Focus: Irish Traditional Music (Focus on World Music Series)


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An Irish harp festival, Wood Quay Summer Sessions and some fine musical arrangements

The earliest written record of the Celts includes the Greek word Keltoi. Seltic is correct only when referring to certain sports teams in Boston and Glasgow ; it is never correct to say Seltic otherwise, no matter what your dictionary or mine says. Galego, a language spoken in the northwest 8.

Galego, however, is actually closer to Portuguese in some ways than to, say, Breton. Because the term Celtic is at once primarily a linguistic designation and a handy and highly contested marketing term for some types of New Age music, Irish musicians shun it as inappropriate to describe what they do. Downloaded by at 1 July Irish Musical Processes Coming to Irish instrumental music from the world of bluegrass required a shift in my own musical orientation.

Both bluegrass and Irish music require considerable skill on a melody instrument. Both genres involve men and women playing tunes from memory, sometimes together, in ways that enable a careful listener to note the pleasing differences between a melody played on a fiddle and one played on a banjo in bluegrass or a fiddle and a button accordion in Irish music. My background as a bluegrass banjo and mandolin player took me that far readily, but I was still very much an outsider to Irish music.

At a bluegrass session, many tunes start off with one or two repetitions of the entire tune.

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After that, players can take turns soloing while the others play chords or offer subtle background texturing through the use of filler patterns or instrumental flourishes. Collective shifts in body language especially in performance indicate to the audience that attention should be paid to the mandolin player, for example, followed by the guitarist. By the end of the tune, everyone is playing the tune together again. You might see this same arrangement in a jazz ensemble, or in a rock band just before the breakdown, when the guitarist and drummer improvise dramatically prior to the song s conclusion.

The essential contrast in these bands, then, is between soloists and ensemble, with a clear indication through body language, spoken words, and musical signals as to whose turn it is to solo, and when the tune is coming to an end. This structure of sequential solos is not common in Irish traditional music, but it is essential to bluegrass.

All of this linkage between Irish music and bluegrass or jazz is well and good when one considers Irish music as an ensemble tradition. However, Irish traditional music is not so much band music as it is a solo instrumental tradition that sometimes includes playing in groups for the good times and camaraderie. Playing a bluegrass instrument in a band or playing a jazz instrument in combination with just a few other people is itself the height of the genre; it is the musical give-and-take that adds so much power to the experience.

If I play bluegrass banjo alone, it is certainly fun for a while, and my playing improves; however, it s clear in my mind that I m practicing for the chance to play with others. In contrast, if I pick up the fiddle and start in on the jigs and reels and slides, I can go for hours with no expectation that I ll take the fiddle down to the local session now that my playing has improved. It s enough to play the instrument on its own, and deeply fulfilling to me as a musician.

And so it is with many other musicians who play Irish music. Here is another way of looking at the issue: between Irish music, bluegrass, and jazz, the three genres can be performed by dozens of players all playing at the same time. In Irish music, that scenario would be at one of the summer schools or festivals; in 9. In that unwieldy context, the chance for individual expression is minimal.

It is normal for smaller groups of musicians at festivals to break away from the multitudes and jam. Once a small group of players with, for example, just one person on each type of instrument one fiddle, one button accordion, one wooden flute, or in the case of bluegrass, one fiddle, one banjo, one dobro is playing together, the individual artistry soars. In a small jazz combo of keyboard, bass, drums and saxophone or trumpet, the individuals come together to create something greater than the sum of their musical parts. It is precisely this smaller-group configuration regardless of where it happens in which the magic of the group emerges.

But in Irish music, the magic can and does happen also with a single instrument or singer, alone. Musical textures In an Irish music session, whether it is at a pub a relatively new context or at a home, the players face each other, not the audience if there is one, because Irish music does not require an audience. Instead of taking turns soloing, Irish musicians playing in a group all play the tune together at the same time in a texture called heterophony hetero-, different, phone, sound, voice.

Now picture in your mind a solo singer or melody instrumentalist: when that person is performing alone, unaccompanied, the texture of the music is monophonic, one voice. Adding in the multiple instruments of Irish music, however, means that the melody of the fiddle might not be precisely the same melody as it is when played on the tin whistle, the flute, the button accordion, or any other instrument.

Because, for example, a tin whistle in D cannot be played below the pitch of D, when the notes of the melody stray into the lower octave, the whistle player must choose notes from an octave up, or play ornaments, or make do when the instrument s limitations prevent the player from following the tune s descent into the lower register. In another example, a button accordion player performing a melody can also use chords as both an accompaniment to the melody and as a percussive element; in addition, the keys of the accordion are fixed and unable to slide across pitches the way a fiddle can.

Each instrument has its advantages and drawbacks, and listening to them all fit together despite their differences is part of the fun. An image that might help clarify the practice of heterophony is that of a small marching band. Picture the scene: eight players all headed in the same direction, but on eight separate trails running roughly parallel. Some players have to negotiate the equivalent of tree stumps, children on tricycles, or possibly a slip-n-slide!

Others march on paving stones with guardrails; their steps are easy to follow. Everyone arrives at the street corner at the right time ideally , free of injuries ideally , and they all start marching on the next block. An Irish music session could include a handful of musicians, all marching or reeling, or jigging on the same well-known trails, but the player of each instrument has an individual trail to negotiate.

