"t was in the chatroom a couple of days ago, that I was discussing trad with Mike Orme, and where I stated that the Netherlands don't have any music tradition whatsoever....Now that might be a bit of an over-statement, but it's very much true. We, the Netherlands, had a rich song tradition, today only known by a selected few....Some fisherman-tradition survives, but mainly as a tourist attraction. We also talked about English and Welsh trad music, the both which are completely outshone by Irish and Scottish trad. Now, after we said goodnight, I couldn't help but wonder: WHY is it that here in the Netherlands remains so little of our musical tradition? It kept me awake all night :-) The answer I came up with is rather simple really....the last 100-150 years we have known prosperity, industrial development, living standards have increased ever since, we have known no occupation, or suppression, and the rural communities slowly dissappeared. All of these are factors, I think, that help killing tradition...These days, we, Dutch, live in a highly industrialized country, where the economy makes overtime, and all-day life is spend on making MONEY. No time for such frolics as traditional music, or sitting together and sing and play songs. Now, I'm not a historian, and mean to offend no one, but the same is applicable on the English side of the North Sea. The Irish and the Scottish however have been, let's say, occupied, suppressed, their cultures were methodically eradicated, or at least the attempt was made. I think it's part of human nature that, where enters suppression, or occupation, that national pride is sticking up its head, and the urge to save your culture is prominent. Just look at the Jews: they have been prosecuted for centuries, and their culture flourished...As for the Irish, after the forming of the free state, or republic, look at how Irish music and tradition dwindled....I suppose it's the merit of a Seamus Ennis, and a Paddy Glakin,and all those others, that Irish music is still here today, because of all their recording and archiving work. I mean, even in their time it was rapidly dissappearing.....I suppose the immigrations in the 18/1900's also play a major part in the survival, I mean, there were large Irish and Scottish communities in the US, but they were hardly middle-class, rather the underpaid working-force that did the dirty work, so there's another reason to keep the tradition alive : stick together......Well, I hope I'm not too confusing, But I would really like to know : What is it, that keeps traditions alive, or what is it that kills tradition....What if Ireland and Scotland had only known prosperity, Would trad be alive still??

Your thoughts on this are most welcome :-) Enlighten me 

Views: 297

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Well Kees, you've covered a lot of ground already! Economic prosperity with its relentless pushing for more productivity and more money (the Holy Grail of modern society) did not do any tradition much good, though it did not completely wipe it out in the rural part in Ireland where I live.

Another thing is that Schottisch and Irish may have reacted a bit differenty to being occupied and oppressed: their feeling of national and even regional pride only grew. We, as Dutchmen, immediately started looking if the oppressor might have a valid business point and started working on a compromise.

Also the regionale differences in Ireland are important, not only on the GAA pitches. In Donegal e.g. the are really proud of their footballers but also of their other traditions and legacy like the music and John Doherty is still a massive inspiration to young players in these parts. They play that music that is in their blood.

So it is a bit of everything, I guess. But honestly, for me, a nice little kitchen section in somebody´s house may sometimes be even more important than the bigg stuff at Comhaltas. In the country kitchens, the music remains the music of the people: the kids and the grownups like me who will never be top musicians but still enjoy playing and being in each other's company.

But of course the role of Comhaltas can never be underestimated. Thanks to them thousands of young Irisch people are now playing at astonishing levels. The actually managed to make Irish Trad sexy! And of course you have all these inspirational musicians keeping it going. You mention Paddy Glackin, of whom I've been a fan for 30 years, but I can easily supply you with a thousand other names of people who thought keeping the tradition was more important than going for maximum money.

Well, being English, I can certainly point out that there is still a strong English tradition. There are even strong and slightly differing musical traditions in different localised parts of England. This would lead me into believing that occupation and supression is not the prime factor concerning the existance / non existance of a tradition. I will however state that, on the whole, I prefer Irish music. While supression and occupation may be a factor in Irish music, I believe that there are loads of other factors that have all played their part.

