There are many different views on what is truly "Traditional" (the Trad Fundamentalist view) and what is "Trad Influenced". I've listened to alot of new music by different artists that some folks say is "Trad sounding" but not really Traditional. How long does it take for a piece of new music to become traditional? What about the effects of intermingling other musical influences (Jazz, Folk, Rock, World, etc.) into Trad Music? Is there a definitive criteria for what is or isn't Trad Music?

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Dhomhnaill,
Great post and a very interesting topic. The most simplistic answer as to what "defines" TRAD would be "I am not sure I could verbally explain it, but I sure know it when I hear it"! I think the same would apply to jazz and blues, both of "confined" origin within a homogenous culture, interwoven in daily cultural life as a means of expression of joy, sadness, work in the fields, lament / mourning, relationships, etc. As much as jazz and blues are of American origin, the musical appeal of the genre had driven the popularity to world wide acceptance. It seems that the very same could be stated specific to ITM. I concur with Bernard that advances in technology and the way music is distributed surely has an influence in widening the exposure of tunes and songs that may have at one time remained much closer to a specific locale or region, or certainly was dispersed at a much slower pace.

Ad I read Enda's post, I could easily see how his perspective as a composer of TRAD is based on his own experiences and his desire to remain true to the genre, and muxh respect to him for that. Having two daughters that danced competitively, much of my exposure and listenings as implied by Enda, were to the jigs, slip jigs, reels, and hornpipes that were a constant musical background to life within our home. As well, the points made by Kees that the TRAD is so much more a reflection of multiple aspects of the culture in addition to dance music, is a very accurate observation and surely shares those aspects with the American traditional genre(s) of blues and jazz.

With regard to keeping TRAD pure and traditional, a noble effort to be sure. But what exactly constitutes that purity? The evolution of the introduction and eventual acceptance of "non-traditional" instrumentation within ITM is probably denounced by some purists, yet deemed a natural progression by others who have a deep passion for ITM. Certainly other advances within musical instrumentation, instructional methods, and equipment / recording technique / and technology have evolved tremendously while the tunes and songs themselves have largely remained the same. Does one render themselves a "non-TRAD" musician by learning to play whistle via SKYPE technology rather than sitting down for a face to face tutorial with an instructor who lives in a thatched roof cottage in the Irish countryside? Surely a different / non- TRADitional method of learning the same TRADitional music. Again, not sure I can define TRAD in words, but I am pretty certain I know it when I hear it!

Cayden

Amen!

Hiya Cayden. In comparing ITM with American Blues & Jazz I will agree with MOST of what you said. My disagreement is in the spontaneity of performance of Blues & Jazz vs. the rigid, "no change in the structure" of ITM in seisiuns. In my experience, there is no room for improvisation or harmonies, altered syncopations or rhythms, etc. in strict ITM seisiuns (although maybe in studio work it might be allowed). There was one seisiun that I attended (early in my immersion into ITM) when a Trad singer was accompanied by a pipe man (uillean pipes) in a Lament. All the seisiun mates listened attentatively without joining in,...whereas, I softly played a simple "echoed" accompanimnet and drone (improvised) to the singer on my 12 string guitar. To my ear, it worked nicely, adding an underlying "haunting mood" to her voice as well as to the pipes. Musically, it added beauty and an accentuated response to her voice. At one point I looked up and she gave me a small shake of her head and I gracefully ended my accompaniment. Later, she said, that although being very pretty and nicely done, it was to be discouraged. I apologized if my accompanying her was a distraction to her singing (which she said there was no need for an apology as it was not a distraction), and engaged her in polite conversation as to "WHY NOT???"!!! The simple answer was, "It's not Traditional!!!"

I've played both Blues & Jazz, where the improv was/is "the THING!!!". Whereas in ITM, it's not. For a while I was confused and set back from playing until I understood what the Seisiun Group's goal was and what was considered Traditonal playing. Most of the instruments are locked into a "melody-only mode". Even when a DADGAD guitar player played their "walking chord progressions", I heard it as a Jazz-like accompaniment with tonal and syncopated effects, and again was confused with "why here and not there". It was explained that this type of guitar playing takes the place of a piano from Ceili days,....and I was advised to give a listen to some real Ceili music (with a piano). It took me a while to "get it".

But this brings up the difference between Seisiun music (locked and rigid) vs. Studio music (where varied arrangements and accompaniments are allowed). Anyone care to respond????

