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Celtic Music

A presentation on Celtic Music- including stylistic, and historical components. Includes discussion of Structure, Texture, Duration, Dynamics and Expressive Techniques, Performance mediums, and listening examples.
by

Harry Buchanan

on 17 May 2012

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Transcript of Celtic Music

Celtic music emerged from the folk music traditions of Western Europe. More specifically, the Celtic lands of the Irish, Scots, Manx (of the Isle of Man), Welsh, Bretons (of Brittany), the Cornish, and the Galacians (from a northern region of Spain). What defines these cultures as Celtic, is that at some time, they all spoke a Celtic language. This presentation will focus on the two largest, and most musically renowned of these nations: Ireland and Scotland. Celtic Music g Celtic music is either vocal, instrumental, or a combination. The three most prominent Celtic instruments are the harp, bagpipes and fiddle. Golden age of harp ran from the beginning of the second millennium to the 1500's. During this period, it was considered ‘the instrument of Ireland.’
It was the preferred instrument of the upper Irish classes, and harpists were the only Gaelic musicians with formal training. The old Irish harpists had extremely long fingernails and played on wire strung instruments called the clarsach, or Celtic Harp. The Harp Combined Celtic Flag The popularity of the harp in Ireland declined rapidly from the 1600's onwards. This was largely a result of the tumultuous political climate that adversely affected Ireland’s fragile cultural life. The English had recently seized control of Scotland and Ireland. The harp had been an emblem of nationalism in Ireland since the 10th century, so the English suppressed the harp in order to quell the threat of rebellion. Musicians, particularly harpists and bards were outlawed and their instruments destroyed. Most harpists lost their livelihood. As a result, Irish harp tradition had virtually died out by the late 1700's. However, up until this point, Scotland and Ireland were politically unstable. After English rule had been established and accepted, it was relatively stable. Ultimately, this allowed Celtic music to be influenced by other cultures, broadening it's style and instrumentation.
Other reasons for the decline of the harp include an increase in the popularity of step-dancing and the fiddle, and later, the inability of the harp to play accidentals, which were required to comply with modern western music.
The harping tradition has recently seen a large revival. The Harp Performing Media The bagpipe originated in the East, and spread across Europe. It is not known when they arrived in Scotland, but the early 1400's is estimated as they were firmly established in countries such as Greece and Italy by the late 1300’s. The Scottish Highland bagpipe is the most famous in the world, and has the most developed music. The Bagpipes Until the pipes arrived in the Highlands, popular music was confined to song, drums, and single pipe. The harp was very well suited to playing in large halls, and the households of cheiftains However, due to a lack of volumetric capability and portability, it was not suitable for outdoor entertainment. Bagpipes, however, could be heard up to ten miles away given the right conditions. They are an all purpose, all weather instrument. Perfect for Scotland. They were used extensively in the military and for playing dance music. The Bagpipes The Highland Pipes consist of a chanter, the pipe on which the melody is played, and three drones, which produce a continuous tone. These are attached to a bag which is filled with air from the mouth.
The chanter has nine notes, in the Mixolydian mode, which has a flattened 7th, or leading tone. It has a range from one whole tone lower than the tonic to one octave above it: Low G, Low A, B, C#, D, E, F#, High G, and High A. Two of the drones are tenor, and one is bass. The tenor drones pedal an octave below the tonic note, while the bass drone plays two octaves below. The main scales used in Celtic music include the Mixolydian mode; used as a major key, and the Dorian mode; used as a minor key. Pentatonic scales are also popular. Traditional tuning systems did not match with modern tuning systems. Pitch Scales Harmony In Celtic music, the emphasis is always on the tune. Songs and tunes are often performed unaccompanied — by soloists, or in unison. When harmonic layers are included, particularly more recently, with the introduction of instruments such as guitars, banjos and 'cellos to Celtic regions, harmonies are very simple and are usually based on just two or three chords which are repeated throughout a song. Melodic interest in traditional Celtic music is created by the heavy use of improvised ornamentation of tunes. It is expected that performers will alter and embellish any tune presented to them. Popular ornamentations are trills, grace notes, and roles, and the general embellishment of tunes with additional notes. Particularly in Ireland, the more notes added to a tune, the better. Rhythm and texture are also important to musical expression.