 

So, what makes Irish music so good? - Well, there are several different elements in what I regard as distinctly Irish music that can all trace their origins back to slightly different beginnings. There are different types of tunes (Jigs, Reels, Hornpipes etc) and different origins for different types of songs. There are also very strong associations between instruments and tunes. For the most part the tunes cross over very well from one instrument to another but it does seem that certain tunes were "built" for certain specific instruments. How can I illustrate that? - look at tunes from the uilleann pipers. They regularly seem constructed in a way to suit the instrument in question and would not sit well on other species of bagpipe. Further than that I would hazard that certain tunes are easier to play on, for example, fiddle rather than pipes and vice-versa. As an aside, I reckon this usually enables you to work out which tunes originated on which instruments. It is, I admit, a bit of a broard brush approach at that but I think (or is that hope?) you can see where I'm coming from. I mention this because at different periods, different instruments have been popular in different places but the individual characteristics of the instruments have contributed to the way the music developed.

So, assuming I'm right in what I've just said (I know thats a big leap of faith, but stick with me for a moment!) The other common bond found in (gulp - going out on a ledge now!) ALL Irish music, is the style in which it is played. Now there are, of course, very strong regional styles within Ireland but they have common roots in what I believe is an unmistakable philosophy of tune structure, ornamentation, pulse, rhythm and emphasis. Maybe I've put that very badly but the essence of what I'm trying to say is that you can take players of the same instrument from different locations within Ireland, get them playing the same tune, and hear an underlying "Irishness" even though the individual interpretations may be very different. So its therefore how the instruments are being played as much as what they are playing.

With regard to the individual songs and tunes that feature in what I would recognise as the "Irish Tradition" there are several that were written and originally popular elsewhere. This I believe is because there has always been a great deal of movement between the various nationalities of these Islands of ours, and a great deal of contact between us. And not always as a result of occupation and supression. There have also been many periods of peaceful trade and immigration between all the peoples of these Islands. Tunes and songs have happily crossed over the different cultures. The instruments themselves have done the same. To illustrate this, I think I'm correct in saying that the tin whistle was popularised and manufactured first in England. Being an affordable and readily portable instrument it was taken up by Irish navvies working in England and taken home with them when they returned to Ireland. I can talk with a tiny bit of authority on this aspect because I've striven for years not to sound like an Englishman playing Irish tunes - and I ain't sure I've managed it yet mind !!!

 

That is a whole other ball game - the reasons for various instruments being adopted into the Irish tradition whilst others were rejected!

 

My final thought is that the reasons trad is alive and well is because, for whatever reason, it is a living tradition. It is still being honed and developed and is still growing. Brand new trad tunes and songs are still being written and performed. This will also probably result in some of the older material falling from favour whilst the new ones will become popular and become fully absorbed. That process is a key part of the tradition and always has been.

I believe that many traditions became threatened when populations were exposed to new types of music via radio and commercially available recordings. Popular culture changed as more global influences became fashionable. Before people were exposed to these other inflluences they were very limited on choice. Trad in Ireland has seen several revivals over the years but is still a minority interest even in its own homeland. Its the same for "native" music in England and Scotland as well. The widespread adoption of modern electric instruments is also a factor because, whilst they may be used on the fringes of trad, they are not core to the tradition and have not been adopted en masse.

 

I will emphasise that these are just my own thoughts and that I do not speak from any position of authority. In fact, I would be very interested to know if anyone else either agrees or disagrees with me concerning any of these thoughts. I may well be ignorant - but I do want to learn if I can! I've added this reply just to open up the debate a little - without the wish to upset or offend anyone. I hope I have at least succeeded in that objective.

Oh dear, had nearly finished my reaction, went to Google to check something and when I came back my text had disappeared. Spooky and a bit annoying. Well, nothing I can do about it. Will try again tomorrow, but just to make sure Mike gets a good night's sleep: here is one reader you did not upset or offend. I find the discussion actually quite interesting and the English perspective gave me food for thought. So no worries!


 
Mike "Ormepipes" Orme said:

Well, being English, I can certainly point out that there is still a strong English tradition. There are even strong and slightly differing musical traditions in different localised parts of England. This would lead me into believing that occupation and supression is not the prime factor concerning the existance / non existance of a tradition. I will however state that, on the whole, I prefer Irish music. While supression and occupation may be a factor in Irish music, I believe that there are loads of other factors that have all played their part.

