Irish Appalachian Music

Irish Appalachian Music

Hey, I’m writing a major paper for school on the connections between Irish Traditional Music and Appalachian music, less from a historical aspect and looking more at it through a theoretical way. I’m not sure if this is an appropriate place to post, but I’m sure it is a good place, what with all the incredible people out there. This paper is a long ways off at this point, like a couple of months away, but I have some thoughts, and I would like to toss those out and see what people think, and also see if anybody has any suggestions for tunes that you consider "archtypical" tunes of either the Anglo roots or "old timey" mountain, appalachian music. I’m going to be analysing about fifty or sixty tunes, hopefully, trying to tag a couple(or more) key characteristics in each genre, and then see if that means I can start tying things together. Anyways, my thoughts run along these lines: Depending on what era I get my sources from, they either say, in the case of the eariler (1950’s and before), that "Yes of Course the two genres are connected, because the settlers came from the british isles, and moved to appalachia, and that’s all there is to it!", or in more recent sources "Well, to some extent, that’s true, but there are also all of these other influences in the music here as well, like african slaves, and gypsy music". So I think I’m going to roll with the second sources for right now, and accept that there are other infuences, but I kind of want to see, what the anglo influences are, and what I can’t attribute to ireland and scotland, and what I have to say "I have no idea where _this_ came from". Anyways, I’m thinking that I might be able to do that by, again, analyzing many, many different songs, and coming up with these characteristics, trying to tie it all together, and then, as my gimmick, composing a tune that could be a kind of "missing link", one that has all of the characteristics, or rather, many or the characteristics that I have identified in both styles.
So, that being said, I have been analyzing classical pieces for school for about a year and a half now, but I haven’t done much in the folk region, so does anyone have any suggestions for things that I might want to pay special attention to, or something that I might not consider that I probably should, or the other way around, anything that doesn’t really matter? This is kind of a sneaky way to say "What should I be looking for?", but still, it’s worth a shot to throw out there to see if anybody has any ideas. Also, this is a research project, so if anyone has any book that they like on this subject, or a PBS documentary they recently saw, or anything along those lines, if you feel like dropping the name or description on here as well, that would be great. I’m not asking you guys to be actively searching anything out, I’m doing that already, but if you have read something cool that you feel like sharing, or you heard a good NPR bit, I would appreciate it if you would toss it my way. Also, something that will probably engender much more discussion than the rest of this post…What would you guys say are _the_ tunes that are archtypically irish, or appalachian? Some are both, I saw a post that had some good thoughts, like "Whiskey before breakfast", "Redhaired boy", "Soldier’s Joy", "Morpeth’s Rant", and suchlike, all good tunes that I have played in both Bluegrass jams and Irish jams as well, but what would you guys say are the tunes that are just "Irish", "Scottish", or "Appalachian"? I say "Appalachian" because that’s the region I’m from (Kentucky), and I think I want to focus on that region, because that’s what I put in my prompt at the beginning of the school year, but if you have a good tune that fits another American folk tradition (aside from creole, or anything more francophone like that), good ahead and toss it out there, I’ll probably use all of these, plus whatever else I can dig up.

Whew, that was a lot of info…Again, I’m not looking for anybody to write this thing for me, or go out and find the stuff, but if you know of anything that can help me on this massive (25-35 page) undertaking, I would appreciate it greatly. Thanks for taking the time to read to the bottom,

Nathan

Re: Irish Appalachian Music

Nathan,

I’d like to read your paper when you’re done. I started out as an Old Time fiddler and have really gotten hooked on ITM. I’m taking a Celtic course online through the Univ of Wisconsin, so I have an avid interest in what you’re doing.

When I hear how the songs you mention are played as Old Time tunes compared to how I hear them as played as Irish tunes, they’re a lot different. At least I think so.

Another song is The Cuckoo’s Nest. I’ll try to think of some more if I can.

I’d be kinda curious of the history of the banjo. It was Joel Sweeney over in Virginia that popularized the banjo in minstrel shows. Before that, it was mostly used by African Americans and has an African origin. But then it shows up as a tenor instrument in Irish music. All fascinating stuff.

Good luck!
Larry

Re: Irish Appalachian Music

Nathan,

Bruce Molsky and Mick Moloney have some very specific views on this subject. Bruce says that there are only about 7 tunes from Appalachia that can be traced back directly (I can think of a few, Lord McDonalds/Leather Britches, Miss McClouds/Hop High Ladies, Kitty;s Wedding and something I don’t remember, etc.) Both of them are very approachable and can give you some references.

