Tin whistling priest goes viral on Youtube

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Father Ryan Duns, a member of the Jesuit community at Marquette University and professor of theology, recently became popular on YouTube for his tin whistling tutorials.

Duns currently has just under 15,000 subscribers and over 5.4 million views on his youtube channel, Ryan G. Duns.

“A tin whistle is like a narrower recorder. It is a traditional Irish instrument. It is very portable. In Ireland, a lot of musicians would gather in an informal way,” Brigid Kinsella-Alba, coordinator of mission programs and Irish Dance teacher at Marquette, said. “You could bring out your tin whistle and join in the tunes.”

Duns said he started tin whistling because his family wanted him to be involved with Irish culture, and there was a local Irish musician in his hometown. 

In 2006, Duns was asked to teach a class named “Introduction to the Irish Tune Whistle” at Fordham University in New York. The class met once a week for one hour, and drew a large enrollment, he said.

Duns said it became clear that there was no way to spend the needed time with each student to teach the material, so he found an alternative that would eventually lead to his internet fame.

Youtube had recently come on the market at the time Duns was teaching in New York, so he started making videos to coincide with each week’s classroom lesson. Each video begins with a tutorial and then at the end he plays the song at full speed.

After the class ended, Duns said he continued to make the online tutorials, making weekly videos for the last 12 years. He said that he struggles to find new material after doing it for so long, so he started selecting classical albums and making his way through them. He calls it “Irish Tune of the Week.”

“We might not be able to play like the masters (of Irish tin whistling), but we can play with them. So that is why I am making my way through these albums,” Duns said. “It also gives me a challenge to learn new tunes and to break them down in creative ways.”

He said that the Youtube channel gaining popularity has affected his life. Sometimes, people recognize him at Irish bars, he said.

“Sometimes I get random questions from Youtube comments. People will say ‘my cat doesn’t like my tin whistle, do you know what tin whistles cats like?’,” Duns said.

Duns is a recent addition to the theology department, but he said he would love to teach music as well.

“I think Duns is wonderful. He is a very good theologian and wonderful addition to our faculty,” Susan Wood, chair of the theology department, said. “He is bringing visibility of the department and university through his Irish music”

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