 

So, what makes Irish music so good? - Well, there are several different elements in what I regard as distinctly Irish music that can all trace their origins back to slightly different beginnings. There are different types of tunes (Jigs, Reels, Hornpipes etc) and different origins for different types of songs. There are also very strong associations between instruments and tunes. For the most part the tunes cross over very well from one instrument to another but it does seem that certain tunes were "built" for certain specific instruments. How can I illustrate that? - look at tunes from the uilleann pipers. They regularly seem constructed in a way to suit the instrument in question and would not sit well on other species of bagpipe. Further than that I would hazard that certain tunes are easier to play on, for example, fiddle rather than pipes and vice-versa. As an aside, I reckon this usually enables you to work out which tunes originated on which instruments. It is, I admit, a bit of a broard brush approach at that but I think (or is that hope?) you can see where I'm coming from. I mention this because at different periods, different instruments have been popular in different places but the individual characteristics of the instruments have contributed to the way the music developed.

So, assuming I'm right in what I've just said (I know thats a big leap of faith, but stick with me for a moment!) The other common bond found in (gulp - going out on a ledge now!) ALL Irish music, is the style in which it is played. Now there are, of course, very strong regional styles within Ireland but they have common roots in what I believe is an unmistakable philosophy of tune structure, ornamentation, pulse, rhythm and emphasis. Maybe I've put that very badly but the essence of what I'm trying to say is that you can take players of the same instrument from different locations within Ireland, get them playing the same tune, and hear an underlying "Irishness" even though the individual interpretations may be very different. So its therefore how the instruments are being played as much as what they are playing.

With regard to the individual songs and tunes that feature in what I would recognise as the "Irish Tradition" there are several that were written and originally popular elsewhere. This I believe is because there has always been a great deal of movement between the various nationalities of these Islands of ours, and a great deal of contact between us. And not always as a result of occupation and supression. There have also been many periods of peaceful trade and immigration between all the peoples of these Islands. Tunes and songs have happily crossed over the different cultures. The instruments themselves have done the same. To illustrate this, I think I'm correct in saying that the tin whistle was popularised and manufactured first in England. Being an affordable and readily portable instrument it was taken up by Irish navvies working in England and taken home with them when they returned to Ireland. I can talk with a tiny bit of authority on this aspect because I've striven for years not to sound like an Englishman playing Irish tunes - and I ain't sure I've managed it yet mind !!!

 

That is a whole other ball game - the reasons for various instruments being adopted into the Irish tradition whilst others were rejected!

 

My final thought is that the reasons trad is alive and well is because, for whatever reason, it is a living tradition. It is still being honed and developed and is still growing. Brand new trad tunes and songs are still being written and performed. This will also probably result in some of the older material falling from favour whilst the new ones will become popular and become fully absorbed. That process is a key part of the tradition and always has been.

I believe that many traditions became threatened when populations were exposed to new types of music via radio and commercially available recordings. Popular culture changed as more global influences became fashionable. Before people were exposed to these other inflluences they were very limited on choice. Trad in Ireland has seen several revivals over the years but is still a minority interest even in its own homeland. Its the same for "native" music in England and Scotland as well. The widespread adoption of modern electric instruments is also a factor because, whilst they may be used on the fringes of trad, they are not core to the tradition and have not been adopted en masse.

 

I will emphasise that these are just my own thoughts and that I do not speak from any position of authority. In fact, I would be very interested to know if anyone else either agrees or disagrees with me concerning any of these thoughts. I may well be ignorant - but I do want to learn if I can! I've added this reply just to open up the debate a little - without the wish to upset or offend anyone. I hope I have at least succeeded in that objective.

Oh dear Bert,

Sorry for your Google catastrophe! - I thought it was just me that did things like that !
 
Cheers,

 

Mike

Mike, 

I hear what you say about different tunes designed for different types of instruments. I think a good example in this is Northhumbrian Pipes music, where the older tunes are written for an instrument with only 8 holes, so relatively simple. The later build instruments were provided with keys, which made them more versatile, and more complicated melodies were written for them. As well would the music written for a uillean pipe be rather unsuitable for a great highland bagpipe. But on the other hand, I listen a lot to Micho Russel's CD's, and he illustrates  that it's very well possible to play music on his tinwhistle, that he learned from the old concertina players. 