Soldier’s Joy may be another one of those tunes, but there are very few mountain tunes that can be traced directly back, according to Bruce M.

One thing you might look at is Shetland fiddle music which has a close relation to American Old Tome music in form and rythmn. There are no direct tunes shared as far as I can tell (200+ years ago, that is, there are plenty of shared tunes all over the world, just look at St. Anne’s Reel) but the music is very similar as opposed to Irish and Scottish music these days.

There are scholars who dispute this view, of course, but most American tunes (Sally Goodin, Cripple Creek, etc.) have African roots too, just look at the lyrics and the drive compared to, say, Barbara Allen or the other ballads.

It is a good project for a paper and should be a lot of fun to do. Don’t be afraid to go to some of these sources (Mick Moloney has a Ph.D in folklore from an Ivy league university) as all of them will be friendly and helpful. Better yet, see them in person and talk to them.

Mike Keyes
http://www.banjosessions.com

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Just in case you haven’t already thought of them:

L. E. McCullough might be able to point you to some clues (he is an American expert on Irish music, with a PhD in ethnomusicology). He has written some books, so you might be able to contact him through his publishers.

The Smithsonian Institute has a collection of folk music; someone there might be able to help you.

And a real long shot, but who knows— the movie "Songcatcher" (2000) might have had a technical advisor. If you’re not familiar with the movie, check out the plot summary at:
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0210299/plotsummary

Re: Irish Appalachian Music

Nathan

What a good idea. I’m no expert on either tradition, but from my limited experience in both at different times in my life, I would suggest that the tunes that did migrate from Ireland and the rest of the British Isles began to migrate early - long before musically literate educated people began to pay attention to "folk" music. Both traditions were and are "living" in the sense that tunes continue to evolve as they are played. It seems to me that some tunes evolved very differently on the different sides of the Pond before they were "dicovered" and written down in the 19/20 centuries. For example, the old-time version of Soldier’s Joy that I learned bears only the slightest resemblance to the (current) Scottish or Irish version. It may well be that the old-time version is nearer the original - but you’ll never know for sure. There again, the two tunes may share no more than a name. After all, most Irish tunes have about 40 names.

Good luck - will you be publishing?

MYBC

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Re: Irish Appalachian Music

As I understand it, much of the Appalachians were settled by the "Scotch-Irish", which I take to be Ulster Protestants. I would expect their culture as it was in the 18th century (probably more Scottish than Irish) to be the root of the music. And don’t forget that back then, much of the musical repertoire was common to the entire British isles.

Re: Irish Appalachian Music

Nathan, following on from luap’s last post on the Ulster Scots connection, I came up with a couple of interesting sources of information for my own website’s page on ‘Old Time Music’ & its links with the music of Ulster, which you might like to check out. I’m sure you’ve probably seen them all before but just in case, you can check out my page at:

http://www.causewaymusic.co.uk/usotm.html

Also, I have a friend in North Carolina, Rick Davis, who is actually looking into this subject at the moment. He spent a couple of months over here this year doing some research on the subject but I suspect went home with more questions than answers. However, it might be worth your while contacting him through his website at:

http://www.cutedogmusic.com/

Luap’s comment - "much of the musical repertoire was common to the entire British isles." rings true for me too.
I think most folk understand that the Traditional music over here in Scotland, Ireland & the North of England is all inextricably linked.

MYBC says - "For example, the old-time version of Soldier’s Joy that I learned bears only the slightest resemblance to the (current) Scottish or Irish version. It may well be that the old-time version is nearer the original - but you’ll never know for sure."
I have heard this argument used when folks in Scotland talk about the tunes that the Cape Breton musicians ‘bring back’ to Scotland, namely that their version is closer to the original than the modern Scottish one, but that is surely only true if the tune was sitting stagnant in the Cape Breton tradition for all these years, but I’d say the Cape Breton musicians have a stronger, more vibrant tradition than that, one which wouldn’t allow a good tune to simply lie dormant for years.
So these tunes, wherever they are played must always be evolving.

Good Luck with your paper Nathan. It should be a lot of fun for you. I hope you publish your results or at least post them on a website for us all to read.