The place in an Irish instrumental tune with the most variation between instrumental trails is often the last two bars of a section, in which players mix and match melodic lines from various tunes to finish the section. In time, if the players perform often together, the group settles, more or less, on one particular variant. The solo player, or the solo singer, is central to the Irish tradition. While many people enjoy playing a guitar while singing, or listening to someone play a guitar and sing, particularly those influenced by the American folk scene, the solo singer or instrumentalist is special.

At a pub or in an otherwise noisy kitchen, when a lone voice rises above the crowd, everyone falls silent or is supposed to fall silent. To be able to hear a pin drop while one is singing is high praise indeed, because silence toward the singer is a sign of respect.

Focus Irish Traditional Music by Sean Williams

In the context of a noisy session, the solo player of an instrumental air a slow tune that is often based on a song should be able to expect silence from the crowd as well. In practice, of course, it rarely works out that way. What is it about monophony and heterophony that is so characteristic of Irish music? Perhaps it is worth considering that Irish music operates in two musical contexts: singing monophony and dancing both monophony and heterophony. Instrumental music, for the greater part of its history in Ireland, has been played solo to accompany dancing.

Its steady tempos have provided the musical backdrop for hundreds of thousands of dancers. Only recently since the s, for specific reasons have instrumental music sessions begun to speed up beyond danceable tempos. In contrast, the solo singer or instrumentalist might be singing or playing to an almost-breathing rhythm.

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Without a dancer, the singer or player is free to linger on notes, insert ornaments and variations, and allow space for the silences between the notes to take their place in the music too; this can even happen when playing for an attentive dancer. For both instrumentalists and singers, it is a luxury to perform solo to an appreciative audience. Should you happen to be in such an audience, you will recognize from the actions of those around you that the full force of your attention should be on the soloist.

Between monophony and heterophony, where is the harmony singing, or the orchestral playing of musicians performing different notes in harmony with each other? Harmony has not been a major textural focus of Irish traditional music. Certainly people will sing in harmony for an English-language song with a chorus, and Ireland has just as many orchestras and choir ensembles as any other European country.

For traditional music, though, what you will hear most is the soloist or the group; when it s a group, they tend to all play the version of the chosen melody that suits their instruments the best. When it s a soloist, the tune is a carefully chosen melody that suits the context, the instrument, and the player, and both reflect years of listening, practice, and playing in just such a context as the one you might have the chance to attend.

Having said that, harmony is manifest in the drones and regulators of the pipes, and the chords used by the other reed instruments, guitars and bouzoukis, pianos, and anything else that can play more than one note at a time. The drones of the pipes, which establish a continuous floor against which the melody is played, reinforce the notion of a tonic or home to which the melody returns.

That in itself offers a glimpse at functional harmony. The addition of regulators that enable the player to perform chords, however, sets the whole idea of an Irish traditional music being free of harmony on its head! Uilleann pipers can and do use chordal accompaniment, and so do the button accordionists, the piano accordionists, and concertina players. Guitarists use chords as What this means is that although the general assumption about the music is that it is entirely monophonic or heterophonic, harmonizing is nonetheless common.

Regional identities Ireland s counties are divided into four major provinces: Ulster north, including the six counties of Northern Ireland and three counties of the Republic , Connacht middle west , Munster southwest , and Leinster east. The division of these provinces reflects historical differences, but it also currently reflects linguistic and musical differences as well Figure 1. In fact, many Irish jokes told by Irish people to Irish people refer to differences in character and accent, and sports playing ability between the people of Ireland s regions, and extend into differences between counties, sections of counties, and even parishes.

Every county has its own special flag, which flies from houses and barns on sporting days. Stereotypes abound within as well as outside Ireland, and slagging, or jovial and artful teasing, is a favorite conversational pastime of many Irish people. Musicians are particularly adept at slagging one another in good fun. In music, particular districts are known for being the home of regional styles. Similarly, the fiddle playing of East Clare, of Sligo, of Sliabh Luachra and other places are often held up as the standard of excellence.

However, keep in mind that each region of Ireland has its own set of musical elements and standards. In some regions, tourism, the Irish media, and marketing have made individual musicians justly famous and internationally known. In other regions, much of the finest performing is done privately, in the close intimacy of a pub or a kitchen, with only the neighbors and family members as the appreciative audience.

Chapter 6 examines each of the forms of Irish instrumental music, including jigs and reels. Yet Irish music includes many more forms, including polkas, slides, and barndances. Some areas of Ireland are best known for polkas, while others favor highlands. The regional variation extends outward, in fact, to reflect the varying emphases of the Irish diaspora. For example, musicians in Chicago might favor a particular set of musical forms over others, and that emphasis is likely to be different from what musicians playing Irish music in Perth, Tokyo, or St.

Petersburg are doing. This kind of regional variation, both within Ireland and in the diaspora, is one of the things that makes Irish music so interesting and complex. Musical variation In addition to the variation that develops over decades, separating tunes and populations into their multiple constituencies, another kind of musical variation takes place. That variation occurs within the context of multiple repetitions within the same tune or song, rather like the idea of never being able to step into the same river twice.