Danny

Dhomhnaill,
I think you misread my analogy regarding ITM, Blues, and Jazz. I in NO WAY was implying that the improvisation inherent to Jazz and Blues is shared by nor has a place in Irish Traditional Music. I stated that they do directly reflect the cultures from which they originated, and the many life related aspects of those cultures. I would go so far as to say that despite the importance placed on improvisation within Jazz and to a slightly less extent Blues, there is still the constant of the basic melody of a given standard
tune or song associated with those musical forms.

As for ITM, I would fully concur with you that the music itself remains purposely constant, with an emphasis on maintaining all aspects of the melody, rhythm, etc., that
gives a tune or song that specific identity as Traditional. As I stated, the evolution of
associated instruments, instructional methods, equipment, venues of performance,
recording and distribution technique, etc., have all evolved dramatically from that which
existed at the times much of the ITM originated. The tunes and songs have remained the
same despite those other variables, that constancy being the element that makes them
TRADITIONAL. I hope this clarifies my position on this subject which is most closely in alignment with your own.

Again, a very provocative and interesting question and some very thoughtful answers by all respondants.

Cayden

OK, I can't hold off any longer (sorry!)

Firstly though, here is a disclaimer! - I am not Irish and therefore can not claim any authenticity regarding what I am going to say. Because of my lack of authenticity in this area I am not remotely qualified to talk about Irish culture and therefore will endeavour to steer completely clear of that subject altogether. The problem with this of course is that this music is born of the culture. I suppose all that I am trying to say is that I have a deep respect for both the culture and the music. Thinking about it, just because I "diddle" a bit does not make me an authority on the music either!

One big problem with Irish Trad as a label is that it can indeed mean different things to different people. Within English music there seem much clearer cut demarcation lines in the terminology. Irish Trad is, by contrast, a huge umbrella term covering stuff as diverse as Sessions, Ceili, Early music (eg Carolan), Music Hall (eg Percy French) and Sean nos etc. All of these are like different sub groups that have their own distinct identity and flavour. They do however all seem to have their own rules for remaining distinct from other cultures, even to some extent of remaining different to each other within the same culture

The trouble with talking about any tradition is that there is an implied element of the passage of time contained within the phrase. So what date are you picking? or are you content with all material so long as it is "old" and "time served"? - The truth is, that you can't do even that because you will be (by definition) ignoring anything that is being written now which would otherwise fit all the other criteria of the idiom. The stuff that is being written now is, to some extent, the future of trad and what keeps it as a living tradition.

The strange thing is that all the different branches of the tradition seem to be self regulating. The exponents of the tradition seem to have some sort of collective process for defining what fits and is therefore  "in" and and what does'nt and is therefore "out". I'm not sure how this works, but it seems to work very well indeed. Irish trad seems to have faired considerably better with keeping out "foreign" influences than have the traditions of other nationalities.

One key factor is that all the branches of trad are living traditions and therefore continue to grow and evolve with the passage of time. What constitues "trad" now I would guess would almost certainly not have been considered "trad" 100 years ago. The process relys on innovation by individuals and the setting and following of trends within the idiom.

I do have grave concerns about the future of Irish trad that I would like to air here. My chief worry is that, as a living tradition, it does seem to be getting further and further away from the bedrock of material that represents its core. I've seen this happen in England where you seldom encounter anything traditional on the "Folk Circuit" which seems to have become the home of a whole host of "world" influences. So much so that it is a tradition that has almost completely lost its roots. 

At one time, the ancient music of Ireland WAS the tradition - because there was nothing else. My recent forages amongst the work of Carolan have been enough to convince me that there is a whole host of stunning pieces that are simply not now being played at all. I find it quite disturbing that there seems to be little room for these old tunes in many sessions. It seems to me that the future of trad should involve paying more attention to its past.

Does anyone else see that as a problem, or is it just me being paranoid?

My good friend Mike!!! I'm so glad to see your words (and concerns) reflected in this discussion (to be honest, I was waiting for your input). Like you, I definately am no authority on this subject (remember my Waltzing Matilda fiasco??? ;^) LOL  ).

You are very correct in your observations. I particularly like your phrase of, "The stuff that is being written now is, to some extent, the future of trad and what keeps it as a living tradition". Also, your fantastic Carolan Group has provided an educational "eye opener" to those TC members that have read and participated in it. These "jewels" of music need to be out and seen/heard, and not locked away in a drawer or sitting on a shelf collecting dust and forgotten.

