The Irish Slow Air

The Irish Slow Air

Something I have yet to Master — But now realize how Lovely Theycan be — If played very well…I only know 4 or 5 But wonld’nt play them in Public - lol.
* Anyone with though’s on Slow Airs *
There are a couple of ways I think you can play slow airs on - Fiddle
That slow melodic Classical way — Or as this expressive lilting
way - Like the sean nos singers,,, jim,,

Heres —- Examples —

Classical -

1 / http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qvr5s2bnKEU


Sean nos - Style-

2/ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Q8AsnrvLDk



Sean Nos - Singing =

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8paj2hQHIo&feature=related


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sean-nós_song

More Info =

http://comhaltas.ie/music/tag/Slow+Air

Re: The Irish Slow Air

Hi Jim,

Classical - FAR TOO CHEESY for me :-(

Evelyn Healy - lovely playing alright, but a little too ornamented for my own personal taste.

By far the best Slow Air playing you’ll ever hear, is on the magnificent ‘Eistigh Seal’ CD by Matt Cranitch.

http://www.thesession.org/recordings/display/1707

http://www.irishmusic.ie/product/TraditionalFiddle/CEFCD104

For me, this CD is an absolute audio masterclass in how to put the tune 1st!

Cheers
Dick

Re: The Irish Slow Air

With ‘taste’, not OTT, sans the warbling and wah-wah that the classically handicapped like to burden a good melody with. The best teacher is not an instrumentalist, though there are some lovely examples there, as just mentioned ~ but a singer. Learn how to play a slow air by getting to know the song and following a good sean nos singer’s take on it, North and South. The worst possible way to take it, IMO, is classical or country western… Don’t smother it in melted cheese, give it an honest treatment, not overly ornate, just the right light seasoning so that the heart comes out in it, but not in a melodramatic B movie way…

Now where did I put my slide steel guitar? 8-)

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But, Ptarmy (and pace Matt Cranitch),

The ‘best’ recorded examples of slow air playing are almost entirely provided by uilleann pipers!

I’d strongly recommend listening to any of the recordings made by Ronan Browne and Néillidh Mulligan for starters.

Re: The Irish Slow Air

Thanks! all for you input and Information — folks.
I must look this all up..
Ta - Again,,,

jim,

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Thank you for the Youtube posts. Accurate.

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Floss & C, Jim is of course a Fiddle player himself & I got the impression from his question, that he was asking specifically about playing Slow Airs on the Fiddle, ….. hence my reply.

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Hey, I’m not in disagreement, there are actually only a ‘few’ uilleann pipe players I would personally recommend, who don’t over egg it… But I decided to avoid that ‘trap’… My wife is the main determining factor there, and it is at most one hand’s worth of fingers that she likes hearing take on a slow air. The pipe’s limitations on dynamics does it no favours when it comes to giving a slow air its all… On this we are both in agreement.

Whatever the instrument I’d still rather learn from a singer, if at all possible…

With few exceptions, my wife’s description of the uilleann pipes and a slow air is "strangling a cat!" :-D

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You really don’t understand piping, do you, Ceol?

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I am quite fond of the pipes, but can see my wife’s point of view on this, speaking from her heart. She does like Liam O’Flynn, for one of those fingers…

Because one isn’t necessarily in agreement with you Floss doesn’t mean they are any the less for it. Each to his own…

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"Most instruments can play a great air. Pipes and whistles may lack certain dynamics but have other attributes that are unique to themselves (in the right hands, of course)" ~ here, here Bogman, well put…

Slow Airs ~ to each heart its own desires

The Living Tradition: Sean-nos singing - A Bluffers Guide
- by Anthony McCann Issue 24 June/July ‘98
~ basically 1 through 13 of 14, on one way of thinking or the other, but 14 applies too, in spirit…
http://www.folkmusic.net/htmfiles/inart378.htm

But, in my mind, English singing qualifies too, and there seems to be as many ways with it as there are singers and musicans wanting to give it a go. Find what your ears like and follow that. Emulation is a good start, whatever the source, just so long as your ears and heart find joy in it…

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As you rightly say earlier ceol, each to their own. I myself am quite easy to please if something is played well reasonably tastefully. I do like all the clips you put up there. Strangely though I’m not keen on airs sung in English, there’s only the odd slow song sung in English that I don’t skip.

I’m not keen on to much vibrato either but that particular clip of MC appeals to me. For the UP’s I prefer airs on flat sets but there aren’t many good youtubes of that, if you know of any I’d be grateful if you put them up.

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I feel that airs can stand a modicum of violent intent in their execution, something that you don’t hear so much nowadays. Tommy Peoples would be my favourite on the fiddle for that, spitting and popping, scratching the bow on the strings and barely hitting the note. None of this saccharine sweet dross that gets doled out too often of late.

