Tunes in the Church to encourage audience participation

Audience participation and engagement with traditional Irish music concerts is a critical part of the the overall experience. When you look at Brendan Begley or Paddy Keenan or people from the folk tradition like Christy Moore you know that the stories and tales are as much a part of the show as the songs and music. Polished musicianship can at best only fulfill about 50-60% of an audiences needs.  More interaction, more stories and more banter can make the difference between a good night and an average night. Stories will be remembered and recounted while tunes may be forgotten.  In a recent interview with  Zoë Conway she explained the importance of engagement with an audience.

“I have found that if I am relaxed and can talk with the audience everyone relaxes a bit. When people are relaxed the concerts are much better. It also helps to slow things down a bit, even my own adrenaline levels. Most people involved in Irish music are really lovely and you would just love to hear them talking about where they found, and how they feel about the tunes they are about to play. You couldn’t learn a tune without there being a story involved. None of the stories I tell are planned or really thought about. It’s just what’s going on in that piece at that time, why I’m playing it. So for a show it is important that people get that background. They get drawn in then and the piece makes more sense.”

On the west coast the Tunes in the Church series seeks to integrate this interaction into their shows. Cormac Begley has been at the centre of this annual series for the last couple of years.  He recorded one of last years top ten albums in St. Nicholas' Collegiate Church in Galway where this concert series takes place. It was a concertina album recorded with Jack Talty called Na Fir Bolg and it was outstanding. Other venues used for this expanded concert series include St. Mary's Church in Killarney, Co. Kerry and Holy Trinity Church in Wesport, Co. Mayo. The concerts run throughout June, July and August.

Tunes in the Church addresses the issue of interaction and according to their website "one of the aspects of this concert series that sets it apart from other formal traditional concerts is the element of interactive involvement by the audience; the audience and the performers are encouraged to engage with one another during the concert. For example, audience members are encouraged to participate in the experience by asking questions they may have for the performers, such as the background of their instruments, where they learned their music, and who or what influences their music. By allowing for open communication during the concerts, the barrier between the concept of ‘audience’ and ‘performer’ is challenged, therefore making each concert unique, fresh, and singularly authentic.

The interaction between the audience and the performers results in the audience learning some of the defining qualities of traditional Irish music. This includes hearing stories associated with certain tunes and tune names, as well as learning about how the living tradition is passed down from generation to generation. This natural approach gives an accurate reflection of the meaning of traditional Irish music and the process involved in the present living tradition and its connection to the past. Furthermore, it elicits the humour inherent in Irish culture and, for want of a better word, the ‘Irishness’ which is often lost in over produced shows."

This should make for a much more engaging performance and for tourists in particular a wider knowledge and participation in the event will be encouraged. So for a summer concert series with a difference check out Tunes in The Church.

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