And as Bert stated, that Irish music these days is sexy, I suppose that also holds some truth, and that for this a word of thanks is also on its place for productions like Lord of the Dance, Riverdance, and all their offspring. Just take a bunch of lovely Irish Lassies, a great setting, beautifully produced music, and it's magic....Not to forget the BBC series of Highland Sessions and Transatlantic Sessions by the way, I believe they were very well watched indeed, and did an enormous amount of good for the tradscene....These programs opened MY eyes anyway. I think I've said so before, I've been a Dubliners junkie for many's a year, and I spend all my money on whiskey and beer...but now I'm returning with gold and great store, and I'll never will be so ignorant any more :-) I love(d) the Dubs, and long time they were all I cared for, but hey, there's so much more...

But anyway, I think that the factor "rural" also is a major contributor in the preservation of tradition. Or maybe better, "rural" being those parts where the influx of "foreign matter" is less prominent. Like, I mean, the cities these days are so international and the amounts of "strangers"  are so great that "real" tradition only can survive as a tourist attraction. I mean, in the rural areas the sun still takes its traditional 24 hours to complete the day, where in city-life the sun costs 500 euros per hour. 

And Mike, on your final thought about trad being a living tradition, I support that too, and that there is all sorts of development, no doubt, but I think that the Gaelic language is one of the constant factors. When I, for instance, take a Dutch book, say, from the 18th century, I can read it, though with some effort. Words have changed, words have changed their meaning altogether, and others have completely dissappeared from modern speech. And here lies the difference with Gaelic, that remained unchanged for God knows how long, and the text in Gaelic of the 1700's would still be understood by a Gaelic speaker today. While a song in Dutch from the 1700.s to my ears would sound like South African....

Well, I think I leave it at this for today :-) Thanks for your constructive replies

cheers, Kees

Well, I try again. I am definitely no expert when it comes to British traditional music. My impression is that in Scotland many old songs and tunes are still sung and played regularly. Don't know how that is in England. Are there people and organisations like Comhaltas who try to keep the tradition going by providing tuiton, facilities and annual fleadhs were thousands of tradidional musicians come together, have a ball and exchange songs and tunes? And would there be sessions in country pubs all over the country where people still sing/play their own regional music? I really don't know. Mike tells us England still has a strong tradition, so of course I believe him. I´m sure he knows a lot more about that than I do.

I just wonder if the scale is the same. I mean: if 10.000 people in England carry the tradition, that is impressive and bodes well for traditional English music. But if Ireland, that has only got 1/10th of Englands population, has 6000, the visibility in society would maby be greater. It leads to (a bit of) airplay on national radio and tv, and even more on the gaelic radio and tv.

But again, I can't compare. All I do know is how amazed I was coming to this beautiful country some 11 years ago and walking into little pubs where really everybody sang or played something. Yes, the Dubliners repertoire made an appearance every so often (and I fully agree with Kees: nothing wrong with that!) but mostly it was stuff that I had never heard, despite having played and tried to find Irish songs and music for about 30 years. So maybe my amazament has got the better of me and my view is totally biassed.

Another thing is that all these sessions have a great feel of people not just wanting to sing and play and have a good time with each other, but also wanting to celebrate their Irishness (or even their regional roots, like in Donegal or Clare, that they are very proud of). Kees seems to have a valid point when he mentions the rural factor.

Again I don't know if its the same in England. If it is, I obviously have to withdraw most of my first contribution. That is definitely a possibility as at that time I only compared between Holland and Ireland. Bringing England into the equation gave it all a new dimension, at least for me.

Something completely different is how all this salvaged music is being played, on which instruments etc. As a player, it is my experience that a lot of music can be performed on loads of instrumentd (that is why massive sessions with 40+ players are possible), but it is not always musically wise to do so. You mentioned pipe music, that in my (not always very humble) opinion sometimes should be left alone.

Sure, a good fiddler or flute player can give you a very good and moving rendition that has a value of its own, but it would never be the same as a Ronan Brown version. That said, I am definitely not a purist. My brother and myself have played stuff like mNa na Heireann on fiddle and guitar and feel we do not need to be ashamed of that at all, because is was done with integrity and great love for the music. Sometimes I play a little Carolan on my guitar and of course it sounds different, but at least people get to hear it. By the way Mike, I do share your frustration: after all these years I still sound like a Dutchman playing Irish music. Part of it seems to be in the genes, so all we can do is an honest attempt.