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Yeah Bogman, I LOOOVE FLAT SETS!!! I wish I had the talent and the money for it… ;-)

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"None of this saccharine sweet dross that gets doled out too often of late." ~ Patkiwi ~ Amen!

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I’m glad there’s a conesnsus that saccharine sweet dross is not the way to do it.

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Slow airs are very difficult to play well, they are the most difficult part of the Gaelic repertoire. And it may be necessary to be somewhat familiar with Gaelic song in order to do them justice. Irish slow airs have been the victim of the increasing tastelessness and lack of subtlety of Irish players. To play the phrasing in Irish airs it helps to look at the words of the Gaelic song (if there be words). Many modern players have absolutely dire phrasing, often placing a pause right in the middle of a word. Many fiddle players break up the tune into dozens of micro phrases so that there is no way whatever of knowing what the actual melody should sound like, add to that the recurring ‘goat-trills’ (uneven trills that sound like a goat bleating) and you have a clear example of how an ancient art is decaying at their hands. (I’ve no idea where this terrible way of playing airs originated, but some exponents of it include Seán Keane, Paddy Glackin & Tommy Peoples.) Listen of the best fiddlers of the early to mid 20th century to see how it should be done (though of course not every fiddler played slow airs at all.) My favourite players include Neillie Boyle and John Doherty; they’re playing might sound rather rough to modern ears not used to traditional playing, but their command of the melody & phrasing and their expression are unsurpassed. You can hear the melody! (not just a sequence of notes.) If you compare for instance the Neillie Boyle or John Doherty playing the air Tighearna Mhaigh Eó (Lord Mayo), with Paddy Glackin’s version you can see that the playing of slow airs has suffered terribly in recent times. With Neillie Boyle and John Doherty you can hear a beautiful and haunting melody, with Paddy Glackin you get a sequence of unconnected notes separated by long pauses and embellished with goat-trills.

Patkiwi writes: “Tommy Peoples would be my favourite on the fiddle for that, spitting and popping, scratching the bow on the strings and barely hitting the note.”
I honestly cannot understand how this could ever be confused for good music. These are meant to be songs, and are made to sound like musical instruments being pushed down stairs!

Irish slow airs are nearly always played ‘rubato’(which is also quite common in Classical music), the rhythm is fairly free and the length of notes is altered for emphasis and expression, but recently the rhythm has been so messed up by players (and on occasion singers) that there’s no way even to tell what time-signature an air was originally in. (I’ve even seen a tune written out, by a flute player, that had no time signature or bar-lines, just a string of notes.)

If you listen to old recordings of Irish sean-nós singers, and to Scots Gaelic singers, or great highland fiddlers such as Angus Grant you can hear how these tunes are supposed to sound. The fiddle can capture the subtleties, the sadness and the longing of the human voice (but you rarely hear it these days); pipes cannot capture this as their dynamics and tone cannot be varied.

As to whether pipes are better for playing slow airs than fiddles, here’s what Neillie Boyle said:

“What the old people could do by singing, you can take the same effects out of the fiddle, as the fiddle is a perfect instrument, it comes next to the human voice[…]
Bagpipes are alright for playing reels and jigs, but not so with the airs. It’s impossible for a piper, no matter how good he is, to play an Irish air on the pipes, because the pipes are not a perfect instrument. They are not adapted for air-playing, they’re only for reels and jigs and marches, and fast music of that kind. I never yet heard a piper playing an air that had any effect on me. It seems to be a drone, a sad wail, without any expression. Not so with the fiddle; the fiddle can take out everything that’s wanted, if the player has the command and the power to do so, the fiddle will respond to his aims. But the pipes won’t, that’s what’s wrong.”

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Being lovers of slow airs, very well put whistleblower… We can appreciate other ways with them, but some are more suited than others to the nuances of the human voice that gives breath and life to an air.

Good ol’ Neillie Boyle…

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Interesting.

I agree about Tommy Peoples. I’m a big fan of the fella. Great player, maybe the best, And great tune writer too. But his slow air playing is torture. (not that that in any way takes away anything from him the being the genius he is of course)

And I agree that most air playing you hear is a sequence of unconnected notes separated by long pauses embellished with horrid goat-trills.

But I disagree that air playing is rubato. There is nothing free about the timing. The tunes may not be following a metre, but the length of the notes is critically part of the tune.

And I disagree about the pipes. Anyone who has never been affected by an air on the pipes, send me an e-mail address and I’ll send you something with so much expression it will make the hairs on your neck stand up.

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Llig: If some of us have been affected by slow airs on the pipes, can we still ask you for your favorite examples anyway?

Re: The Irish Slow Air

of course

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Tommy Potts, who hasn’t yet been mentioned yet, is one of my favourite air players.