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I recommend consulting older tune collections, especially those that have tunes from multiple genres, like Howe’s 1000 and Kerr’s Merrie Melodies. The latter has tunes organized by (supposed?) type and origin—looking at Book II for example, the categories include "Scotch Reels and Strathspeys" and "Negro Sand Jigs and Plantation Dances."

Another interesting group of sources are the minstrel banjo tutor books (mid-late 1800’s), several of which have been reprinted in facsimile recently. Those contain tunes that seem to be Irish or European alongside others that sound much more African.

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Check out http://www.juleeglaub.com. I took a wonderful Irish song class from Julee last summer at the Swannanoa Gathering’s Celtic Week. She’s from North Carolina and spent years in Dublin connecting Irish and Appalachian music. On the "About" page in her website, there is reference to a book called "Cracker Culture, Celtic Ways in the Old South," by Grady McWhinney, a Southern historian. Might be on the list of what you’re looking for. Also, Julee gives her email address on the website and I wouldn’t be surprised if she responds to you with some helpful references.

Good luck. it’s a great subject and I hope you have fun working on it.

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Re: Irish Appalachian Music

Here’s a good link in the US Library of Congress - the Henry Reed collection. Recordings, field notes, jpegs of scores, etc. It’s a treasure trove. Reed was a major source for old-time tunes. His playing is Scots-Irish influenced, for sure, but with some African rhythmic touches and some say Native American influence as well. Listen to the modal version of "Cluck Old Hen" - all it needs is a tom-tom beat.

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/reed/

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Elke Baker, she’s an American virtuoso of Scottish-style fiddling, and the hammer dulcimer player Ken Kolodner did a workshop on Old Time/Celtic Connections at the Simple Gifts Folk College in Pennsylvania this past June. It was fascinating. Elke played at least six different versions of Cuckoo’s Nest…Old Time, Canadian, Irish, Scottish, English and Welsh all recognizably the same core tune, but the meter, rhythm and key/mode changed…and she didn’t even begin to touch the vocal versions of the tune with their myriad bawdy lyrics.

Ken & Elke played three versions of Money Musk: the original Scottish Reel "Sir Archibald Grant of Monymusk", a New England version and an Old Time version, and also pointed out how the placename Monymusk was corrupted into the title Money Musk.

They also showed us how the Scottish jig "Wi’ a Hundred Pipers" morphed into the Old Time tune "Booth Shot Lincoln." and gave us a handout with a long list of crossover tunes: mostly Scottish to Old Time, since that’s what Elke knows best.

You might want to get in touch with one or both of them. I don’t have e-mails, but they both have websites. Ken’s is www.kenkolodner.com, and Elke’s is http://hometown.aol.com/bakerez1/.

One thing to consider is that the Irish, Scottish and English musical traditions were significantly related and trading tunes, players and techniques long before this country was settled…and all three of them were influenced by continental European traditions (think of the Italian baroque influences on O’Carolan for instance). So you have regional/cultural styles on the one hand, and constant cross fertilization on the other hand….all across two continents (three if you count Africa) and four centuries! Have fun!!!!

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Re: Irish Appalachian Music

Ptarmigan

I think I meant to suggest that once a tune is written down or otherwise recorded, the record becomes a landmark and a reference point for future performance - how many arguments about tune variants have been settled by reference to "the book" (O’Neill’s - published almost a century ago)? I don’t think this is entirely a good think for any tradition - it opens the doors for scholars and other non-musician nitpickers to interfere with the natural evolution of tunes.

Tedium

I bought my 4 vol set of Kerr’s in 1971 and I agree that the content and format is intriguing. Unlike O’Neill’s, Kerr’s was an entirely commercial exercise and I suspect that a lot of the tunes were enhanced, neutered or composed by the publishers to boost sales. This doesn’t entirely de-value the stuff - many of my favourite tunes are from this source.

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Re: Irish Appalachian Music

Yes MYBC, I was only agreeing with your observation, cause we all know nobody actually plays those tunes any more, the way they were written down in O’Neills that is. A valuable reference point for sure, but not to be worshipped, to the exclusion of all musical progress.!

Intersting Kate. Rick Davis of N.C. was over here this Summer & he spoke of hearing those three versions of Monymusk being played by someone, or it might have been recorded by someone.

There’s also a lot of god stuff in those ‘Ceol Rince na hEireann’ books of Breandan Breathnach & the ‘Roche Collection’ too.