I see where you are coming from talking about cross relations between music in Ireland and the UK. It seems to me that this was very strong between Ireland and Scotland (where a lot people from Donegal and other northern counties went looking for work). With a lot of stuff it is hard to make out if it was originally Scottish or Irish (a fdew examples are to be found on the Transatlantic Sessions, of which I am a devoted fan too).

Not sure if it was the same elsewhere in the UK; on the few occasions I walked into a trad session in e.g. London or Oxford it seemed to me the Irish were calling the tunes, and most players were of Irish origine. But again: my experience here is so limited that I could very well be totally wrong.

On the other hand: musicians who come back to Ireland after many years in England still seem to play roughly the same as people play here. Their playing and repertoire has not changed so much that I notice, which leads me to believe that some folk clubs in England are actually sanctuaries of Irish music, not so much places where music was exchanged between the Irish and the English. But I realise I am now skating on ever thinner ice. Funny to realise how much of your (at least my) ideas are based on pretty vagues notions about what is going on....

One  more thought: Kees may have a good point mentioning the use of gaelic. Now to be honest, most grown up people in this country are far from fluent (here in Tipp where I live hardly anyone has a clue) but today it is taught more seriously in schools and that may contribute to the feeling of Irishness I mentioned before. So yes, that could be a factor too.

Unfortunately I feel the text I wrote yesterday was a bit more coherent, but Mike, you wouldn't believe the laptop catastrophies I am capable of.....

Kind regards

Bert

Mike, 

I hear what you say about different tunes designed for different types of instruments. I think a good example in this is Northhumbrian Pipes music, where the older tunes are written for an instrument with only 8 holes, so relatively simple. The later build instruments were provided with keys, which made them more versatile, and more complicated melodies were written for them. As well would the music written for a uillean pipe be rather unsuitable for a great highland bagpipe. But on the other hand, I listen a lot to Micho Russel's CD's, and he illustrates  that it's very well possible to play music on his tinwhistle, that he learned from the old concertina players. 

And as Bert stated, that Irish music these days is sexy, I suppose that also holds some truth, and that for this a word of thanks is also on its place for productions like Lord of the Dance, Riverdance, and all their offspring. Just take a bunch of lovely Irish Lassies, a great setting, beautifully produced music, and it's magic....Not to forget the BBC series of Highland Sessions and Transatlantic Sessions by the way, I believe they were very well watched indeed, and did an enormous amount of good for the tradscene....These programs opened MY eyes anyway. I think I've said so before, I've been a Dubliners junkie for many's a year, and I spend all my money on whiskey and beer...but now I'm returning with gold and great store, and I'll never will be so ignorant any more :-) I love(d) the Dubs, and long time they were all I cared for, but hey, there's so much more...

But anyway, I think that the factor "rural" also is a major contributor in the preservation of tradition. Or maybe better, "rural" being those parts where the influx of "foreign matter" is less prominent. Like, I mean, the cities these days are so international and the amounts of "strangers"  are so great that "real" tradition only can survive as a tourist attraction. I mean, in the rural areas the sun still takes its traditional 24 hours to complete the day, where in city-life the sun costs 500 euros per hour. 

And Mike, on your final thought about trad being a living tradition, I support that too, and that there is all sorts of development, no doubt, but I think that the Gaelic language is one of the constant factors. When I, for instance, take a Dutch book, say, from the 18th century, I can read it, though with some effort. Words have changed, words have changed their meaning altogether, and others have completely dissappeared from modern speech. And here lies the difference with Gaelic, that remained unchanged for God knows how long, and the text in Gaelic of the 1700's would still be understood by a Gaelic speaker today. While a song in Dutch from the 1700.s to my ears would sound like South African....

Well, I think I leave it at this for today :-) Thanks for your constructive replies

cheers, Kees

Hiya Bert,

 

Well, let me start with a disclaimer before I wind anyone up. I am only quoting from my own “knowledge” and experience. I would’nt describe myself as a musician, let alone a music historian. What we could do with is some real Irish blood in this conversation to set us all straight I suppose because I feel a bit uncomfortable in talking about someone else’s tradition. Having said that, I’ll tell you what I think but I am likely to be wrong!

