The Invention of Tradition

The Invention of Tradition

"The Invention of Tradition"
Edited by Eric Hobsbawm & Terence Ranger
Cambridge University Press, 1983
Cambridge, New York, Port Chester, Melbourne, Sydney
~ a recommended read…

And here to is some of the seed of worry in this ~

Discussion: Music & Musicians of South Armagh
# Posted on February 27th 2008 by tommy fegan

I’ve made what can loosely be called a Thai Duck Soup this morning, something for the ill, which is the case of my dear wife and I, caught in the chest and throat and head with some species of ‘lurgy’… I used the qualifier ‘loosely’ because I’m not Thai, this is Thailand, and I was short of a few ingredients and had to improvise. We are out of birdseye chili, so I used sweet chilies and some hot sauce. We haven’t any of the alcoholic beverages of Thailand, so I used some Spanish Sherry instead. We did have all the necessary seasonings and a decent fish sauce too, but the soy sauce was also a fudge, as I only have Japanese and only one version. Oh yeah, I did slip in a favourite, Japanese again, Tsuyu… But, for convenience sake, as it is nearer to that than anything else, I’m calling it ‘Thai Duck Soup’. I have tasted some nice Thai soups before, including duck, so I know that, ‘loosely’, it isn’t far off the mark.

Why start this discussion with a soup? I’m not altogether sure, but it seemed appropriate. Something has been bothering me, festering deep in my soul and making me feel uncomfortable every time I get reminded of it, by ear or physically, or by various media means, and that is the free flowing interpretation and tagging of things that fall under the immense umbrella of ‘Irish Tradition(s)’… That includes sweeping statements as ‘fact’ that are more B.S. than based on any in depth knowledge of the subject, more invention… Those of you who know me at least a little know that I’m not really what you could call a ‘purist’, though many of my preferences might hint that way. Yes, I prefer Con Cassidy to Lunasa, but that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize talent, even if I’m not particularly fond of their take on things.

I’m all for extending that shelter and support, including for the ‘new’, but sometimes it just seems like too much. There is that growing body of nonsense tunes, which are so asymmetrical in their structure, or so far out, that there’s no way you could really dance to them, not with any comfort, but they profess to fall under that venerable heading ‘dance music’. Hey, even some of those are at least fun, so I’m not into slagging off a little experimentation or some fancy or lark, but some are so obviously about the composer showing off, or the band, that your attention isn’t drawn by anything that comfortably fits even ‘loosely’ my basic gut feeling about what ‘traditonal’ means. And yet, I do realize that experimentation, failing memories, tune mutation and things ‘new’ are all part of that living breathing thing ~ ‘tradition’. Where there’s no pretense involved, well, I don’t mind it so much. I do mind, sadly, the yahoos who submit obvious compositions and then don’t bother to comment, forget to say "I made this!" Their melody (or dance choreography) clunking along so clumsily and out of synch with the greater body of tradition that it is usually obvious ~ that they haven’t a clue ~ they’re making a tune in a Yahtzee sort of way, roll the dice and string a few notes together… Hey, I don’t even mind that abuse, as long as it is admitted to. Everyone is allowed a little flutter now and then. It can be part of the education process. (That’s an example of me choosing to remain hopeful.)

So, as I ramble along here, what was it that blew a fuse this time? Well, and please, most will know, I do appreciate things ‘down south’ in the land of Oz, but I was handed notes this week for a ‘new’ dance, a new set dance that is currently being circulated amongst that relatively new ‘federation of set dancing’. I was also reminded that yet another collection of ‘new’ sets was soon to be released. The title at the top of this A4 sheet took me first, "Antrim Square Set". Huh? I had tramped around that area of Ireland and had never heard of such a beast, and I was asking. But I do realize the limitations on my time and interactions, so I continued to read, forgetting my initial grimace. Then I saw it was ‘given’ to Pat Murphy (set dance teacher) by a Des Jackson. I was told that Dez Jackson is an Australian and that his parents, at least one of them, came to Australia from Country Antrim. I then did a quick scan of the blocks of text, 3 figures. That started the bells ringing immediately ~ "competition set". You only need two figures for competition, and maybe one extra as a backup.

No, it was worse. My attention was drawn to one particularly large paragraph starting "SQUARE", and then I noticed this was in all three figures, a ‘body’? I immediately recognized the move known as "Grand Square", and which was and is still popular amongst square dancers, both old time, which is seeing a revival, and federated, you know, federated are the ones with the costumes for every holiday, cowboy boots and pearl buttons, that lot. I have referred to them in a derogatory sense as "shrooms" because of all the petticoats and them looking like demented mushrooms, like the dancing Chinese mushrooms from an old Disney animation, was it "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice"? And, returning to the count, 3 figures is the classic set for square dancing…

Now, it’s an O.K. dance as dances go, and I know the fun of the old ‘Grand Square’ figure, but there’s nothing Antrim about it except the choreographer’s parentage. That is what grates at me. Am I being unreasonable? Oh yeah, and there’s also the growing commercialization and Americanization of set dancing in Ireland in general, a behemoth mostly rising out of the 1980s. They keep inventing them, along similar lines to the likes of ‘Federated American Square Dance’ and ‘The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society’… They invent stories, build their mythology, and steps and figures and dogma, including direct borrowings from those other previously mentioned dance cadres, and worse, they get so sincere about it being a ‘traditional’ set with a long history in some old farts half baked mind, at a table with coins or invented at the computer. (there are computer programs ~ RSCDS)

Part of the motivation for creating more dances, as is also true of the RSCDS, seems to be a desire for increasingly more novel ways of dancing, something ‘cute’ or ‘challenging’. I could state that in another way ~ ‘weird’ and ‘elitist’. I think what has me riled at the moment is the gall to call this "The Antrim Square Set" when there’s really no connection other than parentage to Antrim. Why not just call it "The Des Jackson Set", that would at least be more honest and to the point. Like some tunes, name it after the choreographer, or use an Australian place name. I prefer honesty instead of pretentiousness and pomposity. And the borrowing, the ‘Grand Square’, there isn’t an old time or Federated-Western square dancer that wouldn’t recognize that figure. Yeah, maybe you picked it up from the Bush dancing down your way, but, as best I know, it isn’t part of Antrim’s tradition, as I’ve been informed by others better able to make an informed comment on the traditions of that area. They might have danced it in the big halls of Belfast. Oh yes, sorry, they have and do dance ‘Federated American Square Dance’ in the North, but I still wouldn’t call it ‘Antrim’…

This is just one extension of the myth building process. The Irish Dance Coimisiun, Coghal, Comhaltas, and other organizations, like the RSCDS, have actively categorized, standardized, manufactured, made official and condemned as alien one thing or another for ages. Why? Well, it gives them power over this thing they strive to possess and dominate and PROFIT from. They make the decisions, they decide what is and isn’t going to fit into their distillation of what is a vast and varied tradition. In all that there has also been neglect and the promotion of ignorance. Those abuses grate most with me…

So, what’s to discuss ~ my discomfort is in large part with myself, that I let this rile me so. And yes, I do realize being a sicky at the moment I’m less than what you might call reasonable. And then reading that lovely idea about the traditions of Armagh, a wealth of tradition that has suffered some neglect, including by the big organizations, my heart jumped, wonderful! ~ and then a little dread crept in as I read on and saw that two of the biggest myth builders going were taking part in it ~ An Coimisiún ;e Rincí Gaelacha and Coghal… Yes, my spirits sank, but, believing in nurturing hope over despair, I’ll remain hopeful…

I know there is likely to be a body of folk that will disagree with the premises expressed here, or at least a lot of opinions and experiences to be aired. I am always open to listening and considering, even when ill, if a bit slower with the later. Have you experienced a similar invention or ‘tradition’ that has riled you up and made you grimace, or have you been party to something ‘new’ that you’re in complete agreement with? More specifically, what do you think about tagging this dance with "Antrim", or more widely the ever growing body of ‘new’ dances? There’s yet another collection due out soon. At least this choreography, Des Jackson’s, isn’t too overly ornate or silly. I admit it, there are some nice new dances amongst the ever growing clog of new sets…but I will always prefer the old settings where you only ever did one or two sets of an evening, not a dozen on the trot, not rushed, but very laid back and with the focus on the social, with a welcome… All this invention and myth making is too reminiscent of an over chlorinated pool, sometimes you come away with your eyes smarting and feeling quite numb, pickled, with a bit of the shakes. I much prefer a lake or the sea, whatever impurities they might carry in their waters…

Correction ~ "this isn’t Thailand" :-/

Re: The Invention of Tradition

Two nights of lost sleep ~ a clarification needed ~

" ~ one or two (different ~ for example ‘The Lancers’ & ‘The Plain Set’) sets (danced repeatedly) of an evening, not a dozen (different sets) on the trot ~"

Re: The Invention of Tradition

But this invention of tradition to cover up for sh!te is nothing new, Ceol. Surely you know that? Nor will it end with us giving out about it.
Good luck with the Thai pretend traditional soup, BTW. :-)

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I agree with your point of view.
Now about that book, "The Invention of Tradition", trouble can happen if someone who doesn’t know enough about a certain subject extends the premise too far and ends up condemming or disparaging the parts of a tradition which are genuine.
I own more books, and have done more reading, about the subject of Scottish Highland Dress than just about anybody.
Now much about Highland dress is indeed bogus (the so-called Sobieski Brothers come to mind). 90% of the Americans I run into who wear Highland dress accept nearly everything about it as ancient genuine tradition.
Then there are people who are the polar opposites, people who have done just enough reading about the bogus bits to convince them that everything about it is, as one person termed it, a "Victorian invention".
They haven’t done enough reading to understand that such a position is "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" as we say. They don’t know the subject well enough to discriminate between the bogus and the genuine, and to know exactly which bits are which.

About the RSCDS (which I used to be a member of), reading "Scotland Through Her Country Dances" revealed that indeed much of "Scottish Country Dancing" is an early-20th-century creation.
However, at every dance, all over the Earth, the dancers are doing some traditional figures which go back "into the mists of time" which if not for the work of the RSCDS would probably have been lost.
Informed, balanced people can accept such things for what they are, a blend of the traditional and the invented, and can put up with the bogus bits if they help the genuine to survive.

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I went to a university show recently, that purported to be showcasing dance from around the world. I am no expert on traditional dancing, but have seen many groups, bad and good, over the years and enjoyed their attempts.

The Irish act was announced, and I watched in horror as twenty students tap danced to a badly spliced outtake of the Drop Kick Murphy’s "State of Massachuttes" (a punk rock band popular on the festival circuit at the moment).

