Traditional Irish Music
As we have members here now, from all over the place, I thought it might be interesting to get an idea of just how many different ways there are for folks, from musical & non musical, Irish & non Irish backgrounds, to become inspired enough to, at first, take an interest in this music & then, secondly, to go that extra mile & want to actually learn to play it.
If nothing else, this'll be one way of paying tribute to & saying thanks to, your inspiration.
So to get us started, here's my story, which will hopefully inspire you to want to tell your story here, too.
I spent my first 18 years living in Scotland & although my Great Grandfather was a Fiddler & my Grandfather played Fiddle & Highland Bagpipes, I only ever heard my Grandad play his Fiddle once. So, although I may have had music in my genes, my inspiration clearly had to come from elsewhere. Like the rest of the World too, I also had a little Irish blood in me, with my maternal Grandad being from Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, but one of his talents wasn't music. ;-)
I always instinctively loved music, whether the small Orchestra that played at the annual Circus (Yes, they really did use live musicians back then!) or the wonderful sound of the full size Church Organ & all those lovely Hymn melodies or Scottish Music which was on the TV & Radio regularly back then. However, when I left Scotland at 18, musically speaking I was only really interested in listening to Singer Songwriters like Bob Dylan.
Dunsany Castle, Co. Meath.
Then, in the summer of 1970, while working as a Gamekeeper on the Dunsany Estate, Co. Meath, I found myself listening to Ciarán Mac Mathúna & his wonderful show Mo Cheol Thú around 8 am every Sunday morning. Now that might seem like an early start to some folks, but of course, as a Gamekeeper, I'd already been up & working since 6am, so I listened to Ciaran as I ate my breakfast.
Ciarán Mac Mathúna.
So when most other 18 year olds would have been into Pop & R&R, I found myself being drawn more & more towards traditional music.
For those of you who have never heard of Ciaran or his radio show, which incidentally ran for 35 years, I have posted a YouTube video/audio clip from one of his last shows.
Now I know it's very hard for young folks today, to think themselves back into the way Ireland was 40 years ago, but believe me, it was a very different world back then. Dublin was more like a big Market town, full of magic, charm & innocence, than the sprawling, drug gang ridden metropolis it is today. Out in the country where I was, most folks went to Chapel twice a day, back in the days when the Church really was feared.
In any case, I found his shows absolutely magical & looked forward to them eagerly each week. They were a real education to me, a stranger in a foreign land & opened up a wonderful new world of music to me & not just the music either, but Ciaran brought all aspects of Ireland's culture into those shows.
Certainly, I have heard & seen hundreds of great musicians since the summer of 1970, who have inspired me, but only for Ciarán Mac Mathúna, I might never have been exposed to them.
It was because of Ciaran, that I went along to my local session there, in Dunshaughlin, a few times & to my first Dubliners Concert the following year, while working as a Falconer in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary & at was at that concert, that I was finally inspired to think about actually learning to play this music myself, thanks to one Barney McKenna.
So I'd like to say a huge THANKYOU to Ciarán Mac Mathúna, only for him, I probably wouldn't be playing music today.
So who or what was your first & most important inspiration?
My roots did not start at a very young age like most of you...I fell in love with Irish music when I first heard Riverdance. I am of Irish descent and when I started playing Irish music, my mother shared with me that her Grandfather used to play the fiddle for them all the time. My interest was piqued then..and I began my journey. I came across pennywhistles first...got a cheap one off the internet and started learning all this wonderful music that I was listening to. I have been a visual artist and I sold a painting last year for the exact amount it cost to get my father's violin refurbished. It was loaned out to neighbors when we were young, and they kept in the basement and it had a large crack and other injuries. I figured it was kismet, so I got my father's violin fixed in playable condition. That was a little over a year ago, and I am working hard at learning the Irish fiddle. My father was a classical violinist in high school, but fell in love with jazz, Glenn Miller, Sinatra, Dorsey, and got a saxophone.....and the little violin laid around for decades.
I am so glad that I found this music....it has opened up a whole world to me that I didn't know that I loved. I love my whistle and fiddle...would LOVE to get a concertina...but I must become proficient in my fiddle first. I hope that I am playing some of the songs my great grandfather played in Baltimore Ireland many years ago.
Thanks for your story Nancy.
It's great top be able to play the music on a family instrument. I know too, because I play my Great Grandfather's old Fiddle.
Hey, if you still have his Saxophone, have you tried playing any Trad on that?
By the way, when do you plan to visit Baltimore, Ireland? ;-)
Hi, Nancy, it certainly sounds like your son is having a great time. My own son is a Pro Jazz musician, living now in London. He plays 6 String Electric Bass & Guitar.