Dynamic contrast is rarely employed to add musical interest; volume usually remains at about the same level. Scottish music tends to have a slightly greater dynamic range than that of Ireland. Dynamics and Expressive Techniques Vocal music is a major element of Celtic music. It helps maintain deep ties with the past, and emotions. Some popular types of Celtic song include: Sean-nos (a traditional, Irish a capella song), Waulking (working songs), laments (songs of mourning), and mouth music (which is danced to and mimics the sounds of instruments. Celtic songs generally have straight-forwards lyrics that focus on a persona's feelings, instead of recounting a narrative. The are highly ornamented, passionate, and the music often is more important than the content. Vocal Music A distinctive, traditional Irish song, and the oldest surviving form of traditional Irish music.
It has strong ties with the Bardic tradition.
It is a highly ornamented style that is sung a capella, in Irish.
Sean-nos contain no fluctuation between loud and soft- musical expression is achieved through vocal ornamentation.
The music is much more important than the lyrics.
Ornamentations includes rolls, melismatic decoration, and grace notes.
Important notes are lengthened, and the glottal stop- the abrupt ending of notes- is often employed Sean-nos Waulking songs are Celtic labour songs. They were primarily sung by women to accompany their work. A night was set aside, and there would be food, gossip, work, and singing to entertain them. Waulking songs were fast and rhythmic to maintain the pace of work. They were often sung in a call and response pattern. The typical structure of a waulking song involves a chorus, interspersed with lines or couplets. The chorus was repeated after every line in order to drag the song out and prolong the night's work and pleasure. Waulking Songs Mouth music involves making nonsense words with the mouth in a rhythmic manner, that is usually danced to. Mouth music generally has no meaning in the usual sense. The sound takes precedence. Mouth musicians often try to imitate the sounds of instruments; particularly bagpipes. Mouth Music Other Celtic vocal styles include lullabies, laments, and ballads, which are stylistic, passionate, and highly ornamented. Other Vocal Styles Structure The structure of Celtic music varies greatly according to the style of music. Double Binary This is a common structure for Celtic tunes, particularly dance music. There is an 'A' and a 'B' section, which are both repeated, AABB, or ABAB. Additional sections may be included. Sections are often repeated to create familiarity, and continue a rhythmic idea that is danced to. The differences between sections may be large or small; an entirely different tune, or a variation on the same tune. This piece is a reel that follows a typical Theme and Variations Structure. It also demonstrates other typical Celtic musical features. It is scored for fiddle, double bass, accordion and guitar. The Maid I Ne'er Forgot Harmony This reel demonstrates a typical, very simple harmony, consisting of just 2 chords: E and D, which are repeated in a four bar pattern. The bass line shows the roots of the chords Structure This reel is made up of three sections at intervals of 16 bars: Theme, variation, theme (A, A', A).
The first section starts like this: The variation section starts like this: It contains an embellished melody and a varied bass line. The guitar also leaves the harmony to the accordion. Variation creates musical contrast and interest. This section is almost identical to the original theme. This is the start of the final section: This simplistic harmony creates musical unity and allows the melody to be the focus of the composition and create musical contrast, as is characteristic of Celtic music. Dynamics, Expressive Techniques and Rhythm This piece contains no dynamic markings. Expression is achieved through the very ornamental melody, and the complicated, precise rhythms. The melody contains many, short, staccato notes for a busy, excited feel.
This piece is in a fast 4/4 time, as typical of a reel. Percussion instruments are an integral part of Celtic music. Instruments such as drums, and spoons are popular. Single pipe instruments are also used frequently in Celtic music.