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I dare say t’was ever thus. I wonder what the old musos and dancers said about dancing masters bringing in new-fangled dances in the 1700s. The not-so-old, or some of them, are always going to find ways of making things crazy and elaborate, to the discomfiture of the older folk who can’t act or think fast enough to join in and are therefore grumpy…don’t get me wrong, they can criticise on good grounds when they have been time-served practitioners themselves.

So Irish music’s jammed between New Worlders with Irish links who tweak it in fantastical ways, and Comhaltas sitting on it like a boulder…well, I’m sure that, like the humble earthworm torn in two by similar agents, it will survive, and in time grow a new tail.

Yes, Irish music will grow a new tail.

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Roll on the day!!

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Last summer, while back visiting my home state of West Virginia, where the local traditional dance and music are very strong, I witnessed an awful display of Irish dancing.
Firstly, the music was provided by an ancient fiddler who was an excellent genuine Appalachian-style player, but who unfortunately knew nothing about Irish music.
The dancing itself, and the costumes, were sort of a blend between Irish and Appalachian, and not a very successful one.

Isn’t this snobbism Richard D?

You state that the fiddler was not the genuine article based, of course, on your own experience about what it the rela Mc Coy should look like, because you have been to Ireland a handful of times and been to the best cultural watering holes where only the fienst Guinness is served at 2.65 degrees the way Arthur stated it ought to be…..You have the handle on taste and on what taste should be…I’m a great lover of enthusiasm mixed with pure unadulterated ingnorance to give a blend of something so totally dispicable.. it’s wonderful.

Let the Appalachians dance, and strut and do their own thing…it’s just an Appalachian-style of copying the Irish style…which is a strange, dinosaur-type of music from fargone days, kept in place by absolute fanatics who do allow the entry of anything foreign to come between them and their ideas of Irish music. Example: the Comhaltas website, why do you not see a mandolin, bouzouki or mandola solo? Because we do not allow such foreign rubbish to intrude into our ideas of Irish music, we do not see the thousands of young people playing these instruments, we only see fiddles, harps, pipes and stuff..Richard please do not join the gang…there might be hope for you

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shylock….learn a little modesty and politeness. It’ll go a long way….your arrogance doesn’t become you

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What bottle are you all passing around? No, pour it in a glass, you don’t want to catch what I’ve got, or I don’t want you to…

I like the earthworms nicholas, and it carries further, there is a new thing that looks a bit earthwormish but isn’t and it is an assasin worm that consumes earthworms in great quantity. I think it’s from Australia or New Zealand too… :-D

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I hear you Richard… My dram’s the Fletts…

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I have to take issue with Shylock on "Example: the Comhaltas website, why do you not see a mandolin, bouzouki or mandola solo? Because we do not allow such foreign rubbish to intrude into our ideas of Irish music". I personally know Willie Fogarty who does the videos for the Comhaltas site and I can assure you that he has no agenda other than the wish to capture and record good music. In fact I think most people here who’ve viewed his work over the last three or four years will agree with me that we owe him and all those perfomers who’ve contributed their music a debt of gratitude for the enjoyment that they’ve brought to us all.

Here’s a nice clip at to prove that it’s not all just concertinas and uilleann pipes on the Comhaltas website!

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I’ve heard of these Antipodean flatworms, ceol. They’re quietly increasing in England and Northern Ireland also, and would seem to pose a sinister long-term threat to the soil fertility that earthworms help to ensure. Though New Zealand and Oz - droughts permitting - still grow things, so these flatworms might not turn out to be that pernicious.

I take it they came in the pots/roots of plants imported from NZ / Oz. I must say, I never liked gum trees much.

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Ceol, seems this phenomenom is everywhere. In my country we call it folklorism, where some societies (like the supposed traditional costume society) even decide what tune or dress is "authentic"… but for me it’s part of a normal trend : where will you find an autenthic traditional place, where everything’s trad. ? even in amazonia they have tv networks and mobile phones… tradition has always been somewhat "moving" : instruments appearing, styles changing, and it’s difficult to define. just have a look at the Unesco site :
where they try deseperately to keep traditions that are disapearing… but I agree with you that with new tunes and dances in what I call in my courses (I teach swiss music at one of the swiss conservatories) music inspired by tradition : people shouldn’t try to make it pass as a trad. tune… (I remember somone trying to coinvince me once that bouzouki was a true irish instrument), but just say it’s a new tune composed and played in a style inspired by tradition. Tis more honest, methinks… I always tell my pupils : play it as you like, but be clear in what you’re doing…

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I think one has to turn to the anthropologists and academic cultural historians who have developed a good understanding of culture and the invention of culture.

It’s nothing new. At one time, in the Middle Ages, France, it was cool for someone in an aristocratic family to claim descent from a mythical creature, so genealogies were rewritten to include strange non human entitites.

We’re in the Post Modern age. Cultures compete and cut and paste and invent ‘history’ to gain prestige, power, glamour.

Seems to me ceolachan’s example of invention is just one tiny, relatively minor example of what is often called Spin or PR, where ‘facts’ are fabricated to suit someone’s agenda (usually the will to power, whether individual, corporate, or national).

Individuals, corporate organisations, nation states, strive to establish distinctive identities, and they do this by claiming difference, e.g. ‘We’ (i.e. British. I live in Wales, not Ireland) eat roast beef, whilst ‘They’ (The French, the ‘not us’, the Other) eat frogs, snails, horses. These demarcations between cultures are a constant battleground. Mostly, it’s fantasy and wishful thinking. Britain’s most popular food is actually Chicken Tikka (The British re-creation of a rather different Indian meal).

Trying to maintain ‘cultural purity’ or ‘cultural stability’ has been attempted, by indoctrinating little children and by killing or deporting foreigners or banning books,etc, on so many occasions in history it’s not worth recounting. But now we are in the Global Village. Easy travel and the internet mean that all cultures are clashing, mingling. That’s what Post Modernism is.

Punk hairstyles and body piercing were not ‘British’ or ‘Irish’ or ‘American’ traditions. They were innovations adopted by a generation trying to find an identity. The seats of power and control, political and economic, study these phenomena in the hope of manipulating them to suit political and economic agendas.

Music and dance are one small part of a much bigger picture. All culture is political. If you don’t believe that, check out how the CIA promoted the painting of Jackson Pollock, et al, rather than the painting of Andrew Wyeth, et al. The former respresented ‘new, the future’, whilst the latter looked back to a nostalgic past. Art as propaganda. (The underlying objective was to demonstrate USA’s culture superiority over the ‘backward’ culture of the USSR.)

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The trouble with the Australian and New Zealand flatworms is that, here in the UK, they have very few predators.

However, there is one, it transpires - the good old British born stag beetle. It loves them.

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I’m glad to hear that Stag beatles have a use, apart from impressing ones children.
Meanwhile…..I play the ‘Irish Bouzouki’, you mean the long-necked octave mandolin, I think; plus SO plays the wooden flute, various tin whistles, some of them wooden, and the washboard and the ukelele, I have an English concertina I play a few tunes on, and we have one of those drum thingies, that was made in Dublin in ‘74 so it must be traditional…………
Just think of Theodore Bikel walking down that country lane singing "Tradition, tradition….."

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Fascinating to consider and compare the ways that people react towards ‘foreign’ humans, ‘foreign’ cultural forms, ‘foreign’ organisms…..Look at the havoc caused to indigenous native wildlife of Australia by alien cats, foxes, rabbits, pigs, camels…Conservationists in Britain try to eradicate invaders (like rhododendron, japanese knot weed, grey squirrel, american crayfish, mink, etc, etc) to keep the indigenous ecology ‘pure’.

But there is a bit of a problem in the theoretical justifications, because the native British flora and fauna is the result of accident - it’s mostly species that managed to recolonise after the last Ice Age, before the land got separated from the rest of Europe by the North Sea and English Channel. Same goes for Ireland. If the land bridge had lasted for another few centuries, or been flooded earlier, we’d have got a different set of native species.

There’s also the problem as to where you draw the line between native and non-native. The rabbit is not a native British species, it was deliberately imported by the Normans. So it’s been around for a thousand years or so.

It’s a slightly similar argument to the ones about which instruments are ‘traditional’, and the arguments about what makes an ‘antique’ or a ‘vintage’ or ‘veteran’ car. It’s an arbitrary pragmatic judgement to say ‘100 years’, when 99 or 101 make so little difference.

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Is it possible the Australian choreographer in question applied the "Antrim" label merely in homage to his parents’ birthplace? Not as some attempt at cut-and-paste authenticity? Just a thought.

Isn’t any tradition—all tradition—any bit of human culture the result of invention anyway? "History is a set of lies agreed upon."

Brownell said "Taste…is essentially a matter of tradition. No man originates his own." And tradition is built, however gradually, on collective taste. So as Irish music grew in popularity, it’s tradition necessarily opened itself to broader and more vaired tastes (of the people newly drawn to this music and dance).

Of course, this music and dance has always been influenced from the outside. But the pace and breadth of change appear to have increased.

As the music and dance ripple outward, ever broader influences rebound back at the tradition, diluting it, at least around the edges. I would say that, if Riverdance was a small hole in the ozone layer, then tap dancing to Drop Kick Murphy under the banner of "trad Irish" is more like a crack in the planet’s mantle. But that’s alarmist rhetoric….

As someone who occasionally finds a new tune growing like mildew under my strings, I’ve noticed how contrived my own attempts at "traditional music" sound to my own ears. And this despite 30 years or more of immersion in this music. Yet I’ve shared "my" with friends (and posted a few on this site) because they are fun to play, whether or not they blend seamlessly with the likes of the Lilting Banshee and Rolling in the Ryegrass.

Ultimately, it’s up to the music and dance community to keep what it likes and cast the dregs aside. Bringing "innovations" to light (and airing our preferences) is all part of the process.

So too, sadly, are people who are interested only in careening through the tunes, with no curiosity about the music’s culture and geneaology.

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oops. I’ve shared "my *tunes*"

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Hey, good news, I found one birdseye chili and a bit of galangal in the freezer ~ it’s in the soup now. The temperature rises. And, there is enough for us all! However, we’re having toasted sourdough bread with it, a generally unThai’d thing to do, but I betcha they’d love it if they tried it…

Thanks Bannerman, I was hoping you ‘d help to strike a balance, I always enjoy your contributions on such topics.