The twelfth- 1. The provinces and counties of Ireland century writer Giraldus Cambrensis Gerald of Wales wrote with great eloquence in his Topographica Hibernica about subtlety and musical variation in Irish harp music. They introduce and leave rhythmic motifs so subtly, they play the tinkling sounds on the thinner strings above the sustained sound of the thicker string so freely, they take such secret delight and caress [the strings] so sensuously, that 1. Thus it happens that those things which bring private and ineffable delight to people of subtle appreciation and sharp discernment, burden rather than delight the ears of those who, in spite of looking do not see and in spite of hearing do not understand; to unwilling listeners, fastidious things appear tedious and have a confused and disordered sound.

Giraldus Cambrensis, cited in Rimmer 9 That Giraldus noticed both subtlety and the use of variation as far back as the twelfth century should tell us that they were at least as important then as they are now. Reading his words, all these years later, may help you to recognize that the musicians aren t just playing the same tunes over and over. The best elements of an evening s music might reveal themselves only through repeated attendance, participation, and careful listening.

Some Irish singers feel strongly that each verse of a twenty-verse song has to be different from all the others. In fact, they are correct: the lyrics do have an impact on the melody to a certain extent, so some natural variation will occur. Yet even if most of the verses one sings especially towards the end of a song follow roughly the same melody, the fact that there is a sense of insistence about variation points to a larger cultural value of variation. In other words, there is a deeper meaning to this point: variation doesn t just keep people interested in the melody.

A song with twenty verses has the potential to lose its audience, particularly an uninformed audience. Variation in the melodic line can help hold the audience. However, adding or subtracting small ornaments, lingering on a particular word, and using other vocal techniques adds meaning and depth to a song in ways that reading the lyrics out loud as a poem cannot.

Singers are essentially storytellers who sing their stories; they vary their verses not to show off, but to deliver greater emotional impact. Variation also engages attentive audience members at the level of the song s poetic rhythm; depending on the stressed syllables in a particular line, one might need to creatively add several decorative notes to reach the end on the right pitch. This skill is particularly well known and utilized in Connemara. Musical variation also highlights the creative skills of the performer, allowing him or her to reveal a personal relationship to the song or the tune.

Respect for a singer or instrumentalist carries over to respect for the strength of that relationship. Does the singer mean what she sings? Is the fiddler profoundly involved in his tune? How did the singer perform over twenty notes just in delivering one syllable? Some of Ireland s musical communities are small, and while the store of songs and tunes might be large, everyone in a community knows each other s favorites, abilities, and ways of doing a song or tune.

There is considerable pleasure taken in enjoying the differences between two musicians versions of a song or tune. Note that a version of a song is different from a variation of a song, which would indicate a strong departure from the original. The Beatles note the Irish last names of Lennon and McCartney, by the way wellspring of creativity and performance skills did not include the gospel sound. Joe Cocker s performance covers the same melody and lyrics, and the way he performed had to do with his own unique take on, and personal relationship to, the song.

Each recording has its own unique musical characteristics, and each will draw its admirers. One Irish singer doing a version of a song will have his or her own life story, experience, and personal relationship to bring to the song, which will automatically be different from that of another Irish singer. Exploring, discussing, and evaluating versions of performances from one person to the next is just as Irish as listening to a fiddle and a flute doing the same melody and appreciating the differences between them.

Downloaded by at 1 July The Irishness of an Irish melody Much of American folk and rock n roll has at least a few roots in the musics of Ireland and Scotland.

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It is easy to listen to a ballad from Appalachia, then one from Ireland or Scotland, and mark the musical similarities. But what are they? Specifically, Irish and Scottish music use a set of pitches arranged into modes. The ancient Greeks first discussed modes, though they have existed in performance practice since before Aristotle ever considered music as an object of study. Modes comprise a set of notes, but also an order that they fall into like a scale as well as an individual set of emphasized notes that mark how the mode works in that particular tune or song.

If you were to sit down at a piano, find middle C, and play left to right only the white keys from C to the next C, you would have played a C major scale. Were you to sing it using do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do, you would have sung a C major scale. The word scale comes from the Latin scala, ladder. Pitches are played up the scale in steps like those in a ladder or staircase. Some steps are short half steps while others are longer whole steps. It is the arrangement of half steps and whole steps that determines a mode in Western music, including Irish music.

A major scale is also called Ionian mode: same notes in the same order, different name. In most Western classical music, composers and musicians use the major scale Ionian mode and variants of the minor scale Aeolian mode. You can find the Aeolian mode on the piano by returning to middle C, then counting down two white keys until you reach A. If you play from that A to the next A, using only the white notes again, you will have played a natural minor scale.

Melodies played using that scale are called melodies in Aeolian mode. You can test out the difference between major and minor easily: sing Happy Birthday normally, then again using Aeolian mode in the key of C which means you would play the notes E, A, and B as flattened notes. One s birthday song will suddenly sound far less happy. Ionian major and Aeolian natural minor modes are the building blocks of plenty of Irish tunes and songs, but two more also loom large in importance, not only for the Irish, but for the Scottish and American folk and popular musicians as well.

These two modes are Dorian and Mixolydian. To sound out a Dorian scale, sit back down at the piano and start on D this time. Walk slowly up the white notes, moving from low D to high D. It sounds different, even though it s the same notes that you played before! The reason it sounds different is because the arrangement of half steps and whole steps determines the overall sound and feel of each mode; it s like starting up an uneven ladder on the second step instead of the first.

The final mode to explore in Irish and Scottish music is Mixolydian.

