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A Short History of Irish Traditional Music

A Short History of Irish Traditional Music

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A Short History of Irish Traditional Music

Länge:
228 Seiten
4 Stunden
Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
May 8, 2017
ISBN:
9781847179401
Format:
Buch

Beschreibung

The history of Irish traditional music, song and dance from the mythological harp of the Dagda right up to Riverdance and beyond.

Exploring an abundant spectrum of historical sources, music and folklore, this guide uncovers the contribution of the Normans to Irish dancing, the role of the music maker in Penal Ireland, as well as the popularity of dance tunes and set dancing from the end of the 18th century. It also follows the music of the Irish diaspora from as far apart as Newfoundland and the music halls of vaudeville to the musical tapestry of Irish America today.

Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
May 8, 2017
ISBN:
9781847179401
Format:
Buch

Über den Autor

Dr Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin is an Irish historian and anthropologist specialising in ethnomusicology and currently lecturing in Concordia University, Montréal, where he holds the Johnson Chair in Québec and Canadian Irish Studies. A leading authority on the history of Irish traditional music, he is also an accomplished multi-instrumentalist with several All-Ireland titles on concertina and uilleann pipes to his credit.


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A Short History of Irish Traditional Music - Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin

Index

Introduction:

Shifting Forums and Changing Definitions

Irish traditional music is among the most popular World Music genres of our time. Performed by Irish and non-Irish musicians throughout the world and patronised by audiences in diverse social and cultural settings, this ancient yet modern art is one of Ireland’s most enduring and defining cultural products. Although its eponymous home on the island of Ireland is still its creative centre of gravity, this genre has expanded far beyond its ethnic, regional and national origins. This book asks why and how such transformations have occurred and sets out to explore this process over time. In writing a sonic history of Ireland and its diaspora, it describes – albeit in broad strokes – the key historical events and personalities, cultural movements and media trends that created this thriving national and transnational soundscape.

In 1855, the music collector George Petrie wrote that ‘the music of Ireland has hitherto been the exclusive property of the peasantry. The upper classes are a different race – a race who possess no national music; or, if any, one essentially different from that of Ireland. They are insensitive to its beauty, for it breathed not their feelings; and they resigned it to those from whom they took everything else. He who would add to the stock of Irish melody must seek it, not in the halls of the great, but in the cabins of the poor.’ The Great Irish Famine (1845–1852), which provided the context for Petrie’s observation, had a devastating impact on the topography of Irish traditional music, as well as the music makers who maintained it. In its wake, the diaspora carried Irish music and song well beyond the rural cabins where Petrie transcribed during the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Since then, it has put down roots in the towns and cities of Ireland, and in Irish and non-Irish communities in North America, South America, Europe and Australasia. Its intriguing dispersal from the kitchens and crossroads of the West of Ireland to the concert halls and recording studios of the New World has been propelled further by revolutions in mass media, popular culture and international travel. While their music may be retraced to a rural dialect, a travelling piper, a faded manuscript or an old gramophone record, Irish traditional musicians today command the avid attention of vast transnational audiences.

There is no iron-clad definition of Irish traditional music. It is best understood as a broad-based genre, which accommodates a complex process of musical convergence, coalescence and innovation over time. It involves different types of singing, dancing and instrumental music developed by Irish people at home and abroad over the course of several centuries. Irish traditional music is essentially oral in character and is transmitted from one generation to the next through a process of performance. Experienced musicians are capable of memorising up to five hundred pieces of music, some of which they play regularly, while others may lie dormant for years. While traditional music has developed largely beyond the literate process, much of it has been written down. Some performers learn formally from written sources, as well as informally from experienced players. Others learn from radio, television, sound recordings and the Internet. Although its repertoire may seem conservative in form, the oral base of Irish traditional music allows it to be more fluid than written music.