Yeah, that’s them Nicholas & Ben, Anitpodean flatworms, they have reached this far as I understand and are still moving northward, introduced via the horticultural industry, from imported plants from Australia and New Zealand…

Lovely to see you here too Nikita…

My insect hero ~ let’s hear it for the Stag Beetle!!!

"All culture is political." ~ I hear you wolfbird, but then if it is about people that seems to be the norm for anything when those involved increase in numbers. One of the potential failings of that is when a few with strong vested interests take control to the neglect of the community as a whole who have nurtured and supported said tradition… But I believe in the potential to gain understanding and to improve on that and act on it, to grow in fair consideration…

CPT: "Isn’t any tradition—all tradition—any bit of human culture the result of invention anyway?"
Yes… And, I can accept the concept of its intention as a homage, but in that all-county way it still makes me wince… If as a homage then why not just name it after his parents instead of tagging it with the whole county?

"oops. I’ve shared "my *tunes*"" ~ Oops upside the head! ;-)

* * * * * *

The problems felt, that raised this flurry of concern, aren’t about the individual expression, and really, it isn’t the concept of organization, it is certain acts that are perpetrated by us on this thing we share a passion for. I know that ‘change’ is something you can’t fight. As already said, I’ve enjoyed ‘new’ ~ tunes and dances, and instruments too. It is the trappings and mythology that are invented and promoted as ‘official’, that dogma, like costumes or instruments or some bible of tunes and techniques, that emphasis on these as ‘THE TRADITION’! It is limiting, suffocating, elitist and pretentious. It is an imposition on something that is much more than physical trappings. It seems, to me, that when you put the focus on the myths and they are sterilized to suit your political bent, that you rob the life from the thing you are putting these strictures on.

Maybe I measure the health of a ‘tradition’ with a different ruler. My worries are when the increasing numbers of people claiming this for themselves are not representative of the general public, a varied community, but are more and more folks that ‘specialize’, that consider themselves importantly as a ‘dancer’ or ‘musician’, that this becomes for them what is most important, and ‘what they can do’, rather than the social craic or the greater context and content that has been tradition, the ‘community’ of it, something that tended to survive despite the usual changes that swept through.

I do realize that ‘change’, or even ‘fad’, isn’t new, and I had hoped to make that clear at the start, but my ramble may have confused others reading it. Some things considered ‘traditional’ now are not that old, starting with the square sets themselves, the quadrilles, which swept across Europen and didn’t miss Ireland, but even within that element of what has become by some acceptably ‘Irish’, there’s the music too, polkas being one example, "Jenny Lynd", and there’s steps and moves taken as ‘tradiitonal’ that were introduced to the sets via the foxtrot and two-steps when they swept through. Older dancers referred to this ‘new way’ as "trotting the set".

It is in conflict in my mind, and yes, sounding very ‘purist’, as I have been accused of before, I would like to slow the loss of some of what I consider precious about tradition as I’ve been graced to have experienced it. That is more about attitude and approach than any given tune, step, dance, twiddle or official mumbo-jumbo. It is elements of exclusivity that bother me most, because I mostly found welcome amongst older musicians and dancers, those non-official types I sought out in the contryside, towns and cities. Amongst the newer things I find some discomfort in are the protectionist attitudes of cetain ‘officials’, some of who at the time sneered about the sets altogether, as foreign, not Irish, and not allowed in anything they were party to organizing. That has changed for some now as value and profit was to be found in competitions. I wouldn’t be bothering with this subject if I thought it was a total loss. I don’t, but I do think there is a threat if we take those healthy points about these community activities for granted and put our main focus on the physical, the obvious, like the costumes and the trappings, including the physical acts of making music and dancing.

I know I’ve done well, some justice to my sources, when I see someone who has learned through me offering patience and understanding and a welcome to someone newly arrived, without judgement, and with a smile ~ no push-shove or yank ~ and when I can see them laugh off a screw-up, their own or another’s, and they carry on in good humour… That kind of person facilitates the progress and growth in confidence of others, like those old folks I’d known in my journeys around Eire. I am less happy if someone reflects my rare ;-) impatience or sour mood on an off day. That’s me, that’s not what I was given and learned to value about the characters and the tradition I’ve come across over time… I don’t teach starch, I do my damnedest to not teach impatience or intolerance of beginners or the inexperienced…

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Richard ~ the RSCDS never preserved anything they didn’t first change to suite their own ends… Miss Milligan and her cronies, by some estimation, can be said to have done much damage as others see good in their deeds… They had no patience for the great unwashed and their ‘crude’ and earthy ways with the music and dance…

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"History is a set of lies agreed upon."


But if we consider, for example, Napoleon’s attempted conquest of Russia. *Something* happened that must have been an objectively ‘true’ event. But, the *truth* becomes impossible to establish afterwards, because every participant and witness will have a different experience, a different interpretation.

What ‘power’ tends to do is to manipulate the story for its own advantage. So, Napoleon commissioned an enormous painting of himself tending the wounds of his defeated soldiers, to portray himself as a compassionate noble individual. However, there is documented evidence that he issued orders for wounded soldiers to be shot without mercy, so as not to slow down the army. That part of the story was kept secret, because it would have harmed his public image.

I agree with what you say, Will. Maybe there is an analogy with the domesticated rare breeds of farm animals. Imported foreign cattle varieties (Charollais, Holstein, Friesian) have displaced almost all of the traditional breeds ( Kerry, Highland, Welsh Black, etc.)

When those rare breeds finally become extinct, *something * is lost. What that something is, what it means, must depend on one’s value system and insight. Probably, ninety percent couldn’t care a toss. A cow is a cow. Music is just music. For someone who studies the subject, they might begin to realize that the loss is a tragedy. Centuries of work by generations of families, selecting an animal best suited to local conditions….

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c, I’m having a hard time squaring your praise for patience, good humour, and generosity of spirit with your first post, where you do a fair job of trashing Mr. Jackson (who’s not here to defend himself?) and his dangle over the tradition. Red Breast is *not* cough syrup…. ;-)

Understanding of course that circumstances and accrued injuries can, eventually, overwhelm even the most generous of spirits.

The "community" aspect of this music is key, I think. It seems disingenous to me that we call our musical circle here in bofunk Montana an "Irish session." Yes, some of us come from Irish ancestors, and we play a large stock of tunes from the tradition in an "authentic" style on the "proper" instruments. But we’re 6,000 miles from Galway, drinking Guinness brewed in Canada (or our own micro-brews).

What feels "authentic" to me, then, is that our session is true to our own community, which is all the musicians in Doolin and Feakle and Gweedore have been doing for generations (at least up until about 70 years ago). So we play tunes learned from other musicians in the tradition, but we also make up our own and draw a few from other genres. We develop our own personal approaches to phrasing, articulation, timbre, tempo, etc. And the craic is personal, intimate even, in the best sense of the word.

Maybe that’s what’s lacking in an Antrim set drafted in Oz—genuine intimacy.

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Hot damn, am I fired up. How inspiring. I second all your motions. This is the part where we all cheer and carry you off the stage in your chair.

Here, this is exactly of what you speak. This is a snippet of a note from a friend in regards to a session near her:

"…the other whistle player (he told me I don’t play right…like what? He said I don’t play with the fiddles and my ornamentation was different)…I thought, it doesn’t matter how well I play, I will NEVER tell someone that they don’t play well. That has never been in my soul. I would help mentor them or ask for pointers myself!"

Sigh. She’s got it right, bless her, the fella giving her a hard time has no clue, obviously. Oh well, we’ll keep fighting the good fight, Mr. Jones and me…er, I mean, Mr. C and me. ;-)

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Will CPT: " ~ your first post, where you do a fair job of trashing Mr. Jackson"

I can’t completely see what you’re saying, though I realize that things can easily be misinterpreted from print, but what I was trying to say is not so much about Mr. Jackson himself. I don’t see it as being about him, or the dance. As I’ve said, it’s an O.K. dance, wherever it has drawn it’s parts from. And, as I’ve promised someone, having made an open offer, it is going to be taught. That is where the name particularly felt uncomfortable to me. And that is what I’ve said from the start, it is the ‘naming’ of this dance as if it were of ‘Antrim’ and was ‘Antrim’ that caused my discomfort with it, with the title, not with the dance or really with the choreographer, despite the borrowing from elsewhere. It made it a bit more difficult as I am placed in a position of teaching this very dance, as I have other ‘new’ choreographies in the past. Tradition definitely includes borrowing as one of its processes. I had considered doing it anonymously, not mentioning a person or a specific dance, which may have been a better approach, to fictionalize it. That is what I would have done if I really thought it was a personal attack on an individual. It isn’t, it is a question about the naming of the dance, though I realize it is Mr. Jackson who committed this act of christening…

Will CPT: " ~ our session is true to our own community ~ "

Yes, yes, yes… I think I’ve said this before, and sometimes there really is sacrafice involved, if I am in a given community I generally go with that flow and if they see I have something I might be able to offer that is valued, well, unless my wife kicks me under the table, I usually give in and give time…

In the past this has included teaching local takes on local session tunes, and I usually include locally composed music somewhere in the process as well. I NEVER teach my own tunes… I just don’t…

And, I hope made clear somewhere above, it is about ‘my’ discomfort with that name…

& that as one example of ‘The Invention of Tradition’…one lead-in along with others given…

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Where the author is not properly represented, here are words in his support, giving his reasons for the dance and title, and a link to the dance, which I should have added from the beginning…

Courtesy of the Newcastle Irish Set Dancers

"Antrim Square Set"

"This dance was written in 2003 by Des Jackson who dances with the Sydney Irish Ceili Dancers in Australia. Des was born in County Antrim and decided to create a dance to celebrate the place of his birth."

Actually Will, I did try to chase up a contact with the stated choreographer. I’d hoped to chat before being faced with teaching his dance. The Sydney Irish Ceili Dancers website doesn’t exist anymore. I kept being referred to one of those Eastern European ones with a smiling young lady ~

~ and there isn’t an Australian section on the primary online resource for this subject ~

Set Dancing News

I could have persisted, but rashly went ahead with this discussion…
(~ the coughing has slowed down, but maybe that’s the sherry?)

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C, I’m not suggesting you did anything with malice here, but if you put yourself in Mr. Jackson’s place, you might imagine how it would feel to see your contribution to dance cited as a prime example of desecrating the tradition, even if it is just the name you gave the set.

Perhaps if he’d been left anonymous.

That said, I tend to agree with all your salient points here.