Re: Irish Appalachian Music

Sorry, I meant ‘good stuff’ - of course!

Re: Irish Appalachian Music

The tuning and other characteristics of the 5-string banjo (I don’t know how far this particular kind of banjo dates back to) may well have influenced the shape of modern Appalachian tunes and music.

In Ireland and the UK, it’s very seldom seen playing Irish and related music; the 4-string tenor banjo is much preferred, and obviously found more suitable for playing Irish music as it exists today.

Re: Irish Appalachian Music

Nicholas - "The early days of old-time music are unfortunately not well-documented, and there are various theories of how it started and spread. This first one I got from Bob Flesher. White minstrels popularized the banjo in urban centers before the Civil War. The banjo went back to the mountains with veterans from that war. When people began to play banjos and fiddles together, fiddle playing changed. (See the notes, for example, to the Emmett Lundy LP.) After reading Conway’s African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia (see book list below), I would lean toward another theory. Conway gives persuasive evidence that black banjo players taught both minstrels and white mountain musicians to play the banjo directly. Just one of her arguments is that there are lots of common tunings between earlier black banjoists and mountain banjoists that weren’t used by minstrels."

From the webpage - “Old-time (oldtimey) Music What is it?”
http://www.traditionalmusic.co.uk/whatisoldtime/old-time-music-definition.htm

Anyone interested in the history of the Banjo & in particular its Irish history, should read Mick Moloney’s excellent page on “The Banjo – A Short History”
http://www.standingstones.com/banjo.html

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Somebody suggested Julee Glaub as I was on my way to the bottom to post it…definitely go to her she is a real sweetheart and always eager to share her information and music I would 100% recommend her.

Good Luck!

Re: Irish Appalachian Music

Ain’t this a great site? I’m constantly tempted to ask all manner of questions unrelated to Irish music just because I know there are so many knowledgeable and clever people here.

Bruce may be right in saying that there are only seven or so tunes traceable to Irish/Scots roots, but I wonder how he (or whoever) determined that. And I’d like to see his list.

Sometimes it’s really hard to hear the family resemblence between two tunes. The first time I paid attention to the Northern (American) version of Bonaparte’s Retreat (via Aaron Copland), I didn’t connect it with the version I’ve heard all my life in the South, but if you halve the tempo of the Northern version, it becomes obvious.

Less obvious is the genetic connection between the old time tune called Johnny Cope and the song/tune known across the pond. Again, it starts with halving (or doubling) the tempo. Then, with a little imagination, it starts making sense. But I don’t think I would’ve ever thought of comparing them if it weren’t for the common name.

Too bad we can’t do DNA testing on tunes.

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There are a number of books about the Scots Irish emigrants, where they settled in the US, and their impact on the society. One of the most recent was written by James Webb, former Secretary of the Navy, who is now running for the Senate. Interestingly, while there are those in Ulster today who see the "diddley" music as something from the south of Ireland, it is the fiddle driven dance tunes that the Scots Irish brought to America!

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I always have loved when Andy Irvine does his Bluegrass/Old Timey thing. Patrick Street: Down in Matewan/The Lost Indian as well as their version of Guthrie’s Tom Joad are great. He also does a bit more of that with Mozaik. With the great fiddler Bruce Molsky they’re the embodiment of the Irish American, Traditional music crossover at this point, I’m hesitant to claim in such esteemed company.

Good luck Nathan! Come back and let us know how it goes!

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Look up these topics in the archives of the mailing lists FIDDLE-L and IRTRAD-L, it’s been hashed over there, with people like Alan Feldman chiming in. It looks like there are only about 20-25 tunes in common between Old Time and British Isles music, you’ll find the lists. Some of these tunes may have come from printed sources too - I’ve heared a couple of old records with the Dublin Reel, which is in Ryan’s twice - did the musicians learn it from there? No one knows.
Another thing to consider is that, of course, there are different varities of "Appalachian" or Old Time music - Texas is different than Mississipi is different than Kentucky is different than Virginia is different than Pennsylvania. I’ve read of a "Northern" style of Old Time music - Indiana fiddler John Summers considered himself part of it, anyway - that had lots of jigs, reels, hornpipes, and connections to New England/Contra Dance music. You should read up on that while you’re at it.
Another good source for music - online! free! - is www.jehile.com, dedicated to Pennsylvania Old time fiddler Jehile Kirkuff, who had a huge, extremely varied repetoire, and plays the occasional "Irish reel", most everything he plays has a spoken introduction, too.