It is like Ionian mode a major scale but with a flatted seventh degree. You can hear its sound by starting 1. You will hear it progressing normally at first like a major scale and then the F natural just before the high G changes the entire feel of the scale. One of the most important things to know about modes is that they are not limited by the white keys where you found them on the piano. Remember how you were able to sing Happy Birthday in both Ionian and Aeolian modes, starting on the same pitch?

That is because you were using two different modes, which started on the same pitch, not necessarily a particular scale fixed to a single pitch like D. Not every Irish musician knows the names and patterning of these modes, of course, but they know what sounds culturally appropriate and Irish. Choosing from one of the three remaining modes Phrygian, Lydian, or Locrian would result in a tune that would sound emphatically not Irish. Because the majority of Western classical tunes are in either Ionian or Aeolian mode, those two modes do not necessarily sound particularly Irish.

As soon as Mixolydian or Dorian modes are incorporated, however, Western classical music begins to sound much more Irish or Scottish. Irish music is rich with these kinds of tunes. In Irish songs, which to make a rank generalization are often both happy and sad in mood, the wandering pitch is used to enhance a sense of instability of mood. The lyrics are full of anguish about leaving Ireland and its dark conditions, yet full of optimism for the times to come in America.

In the following transcription Figure 1. Note that the word shamrock includes the F, but the syllable well of farewell leans on the F natural. Similarly, farewell with its F natural is followed by girls with an F sharp, which is followed by Ireland with an F natural. For a guitarist unsure of how to accompany a song like this one, or a tune like Moran s Fancy see Chapter 6 , the path is perilous! Many tunes and songs are fluid in mode, and require that the guitarist walk the fine line between modes by occasionally playing neither a major nor a minor chord behind the melody.

Another aspect of the Irish modal system is gapped modes, in which a particular tune might leave out a crucial indicator of the mode. In Chapter 6, one of the slip jig examples Elizabeth Kelly s Favourite simply does not include the sixth degree of the scale at all. Listening to or playing the tune, it is impossible to tell whether it is in Aeolian minor or Dorian mode.

In some ways, the mode is responsible for some of the sound and feel of Irish music. Combine the mode with the form jigs, reels, etc. Attending an Irish Music Session Irish music wasn t always performed in pubs or on stages and it still isn t! In fact, the pub session so often lauded as traditional is a fairly recent development in music history. When large numbers of Irish men sought work as laborers in England in the early twentieth century, they often took lodging at inexpensive boarding houses.

The pub was a place of congregation and socializing, and it was there that musicians could safely play their instruments without disturbing lodgers next door. A few pubs included sessions by the s, but the kind of session you might see today was not a national phenomenon before the s; it certainly wasn t traditional. Pub sessions have had a flexible existence since that time, with music springing up spontaneously in some places, and carefully planned down to printed set lists and specific hours of performance in others.

At home in Ireland of the nineteenth century and before, music often occurred at homes, around a turf fire in an intimate room that functioned as both kitchen and living room. It is still common to have a particular tune, song, poem, or story, and to offer that party piece at an event of this kind. Depending on where the gathering was taking place, a singer might follow a fiddler, or a piper might stop by for the night. Dances could occur spontaneously; either a solo dancer or a small set or half set of dancers, sometimes with only one musician providing all the music for the evening.

Another traditional context for music might be the crossroads dance, in which young men and women would meet and dance at a crossroads single country roads being too This practice continued until it was banned by the Dance Halls Act of 19, which mandated right through to the present that all dances should be licensed, and ought to take place in the parish hall under the watchful eyes of the priest.

Many towns have Irish music sessions, not just in Ireland but abroad. If you live in a town with one or more Irish music sessions, they are likely to occur in pubs or, if you are lucky, an all-ages venue like a restaurant, so that teenagers can join the adults in playing, listening, and socializing. Like any social gathering, the participants follow an array of unwritten rules.

And, because the traditional Irish session is a relatively recent phenomenon that has spread around the world, every one of these rules is heavily contested, affirmed, denied, debated, proven, and disproven. Being a first-rate musician with excellent knowledge of your instrument and hundreds of local tunes within your grasp does not necessarily qualify you for instant membership in a session s fragile and changeable social order, as frustrating as that might be.

Your status, gender, country of origin, social circle, age, race, class, language, clothing, and other variables can count either for or against you, often simultaneously. Nonetheless, should you be a musician who can play Irish music who is hoping to join in at a session, follow these general rules: 1. Listen first. Attend the session a few times and start bringing your instrument in its case. Observe who starts the tunes. Generally, the ones starting tunes are the leaders of the group. The leader is the one who will invite you to play if you come with a melody instrument. Do not attempt to take the lead; it is not a race to see who can reach the end of the tune first though it may feel like it to you if the tunes are unfamiliar.

When an unfamiliar tune comes up, do not try to fake your way through it. It is normal to sit and listen patiently, holding your instrument, while others are playing.


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You might quietly ask what the title of the tune was so that you can learn it for next time with the caveat that musicians usually know more tunes than tune titles.. Some instruments are more welcome than others. More than one guitar is, generally, too many guitars. Fiddles, tin whistles, flutes, button accordions, and tenor banjos are often quite welcome indeed.

