Do you have to be Irish to play this music well?
Somebody commented recently about players who could rattle through all the tunes and, yet, fail to play them properly with the required “Irish lilt”. While I feel that everyone should strive to develop a playing style close to the real thing, I would suggest that it’s probably impossible to replicate it exactly if you are not Irish.
I think(that it was) Kevin Burke mentioned at fiddle workshop that there was a identifiable relationship and similarity between local speech/accents and local fiddle styles( This would probably be applicable to other instruments). There appears to be some truth in this e.g. compare the lilting style of Irish/West Coast of Scotland fiddling and speech to the more stilted and rigid East Coast of Scotland styles. I would suggest that there are also some similarities in the Northumbrian tradition. Of course, there are several variations in style in Ireland itself. An extreme example is that of Martin Hayes. His playing style certainly matches his speech but I don’t know which he has exaggerated the most!! 🙂)
I know of several great musicians from Scotland and England who, while they include some Irish tunes in their repertoire-and play them very well, do not play in a true Irish style. Of course, there are some great players of Irish music from the UK but the majority of them are of Irish descent/connection e.g. Michael McGoldrick, Karen Tweed, Claire Mann, Claire Mclaughlin and many more including Kevin Burke himself. A notable local exception is Kathryn Nicoll who was brought up on Scottish music but now plays an almost exclusively Irish repertoire. I think she’s brilliant but an Irish connoiseur might still notice the difference.
Now, I’m sure that there are many excellent musicians on this site(And I’m not including myself here) who are not Irish but come very close to playing the music as it should be. I know lots of Danes and Germans who play really well, for instance. However, I think it is extremely difficult for us non Irish people to get it exactly right. For instance, should you pick a particular regional style and immerse yourself in it or dabble in different styles(even non Irish music-I tend to play a bit of everything). If you learn tunes from other parts of Ireland or elsewhere, do you play them in the original style, your own style, or your adopted Irish style? Would you try to play Kerry style for polkas? Donegal style for tunes like Gravel Walks? There are lots of Scottish tunes in the Irish repertoire, for instance, but they sound very Irish when the local fiddlers etc play them e.g Miss McLeod etc.
Sorry about the length of this posting. Basically, I’m just suggesting that it might not be possible or necessarily desirable to completely emulate this music if you are an outsider. We should still all do our best to play it, though.