I must admit that my reason for starting this discussion was to get "the blood flowing" and the ideas & opinions spoken/written. TradConnect has been a great addition to the lives of its members. I am glad that it is not only a place to put forward one's own music, but also is a forum for education: the "Why & Why Not"; the reason to keep the musical knowledge growing; the reason for pride in, and momentum for ITM. I think members like you, Dick Glasgow, Tony Lawless,...and a bunch of others should be commended for alot of this. Your closing statement/concern, I'm sure, is echoed by many others. "The building structure is only as strong as it's foundation!!!", but as such, the foundation needs to be examined on a regular basis,....otherwise, ignored, the building will eventually crumble. The outcome of the problem you cited remains to be seen,.....but you've given it your best shot (ie. the Carolan Group!!!). Let's see where it goes. Cheers & good health to you, my old friend,

Danny

Cayden. I did not misread your analogy. If anything, I misused the term "disagreement". Perhaps I should have used "in addition to what you correctly stated", instead. Your observations were right on the money and, with them, you've added alot to this discussion. Cheers, mate!!

Danny

Hi all :-)

Some short thoughts....Mike, when you talk about O Carolan, not being played a lot, I think that's not completely accurate....Of course, here on Tradconnect, we're some 3000 members at this very moment? And your O Carolan group has some 50 members. On a gand total of 3000 that might seem few. But when you type a search on Youtube for Carolan, the number of hits is amazing....So there's a large number of people out there that like Carolan's stuff. And though a lot of these recordings are "modernised" versions of the originals, played on electronic instruments, they're still played. And by the way,  not a lot of people play the harp these days, and obviously it's a very costly instrument too (but that's another observation altogether.). So to play the "originals" these days is well, "expert-stuff" in my opinion...But obviously, when a music-genre appeals to the wider audience, it will survive. Otherwise no one would be playing Strauss, Bach, Beethoven, Vivaldi, or whatever they're called. And they have survived for hundreds of years...And here's also the main difference between trad and, e.g. Classical, where Classical music is very well documented in "sheet music" and trad is mostly a "listen and learn"experience, where details of the original might get lost, and others be added, where Classical mainly differs in the interpretation of the music by the director....

I've been thinking of Blues and Jazz too, by the way....and my observation is that Jazz and Blues also have a very strong "competition" element in them, where "battles" between musicians are fought out on stage. This element is completely absent in trad. (although maybe this is not completely true, I remember too well Barney McKenna "duelling" with Eamon Campbell on sheer speed of playing, what a joy that was :-). I think mainstream trad lives on the focus to "remember/memorize" the tunes by playing (home-)sessions, where Blues and Jazz "survived" by the focus on "jamming" and "improvising"....

And finally, a funny thought struck me last night : In, say, two hundred years from now, will House, or Gothic, or Heavy Metal also be considered "Traditional" with a blooming trade in "classical Electric Guitars, ideal for playing Classic Metal"  :-)



Dhomhnaill A. Lopez said:

Cayden. I did not misread your analogy. If anything, I misused the term "disagreement". Perhaps I should have used "in addition to what you correctly stated", instead. Your observations were right on the money and, with them, you've added alot to this discussion. Cheers, mate!!

Danny


Danny,
Glad to know we are on the same page regarding this subject. I might add that I think Mike was spot on in his suggestion that what might be considered contemporary Irish music now, may surely be added to the ranks of the ITM genre in the future.

Again, this is a very interesting topic that you have put before us and there have been some very interesting perspectives shared on the subject.

Slainte,
Cayden

Hiya Kees,

Yes, I get what your saying about Carolan having some universal popularity, but where is the popularity within the trad community? That is what I was getting at. And leaving Carolan aside, where is the popularity of other ancient tunes within the trad community? I am certain that there are hundreds of stunning early pieces that never get played at all and lie waiting to be rediscovered. The fact that they fell from favour once should not exclude them from being reviewed and, where merit is found, revived. That is part of the problem with trad being a chiefly oral tradition, if the old works fell from favour over 100 years ago, then they have not been heard for a long time. If they are not being heard, then they have died. I use 100 years as a number because there would not even be recordings of these old tunes.

 

What I am not saying is that we should all go back to centuries old music to the exclusion of eveything else. That would be just as negative as ignoring them altogether. Its a matter of balance and my observation is that, IMHO, we don't have that balance right at the moment. Not that I'm trying to enforce any rules or anything (God forbid!) just that I think it is highly rewarding to plumb the depths of the archives sometimes - what you find is frequently surprising, vibrant and enjoyable.