Re: The Irish Slow Air & Rubato

Rubato does not imply that there is completely free rhythm in the tunes, rather there is a degree of freedom in rhythm so that (typically) notes can be lengthened for effect, meaning that. (So we can for instance assign bar lines and a time signature but the rhythm is not constant or steady enough to tap your foot to.) So pretty much all sean-nós singing is rubato (faster songs and dance tunes with words are the obvious exception). Clearly, rubato can be overdone, or performed tastelessly or clumsily, and perhaps this (or more so the feeling that there is no rhythmic structure whatsoever to the air) is part of the problem with a lot of what’s ruining slow airs in Ireland.

The great sean-nós singer and collector of songs, the late Hiúdaí Phadaí Hiúdaí (Aodh Ó Duibheannaigh) from Rann na Feirsde, in west Donegal is an fine example of a sean-nós singer who was an excellent exponent of this rubato style. And thanks to the magic of internet, I’ve found an interesting article on sean-nós singing in Donegal that might be helpful for players of slow airs. Here’s an extract:

‘One of the most important technical aspects of sean-nós is rhythmic freedom, a quality more marked in Connemara, but an important element of the northern nós, as well - occurring most frequently in the form of rubato. Hiúdaí felt very strongly about this rhythmic flexibility, and blamed modern schools for discouraging this aspect of the nós. "The children all go to school," he commented. "They’re taught singing in the school. The teacher, who has been taught in his training how to teach singing, measures it too much. It’s too measured to be sean-nós, and that’s what’s killing the sean-nós."’
-from: ‘Sean-nós in Donegal’ by Julie Henigan http://www.mustrad.org.uk/articles/sean-nos.htm

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I’d hate for this discussion to be scuppered by mere semantics. It”s a good discussion. But the word rubato has a strict classical definition : "having certain notes arbitrarily lengthened while others are correspondingly shortened, or vice versa."

Good slow air playing does not include arbitrarily lengthening or shortening notes. There is nothing arbitrary in the timing of good slow air playing

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I agree that semantics should be left for the long winter evenings. But rubato is just the speeding and slowing of the tune’s tempo for effect. There’s nothing arbitrary about it (except, perhaps, among contemporary Irish musicians). But there’s nothing arbitrary about it in classical music either, as in Irish and Scottish traditional music it obeys rules, and can be overdone or done very badly. There’s nothing arbitrary about the rubato in Bartók or Chopin, nor in its use in Hungarian, Rumanian or Polish traditional music. I agree with you that arbitrariness should be kept out of the equation!

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The reason that an even, measured rhythm is not that appropriate for slow airs is that the tune should sound natural. It should sound as if someone is singing a song to themselves. (This is also why the bleating-violent-attack-style I’ve been decrying here is so much more inappropriate for slow airs. Being understated and natural in our playing is clearly not the same as leaving dozens of pauses scattered around the tune.) The rhythm and the phrasing and the tone of a slow air should above all sound like someone singing, telling a story.

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As Neillie Boyle said, it’s impossible to convey in musical notation how slow airs should be played, we learn by listening. (In classical music too, a good deal of learning is needed to know how to interpret a tune. Yehudi Menuhin said that classical music can never be played just as written, but that when it does on occasion happen the results are always dreadful.)

However, you could do worse, in getting the appropriate phrasing, than to have a look at the words of Irish songs in relation to the tunes (even if you don’t speak Gaelic). A nice collection of Irish Gaelic songs, with words and melody, can be found on Ceolta Gael volumes 1 & 2, edited by Mánus Ó Baoill and Seán Óg Ó Baoill. (It’s available all over the place, including on Amazon.)
These links include the names of the songs:
Volume 1: http://www.musicroom.com/se/ID_No/095784/details.html
Volume 2: http://www.musicroom.com/se/ID_No/078830/details.html

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@ whistleblower,
I was very lucky to have lived in Conamara through the nineties and have heard first hand the greatest of the great living singers in their kitchens and in the boozer. To my ear the finest slow air interpreter was Festy Conlan of Spiddal on the whistle who had a very sweet turn of phrase on the whistle. Still, Peoples totally cranks my shaft with his ability to get inside the gaelic air and translate hundreds of years of musical distillation. Now, Festy was a Gaelic speaker who wished he had better English and Peoples is an English speaker who wishes he has better Irish, the both of them get the issue and put it out extremely well allbeit on two sides of the same coin. Ultimately interpreters of the slow air are playing second fiddle to the singers of the song but with a dearth of good singers scattered about the place we’re going to have to do with what we’ve got. Conamara is a special place, only a handful of decent tunes players but dozens and dozens of truly great singers (why play a facsimile of the air when you can sing it).

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And to put it in perspective, Conamara is home to to worst sh*te country and Irish bands of all time with the exception of Gweedore during the Oireachtas.