 

Talking about the English tradition is a bit of a sticky issue for me because so far as music goes, I have largely turned my back on it in favour of the (IMHO) better quality Irish stuff. But the first thing I actually want to do I suppose is to ask what defines a tradition. That in itself is something that is almost impossible to pin down. For a start, because tradition implies history, what date do you want to pick? If we are talking about the tradition that we see now, there will be substantial differences between that and the same national / regional tradition in 1900, 1800, 1700 etc etc. A lot of the songs and tunes that we regard as traditional now simply did not exist in earlier times, the further you go back, the less material you have to examine. You can then get into the mighty can of worms about how we can even guess what tunes sounded like before the advent of recording, all the evidence has gone. In Irish music the tradition has been chiefly oral rather than written. Even where you have old sheet music, we all know that it is completely incapable of giving you anything other than the barest bones of tune. Then you need to look at “appropriate” instruments of the time and consider the impact of the widespread adoption of modern “concert pitch”.

 

So then, the English tradition seems much more “loose” than its Irish equivalent. The English folk circuit is a source of traditional material but a huge quantity of the stuff you hear does not have any age to it. In many cases the English folk scene is also the venue for many “foreign” styles that would simply not be able to find a venue and audience elsewhere. You can however catch occasional artists who perform on our older instruments like Northumbrian Small Pipes. By far and away however the most common instrument you will encounter will be the 6 string guitar – hardly English at all! The thing that you do find however are several groups continuing to keep the tradition of English harmony singing going strong.

 

If you look at the English ceili scene (yup, there is one!) it is performed by a mish-mash of instruments, almost always electrified and features a modern drum kit !! I believe that the dances themselves are also heavily influenced away from what used to be widely referred to as “English Country Dancing” which was the old bedrock of the tradition. So, is there any point in looking for anything traditional amongst it? – strangely, the answer is yes, because it is the one of the last resting places for a lot of traditional English dance tunes. Beyond that however you will find lots of Irish and Scottish tunes being used and frequent examples from much further away as well!

 

Then you have the Morris Dancing tradition. The name itself derived from “Moor-ish”. The origins of Morris go back a long way and they also use a lot of very old traditional English tunes. Again however, it is rare to see any instruments that would have been recognisable 150 years ago. The fiddle is probably the only instrument that you will find older than 1800. As well as Morris, you can also encounter things like traditional Lancastrian clog dancing. A real minority interest, but still being performed.

 

So where next in the search for “English trad”? – There are numbers of performers who specialise in “Early music”. Here you will find a vast array of instruments that have otherwise fallen out of use. And you will find them playing very old English tunes going right back to the Middle Ages. The strange thing is, you hardly ever encounter this genre on the “folk circuit” and to many it is seen as highly specialised. There are strong elements of “court” music to be found here that may well not be representative of what the poorer sections of English society knew. Then again, that accusation is sometimes made (with some justification) about Carolan!

 

Regarding how this music is “passed on”, it is such an eclectic mix with many specialist niches that nothing like Comhaltas exists for English trad. There is however the “English folk song and dance society” which is chiefly an archive repository of English music, song and dance tradition. People tend to take up English trad by either being born into families that already have some knowledge or by discovering something that they find stimulating and then following it as best they can. The appropriate formal training however can be very difficult to find. Many people fall into trad having already gained experience in other genres where appropriate lessons are easier to find.

 

So where does Irish music fit into the English tad picture? Surprisingly, most of the English recognise a good thing when they see / hear it (LOL). There are several branches of Comhaltas which thrive in England. Whilst the knowledge of their existence is mainly the preserve of Irish expats they do allow us English types through the door. In fact, we are made most welcome. Other than this, Irish trad is welcomed into the English folk scene and attracts a good following. I have however personally spoken to many Englishmen who, whilst loving the music, are intimidated by its speed and complexity and feel that they would never be able to play it. That kind of “Oh it’s wonderful but I’d never be able to do it” attitude is unbelievably commonplace. For my own part, I’m just not willing to admit defeat !!