 

Cheers,

Mike


 
Kees Knegt said:

Hi all :-)

Some short thoughts....Mike, when you talk about O Carolan, not being played a lot, I think that's not completely accurate....Of course, here on Tradconnect, we're some 3000 members at this very moment? And your O Carolan group has some 50 members. On a gand total of 3000 that might seem few. But when you type a search on Youtube for Carolan, the number of hits is amazing....So there's a large number of people out there that like Carolan's stuff. And though a lot of these recordings are "modernised" versions of the originals, played on electronic instruments, they're still played. And by the way,  not a lot of people play the harp these days, and obviously it's a very costly instrument too (but that's another observation altogether.). So to play the "originals" these days is well, "expert-stuff" in my opinion...But obviously, when a music-genre appeals to the wider audience, it will survive. Otherwise no one would be playing Strauss, Bach, Beethoven, Vivaldi, or whatever they're called. And they have survived for hundreds of years...And here's also the main difference between trad and, e.g. Classical, where Classical music is very well documented in "sheet music" and trad is mostly a "listen and learn"experience, where details of the original might get lost, and others be added, where Classical mainly differs in the interpretation of the music by the director....

I've been thinking of Blues and Jazz too, by the way....and my observation is that Jazz and Blues also have a very strong "competition" element in them, where "battles" between musicians are fought out on stage. This element is completely absent in trad. (although maybe this is not completely true, I remember too well Barney McKenna "duelling" with Eamon Campbell on sheer speed of playing, what a joy that was :-). I think mainstream trad lives on the focus to "remember/memorize" the tunes by playing (home-)sessions, where Blues and Jazz "survived" by the focus on "jamming" and "improvising"....

And finally, a funny thought struck me last night : In, say, two hundred years from now, will House, or Gothic, or Heavy Metal also be considered "Traditional" with a blooming trade in "classical Electric Guitars, ideal for playing Classic Metal"  :-)

Wow! This is such a great thread. SO many interesting ideas floating around here. This question of what constitutes "trad" is one I find endlessly interesting, and it's always exciting to hear new thoughts on it. A couple of ideas jumped out at me:

What do we mean when we say traditional? I find that a lot of people within the Irish music and folk communities use that word a often, without a whole lot of thought to what it actually means to them, except that it is often used to define what they are not. (Often what they are not seems to be hip hop, electronic music, or anything that they see as too "commercial." And in both the Irish and Appalachian music communities it seems to be tied up with a fair amount of romance involving all of our assumptions about what goes along with that tradition.) But it's a sticky term right? Because all but the most hardcore devotees of field recordings will grudgingly admit to a certain amount of innovation within the form, and pay lip service to the idea that it has to grow and evolve in order to live and continue. So if we accept that it is not static and must by it's very nature evolve as it is handed down, do we need to draw a line somewhere? Do we need to say "this artist is 'traditional', and this one is not." What purpose does that serve I wonder?

I guess my question is this. How is the community served by what seems to me to be a lot of snarkiness about who is or is not "traditional"? Maybe something good comes from that, but I am not sure what.

Next point. I think it can be kind dangerous to use the word "traditional" as a means of excluding other forms of music. (Especially if what we happen to be excluding are traditions that fall culturally along any kind of racial or cultural line that happens to correlate with a history of inequality.) Blues, jazz, hip hop... they all come from a tradition in a sense. They all have communities of people who support them. They are handed down from generation to generation. They are played in non-performance settings... They might have differing aesthetic priorities, and they might operate somewhat differently in their social context, but they are not as disparate as we sometimes like to think.

I would be curious to hear if anyone has a definition of "traditional" that categorically excludes, say, jazz music. As to the improvisation point raised earlier, it's just a question of scale. Irish music most definitely involves a certain amount of improvisation, it is just micro. Its on a smaller scale. The musician stays closer to the established melody, and there is not such a tradition :-) of taking a solo, but there is certainly embellishment and variation going on in the moment, in way that is not entirely dissimilar.

End of rant. Thoughts?

Hiya Matthew,

Well, I'll jump in if I may?