Re: The Irish Slow Air

Someone call for CHEESY SYRUP?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HpoblqAQVo


Seems to me, a total disregard for the actual tune!

Far, far too much use of the Vibrator!

I see the old mantra has been wheeled out in this discussion:
" .. getting to know the song and following a good sean nos singer’s take on it …."

That’s all very well, but what if that style of singing gives you a massive dose of the ‘Heeeby Jeeebies’

e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8paj2hQHIo


Personally, when I hear that style of singing, it makes me think of West Punjab rather than West Connemara!

No harm to the musician & singer above but these things are all about personal taste.

Nobody has mentioned Harps yet!
For me, as one of the oldest instruments in Ireland, they certainly have their place in the Slow Air picture & must be strong contenders.
On the plus side, for me, you can’t use that nasty old Vibrator on them & they have a built in ‘haunting factor’ when their very resonance is left to ring between notes, as long as those lovely long legged elegant spaces aren’t cluttered up, with bunches of those unnecessary chattery ornamental notes, as in the Sean Nos style, which so often destroy the magic of the Air.

Try this out for size:
{ Ooooo … Suit You Sir! :-D }

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNJbre5QdUk


Good thread Jim.

Cheers
Dick

Re: The Irish Slow Air

"Llig: If some of us have been affected by slow airs on the pipes, can we still ask you for your favorite examples anyway?
"
- hope you don’t mind me throwing one into to pot here Llig. With the absolute utmost respect to Neillie Boyle I think it’s important when quoting someone no matter who they are that it is just one persons opinion, even though it can be more informed than others.

With regard to the pipes, I’m often asked for the difficult task of playing the pipes at the funerals of friends and acquaintances. This is on the highland pipes which I think it’s fair to say have even less dynamics than uilleanns. Without fail folk who have held themselves together break down when the pipes start, and I always have folk make excuses, not that any are needed, that it was the pipes that got to them. There in no doubt that the pipes can affect emotions.

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My favorite slow air at the moment is played by DTP on Eigg, she calls it Charlie MacFarlane’s, and to my ear it’s fantastic, would bring a tear to a glass eye. So in my opinion airs on pipes are right up there with any other instrument (for standing on the end of a pier perhaps the only instrument).

Harem Scarem do it (a sung version) on their "Let them Eat Fish Cake" album where it is called Is "Truagh Nach Robh Mi Chomhla Riut", Ailie Shaw’s sining of it is fantastic also IMO and would also bring a tear to a glass eye.

My favorite slow air player is the Scottish Fiddler Duncan Chisholm, I’ve heard many fiddlers in my time but Dunky is by far the sweetest to my ear. Also he has the remarkable ability to play airs in any condition shy of unconsciousness, a true skill for the pro fiddler.

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Yes, Duncan is a master, maybe even THE master. By coincidence, I just bought his album ‘Farrar’ on Saturday there. It’s quite unusual in that it’s mainly made up of airs and laid back tunes but the playing is absolutely exquisite.

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Yes bogman, maybe "the master", indeed. Farrar is a fantastic album and as ever, his tone is stunning.

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Yes, indeed Dick, Duncan does use more of the vibro than some folk like, though it is more popular this side of the water. Love Allan MacDonald singing with the small pipes, his album with Margaret Stewart ’ ‘Fhuair mi Pog’ is absolutely fabulous and a must get for anyone with even the remotest interest in traditional music.

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Bogman, maybe the pipes are just the final straw in an already miserable day :-)

- chris

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:-) Like, awe no! Not the pipes, that’s all we need!

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Mr Ptarmigan, it’s only my opinion as to Chisholm for the air, but I’ve yet to hear better……….

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…right, slow airs. One problem for many players of the fiddle I think is that our ears are so expectant of vibrato on those long held/sustained notes. But many of us simply never learned that "classical" style [you hear it somewhat on Crantich’s recordings]

so is that a problem do you think? can one play slow airs well without it? or have we become so used to that large swelling sound that to play airs nowadays without sounds a bit thin?

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Yes Bogman, " .. it is more popular this side of the water." I believe that is true. Since Skinner’s influence on the N. E. Fiddle style, I think folks in Scotland have come to expect a Fiddler to use lashings of Vibrator, especially on Slow Airs.

mtodd, you could also be right, maybe an older style of playing would have meant less use of the dreaded vibrator, but then that’s no reason for all of us to just follow the herd, like Sheep …. if you know what I mean. ;-)

To coin another well known phrase, when it comes to the use of the vibrator & slow airs, it’s just that my ears tell me … "less is more"!

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Yeah, that’s it bigman :-)

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Ptarmy
I’m with you on that one!. It would be nice to move back [in this case] to a time where less vibrato was more.