 

I think I have just one more thing to cover Bert. I hope your still awake if you’ve just read that lot !!

 

With regard to what I was saying about instruments and tunes. I only meant to say that with certain tunes I seem to get an indication from the melody which instrument was being used by their creator. I am 110% not saying that fiddle tunes should not be played on pipes or visa-versa. I can think of very few tunes in Irish trad that cannot be made to work exceptionally well on a huge variety of trad (and even non-trad) instuments. I am truly sorry if I gave that a different emphasis in my original post. It looks like I have been misleading.

 

So, to close, non of the above is in any way meant to be authoritative. Its just my own ‘umble and probably misguided opinion.

Cheers,

Mike

Hi Mike,

 

No, no. you were not misleading at all. I did understand the point you made about the use of instruments; I even agree and just added some of my own thoughts.

I agree again with what you say about 'early music' and Carolan. The funny thing is that Carolan is very often played by 'trad' musicians, while 'early music' seems to be left to classically trained musicians who have specialised in renaissance and baroque music on 'period instruments'. I did not find a logical explanation for this yet, but I'll keep looking.

 

Thanks for your elaborate information about the folk and trad situation in England; I found it quite interesting as I knew little or nothing about is. At least I have some idea now, and hopefully I will get a chance to go to England and find out more.

I'll keep it short this time, just one more thing: I recognise that people may be intimidated by the speed of Irish music. I think we've all had that when we just started playing. To these people I would like to say: relax and take it easy. Irish music doesn't have to be played ultra fast. That goes without saying for slow airs, but even jigs and reels certainly don't always need to be fast. I for one never enjoy sessions where every tune is played at breakneck speed. I always feel that the music takes a back seat while the players are showing off. Pulse and drive are important. Speed isn't. A brisk tempo can be nice, and a really fast tune every now and then is great, but taking it easy can be just as appealing. Don't take my word for it; just listen to Martin Hayes. And if you start playing tunes slowly, you'd be amazed how fast you can play them after a while. So don't be intimidated, but just enjoy the experience of learning to play great music!

All the best

Bert

 

 

 

Hiya Bert,

 

Well, let me start with a disclaimer before I wind anyone up. I am only quoting from my own “knowledge” and experience. I would’nt describe myself as a musician, let alone a music historian. What we could do with is some real Irish blood in this conversation to set us all straight I suppose because I feel a bit uncomfortable in talking about someone else’s tradition. Having said that, I’ll tell you what I think but I am likely to be wrong!

 

Talking about the English tradition is a bit of a sticky issue for me because so far as music goes, I have largely turned my back on it in favour of the (IMHO) better quality Irish stuff. But the first thing I actually want to do I suppose is to ask what defines a tradition. That in itself is something that is almost impossible to pin down. For a start, because tradition implies history, what date do you want to pick? If we are talking about the tradition that we see now, there will be substantial differences between that and the same national / regional tradition in 1900, 1800, 1700 etc etc. A lot of the songs and tunes that we regard as traditional now simply did not exist in earlier times, the further you go back, the less material you have to examine. You can then get into the mighty can of worms about how we can even guess what tunes sounded like before the advent of recording, all the evidence has gone. In Irish music the tradition has been chiefly oral rather than written. Even where you have old sheet music, we all know that it is completely incapable of giving you anything other than the barest bones of tune. Then you need to look at “appropriate” instruments of the time and consider the impact of the widespread adoption of modern “concert pitch”.

 

So then, the English tradition seems much more “loose” than its Irish equivalent. The English folk circuit is a source of traditional material but a huge quantity of the stuff you hear does not have any age to it. In many cases the English folk scene is also the venue for many “foreign” styles that would simply not be able to find a venue and audience elsewhere. You can however catch occasional artists who perform on our older instruments like Northumbrian Small Pipes. By far and away however the most common instrument you will encounter will be the 6 string guitar – hardly English at all! The thing that you do find however are several groups continuing to keep the tradition of English harmony singing going strong.