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Re: Irish Appalachian Music - what happened to 6/8?

Basil, I would be really interested if, as part of your paper, you could find out why 6/8 tunes are so rare in Old Time and Blugrass. What happened to them? Didn’t the Apalachian settlers dance jigs? Triple time seems to be absent from blues as well. Could that have been an influence? Anybody else have any info/ideas?

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Re: Irish Appalachian Music

If you plan to delve into the song area with Julee Glaub, you might want to research in the BH Bronson vols, which are musical notations of the Child Ballads. For example you can watch what happened to the familiar ballad "Mattie Groves" and see it turn into the American "Shady Grove". The Bronson books sometimes have 30 variants of one single ballad and show where they were found and what the notes were to compare. They’re in most large libraries, I first saw them at Lincoln Center in NYC in the folk music research area when I studied balladry in school. Good luck, will be interested to see your paper when done!

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Ptarmigan:

That’s Oyster River Hornpipe which is published in several anthologies including "Ryan’s" etc.

Re: Irish Appalachian Music

You have taken on quite an undertaking to say the least and may have to revert to darwins theory of everchanging music. As in the different regions and sounds in Ireland so it is in the US. Also you have to wonder what was happening historically at the time of the migrations. In the 1700’s you had English oppression in the US and Ireland and you had the Jacobite revolution. In the 1800’s you had the US civil war, where as Irish were hired by both sides to battle only to see that they were fighting fellow kinsman. this would add a lot of modalarity to the tunes along with whatever African influences. Needless to say the tunes did cross the pond and from there evolved even further. While you’re doing this take a look at "Johnny has Gone for a Soldier" to "Shurly Shurly " or even "Rosin the Bow " to "Booth Shot Lincoln" different keys and time but simular. Anyhow I would like to see your final report.
Bob Quint

Re: Irish Appalachian Music

Hi,
I’ve been giving this topic some thought because I’m writing a chapter about the connections between European and American music for my homepage. I found this book helpful although it may be not up to scientific standards:
Celtic Music - A Complete Guide by June Skinner-Sawyers, Da Capo Press 2001

She reckons that the settlers in the Southern states largely came from only a few counties in Ulster, Scotland and Northern England. She also mentions that English folk song collector Cecil Sharp went to the Appalachians and noted down hundreds of fragments to English songs between 1916 and 1918. This would have had some effect on the English revival.
Thus I wonder if it is practical for you to choose just the Irish musical roots. Ballads are largely associated with English ancestry and would be easier to compare. It would also be interesting to look at numbers of English/Scottish/ Irish settlers.
As to the tune "Soldiers’Joy": We had a lively discussion about its origin here a few weeks ago. I learnt it as a German tune before I started to play it in a band as ITM. I’m sure it was popular all over Northern Europe and possibly originates in Scandinavia. The thing is that songs and tunes often are attributed to the Irish though they had imported them from other countries.
I wish you all the best with your work and would like to hear about your progress.
Almut

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Re: Irish Appalachian Music

If your emphasis is on music theory/analysis rather than history, then it might be rewarding to look at the persistance of modal scales in Old Time and Celtic traditions. Scales other than major/minor are something shared by Celtic, Old Time and Blues. I play Mt. Dulcimer as well as Irish Flute, and it has certainly given me a appreciation for the various scales found in trad tunes.

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Re: Irish Appalachian Music

Just an update, I’ve pulled in about 125 songs, both "UK" "Appalachian" and "Both", and have done a fairly thourough analysis on each of them. I’m now writing this bad boy, and once I’m done I’ll put it up somewhere for people to look at for a while, before I have to submit it, because once I submit it, it becomes the propoerty of the IB : (…

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It might be worthwhile checking out the dvd "Bringing it all back Home", produced in the late 1980`s, I think by Hummingbird Music. This features a host of Irish and American stars playing Irish and old times music. The Everly Bros sing a great great version of "Rose Connolly" and Ricky Skaggs, along with Liam O`Flynn plays a wonderful version of St. Annes Reel..
A much more recent gathering of Irish, Scottish and American artists is available from RTE, as "The Atlantic Sessions".
This features Aly Bain, Sharon Shannon, Paul Brady, Gerry Douglas and many more

Re: Irish Appalachian Music

So, what ever came of this project? I’d really like to see a report.