But isn’t it true don’t you think that maybe many of us would play airs more on fiddle if the public expectation was for that BIG sound? My hunch is it would be.

The other thing too: it seems that at least around here there isn’t much room in sessions for airs on a fiddle…on pipes it seems more accepted. It’s thought of as a "piece"….for performance. Sean nos might be the same way in your neck of the woods.

Sessions with all their high energy blasting along, conversation, pub-base, whooping and etc are somewhat antithetical to introspection and respectful silence that a good air would deserve it seems to me?
Just a thought….

as an aside in favour of no/little vibratio: I’ve noticed on some of Padraig O’keeffe’s airs that while there’s a small amount, there’s not too much….in fact many places it’s almost undetectable

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sorry, should read "wasn’t for that big sound"

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mtodd, well actually, back home "a piece" is bread & jam! ;-)

But seriously, you may be right, but then again, since when did session musicians give a toss what "the public" thought?

I think it’s more to do with most of us being a little nervous, when it comes to taking centre stage by playing an air on our own, in front of our peers, knowing full well that one slip will see us getting the pish ripped out of us, by our fellow musicians.

It is a great pity that more sessions don’t accommodate at least one air a night & one or two songs. There are always lulls in the energy levels, wee pauses when guys go to the bog or the bar, just ideal wee spots for an air or song. There’s a great feeling too, as the session lifts off again & back into gear, as the dance tunes take over again, after an air or song.

Too many sessions are, sadly, far too one dimensional & would benefit greatly if more variety were incorporated in the mix.

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@ceolachan http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aF3fW4Nox9U


@Ptarmigan - your "west punjab" singer sounds like good, solid, fairly standard sean nos singing. It seems like perhaps you’d be happier with scottish music than irish?

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Ah, Ptarm..I’ll get my Ulster dialect figured out one of these days. ;)

"Too many sessions are, sadly, far too one dimensional & would benefit greatly if more variety were incorporated in the mix."

couldn’t agree more. it’s the same on this side of the pond. Although in one pub hereabouts there’s the possibility of songs….in Irish or English, but it’s a rarity by and large.

I remember once overhearing an old fella say, "Ah, them jigs and reels are fine, but it’s the airs that separate the men from the boys!" Not saying women don’t play airs…[his words not mine!! lol] but the meaning is clear and as Jim rightly says it’s a pity we don’t hear more of them….even on the pipes ….hereabouts there are a couple good players who might and do play some lovely airs and it’s a great feeling after the last note dies away and someone launches into some brisk and lively reels. Like following a slow pint with a quick dram of Black Bush!

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I wish more sessions played more of the slow stuff….. too often I listen to folks just sawing/blowing away at full speed, seemingly be hell bent on reaching the final measure as quickly as possible. I’ve found that people who play Aires and other slow tunes well and often, will also play the faster tunes more musically. They’ll take a smidge of pace off in return for introducing more musicality to the tune.

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The main reason that airs don’t get played out at sessions much is that sessions are about participation—sharing tunes by playing together. Airs are best played naturally, without strict adherence to the rhythm, and so playing airs well in tandem or a group is trickier than playing jigs and reels.

It’s seen by some as a bit self-centered to launch into an air, presuming etiquette precludes others from joining in. I tend to reserve airs for the odd request (if it doesn’t ruin the flow of a good session) or late in the evening when things are winding down anyway.

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Well, I did get a little sleep last night, and being passionate about this subject, a deep love and appreciation for airs, apologies now if I ‘over egg’ it… ;-)


Two extremes ~
"the bleating-violent-attack-style" ~ v ~ the thick syruppy wah-wah approach

On the one hand it can almost be beating the tune to death, and on the other is that maudlan idea that the ‘emotion’ has to be emphasized, rather than allowing the tune to freely express that in its natural structure. In these two extremes the musician is mishandling the air, using it for their own purposes instead of coming to terms with the melody and its context.

I appreciate an air most when it has that sound and association with singing, "learned by listening", rather than trying to do everything possible with the melody to prove ones acrobatic prowess with their instrument. With airs I’m more interested in the melody and the emotion than fancy twiddly bits and melodramatic overdose… I do tend to favour the Northern way with things over Connemara, but appreciated and enjoy both.

Whatever you do, for me it is singing the melody with an instrument, and that doesn’t necessarily end with ‘airs’… There are those that give themselves to the melody and find a place there, and those that tend to take the melody and mangle it as a means to show what they can do to it, rather than finding some agreement with it they fight it to make their point. I don’t have a problem recognizing such excess and it grates on my senses. This beating up of the melody is not confined to uilleann pipers.

