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Topics in traditional Irish music

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I'm not including instruments or playing styles in this section, because that topic has a section of its own. What I have in mind here is how traditional music relates to society, the folklore of tune titles, interesting stories, etc.

I'm open to suggestions for additional topics to be included here.



Available topics:

The origins of Irish traditional music
The traditional Irish music of today can be traced back only to the eighteenth century. Here is what we know about its genesis (in quotations from various authorities).


Caoimhín Mac Aoidh on the origins of Irish traditional music
The interesting topic of what the state of music in Ireland was before the 18th century was taken up by Donegal music expert Caoimhín Mac Aoidh on the IRTRAD-L list. His comments appear here with permission.


Michael Robinson on the origins of Irish traditional music
While I found Caoimhín's comments very valuable, I can't help adding a few of my own ideas to the discussion.


Giraldus Cambrensis
Some quotations from Giraldus Cambrensis, a very early (12th century) commentator on Irish and Welsh music. Unfortunately he does not answer his e-mail, so we can only read what he wrote in his books.


Medieval Celtic music
Interesting general information from the early music ensemble Altramar at Indiana University.


The Irish harp in poetry
A few selections from Irish Bardic poetry (c. 1400-1650) demonstrating the esteem and love felt for the harp in those times.


Willy Clancy on traditional Irish music
A 1962 conversation with Willie Clancy, the famed piper, explores his philosophy of traditional music. Also in attendance were musicians John Vesey and Thomas Standeven. Additional information on Vesey and Standeven is also provided. Thanks to Seamus Mac an Tailleur for supplying this material.


The Irish "session"
Traditional Irish music today is frequently encountered in the "session" (or even "seisiún"), a gathering of (usually) amateur musicians where tunes are played in unison by all the musicians who know the tune. Such events usually occur at regularly scheduled times, and usually take place in a establishment where dark foamy beverages are easily procured. The participants are generally not paid, except sometimes with free pints of dark foamy beverages, and for that reason they typically huddle in a dark corner rather than sitting on a stage. It's often assumed that like goings-on date back at least to the times of Brian Boru. But the evidence for the origin of the "session" tells a much different story.


Slavin contra Wagner
Satirist Finley Peter Dunne, one of America's best humorists, describes the conflict between traditional and classical music in an upwardly mobile Irish-American family of the 1890's.


The tune collector and the anarchist
Francis O'Neill is renowned for his monumental collection of Irish dance music, made in Chicago during the early years of the 20th century. But his day job was Police Chief of Chicago. Here's an interesting incident that sheds some light on his character: anarchist "Red Emma" Goldman describes how Chief O'Neill cleared her of charges of complicity in the assassination of President McKinley.


Hallowe'en tunes
The results of a survey to determine which traditional Irish tunes would be most suitable to play on Hallowe'en, which is really the ancient Celtic New Year festival of Oíche Shamhna.


Danny Boy
Is Danny Boy really an Irish song? And, if not, where did it come from, and why do we think it is Irish? Maybe you saw that show that was on my local PBS station a while back, Danny Boy: In Sunshine or in Shadow, that featured such exciting clips as Eric Clapton discussing De Dannan's version—that one that more or less made all the traditional music crowd consider them to be totally artistically bankrupt. While Eric Clapton probably knows a lot about blues music, I'm not sure that I would choose him as an authority on Irish folk songs. But then I don't work in television. Actually, I've received e-mail from the producer of the show, and I can report that he is truly obsessed with his subject (i.e., versions of Danny Boy performed by different artists). I'm happy to say we agree that Bill Evans and Jackie Wilson do the best versions (although he was not able to get the rights to include them in the show). But that show had very little to say about the actual origin of the song (a distinguished musicologist appeared onscreen for about 30 seconds). But here you can get the real story, an amazing 100 year long detective yarn!



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