The Chieftains, with Matt Molloy - The Mason's Apron

The Chieftains, with Matt Molloy - The Mason's Apron - Belfast Opera House 1991,

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Comment by Dick Glasgow on August 21, 2011 at 10:40

Sorry Connie, I forgot to post the link to that last Quote:

Sean McGuire: Master of the Irish Violin

In it, you will also see that:

"As a teenager, he was made first violinist in the Belfast Youth Orchestra; as a young adult he was invited to join the Belfast Symphony Orchestra."

So that'll answer your question as to his exposure to classical music. ;-)

However, so much has happened in the last 30/40 years, that it's probably very difficult for folks today to really understand how much of a divide there was, between the classical & the traditional.

Thankfully today, people are much more realistic & realise that traditional music is very strong indeed & need fear nothing from classical or rock or pop influences. It is strong enough to live on through any of it.



Comment by Connie Rae Crone on August 21, 2011 at 6:55

The controversy in this tune clearly ties back to the posted discussion:

How traditional can you get?

In the nearly two years that I've been studying Irish traditional music, I've been aware that there is a divide between traditional purists and those who will selectively experiment or even accept new musical elements into the genre.

I wonder whether Sean Maguire's playing had been influenced by any training or exposure to classical music (which would explain playing fiddle in third or fifth position, or playing in flat keys etc.)?

Of course, I am American of Irish descent. I can't pretend to be aware of the emotional or politcal ties that may be attached to these tunes.  Like all traditional music in the world, these tunes have inextricably woven themselves into the fabric of the daily lives of the people who play them and pass them to the next generations.

Comment by Dick Glasgow on August 21, 2011 at 0:38

Here's Sean in action on an old recording:
The Flax in Bloom
Sadly it's not very clear, but still his brilliant, driving style shines through.
Here's a piece on Sean which might interest you Connie. It includes the following quote, which is relavent to this discussion, plus an interview he gave, while up here at our festival in Ballycastle, Co. Antrim.

"As we shall see, there was even a strong feeling among some that a musician with McGuires training and outlook could not possibly perform Irelands traditional music in an authentic manner. Certainly, there was a lot of resistance among musicians of "the old school" to some of McGuires innovations. One story along these lines was imparted to me by piper/tin whistler Bill Ochs of New York City. When McGuire landed at a house party in Philadelphia some years ago at which traditional fiddler John Vesey was already holding court, the latter is said to have stood up and remarked, "There will be no playing in the flat keys in this house tonight!"

To some degree, the controversy over McGuires approach was driven by the on-going debate on the nature of Irish nationalism. Certainly the argument could be made that McGuires technical innovations serve to insinuate a "foreign" element (German, Italian ; or worse yet ; English) into the native music. McGuires own take on this particular subject is touched on in the following interview."


Comment by Dick Glasgow on August 21, 2011 at 0:15

Connie, I think it is far more likely that the controversy was actually over Sean McGuire's treatment of a traditional tune.

I have no doubt that the hard line traditionalists would not have been exactly delighted by the way he messed about with the old traditional tune, i.e. the way he jazzed it up & added all those extra parts, in various positions. McGuire of course was a showman, in the same mould as one of his heroes Scott Skinner, so I'm quite sure he would have laughed in the face of any such controversy. I wouldn't be at all surprised if it was he who coined the phrase .... "To Hell with the Begrudgers."

Like many traditional players, I must admit I wasn't a big fan of the way he played, towards the end of his life, I think he tended to go a little too far, but in his younger days, he would certainly have given the likes of Frankie Gavin a good run for his money. 

Sean McGuire & Jim McKillop used to play up here regularly, at the monthly Derry & Antrim Fiddlers nights & it was some experience sitting next to him at the big stramash at the end of the night. Many's the time I heard him play a whole set of tricky Reels up in 2nd & 3rd position .... with ease .. of course! :-)



Comment by Connie Rae Crone on August 20, 2011 at 20:48

The controversy ovwer "Mason's Apron" must have arisen from arguments over the origin of the tune, I assume?  It's a great tune by the way - I first heard it played by Kevin Burke on his CD 'Sweeney's Dream'..

Comment by Dick Glasgow on August 20, 2011 at 10:58

Well Connie, the Mason's Apron is a Pub in Kilkenny.

You can read a lot of chat about the numerous variations on this tune, over on thesession

Despite there being up to nine parts, if you include all the variations, my own favourite is the wee Hornpipe version we play.

Regarding its history, here's an extract:



"The melody is Scottish in origin, according to most sources, despite having been strongly associated with Irish fiddling tradition in the present day. Early Scots versions appear in Alexander McGlashan's (173?‑1797) collections under the titles "The Isla Reel" and "Braes of Glenorchy," while one called "The Mason Laddie" is in Robert Ross's 1780 volume A Choice Collection of Scots Reels or Country Dances (Edinburgh)."


"Sean McGuire ... has been credited with taking (this) "rather common two‑part reel," adding variations and creating a virtuostic piece which impressed other Irish musicians"

You can read the full write up on this tune at the Fiddler's Companion



Comment by Connie Rae Crone on August 20, 2011 at 9:59
Mainly, I was interested in the comment Matt Molloy made about the controversy in the 1950's over a tune?  Does anyone know about that?
Comment by Connie Rae Crone on August 20, 2011 at 9:47

This title of this tune has intrigued me.  It would be interesting to know the story behind it...

Comment by Lars 'Larry Mór' Mott on July 14, 2011 at 8:05
Classic performance by the Paganini of the concert flute!

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