Piano in Traditional Irish Music?

Piano in Traditional Irish Music?

Lads and ladets. Seriously, why can’t I find a cd of traditional Irish music that doesn’t have a poxy piano playing in the background? No offence to any pianists (i play myself) but in my humble opinion a piano has no place in a session. its like mixing alcohol with open heart surgery - both are great, but good lord don’t put them together.
What do ye think, and where can I get a cd without the blasted piano?

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Any music shop.
And in your frame of mind keep away from the Ceili Band stuff it could be dangerous for you health.
https://thesession.org/discussions/11340

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"In my humble opinion a piano has no place in a session"

I’d disagree very strongly here. Sessions are held in houses and bars everywhere. If there is a piano there, as there often is, surely it’s the most natural thing in the world for it to be used.

Even if you disagree with the above statement, what has this got to do with cds? Sessions and recordings are two different beasts. So, even if you can argue that a piano has no place in a session surely with a recording musicians can do what they like?

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You can’t find a CD of traditional Irish music without a piano ?

Really ?

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I find that surprising too as I’ve got several and I’d probably be very safe in betting that those "sans pianos" were the majority. The same for sessions too.

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Hi Scotsman, that’s a fair point about a session being different from a recording, but I still think, in my opinion, that a piano doesn’t sound right in traditional Irish music.
Traditional irish music doesn’t need backing from a piano, the tunes themselves bring everything required to the table, in my opinion the sound of a piano takes from the structure of the tunes.
I’m not claiming to be right I’m just voicing my opinion.

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Yeah its hard to believe, but bear in mind, I’m seriously in the ‘sticks’ here. The music shops only seem to stock pop and dance drivel.

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I love the piano in trad music, listening to Beoga at the moment on the headphones and the piano playing is class 🙂

However, "Vampires" with limited ability is a different kettle of fish …

Jonathan

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The sticks ? You’re 45min from Clonmel.
Try music shops there.
Look out for Bothy Band, (does harpsicord count ?).

"Traditional irish music doesn’t need backing from a piano, the tunes themselves bring everything required to the table"
- But you play guitar, wouldn’t you apply the same logic ?

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Yeah BegF, I’ve tried Clonmel, seriously, I think Ive bought every trad cd in town but they all have a piano going mental in them Except the cd ‘champions of ireland Uilleann pipes and bodhrán’ which are highly recommended by the way.
Thank for the suggestion though 🙂

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Sounds like you’re looking in the wrong shops. Some of the larger chains only have a small trad section and they tend to be full of compilation crap. HMV and Virgin are good if you can find a branch not too far away.

On the other hand, do you live next door to a piano player?

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I remember good piano playing in sessions at The Lounge in Lerwick, Shetland, played by Peerie Willie Johnson and another chap called Bogie John, who very definitely knew what they were doing.

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OK. This opens up another discussion.

The piano is very much an instrument used in Shetland music and even in Scottish music in general.
We’re talking about Irish music here, of course, as you’ll know Nicholas. However, I think there’s a place for it there too. As BegF says, the guitar isn’t a traditonal Irish music instrument either.

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Yeah, Conán, I know HMV are pretty good, dont know where i could find one though.
And there aint too many virgins in this area either ;)

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I totally agree that a guitar isnt a traditional irish music instrument. However, ive been reared and breast fed on sessions where a guitar was a big part of the music and would be sorely missed from a session. the piano however is another kettle of fish. Ive been going to sessions since i was a pup and i’ve never heard anyone play the piano, so I’m just not used to it, which id why i’m looking for a CD more to my taste.

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Ever listened to Charlie Lennon, Mary Mulholland, Alec Finn, Josephine Keegan, playing piano backing? I think you might just change your tune if you did. 🙂

Nothing I like better than flute and vamping piano to get the blood boiling yeee haawww!!

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I agree with Breandan; some piano backing is excellent if tastefully done. Also, Cape Breton music seems to benefit from great piano playing.

Try and get your hands on anything by John Lee and Seamus Maguire for "unadulterated", pure music (staying on the Virgin theme) 🙂

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How about that bl**dy awful electronic harpsicord backing on the Bothy Band’s tracks. Ruins some perfectly good trad music tracks IMHO.
Worse still, the deployment of synthesiser on "Planxty’s words and music" album
Listening again to that ground breaking Moving Hearts album "The Storm" (it’d been stuck in CD limbo for many years - i.e fell down the back of the shelf) and struck by how dated it sounded due to the over-use of the flutey-stringy synth.