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Yes, I suspect it was my ‘state’ and resultant clumsiness that had me slip in my own bile… I agree, anonymity would have been the considerate thing to do, and a fictitious name for the dance wouldn’t have been a difficult thing, except possibly not duplicating all the other fictitious names going about. ;-)

I only just realized that there is a picture of the gent, looking very Western Square Dance, if there is a look, but aged, and I have no doubt at all that his creation and the naming of it was from the heart, as you’ve suggested earlier, a dedication to his place of birth. That gets me to a point of understanding I was trying to reach, to make it easier to teach this dance… So, not all is lost, eh?

But then I wouldn’t have linked to a dance, something I like to do from this site… 8-)

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It would be interesting to hear his story behind the naming….

Regardless, isn’t it healthy for us carriers of the tradition (and vectors of change—most of us are probably both, whether we want to be or not) to take stock of our surroundings? So this thread serves more than one purpose, and it’s interesting to read other’s ideas and perspectives.

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I thought it was all about soup, no ? If ceol stuck to proper old fashioned traditional cawl instead of eating exotic imported weirdness, I bet he wouldn’t catch the horrible diseases that keep him up all night.

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Well, I admit I witnessed this seemingly controversial ‘Antrim Square Set’ being called and danced at the Harp hotel in Sydney last Saturday night. All I can say is that the dancers seemed to enjoy the doing of it and we enjoyed knocking out some tunes to help it along. You’re welcome to come and join in the fun when you’re feeling better, mr ‘c’ ;-)

Some local set dancing websites in our part of the world:

BTW: I had a quick look at these websites and couldn’t see any claiming to perform ‘traditional’ irish dancing.

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Hey wolfbird, you’d like this dark soup… I haven’t made duck soup in ages and this turned out O.K… The richness and the heat both did our throats a wonder of good… Now to see if I get any sleep tonight. The Lurgy is still holding on tight… It’s really bad, and I have been less than patient and reasonable as a result of it and the loss of sleep. It’s like having fire in your lungs, burns worse than a birdseye chili.

Someone had suggested I age it, maybe it was nicholas? I did, I made the broth two days ago after reducing the duck fat and putting it up for future use on things like roast potatoes… Surely you wouldn’t balk at a good duck fat soaked roast potato would you wolfbird?

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Welcome dogbox, and for the positive contribution and links. There’s enough of this duck soup to go around…

I don’t know about those costumes though, it just feels a little too like early Federated American Square Dancing… Red and Black, is that their Valentine’s Day costume? At least there’s no petticoats, not yet anyway, or cowboy boots and pearl buttoned shirts… ;-)

Nice one dogbox, and I like your handle… I hope you’re not in it often…

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dogbox, it’s not the dance that was the controversy, it was the naming of the dance, the name…I think I’ve cleared that discomfort, thanks to this discussion. That was in part the aim, to help me work past that… I am not one to deny my biases, but I love to move outside of them… They have a way of interfering with understanding and reason…

Thanks to you, now I know why my link to the Sydney Irish Ceili Dancers wasn’t working… It was missing the .au…

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Alright wolfbird, don’t go knocking one of my TV heros. I don’t mind earthworms, after you get them to clear their gullet with some cornmeal, but those flatworms don’t look apetising at all. Chocolate covered ants, locust, alright, and snails I can handle, in the right sauce, but that thing, nah! Now if only we can train the Stag Beetles and build up an army… Damn foreign invaders… At least grey squirrels make a decent meal…

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I’m a big fan of that book too. I’m also a bit fan of:
"Fakesong: The Manufacture of Folksong in England"
Dave Harker
Open University Press 1985

I think it’s very important to remember that much of the continuation of the tradition (particularly in terms of English music) is due to a relatively small number of collectors who, generally, were not terribly well connected to the tradition. And even people like Bunting (who collected harp music from Ireland) only eventually "got" the importance of the modes in trad music after he published his first book. And this is one of the few collectors who was able to collect from the bardic musicians. The collectors involved have always tried to bend the reality of the tradition that’s existed to their will. Even Harker is openly a Marxist and, whilst I don’t agree with his politics, I still think it’s very possible to read his book and maintain a good balance: because at least he declares his intent.

The trouble lies in that the music we have today lies at the edge of an era. Arguably, during the period of advanced commercialisation since the second world war, seldom have the lives of the average person changed so much in such a short number of years, and seldom have communities undergone so much flux. Whilst at least we have an audible record of the music being played today, what relationship does this have to the people who played 100 years ago. Like dancing, it’s almost utterly impossible to actually be confident that, for example, a dance out of the Playford collection is actually being executed in the same way that they were back when they were being danced.

The problem often appears to be that much of the dance music and song has been removed from its context and its function and, often unintentionally, elevated to a form of art. Whilst there clearly was a precedent of trad. music being art (for example a lot of Carolan’s compositions were simply composed for his patron at the time) it was a minority precedent. Whereas today, although there is dancing, much of the music of influence is music that is created for its own sake.

Part of the problem may lie in the kind of thinking that, ostensibly at least, created courses like mine. The idea of a number of individuals who have been formally trained in traditional music instantly creates the idea that these individuals are more skilled than others and that they play in the "correct" way. Obviously, the problem then lies in the question of, well, what is actually right or wrong. And that unfortunately, much of the partisan thinking may be purported by lecturers that share the same theories. Which, due to the difficulties of establishing reasonable boundaries for critical thinking, means that a lot of concepts that might be weeded out by taking a fully critical approach to material are missed because, well, there’s seldom few academics who’ve written on traditional music and there are often common mindsets - meaning that if you start freely de-constructing ideas you tend to find yourself painfully short of ideas that hold can be taken as absolutes. Or to put it another way, how can you question the reality when you don’t have a reliable reality to question?

Personally, I think that the aim of courses such of mine are twofold. Firstly, to help legitimise traditional music in academic circles and allow it to gain further prominence. Secondly (and this is a much more contentious issue) to create an expanding number of people who might be able to encourage communities where traditional music practices are no longer ongoing to develop new ones. This is already occurring in areas like Hexham in Tynedale (where there is a large number of young people involved in traditional music), and there was a school in Gosforth, Newcastle that had an unnaturally high percentage of skilled traditional musicians. It’s telling that all third year students on my course must take either Music Business or Teaching Methods modules, without exception. I know some people think that combining traditional music and higher education is a recipe for disaster. But that’s their call.

The thing is, as Wolfbird observes, culture and politics are acutely linked. It’s the people who consider themselves to be part of someone else’s culture as opposed to defining their own that cause a problem, because they have to create their own subset of rules to legitimise themselves, from which argument arises. Some people argue that you have to have been born in Ireland to "get" ITM, some that you have to have an Irish parent, grandparent, etc etc….and the (in the case of ancestry, rather pointless) debate rolls on.

Music, to me, serves a purpose; not I to it. It makes me happy, to play and listen; it draws together friends of fellow musicians and non-musicians; it creates bonds between groups of people. That’s why, whenever any of my "non-folkie" (my description) friends want to see me play, I’d far rather take them to a ceilidh than some performance - because I’d rather involve them in than make them observe.

To answer ‘c’s question a bit more directly though I’d ask: what’s more important - maintaining a continuity in names or maintaining the continuity of the communities and communal attitudes which supported the tradition which we’re discussing here?

N.B. Elements of this post have been written under the influence of alcohol. However these elements may not be consecutive……

Re: The Invention of Tradition

Well, "tradition" is merely a word. Words are merely symbols or one sort or another.

Tradition is "an idea."

Music is music

It’s fun to talk about music, but it’s just talking.

Somehow or another, it seems to me that usually "the cream rises…." in one way or another. If there’s something in a form of musical expression or dance that touches enough people, usually it will survive and get passed along. That which is more superficial in essence is more likely to just fade away.


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Re: The Invention of Tradition

wolfbird - actually, rabbits were introduced by the Romans. They’ve been here for about 2000 years.

Still not native though.

The problem all centres around whether there are natural enemies (and in sufficient numbers) or not. And the problem isn’t confined to Britain. Look at the saga of the prickly pear and gypsy moth in Australia.

Posted by .

oh dear. I fear this discussion might have reached a pleasant conclusion. Prior to my sticking my misshapen beak into these matters.

Re: The Invention of Tradition

I didn’t intend to sound as if I knocked the fellow. He’s cool !
and amazingly chubby on a diet of bark and creepy crawlies, not exactly Tarzan’s physique. Hope you and the Missus feel better in the morning. It does seem to have gone on a long time.

Re: The Invention of Tradition

Hey Ceol,

My wife sees Des every Wednesday, she teaches with the Harp Irish Set Dancers which he attends. She could pass on your email if you’d like to flick it to me through my profile.

(Des is a very decent bloke who has a great love of set dancing, sad to see him ‘being made an example of’ in this fashion - especially when the knowledge needed to ‘get to a point of understanding’ was fairly easy to obtain with no assistance from this old mustard board)

I don’t Think Des knows about thesession - I certainly won’t be drawing his attention to it.

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Hey Andy, very welcome, never too late, and there’s still duck enough duck soup to go around. I also like that book you added as a recommendation ~ where there’s money to be had…

Let’s not forget those damned cane toads Ben ~ SPLAT! I understand they actually cause accidents, something akin to slipping on a banana but with sound effects…

Yes wolfbird, a month for my wife, lurking until recently in me, about a full week now… I am not fond of being a miserable old git… ;-)

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You could be right about the rabbits, benhall. I think it’s disputed. Depends who you believe. The point still stands though. If you start from a clean slate when the whole country was under glaciers and nothing was native (that’s also disputed. There might have been small areas with a more benign climate, maybe S.W. Ireland) then where’s the date that plants and animals stop being native ? It’s kinda theoretical, but I don’t know any good argument for drawing a line at any particular date, do you ?

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Nice piece of writing, Andy V, I’d never have guessed that it was fueled by alcohol.

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"It’s fun to talk about music, but it’s just talking."

Yes, Fid42. But the thread, as it started out, was about the naming of a dance (and soup), and dance and music (like painting, theatre, food, poetry, etc) are parts of broader culture.
You can try to separate music (and culture) from politics, but it’s difficult, because, as shown by recent visit of American musicians to North Korea, there’s often an agenda concealed behind cultural mainfestations.