Although some musicians and singers are folk composers in their own right, not all new compositions are accepted as part of the living tradition. When they are, the original composer is often forgotten and his or her ‘compositions’ absorb the influence of different dialects, instruments and musicians. Hence the multiplicity of versions of well-known dance tunes and songs that is commonplace in Irish music. Within the bounds of the established tradition, experienced performers use improvisation in their interpretation of tunes, songs and dances. This involves ornamenting and varying the basic melodic structures in dance music, as well as in traditional songs. Most musicians refer to their music as ‘traditional music’ or ‘Irish music’. The term ‘folk music’ is only used on occasion, while vague generic labels like Celtic Music, World Music, and market-driven typologies like Celtic Fusion, Afro-Celt and Ethno Pop enjoy little currency among traditional performers.

THREE INTERLOCKING TRADITIONS

In older rural communities in the West of Ireland, music usually followed the work cycle of the agricultural year. Festivities began with the Wrenboy celebrations on St Stephen’s Day (shortly after midwinter), continued through the matchmaking and weddings of Shrove (which often involved four or five house dances) and on into the sowing and harvest seasons, until the work cycle began again. Traditional music today has moved beyond this older cyclical milieu and may be heard at diverse social gatherings, pub sessions, dances, concerts and festivals in various urban settings.

Irish instrumental music is sometimes referred to in terms of regional styles. A fiddler may be described as having a Sligo, Clare or Donegal style. While these simplistic county divisions are partially valid, research among rural communities, especially in the West of Ireland, has revealed a more precise topography of musical dialects. Many of these are based on older clachan-type communities (rural clusters of extended kin and neighbours) that have remained intact since the post-famine era and are distinguished by specific dance rhythms, tune repertoires and other stylistic features preserved by prominent performers and musical families.

The most common dance tunes in the Irish tradition are reels, jigs, hornpipes, polkas, slides, mazourkas and highlands. Slow airs (usually based on sean nós songs in Irish) are also played by many instrumentalists. These sound most authentic when played on uilleann pipes, fiddle, flute or tin whistle. Dance tunes usually consist of two eight-bar segments, which older musicians refer to as ‘the first part’ and ‘the turn’. Each part is played twice through and the sequence is repeated twice (or three times) before changing into a new tune.

Most dance tunes in the Irish tradition date from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They are played on various wind, string and free-reed instruments, including flute, tin whistle, uilleann pipes, fiddle, concertina and accordion. With the exception of the goat-skin bodhrán (a traditional drum played with a stick) and drums used in céilí bands, percussion instruments are of minor importance. Some of the most important developments in Irish fiddle music during the twentieth century took place in the United States, which, by 1920, had become a creative centre of Irish traditional music. The key patriarchs of this movement were Sligo fiddlers Michael Coleman, James Morrison and Paddy Killoran. In Ireland, fiddlers Tommy Potts, Johnny Doherty, Paddy Canny and Denis Murphy were responsible for some unique regional and stylistic contributions to their genre. Piping in contemporary Ireland has been shaped ostensibly by the playing of Séamus Ennis and Willie Clancy. Their styles are endemic today in the playing of Robbie Hannan, Mick O’Brien, Liam Óg O’Flynn, Ronan Browne and Jimmy O’Brien Moran. Flute and whistle playing have been influenced by the recordings of John McKenna, John Joe Gardiner and Tom McHale, who in turn inspired performers like Josie McDermott, Paddy Carty, Mary Bergin, Eddie Moloney, Paddy Mullins, Catherine McEvoy and Carmel Gunning.