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The cd I am listening to a lot just now "Paddy In The Smoke" features piano on nearly all of the tracks. I like it and maybe that’s because like others here I’m fond of the piano sound from Shetland - especially that Violet Tulloch sound. Surely though as soon as a piano was available musicians would use it and begin to integrate into the traditional music or do we trap the music like a fly in amber?

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Across the Pond by Keffin Griffin, Roger Burridge and friends.Highly reccomended.

If you’re in Tipperary, try "McQuaid’s". I think its in Nenagh. Noel McQuaid sells instruments anyway and I’m sure he’d have CD’s aplenty.

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The piano man on Paddy in the Smoke is Reg Hall. Still to be heard playing regular in London. Can’t be much he doesn’t know about Irish music.

Felix Dolan gives the music a good ride too.

As a listener I like piano for many hornpipes and cheery bouncy jigs and barndances.

I think the piano struggles on modal or old-sounding tunes (think of the Old Bush) because the chords force them to be in one key in or another - when the real point is that they’re in neither and both at the same time.

I think these sorts of things are best without any accompaniment at all but if you do want backing then something like a bouzouki or an open-tuned guitar is better since it doesn’t force such a harmonic straightjacket upon them.

The piano does feel right for a lot of Scots music. I wonder if that is partly because quite a lot of the classic Scott Skinner/Wm Marshall repertoire is quite genteel in flavour, so the introduction of a posh drawing-room instrument as accompaniment doesn’t feel so odd.

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Beryl Marriott is the best.

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I think most CDs do not have piano, maybe your shop is partial to piano, try the mail orders on the web…. but as for live playing, you should hear Felix or Brendan Dolan, and Regan Wick! Super players.

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The problem with pianos in sessions (and recordings) these days is that they’re almost always the digital kind. Obviously, they win hands down for convenience - and gone are the days when you can count on finding an upright in the corner of any pub. But no matter how expensive and fancy they are - how weighted and touch-sensitive the keys are, what rate the notes were sampled at etc. - they always sound tacky to me.

In July I went to a session at Spell’s in Ballaghaderreen. There was Barry Brady, melodeon player extraordinaire, and a man whose name I forget, a sometimes-member of the Tulla Ceili Band, playing the (real) piano. It was magic - and great to see that someone still values the humble old Joanna.

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I suspect the problem with the sound from expensive and fancy keyboards isn’t the keyboard, but the amplifier and speaker converting the signal into sound. Not quite the real thing, but with a good sound system they’re much better than what you’d hear in a session where the piano player uses the built-n speaker or a small external one.

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It seems a re-take of the piano-accordion question, to which the answer is to me - it depends who’s playing it, and also the nature of the actual instrument being played. Both instruments are too big to be ignored if they are defective in some way - like being out of tune - and / or played insensitively.
(I agree with the above post in preferring an upright to an electric as accompaniment to tunes in a session, though I have seldom been in one featuring either.)
This sparks off various random thoughts - e.g., I’ve never cared for the harpsichord, though The Chieftains used it with the blessing of Sean O’Riada who thought it was the nearest sound available to that of the ancient Celtic harp, and thus could stand in as a bona-fide ITM instrument. No, I’d much sooner hear a well-played upright, or piano-accordion.

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But again, Bach and millions of harpsichord-players and hearers can’t all have been wrong or had cloth ears…my tastes are different but I shouldn’t assume they’re better!

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I hate the sound of piano and pipes, but piano works well for backing anything else when treated with skill and sensitivity, especially flute and fiddle. It’s also great for a tough, two-fisted accordion player in the mold of Joe Madden or someone like that.

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In Finland and E Sweden, around the Gulf of Bothnia, the preferred instrument for accompanying fiddle music is the harmonium (a small, foot-pumped, reed organ). They have some very neat little portable ones with detachable folding legs and pedals , the main body being carried like a suitcase. I’d prefer one of them in a session to a digital piano.