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SirNose: ~ "Des is a very decent bloke who has a great love of set dancing, sad to see him ‘being made an example of’ in this fashion - especially when the knowledge needed to ‘get to a point of understanding’ was fairly easy to obtain with no assistance from this old mustard board"

‘c’: Your word is as good as I need SirNose… Again, it was not about the person or the dance, but the name, and really, about my needing to move past that discomfort, and that need was, I promise you, immediate, if selfish on my part for wanting to get it done as quick as possible. This was obviously not as clear originally as intended in my clumsy presentation of this, as it isn’t just you that felt I was having a dig at the person. Though I can see where that can be inferred. It is never about an individual with me, though one was named here, it was the act of invention and in this case the tagging of a dance with a geographic name, that and the obvious influences that have gone into the choreography. But, to repeat myself, ‘influence’ isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is one of the natural elements of a living tradition, whether that is a language, music, dance, food, whatever… The dance and the name were a starting point, and I had considered anonymity, which as said, would have been the better consideration and might have resulted in accomplishing part of what this thread was generated for. I also think this is one of the monsters we need to grapple with now and then, and sometimes fiction is less than effective…

SirNose: "I don’t Think Des knows about thesession - I certainly won’t be drawing his attention to it."

‘c’: I don’t know why not. I certainly wouldn’t have taken offense from anything said on this thread, if it were a dance or tune I’d created. I wouldn’t take it as a personal affront but ideas to be considered, whether or not I agreed with them. But, we are each different, distinct, and react to things differently. While I can move past the problems I’d felt with the title, that doesn’t mean I agree with it, whatever nostalgia or kind old bloke may have generated it… But a title would never lead me to denying it to others or prevent me from getting pleasure from it myself. It’s actually better than a lot of the choreographies and fantasies floating about, or I wouldn’t have agreed to teach it. It is welcoming and easy to come to and involve yourself in, and that is a compliment to the dance and the choreographer, whatever name is on it…

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"It’s the people who consider themselves to be part of someone else’s culture as opposed to defining their own that cause a problem, because they have to create their own subset of rules to legitimise themselves, from which argument arises. Some people argue that you have to have been born in Ireland to "get" ITM, some that you have to have an Irish parent, grandparent, etc etc….and the (in the case of ancestry, rather pointless) debate rolls on."

Well put, Andy V. That sums up so many disputes. The world has changed more in our lifetimes than in the whole of previous history, mostly by way of technological changes. The various analyses made by academics over the last century are already becoming dated, because the pace of change is so fast. It’s no longer American pop music that spreads out to influence cultures, it’s Global pop music that spreads everywhere. I’m probably of the opinion that it is important to try and maintain a clear line around what is ‘traditional’ and what is innovative, but I can’t say I understand it very well, or know how it can be done.

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I think you have a point, c. I mean, consider how Native Americans feel about having names of their heroic chiefs or their tribes co-opted by the conquistador culture. ‘Apache’ helicopters, ‘Cherokee’ jeeps, and all the rest. It’s also a bit like the varioius campaigns to claim rights to names for food and drink, ‘champagne’, ‘Parma’ ham, etc., and the anglicization of Welsh place names. Cultural boundaries are war zones, and words make a difference.

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Nice essay, Andy!

You probably know this, but early Playfords contained instructions for individual dances. My family has one of 1718. Not being a dancer, I’ve not tried to suss these; someone with knowledge of the subject would know how much or little these instructions allowed for modification, then or later.

Linda - I’m sure you’re right about the good music surviving. What is really striking about Irish music is quite how few characterless or boring ones there are in circulation. The tradition has shaken them out. England has had more of a tunebook tradition over the centuries. But the contents of these can be mainly pretty tedious contemporary pieces - while the good tunes included are the ones that are still being played.

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I think the issue i have with your post is the inference that Des is somehow trying to "Invent a Tradition" for Antrim, when in fact he just named it for homeland.

(Mid you, maybe Des actually secretly is trying to create an evil square dancing tradition in Antrim and i didn’t notice because i grew up in a country in which it’s entire "traditional music" was invented in the 1950s and I’m just aclimatized to these inventions ;-) )

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AND the tune "Australian Waters" has NO relation to Australia. It’s sounds like a bloody irish tune.

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No Sir Nose, I don’t believe there is any ‘evil’ intent, never. It is more along the lines of what wolfbird has just said. It’s me, I am uncomfortable with the free use of names in a way that can somehow devalue them, that is not really considerate, in my mind. But I fully accept that I don’t think that was in any way the intention here, that it was just and honest sentiment.

And no, I don’t actually think the same applies to tunes. If you knew the dance tradition, in Ireland, as concerns the sets, they are only named for a geographic area because ~ THAT’S WHERE THEY COME FROM… Sorry, I shouldn’t raise my letters… ;-)

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You would think, if your friend was that truly enamoured with set dancing, that they’d know this…

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Not for some repetition ~

Sorry Andy, I didn’t respond to your contribution because I had to read it over a few times. I wish I had the bottle that is influencing you, rather than this lurgy… There’s a lot there…

Your question first, which came at the end ~

Andy V: "what’s more important - maintaining a continuity in names or maintaining the continuity of the communities and communal attitudes which supported the tradition which we’re discussing here?"

The later, no debate, and to ditto what you also offered ~

Andy V: "Music, to me, serves a purpose; not I to it. It makes me happy, to play and listen; it draws together friends of fellow musicians and non-musicians; it creates bonds between groups of people. That’s why, whenever any of my "non-folkie" (my description) friends want to see me play, I’d far rather take them to a ceilidh than some performance - because I’d rather involve them in than make them observe."

‘c’: ~ yes, yes, yes!!!

Andy V, there are a lot of discussions in what you’ve offered. It is in some ways about science, that any real understanding undermines that tendancy we have to want or need ‘absolutes’, to hunger for a mythology we can tie it all to. Any such construct is by its nature unreliable, unreal. For it to survive it must not be questioned, and sometimes there are bouncers at the door doing their damnedest to deny you access, to deny analysis.

It seems that in the modern sense, your course has those two requirements well chosen ~ ‘Music Business’ & ‘Teaching Methods’. As far as the involvement of ‘higher education’, ‘formal education’, ‘tradition’ is just that, ‘education’, and extending that further into other realms is not new, and need not be disasterous. As in all things, it depends on who is doing what?? And you touched on this too, the bent of any given individual or group or institution or organization. Too often, possibly for the same points of insecurity, it becomes a personality, and that can be exclusive or judgemental. It will usually mean biases. As said before, these can colour your view and can stand in the way of understanding. Without understanding we do risk damaging the thing of our attention and affection. I laughted at that point ~ "recipe for disaster"…

And then you got to motive, worth repeating:

Andy V: "It’s the people who consider themselves to be part of someone else’s culture as opposed to defining their own that cause a problem, because they have to create their own subset of rules to legitimise themselves, from which argument arises. Some people argue that you have to have been born in Ireland to "get" ITM, some that you have to have an Irish parent, grandparent, etc etc….and the (in the case of ancestry, rather pointless) debate rolls on."

‘c’: Let’s not forget other divisions, between town and country, urban and rural. Most organizations don’t tend to rise from the countryside but are given birth in the cities and work back to impose themselves on the thing they wish to ‘preserve’ and ‘promote’. And worse, like religion interfering in politics, is politics, on the grander scale, interfering with these aspects represented here in part on this site ~ the celebration of life through music and dance. Hitler did it, so did DeValera and Henry the VIII, imposing their view of ‘folk culture’ on a country, a ‘national identity’, and doing a hell of a lot of damage in the process.

Andy, it’s never too late to stir the soup and share a bowl…a bowl of soup…

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nicholas, the early dance collections, which also included the music, such as the many Playford and Wilson collections, only gave the figures of the dances, and mostly in a kind of shorthand, sometimes with missing bits. They didn’t describe styling or steps… There were other manuals that did make some attempt at this, including graphic illustrations. Some were quite ornate…

& there were no tempo markings…

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I said I was ill and losing sleep ~

Not for some repetition ~ should have read ~ Now for some repetition ~

I don’t even want to see where else I lost it… :-/

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But NO modern dance comes from anywhere but the choreographer’s mind and experience. If
Des learned his dancing in Antrim, could not an aruement be made that the dance, in a way, did indeed come from there as well?

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Ceolachan - I’m very impressed with your eloquent rant considering your current state of health. This was one of the better discussions posted here in quite some time. I take comfort in the fact that there are guardians of the faith like you and others on this board who will continue to look after the music. I fear not for the future of this genre. Sure, subtle changes may seep in and out over the years, but it sure seems as healthy as it’s ever been. Our feet may be planted firmly in the tradition, but we’re always looking up and making eye contact with others for the next set (whatever that may bring) … "hup!"

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I just double checked one of the Playfords ~ 1698, nope, no tempo markings, but the figures are written out, the ‘shorthand’ mentioned has to do with the symbols for pairing up the moves with the music… I had to check because I had a sudden flash that I might have seen some tempo markings somewhere, but I think it was a modern collection of country dances, which included much from the Playford and Wilson publications…

It’s late. I need to see if I can rest and not hack all night… maybe sleeping sitting up? :-/

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SirNose: "If Des learned his dancing in Antrim, could not an aruement be made that the dance, in a way, did indeed come from there as well?"

Sorry SirNose, not that set… It is just too Americana, but there are some folks, I suspect, who dress up in the garb and square dance in Antrim too. No place is sacred anymore, not to federated square dancers or line dancing… While living in one of these out-of-the-way places we once counted at least 12 different line dancing classes within 20 miles of us… Crazy eh? But that doesn’t really make it Antrim does it SirNose? However, you are free to make your own decisions there.

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nah, not really, just ‘devil’s advocating’ - i defer to your greater knowledge of americana ;-)

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I have never said I ‘dislike’ the dance. It is just the title… And I would sit down to a bowl of soup with the choreographer, with a welcome, any day, as I would dance his set or play music with him if he did that… It’s just the name that sits uneasy with me.

Hey nutter, welcome, the fact that we can talk about it and around it is a sign of its health. In truth, I believe further on the scientific side of all this, that the greater the variety the greater the tendancy for a thing to adapt and survive. While the more specialized a thing becomes the more in danger it is of extinction… In a sense, I was also saying that, that part of what is being manufactured is this growing specializaiton, as promoted by vested interest groups, not always in the best interests of the thing they crave, and not always healthy the ways they chose to preserve and promote it.

Discussion is about raising questions, seeking understanding. When something like this catches me, I find it easier to deal with ~ with friends. The same is true of dance and music ~ it too needs good company.

So, apologies about my rants, and to dear Mr. Jackson and his dance, which I’m sure was intended with heart. The soup is great, just what the doctor ordered. I have to now try to see if I can find some way to catch some zs…

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I think i understand - it is not just the name but the fact that the dance itself is un-Antrim-y. I can pay that.

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sleep well!