Accordions and concertinas have been the most prominent melody instruments in Irish traditional music since the 1950s. Notables like Joe Burke, Mary MacNamara, Tony MacMahon, Tim Collins and Noel Hill have drawn extensively from the repertoires of masters like Joe Cooley, Paddy O’Brien, Paddy Murphy, Sonny Murray and Chris Droney. The banjo (originally an African instrument, brought to America during the slave trade) has also made its presence felt in Irish traditional music, especially in the hands of Barney McKenna, Kieran Hanrahan, Mick O’Connor, John Carty and Cathal Hayden. Harpers Máire Ní Chathasaigh, Michael Rooney and Janet Harbison have spurred a renaissance in Irish harp music. Other instruments have also been brought into the Irish musical fold, among them the piano, mouth organ and piano accordion. Notables in this domain include Geraldine Cotter, Karen Tweed, the Murphy family, Brendan Power and Jimmy Keane, as well as the late Eddie Clarke and Felix Dolan. Despite the obvious antiquity of the dance music, celebrated folk composers like Paddy Fahey and Martin Mulhaire continue to write new tunes. Similarly, compositions by Seán Ryan, Paddy O’Brien, Ed Reavy and Junior Crehan still find patronage among new audiences. Lilting (portaireacht) or mouth music – once used for dancers in the absence of instruments at country house dances – has also regained its status in recent years.

The song tradition in Ireland is determined largely by the two linguistic cultures on the island. The most archaic form is sean nós (old style) singing in the Irish language. Each regional dialect of Irish has its own unique sean nós style. A complex and magnificent art, sean nós is an unaccompanied form of singing which demands tremendous skill and artistic understanding. It derives in part from the bardic tradition of professional poetry, which declined in the seventeenth century. There is no display of emotion or dramatics in sean nós. The singer is expected to vary each verse using improvisation, an implicit musical skill that requires subtle changes in rhythm, ornamentation and timbre. The most celebrated sean nós masters in recent times were Darach Ó Catháin, Seán ’ac Dhonncha, Nioclás Tóibín, Máire Áine Ní Dhonnchadha, Éamonn Mac Ruairí, Aodh Ó Duibheannaigh and Seosamh Ó hÉanaí. Their dialectic traditions are continued today by Áine Meenaghan, Sarah Ghriallais, Lillis Ó Laoire, Treasa Ní Mhiolláin, Róisín Elsafty and Máirín Uí Chéide.

The transition from Irish to English language was marked by the growth of bilingual macaronic songs, many of which still survive. There are two categories of songs in English: English and Scottish songs, and Anglo-Irish songs. The first was introduced to Ireland by English and Scottish settlers in the seventeenth century, and by Irish migrant workers. This genre, which includes classic ballads like ‘Lord Baker’ and ‘Barbara Allen’, is still popular in Ulster and may be heard in the repertoires of Len Graham and Anne Brolly, as well as in the recordings of Paddy Tunney, Geordie Hanna, Joe Holmes and Eddie Butcher. Anglo-Irish songs were composed by Irish people whose mother tongue was English. These songs address the themes of love, courtship, emigration, politics, elopements and other topics of human interest. The songs of Paddy Berry, Ann Mulqueen, Róisín White and Tom Lenihan fall into this category. Apart from these secular songs, a unique body of carols survives in the village of Kilmore Quay, Co Wexford. It dates from the seventeenth century and derives from a corpus of songs published by Luke Wadding in Ghent in 1684, as well as a manuscript collection compiled by William Devereux in Wexford in 1734.

There are few written accounts of dancing in Ireland before the eighteenth century. Foreign travellers have left references to the Irish hey, as well as the sword dance, round dance and long dance. The English geographer Arthur Young left a colourful account of the Irish dancing master in the 1770s. Since then, Irish dancing has morphed into three distinct traditions, namely set dancing, céilí dancing and step dancing, each of which has cross-cultural cognates in North America. Michael Flatley’s theatrical extravaganza Lord of the Dance, for example, derives much of its material from the formulaic step dancing initiated by Gaelic League revivalists in the late nineteenth century.

Since the spectacular emergence of Riverdance in 1994, Irish traditional music, song and dance have received considerable media attention worldwide. Other touring performers, new trends in Irish music education (formal and informal) and Internet sociology have also expanded the patronage and topographies of these genres. Despite this acclaim, however, the vast transcultural history of Irish traditional music remains obscured by narrow research agendas and binary debates about tradition and innovation – that frequently fail to explore the full gamut of Irish music memory and historiography. The purpose of this book, therefore, is to shed further light on this immense reserve of Irish cultural history, to acknowledge the music makers who sustain it, and to delight in the enduring success of their traditions at home and abroad.

Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin

Montreal, 2017

Music in Early and Mediaeval Ireland

Music, or ‘humanly organised sound’, to quote ethnomusicologist John Blacking, has been played in Ireland ever since the first Mesolithic settlers arrived on the island about 8000 BC. By the time the New Stone Age gave way to the Bronze Age, Ireland had developed a sophisticated musical culture. Archaeological research conducted in various parts of the island since the mid nineteenth century has unearthed one of the largest troves of Bronze Age instruments excavated in Europe thus far. Many of these (mainly wind) instruments – pipes, horns, rattles, crotals, trumpets – may be viewed in the National Museum in Dublin. Similarly, their sounds can be enjoyed in the performances of music historians like Simon O’Dwyer, who has popularised the tones of Bronze Age Ireland among twenty-first century audiences. The sounds of music from Celtic and Early Christian Ireland, however, remain elusive and undocumented.

MUSICIANS AND DANCERS IN CELTIC SOCIETY

Popular media today has become fascinated with what is vaguely termed ‘Celtic Music’. This genre was fashioned by nineteenth-century Romantic scholars who tried to imagine – and reinvent – the music of the ancient Celts. While it encompasses music from Celtic ‘homelands’ in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Brittany, as well as music from the Irish and Scottish diasporas in North America, modern Celtic Music has no tangible historical connection with the music of the ancient Celts. Their music is still shrouded in mystery and uncertainty. Archaeological and linguistic evidence suggests that the Celts arrived in Ireland from mainland Europe in the fifth century BC. Imposing their civilisation on their predecessors through warfare and conquest, these Iron Age warriors have left few traces of their music, songs or dances. What little is known has been gleaned from the writings of Classical historians and from scattered artefacts on the European mainland. Excavations of Celtic sites in Hungary suggest that the lyre was popular among the earliest Hallstatt Celts. Later, the Celts of Gaul played music on U-shaped lyres which were represented on Gaulish coins. Dancing may also have been common among these Celts. Three bronze figures found in Loiret and Saint-Laurent-des-Bois in France depict naked Celtic dancers from the Gallo-Roman period. Further evidence of music among the Celts is provided by Classical writers such as Diodorus Siculus and Polybius. Both reported that the Celts used music in battle, while Diodorus described in detail the sacred role of the druids and bards among the Celts of Gaul.

MUSICIANS IN EARLY IRISH SOCIETY

The settlement of several waves of Celtic invaders in insular Europe eventually spawned the Gaelic-speaking people of Ireland and Scotland. As the Roman Empire was giving way to barbarian invasions in the fourth and fifth centuries, these Gaels adopted Christianity and grafted it onto an archaic pagan world. With Christianity came Latin literacy and learning, which was maintained by secular poets and monastic scribes. It is from these secular and monastic scholars that we get the first indirect accounts of musicians in Early Christian and mediaeval Ireland. These ‘patriarchal’ historians describe only the male performers of the period, although it is most likely that women also performed and enjoyed music in Early Christian Ireland.

While their music was non-literate and therefore beyond the scope of the scribe, the earliest written references to musicians in the Old Irish sources occur in the Brehon Laws. One of the most informative of these tracts is Críth Gablach, which was written down in the early eighth century. Focusing on social status, it refers explicitly to the legal standing of the cruitire or harper and places him above all other musicians in the social pyramid. Beneath him was a rabble of unfree musicians referred to as ‘singers of crónán’, jugglers, mummers and buffoons, who had no legal franchise beyond that of the patrons who kept them. Although he was considered inferior to the poet, the harper was considered a freeman and enjoyed the same rights as smiths, physicians and other skilled craftsmen. Higher up the social pyramid, the harp and timpán (a stringed instrument sounded with a bow) teacher enjoyed the same standing as the bó-aire or strong farmer.

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