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Harmonium can be nice in ITM…good for simulating the drones and regs of the pipes. But it doesn’t give the rhythmic bounce that a piano does.
Tunes sound nice on it too, but a harmonium usually doesn’t have quick enough action to play rolls and such, so melodic variation works better.

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I love piano backing traditional music (or playing along with the lead for that matter), and think that there is too little of it in the CDs being released nowadays. And none of this electronic keyboardy junk either, which is one reason I never enjoyed some of the trad albums that came out in the 70’s and 80’s when that seemed to be the style. Some of the best sessions I have ever attended had a piano in the corner, and it is GREAT to dance to a band that has a piano.

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I love piano too. Even the old-style dance-hall type.

What I don’t love is an excess of "paint by numbers" style vamping - very formulaic (melodically and rhythmically) playing wherein you can tell exactly what chord comes next and the exact timing of it. A little of it is fun but over more than a few sets it’s mind-numbing.

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Hate hate hate old vamp style piano music. Having said that
I really like Caoimhín Valelly’s piano playing. Check his playing out on the Album "buille" with Niall Valelly & Paul Meehan - its deadly stuff. I havent actually ever heard another piano backer that I like…..and I’ve heard many.

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Can’t say I’m keen on it .. though I haven’t heard a lot of it, just a track here and there of Lizzen Carroll & Doherty with piano backing. Not saying it can’t be done … but to me the sound of the piano (on first hearing at least) adds an incongruous "music hall" flavour that takes a bit of getting over.

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Well hello Tish! Long time no see - hows it going? Where are you hiding lately?

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Hiya beebs!

Been "lost in the traffic" … I look in every now and then , though. Should be able to Get Out More soon. Sounds like the little one’s doing well - has he been to a session yet?

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I’d love the piano in our sessions, but NOT THOSE CASIOS! (ahem.) After all, I’m biased.

Quick tip, posted once before, to improve those clangly old uprights- pop open the top and drag a piece of sandpaper across the hammers where they contact the string. A glaze builds up over time, and a few sweeps with the sandpaper will improve the tone.

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Bub is going well - he’s heard a few tunes alright. Cant ever start to early🙂

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It allll depends on the recording….the clinky studio pianists get annyoing (except in cases like old Michael Coleman where the pianist has no clue and can’t keep up…then it’s just funny) but there are some where the piano accompaniment really ROCKS!!!(example Jerry Holland’s recordings)

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"In Finland and E Sweden, around the Gulf of Bothnia, the preferred instrument for accompanying fiddle music is the harmonium…"

In Finland ‘preferred’ it may have been some 100+ …50 years ago. If you come to Finland you will hardly see any harmoniums. Timo Alakotila, who also tours with Karen Tweed, the English accordionist, plays a 110 year old harmonium though. Don’t know about Sweden, may be a different story there…

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The discussion seems to have slowed but I’m new and would like to wade in with some thoughts from a piano player.

At first with great enthusiasm I wanted to play any where and every where. I couldn’t get enough and was not at all discerning. Now I see and hear that in others and smile and sometimes miss it. Eventually I got enough hints and overheard enough conversations about the railroading of sessions and such that I learned to channel my energy. Falling back on tradition as a measure of absolutes might break such enthusiasm rather than harness it….
Tradition depends on where you are from and what you are used to. Liking or disliking is another thing and has a lot to do with how the instrument is played. One area’s tradition might be flute and fiddle another is fiddle and box and still in another area very little fiddle…. Whether it is played well is different than whether or not it fits in as traditional or not.

I love to play piano for dance because the depth of sound gives a lift to the dancers, I see it and they’ve told me and I love to dance with a strong piano supporting the music. I’ve heard piano played with many instruments and in my opinion it not only depends on the players but the ears, experience and taste of the listener.

I don’t think the idea of banning an instrument from sessions is going in the direction most of us expect. Then again I know that the tradition is: " you don’t play in a session until asked" and that tradition is followed loosely in many places and with absolute strictness in others. I love Al’s image of some of the best sessions he’ s experienced with "the piano in the corner".

As for those modal tunes…. the piano becomes a rhythmic modal experience too .. just because you have 88 keys they don’t all have to be played ….it can be done!

Ah if we can’t find tolerance in the music, where will we?