But you will be most welcome if you play well.. You might know a hundred tunes, but if the tunes you learned are from a different region see above , your fellow players may know none of yours. It is your job to conform to the group. If you are asked to lead a tune, choose a wellknown tune, not an obscure one.. If you are a singer, consider singing an actual Irish song, not necessarily one of the Irish American hits.

Conversely, you may be asked to sing a song from your part of the world or your heritage. The average instrumental session can accommodate only one or two songs in a single evening, so do not push for more. Once you have done your song, you are done altogether unless you are It is appropriate to ask if anyone has already sung the song you plan to do.

Downloaded by at 1 July It is relatively easy to tell who is an insider and who is an outsider. The insiders are often the ones playing for enjoyment instead of in competition with the others. They might start tunes a little more slowly and then warm up in speed, or they might offer more variation in the tune forms they choose. They don t jump in instantly to start their tunes when a set has finished. These musicians are highly unlikely to present you with a list of acceptable tunes at the door! Instead, they let the evening unfold according to the desires of the group; if the session devolves into talk about politics or sports, so be it.

Similarly, if the group gets started on a whole series of polkas unusual in some areas of Ireland , people might bring out their favorite polkas just for the variation of it. Do not be surprised if you do not get asked to play at all; some sessions have great music but suffer from rigid hierarchies, strict codes of behavior, and clashing personalities see O Shea 7: 7.

People attending pub sessions as listeners have fewer restrictions on etiquette, though their attentive presence outside the circle of players is quite welcome. Sometimes the pub owner will have the television going with the sound turned off, so that patrons can enjoy whatever sports event is being broadcast.

It is normal for the non-listening people in a pub to chat informally while music is being played. As a good observer, you will notice that musicians in a pub usually gather in a circle with their backs to the pub patrons. This is not rude behavior on their part; it is a way to hear the music well, and to make the session be about the music and the craic camaraderie , as opposed to providing a formal performance for audience members.

If there is a tip jar for the musicians, it is good form to put a euro or two in the jar. You are expected to order something from the bar, but it does not have to be alcohol. Should someone sing or play a solo on an instrument, be quiet. Having read and understood all of that, keep in mind that the rules are flexible, moving targets, and that the session-in-a-pub is only one of multiple venues and types of musical performance.

So much of this music started out as, and has continued to thrive as, solo instrumental music; thousands of players all over the world get an instrument down off the wall or shelf, play a few tunes for enjoyment, and put it back. Many of these people never or almost never play out in public, for a variety of reasons modesty, the desire not to compete with others, playing for fun instead of for public performance, skill level, time limitations, the lack of a good session nearby, irritation with the session rules, etc.

In fact, complaining about one s local session can be a favorite pastime among Irish musicians, especially those who travel outside of their hometown! The solo instrumental tradition is also key to the development of decent musicianship. This term can encompass a wealth of ideas about what it means to become a good musician.

In an Irish context, good musicianship implies that you have listened to so much music that you have internalized the blas or feel or taste of the music. It means, for example, that if you were to encounter a new jig, you would not play the six eighth notes in each measure using precisely the same amount of time for each note. Instead, you would slightly lengthen and shorten the time value of certain notes; you might slur the notes across particular barlines; you might start varying the tune immediately. You You might throw in a roll instead of a dotted quarter note.

You would do it because it would be the right thing to do in Irish music, and exactly the wrong thing to do in classical music. Because musicianship develops over time, and with considerable solo practice, it is worth considering that for every internet-listed pub session with a whole bank of fiddlers sawing away, dozens more musicians may be working on the jigs, reels, hornpipes and slides in the privacy of their own homes, with no intention of ever playing at a pub session. Singing in Ireland is another matter altogether. While there are singers clubs in many Irish towns, most people simply sing without the expectation of performance.

Ireland s reputation as The Land of Song is founded at least partly on the concepts that one does not have to be a trained singer to perform, and that singing is for everyone. In practice, Irish people do not tend to burst into song for any public occasion. Instead, people sing along with the radio, sing to their children, sing in school, and very occasionally sing for competitions and performances. Singing tends to be a more personal and private affair; in fact, it is much more difficult to locate singers performing in public venues than it is to locate sessions in pubs.

People singing in Ireland as opposed to Irish traditional singers cross genres quite easily. Singer-songwriters of the past forty years are, generally, held in high esteem, regardless of where they originated. It is just as normal to hear songs by international stars like Bob Dylan or James Taylor as it is to hear a song by any of the contemporary Irish songwriters. Some institutions sponsor public concerts and festivals of Irish traditional music, for which tickets are sold.

These institutions might include universities, hotels, or concert halls. Ireland has its share of superstars who perform traditional music either solo or in groups, and enough traditional music enthusiasts live in the larger cities to make such concerts viable for the artists and promoters. Even when a group comes to a smaller town, however, people from the region are generally willing to drive an hour or so to see someone whose playing they respect and enjoy.

Doing a tour of Ireland is a short-term proposition because of Ireland s small size, but it is common for the major players to return to festivals year after year, or to the same town in which a successful concert took place in previous years. One of the liveliest venues for the public performance of Irish music is the summer music schools.

Held every July since in honor of the great piper Willie Clancy , the summer school draws Irish music enthusiasts from all over the world and from across Ireland. Well over a thousand people attend each year, and the numbers are increasing. Although the week features classes for all levels in every normal Irish traditional instrument, dance, and vocal style, many people come for the packed, high-energy instrumental music sessions that seem to blossom everywhere, day and night. The town itself is overwhelmed with visitors during the week, 0.

