How important is the understanding of a language to one's singing? I think this could be an interesting discussion in the context of Sean Nós and other types of song in Ireland.

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Personally, I have learned songs mostly in English, but also have learned songs in Gaeilge, Spanish, Arabic, Lakotah (Native American Sioux), Native American Pow Wow songs (various indigenous languages) and Latin. Understanding "what" it is you're singing is (for me) extremely importatnt. Otherwise, you're just moving your lips and making noise. Most songs have emotional expressions attached to them and to sing them convincingly I think it's important to at least know what you're singing. Adding the correct emotional embellishment at appropriate moments/expressions should be expressed (and heard) naturally. Being fluent in the language may not be necessary but the delivery of verse should be clearly understood by someone whose first language it is (hope that makes sense). Some songs may be mimiced, but a coach of sorts would be a tremendous help in staying true ("No, say/sing it this way. MA CRRREEEE!!!" ) Some songs in Gaeilge I won't sing in public until I get the OK (in person) from a "Sean Nos singer" friend of mine. When doing ANY song in another language I always try to get someone to let me know if my pronuciation, delivery, emotional investment, etc. is correct.

After saying all that, I am trying to learn Gaeilge so doing Sean Nos isn't such a chore. It sure would make things easier and make more sense personally as opposed to being told when and how it makes sense.

After re-reading my comment, I hope it makes sense to the reader. Cheers,


Yeah, mostly I agree with what Danny says.  You don't need fluency in the language, but you better have a very good translation available if you aren't fluent.  Otherwise you might as well do scat, like jazz singers.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  But you need a free translation, not one that would fit the music. 

I would, however, caution against giving a coach too much authority.  After all, with all due modesty, I'm the singer, and if I'm singing it I should do it my way.  In this day of hi-fi recording, what gives me the gall to think I can top, say, Cathy Jordan of Dervish?  I shouldn't sing in public; I should recommend buying "Live in Palma".   But maybe I can give a somewhat different interpretation of, say, "Balpeen Spana" (sp?  I didn't run downstairs to check on the CD). 

For what it's worth, my best training in Sean Nos was from Brigid Fitzgerald at the Augusta Heritage Workshops.  In her "Irish language and song" class we learned"Arde Cuan". 

Yeah Jim, I guess it depends on the coach (as far as giving too much authority to one). For me, I've relied on a few. Some words in songs are spoken/read differently than sung. For instance, singing the Lakotah phrase "Mitakuye Oyaisin" (All My Relations,....kind of like Amen in a prayer) is pronounced Meetah Kooyay Oh Yaseen. Spoken, it's Mitahk Quee Ahsin. Some Arabic has the same differences. I'm sure Gaeilge also may be the same. Latin and Spanish are comparatively easier, being Romance languages. Yet with all of these, it's extremely important to know what you're singing. Also, there's the translation vs. the meaning of the song. See my brutal reference with my "Waltzing Matilda" blunder in the "Victim of the Blarney" discussion,.....and that was in English!!!! Cheers,


I have spent hours listening to gealic singers from the Connemara. I couldn't understand a word they sung, but it was mighty = I  left at 5 am to get some sleep. I remember that night very well, even though it was 1991, in the billiards room in the Trades club in Sligo. I knew what all the songs were about: how to get rid of the English, my girl / village is special etc. Because I could not understand the words, I drowned into the songs and had a great night.

Still being a singer I will make a good text on Roisin Dubh, for I want to sing that song, and in such a way that it will be acceptable to the Irish. So it will be about a beatutifull woman.. My heart is still aching .   


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