Like you, I am a home bird, I don't fly & never take holidays, preferring to stay around home & make the most of what I have around me. To be honest, I think I'd miss my three Dogs too much.
I did travel around Europe when I was younger, but I came to the conclusion that people are really the same the World over, some bad, but mostly good.
As for scenery etc etc, well, you can get so much on the internet now & have a great time meeting folks from anywhere & everywhere, & trace your family history ...... without ever needing to leave your armchair ..... & PC. ;-)
Thanks for your story James.
It is sad to hear about EEJITS like that, who are daft enough to believe that unless your an Irish Catholic, you can't possibly play Irish Music properly.
I've got to tell you, this little Ireland is a changed place since I first came here, back in 1969. Then, the local Priest was highly respected & had real power over everyone, but not now. I'd say that today there's a surprisingly large % of the population, who don't like to think of themselves as being Catholic anymore. Certainly the attendance rates in Chapel have fallen away dramatically, since the revelations over Child Abuse & possibly almost as bad, the dreadful cover-up by the whole Catholic Church. So, although folks here are of course still very proud to be Irish, there are a lot fewer people here today, who actually take any pride in being classed as an Irish Catholic.
Oooops, we forgot the only Rule at an Irish Session:
Never talk about Politics or Religion! :-)
So, back to the Music.
As for musical ability in other lands, you don't have to look to far to see that some of the finest exponents of Irish Music today, weren't actually born on these shores.
So I'd say to you, when you meet anyone like that, who gives off that stupid vibe, just think to yourself ..
.. TO HELL WITH THE BEGRUDGERS & play on! :-)
I so totally agree with Dick on this James!! If you have a love of a certain type of music, it doesn't matter what nationality or religion you are! PLAY ON!!!!
Well, if you like the music but happen to be from somewhere else, you don't have a lot of choices open to you! The only thing that bugs me a little (not that it stops me from playing!) is whether there is any inherent link between the music and the culture that evolved (I won't say created) it. I've had great Italian food in any number of places, but there is still nothing to beat going to Italy for it. It seems to me you find a variety, quality, subtlety and instinctiveness that you just don't or can't get elsewhere, or at least very rarely. There may be a good reason for that. And the chefs in good Italian restaurants in other countries are nearly always Italian ex-pats...
I do sometimes wonder what it is/was about Ireland and Scotland that caused two such small countries (in terms of both size and population) to give forth a music that has endured and spread the way it has, which is far greater that which any other tradition worldwide has achieved. It goes well beyond those places where the diaspora have gone.
Is it something inherent in the people or culture, or history or landscape that makes it unique - or is it simply an accident of history that could really have happened anywhere? That's not meant to be defeatist, nor to say that the rest of us shouldn't be playing the music and playing it well, but if there is an identifiable answer to this, it might affect the above comments - and the fact that we would *like* it to be otherwise is neither here nor there...
My own theory is that perhaps the musical desires & consequent talents, come from the fact that both Scotland & Ireland were dominated by A England & B the Church, both of whom did their very best, at one time or another, to outlaw the playing of the countries own music. Thankfully though, the Scots & Irish folk are so stubborn & thrawn, that they carried on regardless. In fact, it probably helped to cement the desire to play music in the hearts & minds of the ordinary folk.
I don't have enough cultural history to say, Dick - but I was actually thinking further back... while many folk musics have the same basic forms and purposes, just why did Ireland and Scotland give forth such a uniquely expressive and infectious form of music in the first place? And in the particular form that it is? What I am driving at is, is it down to inherent traits in the make-up of those peoples, their experience of life coming from the particular places that they did, or what? I can well credit the fact that their subsequent unfortunate histories have done their bit to preserve and even amplify the music, but why Ireland and Scotland in the first place? As I said, maybe it was just an accident of history?
It's all the odder, when you consider that they have shared these islands for so long with a race that I'm afraid I don't think has anything like the same innate artistic empathy - namely us Saxon- and Norman-descended English - with the honourable exception of 'our' literature. Seen in the long-term, the English have nothing like the fine art or musical track record of the French, Italians or even Germans, which is odd when you think where 'we' came from... maybe there was something in the water, way back in the mists of time.... ;-)
It's also ironic that a small but artistically-sensitive portion of that Anglo-Saxon legacy should feel the need to turn to the celtic cultures for their means of expression, rather than find it in their own. On a personal basis, that never ceases to puzzle me; I do know that it is significantly more than an over-romanticisation of those places...
Our minds were wondering about some of the same things!
Your discussion with Dick on this page seems to be running parallel with Tony Lawless' discussion "The Origins of Irish Traditional Music". There are some observations there that you may enjoy reading.
All the best,
Thanks Connie - I was dimly aware that that is there, but have not yet had the time to take a look - will do over the weekend.
All the best,