One way in which Ireland celebrates its great musicians and dancers is through the development of festival weekends to honor notable individuals. Many more are one-time festivals, or occur only occasionally. Usually these weekends feature classes, late-night sessions often with set dancing , and concerts. It is in the best interest of the future of Irish traditional music for young people to be encouraged to play, sing, and dance, and some festivals highlight participation by young people.

Held every August, the Fleadh Cheoil celebrates the winners of all the regional competitions from the previous year and engages them in competition. The winners of the competitions then have the honor of being called the All-Ireland champion player, dancer, singer, duo, trio, band, or other configuration. The designation All-Ireland not only is inclusive of all of Ireland both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland , but is also inclusive of people from outside of Ireland. The Fleadh Nua in Ennis, County Clare in May , is just one more of dozens of festivals held all over Ireland, particularly in the summer season.

As with the other summer schools and festivals, a relatively small town packs in hundreds of people, pub sessions and singers clubs fill up with players, singers, and listeners, and people renew acquaintances, play tunes, and sing songs. It might be useful to keep in mind that in the middle of the twentieth century, Irish traditional music was experiencing quite a decline; it was unfashionable to listen to or play , and few young people were bothering to learn to play or sing. For reasons you will learn in this book, however, those days are over for the time being.

Going off to a weekend festival with friends for the craic great tunes, fun times is a fun way to spend one s time! Proportionately speaking, only a few young people attend festivals like the Fleadh Nua or a festival honoring one of the great musicians of the past. Compared to the situation in the s and s, however, the sight of dozens of teens at sessions playing fiddles, pipes, flutes and button accordions right alongside people in their thirties, fifties and seventies is a dramatic development in intergenerational musical practice.

The home is a frequent venue for Irish traditional music playing. In a kitchen or living room the setting is informal, there are fewer listeners and more participants, and songs are much more frequent than in the pub or other settings. The drink of choice is often tea instead of a pint of beer, and the children and neighbors are welcome to join in. Rather than an exclusive session of rapid-fire instrumental tunes, a home session can feature lively stories, poetry, jokes, conversations, and questions in addition to instrumental music and songs. Everyone is expected to contribute something to the enjoyment of the event, including the outsider.

What would you bring to contribute to a gathering of this kind? If the pub session is a collective public performance, the home session is still collective, but it is much more private. Many more solo tunes are performed in the home, and people are much more attentive, respectful, and dedicated to the tunes and songs as a powerful expression of their relationships as family and community members.

Whereas in a pub anyone can show up, a home session is much more likely to include those who have been invited or who know that they will be welcome, particularly family members of the hosts. This more selective sensibility reflects another aspect of Irish social life, which is that many Irish people spend a considerable portion of their free and social time on weekends with the members of their own extended families, rather than exclusively with friends.

Friends and neighbors come over and are folded into an existing family structure, regardless of whether that family is functional or flawed, fractured or congenial. All of Ireland s music Lest the reader get the impression that every Irish home or pub hosts a music gathering nightly, or that Irish traditional music is all that is played on the radio or in the concert hall, let us expand our understanding of music in Ireland!

In the twenty-first century, every musical current that develops in North American popular culture has its place in Ireland. Country music, for example, is quite popular, and the country singer Garth Brooks among many others has filled stadiums with screaming fans. In fact, the genre of country Irish Irish songs written in country music style in both English and Irish has a growing fan base.

Most of the larger cities have multiple nightclubs where people dance to hip-hop, trance, industrial, and other American- or Euro-tinged genres. Cell phones called mobiles , digital cameras, computers, and other evidence of high tech living are ubiquitous. In fact, several multinational corporations Intel, for example, and an array of pharmaceutical companies have established a base in Ireland because of the extremely high rate of both literacy and English fluency of its workforce. The Celtic Tiger the economic boom of the s brought luxury goods to Ireland in full force, and even though the economy currently suffers from the same malaise that has affected the rest of the world, parts of Dublin in particular are awash in new construction, late model luxury cars, and high fashion.

Both rock and pop music have a strong foothold in Ireland. U, Van Morrison, the Pogues, and other popular international rock acts are Irish and maintain homes in Ireland. Jazz has been performed in Ireland since the s, and has a devoted following. Though it initially scandalized some members of the Church leadership, jazz persisted across the difficult economic years of the s and s, emerging in the s as a.

Ireland s long history of proximity to the mainland of Europe has led to a rich interchange of classical composers, musicians, and other artists. Handel s Messiah received its world premiere in Dublin in 17, an important event for the Irish aristocracy of the time and something of a coming-out party for Dublin. The prevalence of choirs, chamber orchestras, and other classical music ensembles offers testament to the fact that Irish music is much more than its traditional music.

The traditional music is, however, that which is most characteristically Irish, and that which is the subject of this volume. Most Irish radio stations and there are many tend to duplicate precisely what one would hear in the United States, or Australia, or England. The majority of stations focus on top-0 hits, followed by classic rock, talk shows, jazz, light rock, and classical music. RnaG broadcasts in Irish from multiple Irish-speaking regions in the country.

