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An Introduction to Irish Traditional Music: Exploring The Tradition

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Thomas Johnston

on 16 February 2017

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Transcript of An Introduction to Irish Traditional Music: Exploring The Tradition

Irish Traditional Music
Lecturer: Dr Thomas Johnston
Course Outline

Wk 1: Introduction - Exploring Irish Traditional Music

Wk 2: The Session

Wk 3: The Music: Reels, Hornpipes, Polkas & Slides

Wk 4: The Music: Jigs (Double Jig, Slip Jig, Single Jig)

Wk 5: A Survey of Instruments: Fiddle (inc. regional styles)

Wk 6: A Survey of Instruments: Flute (inc. regional styles)


Wk 7: A Survey of Instruments: Uilleann Pipes

Wk 8: An Introduction to Sean Nós Singing

Wk 9: Reflection, recap, and focus on exam

For me, Irish traditional music means...
Brain Storm
What comes to mind?

What is ‘Irish traditional music’?

What is this traditional ‘community’? How can we describe it?

What are the implications of labeling something ‘traditional’?

What does it include or exclude? Where did it come from?

What is YOUR traditional music?
Some Issues to Consider:
The Meaning of Tradition in Irish Traditional Music

What is 'Traditional'?
What is ‘traditional’? Is there a paradox?
How do we know when music is traditional or not?
Do we lump ‘Irish music’ and ‘Irish traditional music’ into one category?
Does ITM have a specific set of sonic traits?
Is it a stylistic descriptor?
Who calls it traditional and what do they mean?
- I.e. how much of this is controlled by a discourse on tradition?
the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, esp. by word of mouth or by practice

a long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting

a continuing pattern of culture beliefs or practices

a customary or characteristic method or manner
Definitions of 'Traditional'?
Useful Binary Oppositions
Exploring the meaning of Tradition
orality & literacy
rural & urban
tradition & innovation
authentic & inauthentic
old & new
public & private
amateur & professional
local & global
How do writers / performers deploy the term traditional?
Somewhere to start...

Read carefully what authors say in books, newspapers, magazines, sleeve-notes, etc.
Listen to what peers say about music, song, and dance in relation to how ‘traditional’ (or not) it is (value judgments based on what criteria?)
Consider if ‘tradition’ is something that can easily be heard or seen in a performance?
Tomás Ó Canainn on ‘traditional’ in Traditional Music in Ireland (1978)

“The adjective traditional implies that something in the music is being passed from one generation of performers to the next. Most of them are aware of the traditional process…but would find it difficult to define what exactly they mean by traditional” (p 1)

[continuity, community]
Traditional music has ‘certain features of melody, rhythm, style, structure or perhaps, even of phrasing which put it…into the traditional category (Ó Canainn, p 1)

[shape, sound, process]
‘The Living Tradition’
Ó Canainn talks about taking part in a living tradition, a process of oral transmission, open to change but governed by certain rules. He speaks of musical compositions ‘conforming’ and ‘sounding right’

[adherence to rules, responsibility]
Sean Ó Riada: Our Musical Heritage(1982) (based on a radio series in 1962)

“By ‘traditional’ I mean the untouched, unWesternized, orally transmitted music which is still, to the best of my knowledge, the most popular type of music in this country…Irish music is not European…it is, indeed, closer to some forms of Oriental music” (p19-20)

[pure, uncolonised, popular]
The Companion to Irish Traditional Music, ed. Vallely

Short but comprehensive section on 'Tradition’ (see page 400): Definition of ‘traditional music’

“the term used to denote the older dance music and song in Ireland, this is distinct from both modern ‘folk’ music, 19th century ‘national’ and ‘popular’ music, and early 19th century ‘parlour national songs’ - although all of these have exerted influences on it.” (p 401)

[genre, type, authenticity]
Most importantly…

“Terminology is never innocent of partiality;
‘traditional’ as a term has political and artistic implications’ (401)
Ciaran Carson on Irish Traditional Music

He quotes the International Folk Music Council definition of 1954

“Folk music is the product of a musical traditional that has been evolved through the process of oral transmission. The factors that shape the tradition are: (i) continuity which links the present with the past; (ii) variation which springs from the individual or the group (iii) selection by the community, which determines the form or forms in which the music survives”
Gearóid Ó hAllmhurain The Pocket Guide to Irish Traditional Music

“There is no iron-clad definition of Irish traditional music. It is best understood as a
broad-based system 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” (p. 8)

[open, includes Diaspora, but only ‘Irish’?]
Styling Tradition
Certain Instruments are seen as traditional
Others are seen as interlopers
This is in part because the concept of style is bound up with particular instruments practiced in particular regions

The Companion to Irish Traditional music has an entry entitled ‘Style and Authenticity’ - implying those two things are inextricably linked

Style is also bound up with repertoire and tune types and certain tune types are perceived as being ‘traditional’ in that place
What are the Limits of Tradition?
Does ‘traditional’ in ‘traditional music' ultimately refer more to a coherent repertoire (a collection of music/song/dance types) or to a particular ‘style’ of performance, or to a way of belonging to a performance community?

Can musical practices today still be viewed as truly traditional in a time of increased
professionalisation and production / consumption of products?

Where is/what is the nature of the community in the world of Irish traditional music
Exploring The Meaning of Tradition

Some important questions to think about:

What are the implications of labeling a music ‘traditional’?

What kinds of things does such a term include and exclude?

What are we asked to remember and forget (or disremember)?
And commercial? What else?
January 2017
Stylistic Parameters of Irish Traditional Music
1. Ornamentation
2. Phrasing
3. Articulation
4. Variation
5. Intonation
6. Tone
7. Dynamics
8. Repertoire
9. Duration
10. Emphasis
11. Speed
12. Instrumentation
13. Instrument Specific Techniques

Are there any concerns about looking at Irish traditional music in this way?
Full transcript