The pipes definitely speak to emotions, mine included, and my wife’s, but they are not innocent or free of ‘going over the top’, egging it… At some point all the diddlin’ of the melody gets in the way of my being able to appreciated it, take it in. For me, such excess detracts from both the air and the emotions… And yes, even ‘names’ are guilty of over adorning and putting on too much of the Ritz with a lovely tune. I think, in such situations, they’ve lost the plot, literally. A ‘piece’ for performance, to put on a show, well, there’s a place for that too, but laying it heavy in any situation? ~ Nah, not appreciated by these ears, even if they can acknowledge the skill involved.


I was about to consider a purchase, a Duncan Chisholm CD, after the two recommendations made above, till I heard ‘vibrato’. However sweet the tone, and that can be too much too, add ‘vibrato’ and ‘classical’ influences and any purchase that falls under that is usually passed on to someone else, someone who has an appreciation for such affectation of traditional melody. There’s no one in this house that can’t appreciate technique, but how it is applied and where, well, over affecting this music is not something we’d choose to subject ourselves to for long. I’ll still see if I can chase up some listens somewhere, of this particular thrice mentioned fiddler.

Neillie Boyle was not short of opinions and voicing them, sometimes even in disagreement with himself, but I love the few rants I’ve had the pleasure of hearing, with respect…

I am also fond of the playing of Festy Conlan, mentioned by Patkiwi…

Yes, Nico, lovely, brilliant, taken as it is, a ‘piece’ ~ and love that mad man behind the pipes…


"Too many sessions are, sadly, far too one dimensional & would benefit greatly if more variety were incorporated in the mix." ~ Ptarm

Yup! That can be the case… ~ ‘c’

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Thanks Bogman, that saved me a search. I can listen while I work on other things… The sun is calling me out too..

I’ll let you know after exposure, in a ‘few’ words… ;-)

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Great technique and tone, but way too much the flourescent slushie for me to consider adding that to my list of needed listens. It’s way over the top, especially with the synths, the tabla player and all, and reverb too, if not quite yet to the depth of tiled bathroom or stairwell, though close… ‘Slush’ ~ in the plunky plunk and the strummed chords and stuff. You know, I think I have enough of a full set of samples I could just about approximate these tracks without bothering with a living musicians, and I do mean the whole thing, including the fiddle. Modern samples are amazing things…

Sorry Bogman, much respect for you, and there’s no doubting the talent, but these tracks are just too much like computer music, controlled to the point of constipated… IMO

Realizing some of that might be the usual ~ compression… :-/

Sometimes I long for such control and tone… But I’d rather that with the burl too, and ‘dirt’…

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Hmm, I wasn’t to keen on that playing either. One thing that really stands out is the open strings’ zero vibrato. I think this is indicative of the fella not really contoling what he’s doing. He puts the same amount and speed and delay of vibrato on every note (except the open strings). To me it sounds like he’s learned that one way of doing it and he just does it autmatically, he can;t stop himself. He justs shakes his finger at it. There’s none of that oh so subtle and gentle slight rocking of the wrist, placed sparingly.

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"the fella not really contoling what he’s doing"

that’s almost funny

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Then where does the descision to have only the notes GDAE with no vibrato? No matter where they come in the tune? And all the other notes to have exactly the same?

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That’s almost ‘automatic’, that’s what mean by ‘control’, maybe ‘constant’ would be a better description, almost robotic.

" ~ that oh so subtle and gentle slight rocking of the wrist, placed sparingly." ~ llig

Yes, that gives me goosebumps, just the hint, which I do appreciated, whatever the instrument. Surprise me with it now and then, not all the time…

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Well that’s how he choses to play the tune, that’s the style he obviously likes. It has nothing to do with his control. Not liking his approach is one thing but not appreciating his quality is another.

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There are many thing to appreciate/like (same thing in my book) in his playing. I think he’s a good player. I just don’t think he’s very good at playing slow. He doesn’t control the vibrato. If you say he chooses not to control it then fair enough.

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You know that’s not what I said there.

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Sorry Bogman, I don’t want to get into a spat about it. I respect your opinions. You say he chooses to play play all the notes except his open strings with the same amount and speed and delay of vibrato?

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I wouldn’t really know what he actually chooses to play, but it is pretty consistent with a style I’m familiar with and enjoy. I’m not a fiddler so can only comfortably go by the overall style and not the technically. I do hate folk trying to put vibrato and gross slides on the scottish pipes so can maybe have sympathy with your feelings towards certain styles of fiddling. This area has a variety of stylized players and I certainly wouldn’t expect them to appeal to everyone.

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‘technicality’ - that would be

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Just wanted to add my vote to the "play ‘em like they sing ‘em" side of things.

Interestingly enough, is there a lot of vibrato in sean nos singing? ;-)

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I wouldn’t think so ……. but there’s certainly a bucket load of ornamentation!