It can be heard via live streaming webcast at and it is fascinating to listen to if you have never heard the Irish language spoken before. Yet the radio airwaves in Ireland are not restricted to the English- and Irish-speaking audience alone. Ireland now has a Polishlanguage radio station, as Polish people form the majority of Eastern European immigrants to Ireland.

Furthermore, the increase of immigrants from Asia has led to the creation of a Mandarin Chinese radio station, and more stations are in development. All of these changes in the media are reflections of an Ireland that is increasingly international, cosmopolitan, wealthy, and wired to the internet.


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The Additional Resources section of this book includes the web addresses of various Irish radio stations, all of which are worth pursuing for their different perspectives on the spectrum of Irish music. It should be clear at this point that Ireland, while never actually remote from the mainland, other islands, or the Mediterranean, is even less remote now. Alongside the recent economic boom, Ireland has experienced many of the same issues as North America: a widening gap between the very wealthy and the very poor; problems with racism and gang violence; and a dramatic increase in drug use.

On a positive note, and for the first time since the era of the bards, professional musicians are once again able to make something of a living exclusively from music. In addition, the Irish government has paid increasing attention to the traditional arts through funding, publicity, and other forms of support.

This chapter has introduced the concepts underlying this book, some of the basic musical ideas, and offered a sense of contemporary contexts for traditional music. In order to understand how Irish traditional music came to be the way it is today, it is appropriate for us now to explore some of its earliest developments in the context of Irish history.

Just remember that Ireland s present is profoundly interwoven with its past. What do you know about Ireland right now, and how much of your understanding of it is based on American stereotypes?. How much of a choice do you believe you have in choosing which aspect of your own heritage to celebrate? Do you need to be mostly or entirely of Irish descent to claim Irish heritage for yourself?.

Are there certain unwritten rules about who may join in, and what instrument they may play, for genres besides Irish music? What are those rules, and where do they apply?. What other kinds of folk and popular music use heterophony as their primary texture? What about monophony?. Why is it that this book isn t about Irish classical, jazz, rock or pop musics? The sea roads between Ireland and the Mediterranean have always been well traveled; travelers accounts have long taken note of Spanish ships in Galway Bay.

Sea roads to the north were commonly traveled as well. Some of the first inhabitants of Iceland, to the northwest of Ireland, were Irish monks called papars fathers , practicing what they called white martyrdom.

Between the seventh and eighth centuries C. Enough of these monks survived to establish a foothold in Iceland, Scotland, and elsewhere, to which others came Crawford The Irish monks are said to have left Iceland when the Norse arrived in the ninth century C. Harding and Bindloss 0 , but their peripatetic ways were by that time legendary. Even earlier than the Christian monks of Ireland, however, were the very first inhabitants of Ireland.

From 9, B. They first established a foothold on the Derry coast in the north of Ireland, where shell middens and stone tools attest to their existence. What did Ireland look like in the earliest days of human settlement? The last Ice Age ended 1, years ago, and as the ice melted it submerged the land bridges that connected many of today s islands to the nearest mainland. Ireland s land bridge with Scotland was submerged about 6, years ago Andrews , though it did not become isolated because of the submersion.


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  8. Animals and plants had crossed the land. Protein sources for the early Mesolithic people were abundant, including birds, fish, venison, pork, and hazelnuts Flanagan Britain, too, was connected to the mainland via a plain Sykes Today one can stand on the Antrim coast in northeast Ireland and easily see Scotland, a mere 17 miles away and an easy boat ride on a fine day.

    Antrim s proximity to the land bridge to Scotland gave rise to the legend of the Giants Causeway Figure. Early Irish people envisioned the step-like formations as a crossing point for the giants of both sides. Though many of the oak trees were cut down during the colonial era, place names attesting to their existence are scattered across Ireland Derry, Edenderry, Derryaghy, Derryconor, etc. To this day, the lush inland regions contrast markedly with the now-treeless coastal areas. The city of Derry in Northern Ireland is named for its oak.

    This word is also the root for such English words as true, truth, troth, and truce. Consider the possibility that in the presence of one of the great oak trees, where legal cases were once presided over by judges called brehons, one had to speak the truth. Do you ever touch wood to make something true? According to DNA evidence, the people of Ireland and Scotland are not closely related to the Celts who migrated from Central Europe to the southeastern European countries; instead, waves of people came north from the Iberian peninsula and along the Atlantic coast, shifting the population from hunter-gatherers, over time, to farmers in familybased settlements Sykes In other words, the Mesolithic peoples of Irish antiquity were joined, gradually, by small groups of Celts who intermarried.

    While a significant amount of Irish identity is bound up in being part of the Celtic race, that identity developed only during the past several hundred years, and did so at least partly because of trends in philosophy, literature, and the arts. The idea that some people in Ireland might be descended from Iberian, let alone Mediterranean, roots is rather controversial see, for example, Quinn The people living in Ireland prior to the arrival of the Celts possessed exceptional technological skills when it came to the movement of stone. Ireland is rich in megalithic tombs of various kinds, at least two hundred stone circles, and dozens of standing stones.

    If you know only of England s Stonehenge, then Ireland will seem like an archaeologist s dream. The tombs of Ireland see Figure. One of Ireland s most famous monuments is Newgrange, a Neolithic passage tomb, built well before the Pyramids were constructed at Giza in Egypt. The year-old Poulnabrone dolmen in County Clare Figure. Most of them, however, are unexcavated, and are partly or wholly obscured by the encroaching bog, or lie in a farmer s field untended, surrounded by farm animals, and marked on a map with only a tiny symbol of a dolmen.

