Back from Ireland - My Impressions
[I cross-posted this to the Slowsession list, but thought it might be appreciated here as well. My apologies if you’ve read this already.]
I just thought I would check in and let everyone know that I’m back from Ireland. I did a lot of stuff while I was there, but insofar as the music is concerned I attended two events that were incredible.
Starting on Friday, Oct. 19, I attended a three-day Comhaltas workshop for beginner/intermediates in Dublin. My flute teacher was a wonderful player by the name of June McCormack (she plays in a Dublin based band called Siona). June was a great teacher and the 20 punts I paid for the classes was well worth it, as I was one of 2-3 students in her class. So, I got a lot of one-on-one attention. There were a lot of young kids in attendance, but there were also a number of adult beginners as well.
The Comhaltas folk pretty much adopted me while I was there. They drove me around, fed me, and kept me going in the right direction. I can’t say enough nice things about them and Sarah-Jane Woods, who organized the workshops.
I also attended the Cooley-Collins Festival in Gort, Galway, on Sat., Oct. 27th. Though it’s an accordion-centric festival, Gort was pretty much taken over by trad musicians of all sorts and each pub had anywhere from 1-3 sessions going on at once. I also got to see the Tulla Ceili Band in action, which was a lot of fun. All the musicians I met in Gort were great folks and I didn’t encounter any elitism regarding my being a beginner or a Yank.
Which brings me to a lesson I learned that might be valuable to folk on the this list, and might stir a hornet’s nest as well. Many moons ago and on another list, there was a protracted and sometimes contentious discussion on ear-learning versus reading music. As I remember, I came down squarely on the side of it being okay to learn from notation. Now that I’ve been to Ireland and participated in Irish sessions while there, I think I need to modify my stance slightly.
I _still_ think learning from notation isn’t a bad thing when you have no other options, but not being able to pick up tunes by ear was my biggest and most frustrating disadvantage while in Ireland. In my workshops in Dublin, my two classmates were probably about 12-13 years old. June would play a couple of measures, and the kids could play it back slowly almost note-for-note. In one hour, the kids picked up two basic jigs by ear. On the other hand, I may as well have been missing several fingers. At the end of the class, June gave the students the notation to allow us to make sure we kept playing the tune right.
Both in Dublin and at the Gort sessions, I was approached by talented musicians who saw that I was a courteous beginner and wanted to teach me a tune or two. The fact that I couldn’t pick up tunes by ear was frustrating for both me and them…because they _really_ wanted to help me out (and these folk don’t walk around with pages of notation in their pockets). As a consolation, I was able to record tunes on a mini-disc recorder (which worked perfectly, by the way) I had purchased for the trip, but it wasn’t the same…and it still means that I have to learn those tunes by ear.
As I said, I don’t think notation is evil. In many cases, being able to read music is a great advantage. But in retrospect, I have to admit that ear training is not just a luxury when learning traditional Irish music. It’s almost a necessity, especially if you go to Ireland and hope to fully participate and appreciate the scene. Quite simply, that is how the majority of players in Ireland learn and exchange music.
I hope this post doesn’t stir up too many tempers. I know that many players in more remote locations don’t have access to the music except by notation, and I’m sensitive to that.
I can only report the facts. The fact is that I had a wonderful time in both Gort and Dublin despite my disadvantage. It is also a fact that I’m going to work hard on ear training before I go back next year so I don’t have to sit there twiddling my thumbs while everyone around me exchanges tunes with relative ease. It’s gonna suck. It’s gonna be hard. But it’s just part of the Irtrad package, as far as I can tell.