sean nos - what is it?

sean nos - what is it?

From time to time on this site and others, sean nos singing is mentioned as if I really should know what is meant by it. I’ve tried, folks, but I don’t get it. So forgive my ignorance, please and … help!

I’ve tried looking it up on the net, but get varying dates of origin for the term itself, from ‘first used in competition in 1904’ to ‘invented around 1940-1941’, and both of those stating that the term comes from outside the tradition and has been imposed on it.

The implication of several sites is that what is now apparently accepted as sean nos singing is actually quite recent, and may even be an amalgam of several widely differing older regional styles.

I’m not going to go on, beacuse you can tell I don’t really understand this, and I’d have said it all a lot quicker if I had simply said ‘What is sean nos?’

So … ‘What is sean nos?’

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Re: sean nos - what is it?

I think it can be simply described as unaccompanied singing - sean nos means ‘old style’ - so i think it developed quite early in Ireland, perhaps as a form of oral history, story telling and entertainment.

Re: sean nos - what is it?

I doubt the previous generations called it anything other than singing. "Sean nos" just means old style, kind of like calling something an antique. When Model T Fords were running all over the US, they were simply automobiles. Today, they’re "antique" or "vintage" or, perhaps, "old style."

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Re: sean nos - what is it?

Well, yes, Will, that dose (sorry, habit :-)) ring true. But, in that case, I wonder why we don’t call it ‘singing’ now? Or am I being irredeemably stupid?

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Re: sean nos - what is it?

I’ve referred to sean-nos singing as ‘unaccompanied’ Irish singing and was told that it’s not ‘sean-nos’ unless the singing is in the Irish language. For that reason I will now refer to it as unaccompanied sean-nos style singing if it’s in English rather than Irish. But it goes far beyond just being unaccompanied; it has to do with the way the melodies are constructed and executed. There are even some songs I’ve heard with accompaniment that I would say were in the sean-nos style, but I’m sure there would be plenty of people to argue that point.

Re: sean nos - what is it?

Yes, ceolgaelach, I saw that one, but it conflicts with quite a few others, including the comhaltas one mentioned above.

See, I started to wonder if it all isn’t just some artificial term imposed on what was really a whole lot of different styles of singing that were just, well, people singing their songs. But I don’t know. I’ve read the articles, but it doesn’t seem to help. I worry that actually, just by having to invent a label, the stuff that people used to do naturally has somehow been put into some kind of straightjacket. It’s clear that there are a multitude of ‘sean nos’ styles, and I wonder if the different styles don’t possibly go down as far as the individual family level - I think they probably do.

But I can’t get what convinces me is hard information on this stuff. Perhaps I’m being too picky, but I’ve got curious about it now …

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Re: sean nos - what is it?

It is usually in Irish. The annual champion was always from a Gaeltacht area, until someone from Dublin won recently.

Re: sean nos - what is it?

Well, it is just singing, of course.

But it comes with inflections and articulations and a freedom with the timing and phrasing that distinguishes it from most of today’s singing. No doubt there were regional and personal styles within the overall Irish singing tradition, but it was called "sean nos" to distinguish it from Whiskey in the Jar and Irish Rover type singing.

In fact, books like Padraigin Ni Uallachain’s "A Hidden Ulster: People, Songs, and Traditions of Oriel" (highly recommended) talk about singing and songs, not sean nos, even though the focus is clearly old style singing in Irish.

So Ben, don’t worry over the label. It’s like Irish Traditional Music—nobody calls it that, unless they’re in a context where they need to distinguish this music from some other genre.

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Re: sean nos - what is it?

OK - I’ll stop worrying about it now, Will. Thanks! :-)

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Re: sean nos - what is it?

The term helps to distinguish it from other forms of singing. There is some awful ‘country’ singing in Irish but that does not make it Seán Nós. Perhaps the best way to uderstand it is to actually listen to it.

Singers like Josie Seán Jack, Muiris Tom Ned, or a great record called Ceol as Cibeal as Cúl Aodha.

When I listen to a great exponent of the style it kind of reminds me of the sound of a muezzin calling the faithful to prayer. There are also some styles of singing from the Appalachians that sound very similar.

It’s about phrasing, intonation [very nasal generally], ornamentation, and subject.

Re: sean nos - what is it?

I thought it was the real name of well-known rapper, Puff Diddley.

Re: sean nos - what is it?

Maybe if you hear it, that would help you. I used to have an audio file of Joe Heaney linked to my web site, but the source has moved. The archive of audio files at National University of Ireland, Galway, has moved from the link I had, but you may search their site and find it.
Here is a page on Joe Heaney, one of the great champions of sean nos.
Get a copy of "Say a Song" recordings of Joe Heaney.
http://www.nwfolklife.org/P_REC/JH_Intro.html#Cowdery

For more discussion of sean nos, go to this thread
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=56462
Many links in that discussion as well.
Sean nos just means done in the old style, so sean nos is applied as a term sometimes to dancing as well. Many people apply the style of singing to English as well as Irish. It is the style of singing, in the old ways done years ago in different parts of Ireland, that makes it sean nos.

All the best,
Alice Flynn
http://www.aliceflynn.com

Re: sean nos - what is it?

there are many Joe Heany downloads on emusic.com.

Re: sean nos - what is it?

sean…nos americans allowed