    By about 00 B. These small kingdoms were centered on ring forts circular earthen forts that provided some protection to the people, goods, and animals within. Thousands of these unmistakable earthworks still exist in Ireland, though as with the megalithic structures they are largely unexcavated and unmarked. Local rulers governed the small kingdoms, and they in turn were generally answerable to a provincial ruler Cronin Although Ireland was home to a series of High Kings who ruled from Tara in County Meath from before the Celts arrived, the balance of power shifted continually among royal family members, between areas large and small, and according to shifts in political allegiance.

    In addition to stone axes, archaeologists have found bronze beakers, flint tools, and pottery made by hand; people also built walled enclosures with rectangular and circular houses inside. The people managed cattle an essential source of early wealth and grew grains protected from rodents by cats. Each chapter represents an individual tale that would have been told over a series of evenings, and each tale was told to a Christian scholar-monk, who wrote that tale down in weeks or even months.

    Sometimes the monks changed the story so that it had a Christian feel to it; other times they changed it to punish women for being warrior-like or for being too sexual. Sometimes they wrote their own comments in the margins. These and other stories often begin with a question, followed by the answer in the form of a story; it is a classic narrative device from oral tradition.

    Other features of early Irish oral tradition as transcribed in the earliest texts include women serving as prophetesses and bards, lists of people, places, and names, and the use of stories about kings and queens to discuss gods and goddesses. Many of the earliest transcriptions from oral tradition include sections of poetry, which could possibly have been chanted to accompaniment. Hugh Shields points out that the performance of the stories did not 9. Some of these are explanations of life cycle issues, while others describe pilgrimage or war and death. Its predominant focus is traditional, jazz and contemporary classical genres.

    The publication offers a significant contribution to musical life by providing a platform for discussion, news, debate, courses, recruitment, exchange of views and ideas and reviews. Music for Galway was established in when a group of people came together with the aim of providing audiences in the West of Ireland with a range of opportunities to listen to world class musicians.

    Melvil Decimal System: 781.6291

    Since then the organisation has presented hundreds of inspiring and stimulating performances in Galway. Dedicated to developing music throughout Ireland. Involved in concert programming, touring, providing information, support and policy advice on music and professional development programmes for artists. One of Ireland's leading concert producers, Note Productions has a twofold commitment to new music.

    Firstly, they are dedicated to expanding the Irish audience for jazz, world music, electronic and contemporary classical music. Secondly, they strive to bring the very best performers to Ireland. Pipeworks is a triennial festival of organ and choral music, which offers specialist programming to audiences and delivers high quality music experiences for artists and audiences alike. Sundays at Noon offers in the region of thirty nine concerts a year free of charge to audiences at the Dublin City Hugh Lane Gallery. The series includes a wide repertoire that ranges from early music to new commissions, predominantly in the classical arena but also featuring jazz, world music and traditional music.

    It provides a valuable platform for leading Irish soloists, chamber musicians and composers as well as international performers and the schedule features a clever balance of own promotions, co-promotions and hosted concerts. Formerly the National Chamber Choir of Ireland, the Choir is known for its unique approach to programming and has gained a reputation for the high artistic quality of its performances. Established in , West Cork Music is best known for its internationally acclaimed festival of chamber music.

    The organisation also organises a range of other activities in Bantry and the region, including an education programme held in many parts of Cork county 48 schools , the West Cork Literary Festival and the highly regarded Masters of Tradition festival. Bray Jazz Festival is the longest established jazz festival weekend taking place within the Greater Dublin Area, each year.

    Great Music in Irish Houses is the longest established chamber music festival in Ireland. Since its inception nearly 40 years ago it has afforded Irish audiences the opportunity of hearing leading musicians of the world play the compositions of the masters in the intimate setting of Ireland's finest buildings. These houses provide exactly the kind of environment for which much of that music was originally written. Louth Contemporary Music Society specialises in cutting edge contemporary music programmes.

    It offers a unique programme of concerts and events to audiences in the Louth area and draws audiences from further afield for its eclectic programming, excellent performances and imaginative and committed curation. It brings strong and imaginative programming performed by Irish and intenational artists to local, regional and national audiences.

    The Arts Council is the national agency for funding, developing and promoting the arts in Ireland. Arts Council of Ireland Menu. Funding Funding the arts.

    Focus: Irish Traditional Music (Focus on World Music Series) Focus: Irish Traditional Music (Focus on World Music Series)
    Focus: Irish Traditional Music (Focus on World Music Series) Focus: Irish Traditional Music (Focus on World Music Series)
    Focus: Irish Traditional Music (Focus on World Music Series) Focus: Irish Traditional Music (Focus on World Music Series)
    Focus: Irish Traditional Music (Focus on World Music Series) Focus: Irish Traditional Music (Focus on World Music Series)
    Focus: Irish Traditional Music (Focus on World Music Series) Focus: Irish Traditional Music (Focus on World Music Series)
    Focus: Irish Traditional Music (Focus on World Music Series) Focus: Irish Traditional Music (Focus on World Music Series)
    Focus: Irish Traditional Music (Focus on World Music Series) Focus: Irish Traditional Music (Focus on World Music Series)

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