I think we need to exercise some caution with the use of the term "trad" but would not disagree with anything you say unless it was linked to another word - ie "Irish Trad". I would imagine that every country in the world has something that it could define as its own traditional music, but this is a website dedicated to IRISH Trad. This tightens the definition down a whole lot in my view. In short, jazz may be trad, but its not Irish trad. Fusions of influences across different cultures may make interesting listening, but they fall way outside my definition of Irish trad. From a players viewpoint, I am happy to include tunes from other sources - but there are very few of them! Why? - not snobbery - its just that they usually don't "do it" for me. I came to Irish Trad by choice, not by birth, culture or education.

 

Whilst Irish trad can be combined with other influences - from wherever you like - IMHO it does not make the end result Irish Trad. Why is this the case? - because to form part of the tradition it has to be accepted and repeated by other artists who are accepted as performing within the tradition of Irish Trad. I would argue that many of these collaborations across different musical cultures are "one off" events that may be very good indeed but do not have any uptake across the tradition and therefore are not a part of it.

 

To my mind, there is a distinct difference between the sort of thing I've been describing and, for example, songs like "I live not where I love" or "The Black velvet band" etc that are not Irish in origin but have received widespread acceptance within the Irish tradition. They may be poor examples but I think they illustrate what I am trying to say well enough. They have certainly been covered by enough Irish Trad performers in their time!

 

Going back to what you say about innovation within the form, regarding Irish trad, there have been several great examples of this. Probably the best examples in my own tiny mind would be the work of people like The Chieftains (in their early years) and the Fureys. Both of these were, I believe, seminal in their taking uillean pipes away from being a solo instrument and bringing them into an ensemble environment. In particular, The Chieftains broke new ground in their use of arrangements which allowed each of the instruments in their ensemble to have its own voice. This is very different and distinct to what was regarded as "the tradition" before they came along. At the time there were many within the tradition that would not accept the innovation of any form of arrangement. There are still rules against it in competitions. Arrangement is still a marked contrast to the way that sessions are organised. Having said that, sessions themselves are a fairly recent development and do not constitute the whole of "the tradition" by any stretch of the imagination.

 

BIG DISCLAIMER - These are, of course, my own jaundiced thoughts and opinions. I don't claim to represent "The tradition" - Being English, I'm not even part of it ! And to put this into even greater context, I'm just an enthusiastic player - I would'nt describe myself as a musician, just a guy that gets a lot of pleasure sharing a few tunes with his mates.

 

Has that made things better or worse?

 

Cheers,

 

Mike
 
Matthew Olwell said:

Wow! This is such a great thread. SO many interesting ideas floating around here. This question of what constitutes "trad" is one I find endlessly interesting, and it's always exciting to hear new thoughts on it. A couple of ideas jumped out at me:

What do we mean when we say traditional? I find that a lot of people within the Irish music and folk communities use that word a often, without a whole lot of thought to what it actually means to them, except that it is often used to define what they are not. (Often what they are not seems to be hip hop, electronic music, or anything that they see as too "commercial." And in both the Irish and Appalachian music communities it seems to be tied up with a fair amount of romance involving all of our assumptions about what goes along with that tradition.) But it's a sticky term right? Because all but the most hardcore devotees of field recordings will grudgingly admit to a certain amount of innovation within the form, and pay lip service to the idea that it has to grow and evolve in order to live and continue. So if we accept that it is not static and must by it's very nature evolve as it is handed down, do we need to draw a line somewhere? Do we need to say "this artist is 'traditional', and this one is not." What purpose does that serve I wonder?

I guess my question is this. How is the community served by what seems to me to be a lot of snarkiness about who is or is not "traditional"? Maybe something good comes from that, but I am not sure what.

Next point. I think it can be kind dangerous to use the word "traditional" as a means of excluding other forms of music. (Especially if what we happen to be excluding are traditions that fall culturally along any kind of racial or cultural line that happens to correlate with a history of inequality.) Blues, jazz, hip hop... they all come from a tradition in a sense. They all have communities of people who support them. They are handed down from generation to generation. They are played in non-performance settings... They might have differing aesthetic priorities, and they might operate somewhat differently in their social context, but they are not as disparate as we sometimes like to think.

I would be curious to hear if anyone has a definition of "traditional" that categorically excludes, say, jazz music. As to the improvisation point raised earlier, it's just a question of scale. Irish music most definitely involves a certain amount of improvisation, it is just micro. Its on a smaller scale. The musician stays closer to the established melody, and there is not such a tradition :-) of taking a solo, but there is certainly embellishment and variation going on in the moment, in way that is not entirely dissimilar.

End of rant. Thoughts?

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