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I don’t imagine there would be any need for a vote for the "play ‘em like they sing ‘em" side of things. That should be a given. Two problems with looking at slow tunes with such simplicity are; the same song can be sung in different styles, and not all slow tunes have songs connected. More understanding of the music than just copying a song is needed.

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I agree. And I’m maybe guilty of judging an established style of playing Scottish slow tunes on the fiddle against what I obviously prefer … the title of the thread.

Yet I do know plenty of Scottish fiddle players who have lovely controlled vibrato

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Bog
would it be fair to say that slow airs/laments would constitute "set" pieces? ie, for performance by [mainly] a solo performer? That’s how I’ve always envisaged them.

I never thought of them as so-called join in tunes in a session, but since when did every session tune have to be a ‘join in’ affair? Nothing wrong with the odd performance piece from the best players…no one’s going to quibble with that, contrary perhaps to Will H’s implication.

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esp. if it’s on pipes!

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mtodd, yes i would agree. Playing slow tunes is a solo thing. Bigger sessions can be a lottery though as, like Will points out, it can seem a bit self centered. Also, others might be tempted to join in creating a mush - similar to what often happens if songs are sung at a tune session - every word is blurred by tunesters who thing a session is about playing every beat of every bar all night long. Airs can work ok at a smaller session where everyone knows and understands each other though. Personally I would prefer to err towards Will’s point of view on the session question

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True enough Bog, mush— since these are in free time — is an inherent danger for sure. So as you say perhaps best in small venues, among friends who are both forgiving and too polite to stop you. ;)
Tackling "Song of the Books" the odd time was evidence of exactly what you and Will were getting at.

by the by, if anyone has Crantich’s Irish Fiddle Book cd he does the airs justice with just the right amount of tight [not wide] & subtle [and sprinkled…not every note] vibrato…and often just will play things plain, without any vibrato at all…the kind of thing you and Ceo and Llig would no doubt enjoy…and the music doesn’t suffer any for not having that Big Classical Sound.

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Matt Crantich is the tops I’ve heard at it, yes. His open strings do not have the monopoly on no vibrato. And if he wants the tiniest touch on that note, he’ll finger it with his pinky.

On the Scottish side, I like Dougie Mclean’s fiddle playing

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"On the Scottish side, I like Dougie Mclean’s fiddle playing"

Well there’s a conversation stopper Mr llig!!!

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Gee Bogman, you’re feisty today, eh? Shoosh. I tell ya, you try to make one joke about people singing sean nos with oodles of classical vibrato… :-P

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Yes, I appreciate Matt’s take on such things too.

I was asked about recommendations, which I’ll chase up later, but here are some things with airs I’ve been enjoying lately…

"P.J. Crotty, Carol Cullinan, James Cullinan: Happy To Meet"
9.) The Green Linnett ~ P.J. Crotty
http://www.thesession.org/recordings/display/408

"Josie McDermott: Darby’s Farewell"
http://www.thesession.org/recordings/display/130

"Paudie O’Connor And John O’Brien: Wind And Reeds"
http://www.thesession.org/recordings/display/3167

The above are immediate pleasures, yesterday and today…

I also see no problem in moving beyond the understanding to use one’s own accumulated knowledge, experiences and emotions to find a personal place with a given air, not necessarily following every consonant, vowel and syllable exactly, but as ones heart takes you, but that based on an already existing familiarity and appreciation for sean nos by mouth…

On Chisholm, yeah, I wouldn’t refuse a magic that would give me some of that, I just don’t like how it is being used in the examples given, but that could also be because it is being smothered in so much cutesy technology and flutters and the stuff done at the processing end, and the usual digital diddling and compression… I know other talented musicians that have the technique but with how they use it lose me. It’s not for me. Airs need ‘heart’, in the true and rough sense of it, not perfect style and technique. I’ve heard airs given bettter soul on a fiddle with a caved in soundboard and just three very old strings and a home made bow ~ than what Mr. Chisholm does to airs, by the examples given. They don’t need to be works of art but works of heart. I, personally, think he misses it, however gifted he might be with the bow…

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Will this make the 100 mark? :-/

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Can somebody give us a good working definition of “Irish slow air”? I get the feeling there are several tacit definitions in use here.

Does it have to derive from a song? A particular style of song?

Is every slow tune an air? Johnny Cunningham liked to take a reel or jig and slow it way down. Is that a slow air? If not, then what should it be called?

Does it have to be rhythmically free? If so, then what should we call a slow, but fairly metrical, tune?

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Anything can be slowed down into a ‘piece’ for a closer listen and to have a bit of fun at a more relaxed tempo. But, a slowed down reel is a slow reel, and O’Carolan piece is just that too, and then there are regular beat laments, so many possibilities, and all could gladly be called ‘slow’ airs. We have mostly been focusing here on the slow air playing associated with ‘sean nós’ singing, which some confine to singing in Irish, and some even confine it further to just Connemara. I, personally, don’t set such limits and am particularly fond of the Ulster take on this.