I’ve been toying with the idea of researching and writing about where and how piano began to be incorporated in to some of the tradition. If any one knows of any resources to do this or research already done please let me know…..

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"I hate the sound of piano and pipes, but piano works well for backing anything else" What, even a Banjo cthuilleannpiper?

See the ‘Dusty Rhodes’ set here:

http://www.myspace.com/causewaytraditions

That’s ‘Mary Mulholland’ (R.I.P.) on Piano, whom Breandan mentioned earlier!

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from the view point of an irish dancer, the piano is important as it adds the bounce and help keep the tmpo of the tune

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Hi. Am a newcomer - great site! Just listened to the Dusty Rhodes link, superb piano accompaniment from Mary Mulholland as ever - gave me goosebumps as does all good piano accompaniment! Defo not a fan of guitar/bouzouki. Piano gives bounce/lift to all good music, especially for dancing, although piano in session environment does have to be weighed up tactfully given size of venue etc. Have to admit to always having Megabass turned up so that I can get full effects of run of chords etc. Great piano accompanist with Swallows Tail/sometimes Tulla. And why is the piano accordion in Irish traditional music so much maligned still (know from personal experience)? I thought all the prejudice had died out years ago. Yes No?

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A lot of virtual ink is wasted over the continuing argument of "____ is/isn’t part of The Tradition". Unless The Tradition is something that ended two or three generations ago, piano and guitar are most certainly a part of it. And so is the bouzouki. And the bodhran. At some point in the past they weren’t. Today, they are. Tomorrow, they may or may not be. It’s a living tradition and it is what it is in the present, regardless of what anybody thinks it ought to be.

All these appeals to "has no place in …" or "isn’t part of the tradition" are just different ways of saying, "I don’t like it".

For me, the Clavinet in The Bothy Band was an important part of that phenomenon, but I guess it’s fair to say it didn’t make it into the tradition. I haven’t heard anybody else use the Clavinet or any other harpsichord sounding keyboard.

So, there, I just wasted some more virtual ink. 🙂

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"Tradition" - as in the (perhaps apocryphal) notice once posted in the Quadrangle of a Cambridge College:
"As from the beginning of this Term it will be the Tradition that only Fellows of the College will be permitted to walk on the grass" - ?

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I have been playing piano for most of my life. My mother, who was a music teacher, began teaching me how to play the piano when I was seven. I didn’t become interested in playing Irish music until I attended a workshop in 1981 on Folk Keyboard which was taught by Triona ni Dhomhnaill. This experience opened my eyes and my ears to the possibilities of the piano in this particular genre of music. I began trying to play Irish music on my piano but I had to play it by myself until some local musicians started an Irish Session here in 1995. I showed up to listen and was asked to bring my genuine imitation piano (a Roland EP-90 Digital Piano) to the Sessions. I usually accompanied the other musicians at the local Irish Session except for the rare occasions when I was the only person there who could do a halfway decent job of leading the Session. So far as I am concerned, a piano can be an asset to a session if the piano player knows what he or she is doing. Since the volume is adjustable on my genuine imitation piano, I usually try to keep it turned down to a low level so I can hear the other musicians. I don’t go to a session to show off how clever I am or how good or how experienced a musician I am. Instead, I go to a session because I enjoy playing music with other musicians and if I can’t hear what the other musicians are playing, I don’t enjoy myself.
I am not going to get dragged into the arguments about what is or is not part of the "Tradition".
I have played piano occasionally for a local group who do folk dancing and contra dancing.
As for stripthewillow and session savage, I would recommend psychiatric help for both of them.

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Ommgg :O I love Piano’s in sessions. In fact, I love playing with accompaniment in the background. It gives me great adrenaline :D

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Piano has always been a part of our session, as well as hammered dulcimer, and a tuba once. I think some keyboard players have the same problem as some guitarists, who learned to play on their own, and find it very hard not to play all the keys or all the strings all the time. I use a yamaha np30, which has a lovely piano/harpsichord combo sound, and most importantly, only weighs 12 lb/5.5 kg. I alternate with mando, but we find the piano contributes well when there are dancers and for polkas.

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when a piano is played by people such as Micheal O’ Suilleabhain and Triona Ni Domhnaill, then it is really in the hands of experts.