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Rough night on the couch again…

Antrim already had/has sets, though I don’t know the current state of affairs. There were two that were danced all over Eire and that includes Antrim, and Rathlin Island too. There’s "The Quadrilles", a term that really encompasses the whole lot but was also applied specifically to a set of figures that are collectively and variously known as "The First Set of Quadrilles", "The First Set", "The Plain Set", "The Paris Set", etc… The other set of quadrilles that was widespread, including Antrim, was "The Lancers". Over time variation and mutation happened. This is also true with North America, for examples there’s the versions found in Quebec and on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, the Canadian Maritimes. "The Clare Plain Set" and "The Cashel Set" are from the same root. That is true for all the various "Lancers". Libraries in Ireland often include old publications of these sets, tunes with dance descriptions for the figures usually at the bottom. Mostly it is just these two sets with the only identifying variation being the collection of accompanying melodies. For example, "The Dublin Set" was the figures for "The First Set of Quadrilles" but with airs associated with Dublin as the music for the figures ~ including "Sweet Molly Malone", you know, the one about the poor beautiful fishseller who dies from a fever ~

Alive, alive oh! alive, alive oh!
Crying, "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive oh"!

I also remember many similar sets of tunes with the same figures, for example "The Belfast Set", but I don’t remember what the tunes were and haven’t my copy of those things on hand here to check.

Back to ‘invention’ ~ tools in that box of tricks include ‘nationalization’, ‘jingoism’, ‘valuation’, ‘preservation’, ‘officializaton’ ~ all of which have side effects.

An example again, the RSCDS yet again ~ Miss Milligan and her cronies did not like the greater unwashed and longed to revive and redirect things ‘Scottish’ toward a higher plane, to revive their fantasy of great halls in castles and balls and gowns and dress-up. Nothing they touched or adopted in this zeal, which included the previously mentioned tools of ‘nationalization’ and ‘preservation’ ~ nothing was made ‘official’ without it being affected, changed to fit their preconceptions and intentions as they forged their ruling body, their oligarchy ~ and with great fervor created their body of official rules, regulations and dances… They wanted a ballroom dance or Scotland, a ‘Royal’ ballroom dance. And, hey presto, they have accomplished that, even to the point that it, costume, music and dance, has featured at the balls and parties of the aristocrasy, the queen and her entourage included.

Let them have their fun… ;-)

"They wanted a ballroom dance ‘of’ Scotland" (my tendency to confuse small words or transpose letters grows worse with lost sleep….)

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I feel I am entering into this dicussion late so may not make any completely new contributions. I´m at the European Social Science anjd History conference in Lisbon and only just got to the computer for some email checking fun. Apologies for any random Portuguese characters in this post.

Tradition is a construct and I think it often gets treated by folk musicians, dancers, and anyone else in the business of maintaining a tradition as something that exists in some a priori state and there are ways to play it "correctly" and ways to play it "incorrectly." Some people know what the tradition is, some people donºt. There is a story that is told and passed down, be it an actual written narrative about how something happened and we know what we know, or something more like, "you play it this way because this is the traditional way to play it." You learn tradition by ostension. You learn what is not traditional by ostension as well (tune x gets the label traditional, tune y does not). As your education in the music porgresses and you become some authority on it and you designate some tunes and styles as traditional and others not, people listen to you and cite you as being an expert on the tradition. If they are doing things your way, they´re doing them the right way. Why do you think "name-dropping" is so common amongst folkies? It establishes your credentials as someone who "knows" the tradition because you learned from someone else who is known for being "well-versed" in the tradition. Therefore, you are well-versed. This is one way tradition is passed on and a paradigm for traditional music is maintained. But it is a construct, a story.

It is not an unproblematic paradigm (they never are — even ones in the natural sciences). The traditional music paradigm is pushed and pulled around by people with various ideas for what traditional music should be. Iºd say it underwent a shift in the early 20th century when you had things happening like the Taylor Brothers in Philly making concert pitch uilleann pipes. Previously uilleann pipes were in flat keys and the music was not played in concert pitch. Another good example of a paradigm shift is the folk revival in the 60s and 70s and the emergence of bands like Planxty and the Bothy Band, which brought in "new" instruments like bouzoukis to folk music. There are people out there who still think itºs wrong to accompany this music with guitars and zouks, but overall they are generally accepted. My point here is that tradition is not static. The paradigm changes, sometimes accepting new things, sometimes not.

Sociologists, anthropologists, ethnologists, historians, love looking into the process of these paradigm shiftts — how they happen, why some things get accepted into the dominant paradigm and others not, etc. A lot of has to do with power and politics (in nineteenth century England, your scientific theory only had a shot at general acceptance if you got the Royal Society to publish it. Otherwise you were on the fringes or worse, depending on whose theory yours challenged). It has a lot to do with sociological and cultural issues as well — media and all that. ‘For example Riverdance, like it or hate it, becoming a model for "Irish dance" because it was immensley popular and looked pretty cool. To go back to Planxty and Bothy Band, they (and a few other folk revival groups) also became models that were generally accepted, often by the younger generation. Nowadays you can´t get out of bed without stumbling across a folk band vaguely modeled on that ensemble accoustic playing construction. Itºs become such a powerful idea as well — one of the ways of achieving authority is to be in a band and be doing fairly well at it. Authority is a construct as well, of course, and I think bands have become one of many ways of constructing authority in folk music.

If you´re understanding tradition as "playing exactly the way they played in Ireland 200 years ago," youºre faced with several problems. One is that you´d have to find reliable data for how they played 200 years ago and that´s hard to do. The other is youºre drawing arbitrary lines — why not 300 years, 50 years, 25? Another is that no one has the exact same cultural influences, constructs that they had in Ireland 200 years ago so you can´t ever capture that. Of course, statements like "so-and-so are the best young traditional band of the year" become oxymorons because bands, by that definition, are not traditional. More importantly, I think people who actually study cultural traditions (not me, really, it´s an interest but not anything I have a degree in) don´t use the static definition. I think itºs accepted in the field that tradition is a cutural invention that is constantly reinventing itself.

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Oy, that got long winded. Sorry. :)

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This is the place for it. Now to settle down with a cuppa and give it a go…

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Now my tea is cold… What’s the weather like in Lisbon. It is wet-wet-wet here… ;-)

SilverSpear: " ~ tradition is a cutural invention that is constantly reinventing itself."

All I can add to that is the plural ~

~ traditions are cutural inventions that are constantly reinventing themselves…and…often touching crossing each others imagined but permeable borders…

I’d better put the pot on to boil again…

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Ah, now you’ve all gone fully macro, all the way zoomed out. Tradition is invented, permeable, and changing constantly. It’s invented among people, it’s a consensual hallucination.

So, let’s zoom back in, micro if you will.

"Field Guide to the Irish Music Session" by Barry Foyle: (pathetic paraphrase from memory by yours truly)

"’Why does it all sound the same?’"

"Because it’s Irish music. It’s how you know you haven’t wandered into a Mongolian Traditional Music session by mistake. When you go into a music store and ask for Irish music, you get…Irish music, and not Bulgarian Traditional Music. Kinda convenient if you think about it."

My point being is that at the end of the day, after we’ve philosophized over the changing traditions, them growing, being permeable, etc. it’s still "what it is". "It is what it is", and, that’s why it is what it is, because…well, that’s what it is. It is traditional music of a particular culture/ethnicity or what-have-you. Permeate, absorb, change, personalize, yes, yes and yes, but at the end of the day, it’s either Irish traditional music or it’s not.

Now, despite people’s desires to be in charge of what is and what isn’t traditional music, the notion of it comes from established history and the consensual perception of the historical aspects of tradition by human beings. If there was no established history for the music, it would not be a tradition or be traditional. It would be brand spanking new. So the history of the tradition, music in this case, is what drives the identification of the music as traditional.

Is this a consensual hallucination? Stand by, I’m paging Sartre on the dead existentialist hotline.

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I think Sartre would argue that "dead existentialist" is too deterministic. More than likely, he’s daisy feed….

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"I am what I am and I ain’t no more!" ~ Popeye

Now we have a full house, what a great session this would be, and ‘Jacob’s Join’, as it would last that long we’d need sustenance beyond just the energy of music ~ and dance hopefully…

SWFL, you closet existentialist you… No, I’m hallucinating… Daisy feed? Are there daisy in that graveyard? I don’t think so…

I like this zoom in, zoom out, zoom in again… Yes SWFL, the roots, I firmly believe in being rooted in something, in being grounded, in having a certain respect for what has come before, and that is probably one of the main powers tearing at me that erupted in this discussion. I used the dance as part of the launch, but really, the main focus were the conflicts and tensions I was feeling about it all. There is a deep and strong root, I could never sever that connection, those connections, those roots, the life in me depends on them, but there is also wind in my branches and leaves and I have been lifted up high enough that I can view beyond, over the horizon, and I can appreciate other trees. I also know that ‘tradition’ by its nature, and for its survival, does and must adapt and change and continue to move forward, but not forsaking those roots or the respect for those.

Sigh, so, I do enjoy the new, but some ‘new’ is so off the mark that I have no or very little respect for that, determined by my roots and their nurture by others. In this case there were several things causing an irritation, that name, as petty as that might seem, including to me in some way, and also, the growing influence of ‘Western Square Dance’ in Irish set dance. And it seeming to have made the leap into the silliness, which I have seen grow, of the likes of the RSCDS, just daft mayhem ~ pumped up volume and tempos, music and contact with the floor, lepin’ about, silly costumes ~ and a vampiric thirst for speed and complexity ~ ‘CHALLENGE!" Which, to me, does eat away at those aspects I value most ~ the social craic, the humour, the patience and welcome and openness of it all ~ for all, not just for ‘dancers’ and ‘musicians’, for all…

So some of these new inventions, developments, myth making, does cause me some worry, the worry is in me, internal, in that I am aware both of origins, am connected, I think, and also see the need for life ~ which includes variety and forward progress rather than stagnation… It is me wanting a balance and sensing an imbalance, with invention way outstripping grounded tradition, the base, taxing that heart and sense like a drug does…

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Feeding and pushing that is this media soaked culture that is all about us. A culture that valued packaging more than content…profit and quantity more than value and quality…?!

As others have described these times ~ "me, me, ME!!!

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Ah yes, well, there is that, the "me". It’s what causes traditionally communal and social musical events to become showcases for individualism and snoberry, no doubt.

C, you’re not doing anything probably already done over and over and over again. I would wager in O’Neill’s Minstrels and Musicians we could go and dig out some quote about a auld piper or fiddler bemoaning the current state of the music and so on, back in the mid-19th.