 

If you look at the English ceili scene (yup, there is one!) it is performed by a mish-mash of instruments, almost always electrified and features a modern drum kit !! I believe that the dances themselves are also heavily influenced away from what used to be widely referred to as “English Country Dancing” which was the old bedrock of the tradition. So, is there any point in looking for anything traditional amongst it? – strangely, the answer is yes, because it is the one of the last resting places for a lot of traditional English dance tunes. Beyond that however you will find lots of Irish and Scottish tunes being used and frequent examples from much further away as well!

 

Then you have the Morris Dancing tradition. The name itself derived from “Moor-ish”. The origins of Morris go back a long way and they also use a lot of very old traditional English tunes. Again however, it is rare to see any instruments that would have been recognisable 150 years ago. The fiddle is probably the only instrument that you will find older than 1800. As well as Morris, you can also encounter things like traditional Lancastrian clog dancing. A real minority interest, but still being performed.

 

So where next in the search for “English trad”? – There are numbers of performers who specialise in “Early music”. Here you will find a vast array of instruments that have otherwise fallen out of use. And you will find them playing very old English tunes going right back to the Middle Ages. The strange thing is, you hardly ever encounter this genre on the “folk circuit” and to many it is seen as highly specialised. There are strong elements of “court” music to be found here that may well not be representative of what the poorer sections of English society knew. Then again, that accusation is sometimes made (with some justification) about Carolan!

 

Regarding how this music is “passed on”, it is such an eclectic mix with many specialist niches that nothing like Comhaltas exists for English trad. There is however the “English folk song and dance society” which is chiefly an archive repository of English music, song and dance tradition. People tend to take up English trad by either being born into families that already have some knowledge or by discovering something that they find stimulating and then following it as best they can. The appropriate formal training however can be very difficult to find. Many people fall into trad having already gained experience in other genres where appropriate lessons are easier to find.

 

So where does Irish music fit into the English tad picture? Surprisingly, most of the English recognise a good thing when they see / hear it (LOL). There are several branches of Comhaltas which thrive in England. Whilst the knowledge of their existence is mainly the preserve of Irish expats they do allow us English types through the door. In fact, we are made most welcome. Other than this, Irish trad is welcomed into the English folk scene and attracts a good following. I have however personally spoken to many Englishmen who, whilst loving the music, are intimidated by its speed and complexity and feel that they would never be able to play it. That kind of “Oh it’s wonderful but I’d never be able to do it” attitude is unbelievably commonplace. For my own part, I’m just not willing to admit defeat !!

 

I think I have just one more thing to cover Bert. I hope your still awake if you’ve just read that lot !!

 

With regard to what I was saying about instruments and tunes. I only meant to say that with certain tunes I seem to get an indication from the melody which instrument was being used by their creator. I am 110% not saying that fiddle tunes should not be played on pipes or visa-versa. I can think of very few tunes in Irish trad that cannot be made to work exceptionally well on a huge variety of trad (and even non-trad) instuments. I am truly sorry if I gave that a different emphasis in my original post. It looks like I have been misleading.

 

So, to close, non of the above is in any way meant to be authoritative. Its just my own ‘umble and probably misguided opinion.

Cheers,

Mike

Kees,
I find the question you pose to be highly interesting and your observations to be the same. It would almost seem that along with "higher standards of living" would come more of a "liesure class" with more time and money to pursue what you refer to as the "frolics" of playing music. I do concur that much as you have implied, it would seem that this is contrary to the reality of the matter.

I think that your suggestionn that the focus of the Irish and Scots to retain this important aspect of their perspective of their cultures is certainly related to the people resisting the suppresion of dominant forces of those times. Along with the resistance waged by native peoples against the suppressors on the soils of their homelands, would come a call for national pride and all the efforts needed to maintain cohesion / unification among those who refused to submit. I would think that the music of those times was just one element of a very complex cultural fabric that such heroic people sought to preserve and much respect to them for having the fortitude to do so. There is little doubt that many of them sacrificed their own lives for such priciples

Cayden

Reply to Discussion

RSS

© 2020   Created by Tradconnect Reviews.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service

The title of your home page You could put your verification ID in a comment Or, in its own meta tag Or, as one of your keywords Your content is here. The verification ID will NOT be detected if you put it here. .slick-track { display: flex!important; justify-content: center; align-items: center;/* Safari */ display: -webkit-flex!important; -webkit-justify-content:center; -webkit-align-items: center; }