I remember one priest, or was he a brother, who professed to be a teacher of the connemara style and who publicly bewailed what he considered an inferior and unacceptable style and influence, that of ‘the North’. Like others he felt it had no place in tradition or competition, despite much of it being sung in Irish, if a different dialect. This particular egg-spurt taught his version of Connemara sean nós singing with an obvioulsy heavy European classical influence ~ lots of that damned warbling, and more like an opera recital. His influence was great though, in one major competition, where he made the determination, he ignored some superb Northern examples and gave one of his own warbling students first prize.

I decided to give a slew of lovely piping a listen over the last two days and still stand my my suggestion that it is best to gain an understanding of this approach through its vocal roots, to learn to ‘sing’ the air. Yes, I can get pleasure out of other approaches, but much of the obviously disconnected runs the melody into the ground, including laying on a note dreadfully long, taking it very, very slow, and very, very ornamented and exaggerated, in my sense of it. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy some of these, but it is far divorced from the vocal root and can also be divorced from the meaning and passions in an air, which can be conveyed by a solo instrument in the right hands.

For a usual voice mentioned and whose recordings are still available, for a listen, to soak in his particular take and articulation of singing, there’s Joe Heaney. Also available is the singing of Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh on the Altan recordings, to at least get some idea of pace, tempo, and the articulation of the voice, and the emotion… Bringing things forward a bit, we enjoy the singing of Cara Dillon, and crossing borders, also in the modern vein, we also enjoy Julie Fowlis… The much older singers are brilliant too, but often hard to get close to for a start, being ‘in the rough’ in a most beautiful way to my senibilities.

I believe it was two LPs, but I haven’t ours at hand to check, or vinyl, but a great collection, including the previously mentioned Festy Conlan, was "Grand Airs of Connemara", a lovely collection to get your ears around for gaining a better understanding of playing airs in this way, emulating the voice and the passion, if Connemara centric, but what harm that, eh?

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I would think playing Aires would give some of the musicians at a session a much needed break while letting others step into the spotlight for a few minutes. Personally I don’t find it appealing to just play full speed tunes back to back to back to back to back…….. a lovely little Aire, Waltz or slower piece for just a few instrumentalists is a nice change of pace. Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate the talent sitting around me until they take a more standout role on a tune…… a nice treat.

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That’s the thing with sessions, they’re all different. What works in one maybe doesn’t in another. At our session we like faster tunes back to back. For a break we play laid back jigs, reels or slides, only very occasionally would we play anything slower. That’s the way we like it and have no intention of changing to an identi-kit session. We don’t want a break and would play long after the pub shut if we could. But each to their own of course…..

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What’s an "aire"?

Lovely suggestions, ceolachan, and great info on slow airs.

I’d be curious to hear what you think about Willie Clancy’s takes on airs. (PM, if you want!)

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can’t find ”aire” but for a bit of etymology

* Air (noun) [Music] - is that melody which predominates and gives it’s character to the piece (Brewers, 1894 & 1922)
- a tune (Chambers, 1996)
- a tune or short melodiuos composition (Oxford, 1999)
- a simple tune for either vocal or instrumental performance (Collins, 2004)

air = tune, song, theme, melody, strain, lay, aria

Chambers (1988) gives - melody, tune. First recorded 1590, and appears in Shakespeare’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ (1595-96), borrowed from / influenced by Italian ‘aria’ = melody, coming from Vulgar Latin and developed from an earlier meaning (manner, experience) from Middle French ‘air’.

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just found in The New Encyclopaedia Britannica (1997 / originally 1768) :

* ‘ayre’, also spelled ‘air’ - genre of solo song with lute acconpaniment that flourished in England in the late 16th c and early 17th c.

Generally, ayers are graceful, elegant, polished, often strophic songs (ie. songs having the same music for each stanza), typically dealing with amorous subjects. But many are lively and animated, full of rhythmic subtleties, and others are deeply emotional songs that gain much of their effect from bold, expressive harmonies and stricking melodic lines.

The ayre developed during a European trend toward acconpanied solo song (in place of songs for severel voices). Chansons, madrigals, and other polyphonic songs where frequently published in versions for voice and lute, and books of ayres often provided for optional performance by several singers, by having, opposite the solo and lute virsion, the three additional voice parts printed so that they could be read from three sides of a table.

lovely stuff

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i would advise not to learn them by notation. You cant get the real feeling or flow of the tune by just reading notes from paper. Listen to sean nós singers but also listen to people like Gerry Harrington, Matt Cranitch and Séamus Creagh for fiddle slow airs :)