“One Christmas [my wife] surprised me” with a Celitc harp, explains the GCC professor of English, with a proud Irish heritage.

He was soon taking lessons at the Sylvia Woods Harp Center, in Glendale, taking his first steps down a road he is still traveling today. That road has taken him around the world and two weeks ago to Japan, playing at three U.S. Navy bases there. Doyle returned March 21 from the week-long trip.

To Doyle, it seemed only logical that he share with others what has brought him so much joy over the years, the sound of the Celtic harp.
Doyle, 51, recalls with a look of contentment his first experience with the unique sound of the ancient instrument.

“I would be going throughout local renaissance fairs and I would see the Celtic harp being played,” he thoughtfully recounts. “I thought that it sounded so beautiful, it really spoke to me.”

By that time Doyle had already mastered the piano, the mandolin and the organ so learning to play the harp was a rational progression.

“I had the motiviation and the desire,” said Doyle. “I loved the sound; it is so relaxing.”

This newfound passion was soon taking him to local Irish festivals and ethnic fairs. He credits a show at the Milwuakee Irish Fest as the spark that started his career.

“After a while I realized [playing music] was not only fun but there was some money in it as well,” joked Doyle.

As his network of fellow musicians grew, he began playing regularly with a group of 12 friends. Soon they were play ing shows together and the band Innisfree was born.

The group continued to play for a few years, but soon a lack of time forced Doyle to leave the band. As a solo artist, he has performed in Japan, throughout the United States and Canada, as well as in Ireland. His music appears on episodes of the hit TV show “Murder She Wrote” and also on PBS specials.

He was continuing his solo career when he received a call last year from a member of Innisfree. A member of the band had passed away and the band needed a fill-in for a show.

And so early on March 14, Doyle and his former band mates left for Japan to play for U.S. sailors stationed there. After almost 30 hours of travel, they arrived at Sasebo Naval Base in southern Japan; home to almost 15,000 American military personnel.

They played for the sailors and their families on St. Patrick’s Day, Doyle’s first experience playing for military crowd.

“The troops are so nice,” said Doyle. “After the show people would hang out and say how much they appreciated it.”

The band then traveled to both Atsugi Naval Air Station and Yokosuka Submarine Base, where they played for the sailors living there.

Doyle appreciated the chance to play for the troops and looks forward to a chance to do it again. “We were giving them a little bit of home,” said Doyle. “They are all a bit homesick.”

Returning home across the International Date Line, after what he calls the “longest Sunday of my life,” Doyle came home to everyday life in Glendale. The father of five and life-long Glendale resident has taught at GCC for more than 20 years and is now director of the learning center. He also teaches English and works with the Traval Abroad Program during their trips to Ireland.

Despite such a full schedule, music will continue to play an integral part of Professor Doyle’s life.

“Music is a great sideline to what I do here [at GCC],” shares Doyle. “It keeps me from taking myself too seriously.”