Yet, it must be done! You must do it! Every generation must!

There are counter-weights, the experimenters and the conservators, they both must exist and do so in every generation of the music. Everyone has a job to do. Wither the earnest legions worldwide brought to the music and tradition via highly processed trad-pop cheese? Wither those speed merchants and costume wearers without you to off-set their nonsense? ;-)

It is truly the root though, here especially. People ask me about the set dancing and the ceili band, and I say "…well, when square dancing first immigrated to America its name was…"

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" ~ when square dancing first immigrated to America its name was…" (source?)~ Well now, that is another story I am well versed in, but that would be a future thread, maybe…an ‘evolution’ from country dances to quadrilles to American Square Dance and Big Circle… Really, while many of the figures carried over, ‘American Square Dance’ bubbled out of those other traditions but has it’s own identities, which ~ are multiple…

I’m not sure you actually fully understand the push-me-pull-you in this thread? I’m not occupying some shrinking iceberg and shouting out accusations as to who’s the cause of that shrinkage. And, I also realize that as the currents draw that chunk of ice southwards, it is natural that it shrink, cyclical. I have a boat tied up just around the back.

That isn’t exactly my intent or action, I don’t think ~ "bemoaning the current state of the music" ~ but I’m also not professing that this is anything ‘original’, this muddle of concerns… I also wouldn’t be so ageist to suggest it was ‘generational’, but I do understand that too, having noted the differences, almost by decade, between people of a shared heritage but with different understandings and perceptions of that past, present and future…

‘Balance’, yes, that is closer to it, but still no jelly beans. A point made possibly twice already, if differently, was the recognized value in ‘variety’, not a simplistic dichotomy, including those facets or alternate views and exercises that I personally might not be too keen on, and definitely wouldn’t give time to promoting. But that doesn’t mean I don’t see the need for that choice, that option, that draw on personalities that might find that choice to their liking. There will always be speed junkies, there always have been, and there are folks that love dress-up… And, for some, the RSCDS is heaven…

If I am doing anything it is merely the act of one tree surgeon amongst othres, a forester, to help to keep some focus on the roots and the forest, the envirions and nurturing, because some body of people directed my attention that way, and in that I absorbed some of their cares and concerns in this regard. I don’t mind being in a minority, we all are who pursue this particular passion anyway. This passion has all kinds of ins and alleyways and parks, for all sorts… I just choose to avoid some neighbourhoods, especially after dark. I don’t want to be the member of a gang or a political party, and some practices and pastimes just don’t suit my humour… ;-)

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Yes, I enjoyed the series, despite its many fleadhs… ;-)

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I was going to contribute my two cents yesterday but thought better of it but now, today having just watched the link above provided by KML I thought I would like to ask a question and see if it resonates with anybody else’s feelings.

I was never ‘taught’ by a traditional musician, I don’t live in an area reknowned for it’s musical tradition or in fact much in the way of ITM being played or indeed any other kind of traditional music. I don’t believe I play in a particular ‘style’ be it regional or after a particular musician. There’s nothing in my family by way of musical tradition being handed on.

So, the question is this - just how do I describe myself in terms of the music I play. Traditionalist, stylist, poser, or could I claim to be forging my own particular version of ‘a traditional’ music. Could it be said I’m just inventing something akin to ITM or is it because of my relative isolation from other musicians playing in the Irish tradition that I have a lack of continuity or connection.

I have to say that I’m not too really worried about what label might be affixed so feel free, my only interest is playing the music because I like it…

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John, this is a great seed for a discussion. We have been here before, but you work it in your way and this deserves a fresh start. Hoping you won’t mind, I’m moving it to the front of the queue… I has something else smoldering myself, still quite ill, but I like the seed you’ve just planted, though it is a bit too deep here for growth. I’ll move it to the surface and we’ll see what springs from the germ… ;-)

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There were some interesting comments in that clip, particularly from Seamus Tansey. What always annoys me about the man is that, whilst he usually has a valid point, he (or at least whenever he’s interviewed) has the subtlety of a sledgehammer and tends to rather rile people. I had to listen to his comments a good four or five times before I stopped wanting to throw something and could actually appreciate what he said…. :-)

I think his point about regional styles is very important, but I think it’s linked back in to what I said earlier about playing music simply for its own sake as opposed to playing it for a purpose (dancing, etc.) At the moment, we’re lucky enough to have (a small) number of old musicians who learnt during the pre-"art" era, but that number is in decline and once they do, something will be lost forever. What I think sometimes gets overlooked is that, musically, whilst the massive social changes of the 20th century have happened, the generation who lived through that are still available to us and that when they people like Seamus Tansey are no longer with us there will be no one to lead the "conservatives" who’s got a grounding in the past they’re trying to conserve. Which is going to be a severe blow to their credibility. It’s not helpful for traditional music if its followers get split into those who base their music around the revivalists as exponents of the tradition, which is predominantly intended for appreciation; against those who base their music on community and social function.

John, from my outlook it doesn’t really matter what you play. I mean, I’d be surprised if you didn’t know a few tunes from the Scottish and English traditions (indeed, it’s in your profile…), but that’s not really the point. For my money, if your using a repertoire of tunes to bring a group of people together then you can choose to identify yourself with which ever group you please - because you’re taking the spirit of that tradition to your community and as such you’re part of that tradition. For me, the really important things in tradition are more a regional style, I’d far rather give up the regional distinctions in style if one evening a week saw communities all over our respective countries collecting for a spot of communal dancing to live music. Because from this I think the regional styles would grow back, stronger than ever.

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I think this thread has been hijacked by people talking about tradition.

What I say is: What about the rabbits?!!!!!!!

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Mmmm, mmmm, good. I used to hunt ‘em, skin ‘em and eat ‘em… I do like rabbit stew, or just rabbit off the bone. Watch your bunnies!!!

I think we should reintroduce some of the old guard ~ boar, wolves, bears, lions and rhinoceri!!! Now that would make this island a lot more interesting and lively. I’ve always said that what we need on these isles is a good old fashioned volcano…and hot springs… Then we could save energy and cook the bunnies and squirrels in the bubbling goo, or barbecue them over some open volcanic seam…

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I’ve always had yearning to try Bunny Tartare but can’t find anybody willing to put it on a menu….

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As you know, ceol, I live on the edge of the Forest of Dean. Herabouts we have so many wild boar that Defra have finally decided that they need to be culled. Apart from anything else, certain areas of the forest are really quite dangerous now because of the boar.

I don’t *think* we’ve got any wolves yet … and we haven’t got any wallabies, like they have in Derbyshire …

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Ha,ha, this is the way to deal with Jap Knot weed

I could call the wild rabbits here from as far as 200 yards, to take food from my hand. Have you ever heard of anyone doing that ? I haven’t. Then myxamatosis came and I had to spend weeks killing them. There’s just a few beginning to return.

I’d like to see some of the species that we have eliminated being reintroduced, like the beavers in Scotland, but in practice the public attitude is hostile and make a lot of problems. In any case, Global Warming means we’ll have contantly changing climate and many more species vanishing, while new ones appear, causing general ecological chaos.

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Andy V, Seamus Tansey is on a loop on that subject, he says it over, and over, and over, and ~ any opportunity he gets…

Andy V: "At the moment, we’re lucky enough to have (a small) number of old musicians who learnt during the pre-"art" era, but that number is in decline and once they do, something will be lost forever. ~ when they, people like Seamus Tansey, are no longer with us there will be no one to lead the ‘conservatives’ who’s got a grounding in the past they’re trying to conserve."

‘c’: Andy, honest, he’s a ‘young’ man, and the influences are there… He would never be my choice of Grand Poopah of the Order or Ancient Masters. This reawakes that constantly present issue of the W’s ~ Who? - What? - Which? - Where? - When? - Why? ~ & How?! It’s back to those root questions ~ ‘which past’? ~ ‘what period of influences’? ~ ceili band? I have to say, I don’t consider Seamus Tansey to be anything that could really be called by me ‘pure drop’, sorry… That’s OK, he’s talented, but…

Andy V: "It’s not helpful for traditional music if its followers get split into those who base their music around the revivalists as exponents of the tradition, which is predominantly intended for appreciation; against those who base their music on community and social function."

‘c’: I don’t think they need be seperate issues, appreciation and participation. It is community that does the fuzing, through appreciation and participation. They are the carers giving nurture through creation and support of the settings, the context, and providing the complete package, the contents of that setting, in this case inclusive of celebration through music and dance, a constructive social milieau.

Andy V: "I’d far rather give up the regional distinctions in style if one evening a week saw communities all over our respective countries (counties / communities) collecting for a spot of communal dancing to live music. Because from this I think the regional styles would grow back, stronger than ever."

‘c’: ‘The’ regional style?! ~ I still consider this a fluid point, in that so often that so called regional style is based on that of a few individuals, like Johnny Doherty, and those who fell under his influence as he travelled, taught and inspired. But even there, Donegal, or anywhere else regionally specific, I’ve never heard one fiddler that sounded exactly like another ~ ‘except’ ~ when I’ve caught a teacher and their pupils playing together and you see the bows mostly moving in synchronicity with each other, a lovely agreeable blend, as I’ve also sometimes experienced with some family members. Yes, there is a beauty to accent, and I don’t deny that, and I appreciate it greatly, but often the root isn’t the landscape, in my opinion, but a few inspirational souls that carried the music and the dance and passed their way with it on to others… I’ve said it before, in sharing, or teaching, more passes between people than just notes and technique, much more… As to regional styles growing back, why does that matter ~ ‘back’… Even in a desert, if you bring a community together to share music and dance, and it is healthy and enriching, well, somewhere down the line, by choice and respect for their more accomplished members, the inspiration for future generations ~ you will have nurtured something that could be considered yours, or geographic, regional… I don’t see a problem with that, or from borrowing from other traditions to find your own voice, as an individual or as a community. To complain about something like that would be criminal.