In the last 100 years, Celtic music has been greatly influenced by the outside world. One main influence is a plethora of new instruments. Instruments such as piano, accordion, guitar, and banjo have been added to the Celtic music tradition. This has created a much more diverse musical tradition and style. Both accompaniment and instrumental bands have become more popular. Other Instruments Vocal Music Accompanied vocal music often employs a Strophic structure, whereby the meaning of words lessen the need for musical contrast. The same music is repeated for each verse. The music is a unifying factor, while the lyrics contribute to contrast.
Unaccompanied vocal music may follow a verse-chorus structure or an additive structure: a succession of different verses. E D E D E The fiddle is a national instrument of Scotland and was the instrument of choice for dance music. It was popular in Scotland and Ireland from the 1700's onwards and peaked around 1800, especially as this period saw a great enthusiasm for dance music. It was a classless instrument as in was very cheap and accessible.
The technique used to play fiddle in Celtic music varies greatly, e.g. holding on shoulder, under chin, against chest. Bowing and fingering technique also varies greatly, and often helps define particular styles. As with all Celtic music, ornamentation is of vital importance. The town of origin of a fiddler is said to be determinable by his style of fingering, bowing, and ornamentation. The Fiddle Celtic music is generally monophonic, homophonic or heterophonic. Monophonic texture is often found in tunes such as laments, pibroch music and vocal music. It creates a solitary emotional depth to the music. It is also used in military pipe bands which play in unison to create a denser, grand texture.
Similarly, homophonic texture is popular in dance music to create more rhythmic interest, and an up-beat, joyous feeling. Harmonic layers, however, still allow the melody to be the centre of attention.
Heterophonic texture describes a type of unison playing, where each instrumental or vocal layer performs an independently embellished interpretation of the same melody. This is frequently used in Celtic music, creating melodic interest, and expression. Texture Most Celtic music has a strong beat foundation. Particularly in dance music, where it is of utmost importance. However, free time is also seen in Celtic music. This is sometimes demonstrated in Pibroch, if the melody is seen to be the most important musical element. Duration Beat Foundation Meter and Time Signature Meter is particularly important in dance music, where duple meters (jigs), and triple meter (slip jigs) are most common. Meter often defines the style of dance. Strong meters are also found in military music, particularly marches.
The same applies with time signature. It is often a key characteristic of musical styles.
Jig- a fast 6/8
Slip-jig- a fast 9/8
Reel- a very fast 4/4, creates more fluidity
Marches- 2/4 Rhythm Rhythm is vital to creating melodic interest and portraying mood. Very fast, precise rhythms are used in dances such as jigs, which have a light mood. The melodic layer will often play flurries of continuous fast notes. Busy rhythms create excitement. In laments, melodic layers use slower rhythms to create solemn, mournful moods. Techniques such as pauses and articulation, particularly staccato, are also important in vocal, and instrumental music. Additive Form Another common structure for dance music is Additive form (A,B,C,D,E etc.). This is done because Celtic dance tunes are often very short, so several tunes may be played consecutively after each other. This is to allow dancers to continue dancing and not stop at the end of every tune. These collections of tunes are often called 'sets'. Theme and variations According to this form, a theme is stated, then repeated several times with variations, usually in the form of melodic embellishments. The finishes with a recap of the original theme. This is common with bagpipe and harp music, but also present in dance music. Pipe music, or pibroch, refers to the classical music of the Highland bagpipes. It is based on a piper needing to play the clan’s signature tune in order to gather the clan. However, he also had to master ways of extending the tune without repeating it endlessly- that is, to intent variations. It follows the theme and variations form. It finishes with a recap of the original theme. The most common types of pibroch music are laments, salutes, and music for clan gatherings. It tends to be very grand and ceremonial. Texture This song has a homophonic texture; a melodic layer and harmonic layers. The active nature of the accompaniment layers creates rhythmic interest, which helps define the mood of the piece, and the style of dance music. Mixolydian Dorian Lament for the Earl of Dunmore
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