Story time, and sadly I don’t have my notes on it so can’t tell you from memory all the specifics, but this had to do with an Italian dance and music tradition, and if I’m remembering rightly it was a Tarantella. I have heard similar from elsewhere, so maybe there’s a bit of the old wives tale to it, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it was from an old wife. This community could trace back through memory at least 200 years of this tradition, the dance and the music, and it had been handed down from one generation to another, with pride. A recent link provided by Ramiro reminded me of this. They had a blast, nothing critical, no competition except playful, between family and friends, a lark. It was spirited and meant the world to this community. Off in one of the big cities, a university, there were degrees in music and dance, and there was a richly stocked library, including some very old books. In one of these ancient manuscripts was a description of the dance, and I think there was music too. The university’s musicians and dancers set to revive this, from the manuscript sources. They worked hard. They interpreted the music as they felt is ‘would’ and ‘should’ be played, and the dance was similarly choreographed, with percision, and with education, their sources to do more with past ‘higher classes’. They made costumes too. Then, they set out to perform in this place where they’d been dancing this dance and playing this music for a long, long time, with pride and spirit. They performed it for the locals. The effect was that appreciation, because the locals if anything, are appreciative of things offered, and are welcoming. That doesn’t surprise me at all. There was celebration and food and conversation. It was a generally jolly occassion. But ~ the locals ~ they stopped playing the music, they stopped dancing. They were convinced by these educated performers, with their costumes and their twiddles and their high steps and fancy bits ~ that they had it wrong. They saw what was performed and knew that they could never do that. It wasn’t in them. So, they stopped. I should have also mentioned that there was some silly attempt to teach the locals the ‘right’ way. Can I just say about the academicians in this instance ~ A*SHOLES!!!

So, another example of ignorance and abuse from city to country… :-/

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I love the links wolfbird… :-)

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They’ve already found a few of the malaria carrying mosquitoes in the South…

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Oh, there’s lots of examples, ceol. Isn’t this the warmest Febuary ever recorded ? The midges carrying the bluetongue disease pose a terrible threat to sheep farming. Many more ticks carrying Lyme disease, etc, etc. We are going to be getting the insects and diseases of the Mediterranean and North Africa.

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And all those English and English-Irish musicians moving to Ireland. Before you know it Morris Dance will be canonized as ‘Irish Traditional’… ;-)

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Oh yeah, they already do dance Morris in the capital. I even had and have considered friends who are caught up in it… Will the world never cease to surprise, eh? should I admit earning a meal once a week dancing Greek in a little Greek restaurant in Ireland?

Damn, it’s out now… :-D

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More on this question of the dance title and the choreographer and the issue of me naming them here in this thread. Since I didn’t sleep much last night, still on the couch and hacking coughs like chopping wood, I thought more on it and this general content of this ramble, and the valued comment. However, the content to do with feeling I had done an injustice by giving names, while did concern me initially, and prior, I realized that it was dumb to worry. This dance have been in publication and circulation worldwide, or over one hell of a big area ~ Australia, it’s start, so that area is saturated, as far as Irish set dancing, and then North America, all over these isles, and the European mainland. Should we not think of this like the Royal Family or some other celebrity figure? Why should I pussyfoot around and use aliases with regards to this one dance? I don’t see it, and never saw it as a problem, but do consider any criticism, as I did again last night. There is nothing really personal here, unless they are that caught up in their creation, and mostly my comments have been what I’d call positive, with regards to the dance. It is the title, it remains the title that is the issue, one example added with regards to the niggle, the irritation I was feeling about ‘inventions’… I wouldn’t put the choreographer in the same way as say Ma Windsor, but come on ~ it is very, very public and publicized, and will no doubt feature in that next collection of set dances soon to be up for sale…

See what happens when I’m ill and can’t sleep… ;-)

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Well, with regard to Seamus Tansey to be honest I was using him more of an example of someone who speaks very openly about what he thinks. I’m also minded to agree that participation and appreciation aren’t separate but I do think that, potentially, 50 years down the line if there’s not enough playing for dancing there could be trouble. When I got into trad. I’d never even considered how much I might enjoy and learn from playing for dancing (and indeed dancing itself) until I happened across it through the Folkworks organisation. It’s one of my few genuine criticisms of my course that there isn’t enough emphasis on instrumentalists playing for dancing. Considering the amount of time we spend in ensembles working on arranged music, dancing doesn’t come into things as much as I’d like. Given that some of the graduates from my course will go on to pursue careers involving the performance traditional music, it’d be troubling if they didn’t have much experience of playing for dancers. But I must stop before I libel myself…. :-/

I also think your idea about regional styles, relating to prominent figures, is a way of thinking about things that I’d not really thought about (normally because I try to avoid thinking about things like that!)….so thanks, I’m going to think about that :-) Perhaps a tree is a good analogy: the leaves are the players who are learning. These leaves are connected to a stem, who is their teacher. The stem is connected to all the other teachers/stems, but also to the people who they play tunes with who they look up to (the twig). The twig connects to the branch (perhaps musicians of high regard in their province), connects to the bough (county), connects to the trunk (country). And the trunk is connected to the roots, which are the historical an cultural basis of the music. However, it’s important to realise that the roots provide the water (sense of belonging) and minerals (respect), and the leaves provide the energy via sunlight (erm…creativity?!?) Without the past (via the roots, as when things die and decompose into the earth) and the future (from those who are starting out), the tree will slowly die.

And (I hope obviously), I think your story about the Italian dancers is rather sad, and that I hope academics from my neck of the woods aren’t doing anything similar. It’s a good cautionary tale though and, again, one that I intend to remember and think about if I’m ever in a situation where I’m involved in looking at a living tradition as an academic.

Right. I’m not sure I’m making much sense, or simply exposing my ignorance, but I’m damned hungry so I’m going to slope off and get myself some dinner. That tree metaphor looks suspiciously like the demented rantings of a hungry student……..

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More nice stuff to consider, but later… It’s Thai duck soup again tonight, this time with ~ Irish Soda Bread!!! :-)

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Ahhhh! ~ refreshed… Another nice contribution Andy, if also contributing to my worries… ;-)

Andy V: "50 years down the line if there’s not enough playing for dancing there could be trouble."

‘c’: No, you don’t have to wait 50 years. The general honk produced from sessions tends to be pretty awful on the whole, arhythmic, all over the place, sloppy, out of control, pushed, flat, blah! It might as well be a one of those Salsa conglomerates slapping bin lids and shouting. They have fun doing that too… Actually, maybe the Salsa bands have it on sessions for rhythm, on average? There are, of course and always, exceptions…

Andy V:
"It’s one of my few genuine criticisms of my course that there isn’t enough emphasis on instrumentalists playing for dancing. Considering the amount of time we spend in ensembles working on arranged music, dancing doesn’t come into things as much as I’d like. Given that some of the graduates from my course will go on to pursue careers involving the performance traditional music, it’d be troubling if they didn’t have much experience of playing for dancers."

‘c’: That is worrying. IT’S DANCE MUSIC!!! ~ on the whole… It is also that interaction and interdependancy between the two, music and dance as a unit. They will end up like the lifeless pablam that so many classical musicians create from dance music. The vast majority of mazurkas, waltzes, polkas, whatever ~ in the hands of the classically trained musician (or session musician) are duff, don’t lift my feet to the beat, don’t make me want to dance. Their dull, moving through the motions. It is obvious they haven’t a clue what ‘dance music’ or the form they’ve chosen to play or record means, what makes it what it is ~ makes it dance…

That is in part why there are so many awful players of things like polkas, because they can’t play them, they don’t understand them, they under-rate them, considered as ‘for beginners’, without realizing the problem isn’t the form or the melody, it’s their ignorance on the subject. It’s them that can’t give it lift and make it dance, not the tune or form that is at fault. Why are reels #1 on the session circuit, almost exclusively amongst some? Because they think it is all about speed. It goes by so fast that they don’t realize they’re doing the same thing to that form, beating it to death, without any lift, spirit or dance in it.

I’m presenting the worse case scenario here, of course, the worst sort of session bump and grind, the steam roller sessions…dominated by musicians whose ignorance with regards to the tradition includes being danceless, something akin to being clueless…

Re: The Invention of Tradition

Well, I mean that’s not to say that people don’t have experience playing for dancers. Just that there’s (and I have to be careful with what I say here) a solid proportion who haven’t got as much experience as perhaps they need if they want to become great players. Except that the problem is that courses such as mine provide people with opportunities that they might not ordinarily get: like for example I’m not bound to become the next Ian Carr (of course, that then opens up the debate as to whether I should want to be the next anyone), but I’ve got access to resources that might enable me to get further up the ladder of influence than I should. Not that I intend to, thank god! Apologies for being very self-centred, but I’m deeply anxious to avoid anything negative about my colleagues. So yeah, that’s sort of what I mean could be a problem.

At the end of the day (and it is, cos I’m tired), its one of those issues that simply don’t know the answer to. Bands like Lunasa, Unusual Suspects, Lau etc are great for drawing people in (and I’d be very happy to pay good money to see them play), but I think it’ll be very damaging to the tradition if this sort of thing becomes the music of influence. Much in the manner that I feel deeply uncomfortable when any concert from Newcastle’s folk degree are marketed as "Future Traditions presents:…" Personally I’d rather look to the rich and deep tradition we have now (and potentially stand a good chance of losing) than look to be re-writing it for the future.

N.B. I probably should let the topic rest at that I’m afraid. It’s not exactly smart for me to be critical on a public forum…. :-/

Re: The Invention of Tradition

Andy V, criticism should be about questioning things with the intent to find positive ways forward, and to overcome those things that cause stagnation or threaten what it is that carries our pasison for these traditions. Don’t avoid it, but yes, the one thing we can know best is ourselves, and the one thing we can have the greatest affect on for positive change is ourselves again, and through that, to affect the greater community we’re involved in… Not talking about it would be the worst thing you could do. Keep the spirit alive with constructive discussion, for which criticism is an important tool for positive change.

You’ve not been unfair in anyway, and I have valued your contributions and honesty… Feel no shame or worry in that. This music, this tradition ~ is public, however much some of us would like to keep it for ourselves or our select little cliques…

Where we differ, no, I wouldn’t save up my pennies to attend a Lunasa concert. I have other things I’d rather spend my pennies on. Right now, I’m saving up to get a bottle of whiskey for a friend… ;-)

Clarification: ~ to identify, define and work to overcome those things that cause stagnation or threaten this living thing we love…

Re: The Invention of Tradition

ceolachan, limited introduction of the rhinoceros to the wilds of the UK has already been effected.

Not far from Durham is Lambton Castle. in the 70s it had a menagerie (including a "Lion Park") from which animals incessantly escaped. A rhinoceros in due course did so.

It turned up in a village called Fencehouses. One account said it was found in a wood; another that it was in a pond. But my favourite one was that somebody found it in his allotment. It was duly, somehow, returned to custody.

Re: The Invention of Tradition

If I’m remembering rightly, I think the native here, way back when, was the pigmy rhino? That is a fragment of memory, so not necessarily reliable. We used to see muntjack occassionally on journeys around Cymru/Wales… On the Isle of Man we saw wallabies running around free…