Interesting Article

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Quite relevant to the "learning tunes on the fly" debate, I think.

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Quite relevant to the "learning tunes on the fly" debate, I think.

# Posted by GaryAMartin

How so?

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I always though there was something different about the musicians in the Irish music culture. This just makes it more clear for me. Is all this stuff true in actuality? A bit of this article went over my head,

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I think it’s true, all in all, and well said.

As an American playing in American sessions, I especially enjoy seeing youngsters seeing live music for the first time. Sometimes they look amazed that grown people actually play music, and seem to enjoy it. In our session we’ve invited kids to sit in and play, or even to sit in and listen if they don’t. And we’ve given our "rapt attention" to youngsters who have dared to play solo whistle tunes. Said youngsters happened to be Irish, but living in America.

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I disagree. I read it twice and it just sems like banal waffle to me. It certainly isn’t, as the author claims in the last paragraph, ‘philosophy’, and there is little or nothing about these so-called cultural observations that wouldn’t apply to many other countries.

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The best and the worst thing about Irish music is that everyone plays the same thing. There are no parts. There are no arrangements. The good part is that everyone is in the same boat regardless of instrument. This means that everyone who plays can hand down the music to anyone who wants to learn it. The bad part, IMO, is that it is creatively limiting because one more or less at a session really doesn’t matter. In other genres, each person makes a contribution with instrumental breaks, accompaniment, harmonies, etc.

I can sit in a song circle and have no idea what kind of song or tune someone will do, or what genre and be able to play all night (not noodle, but play). I’ll do whatever is appropriate for the tune or sit out if flute does not seem a proper addition to the proceedings. My name is frequently called out to do breaks because the crowd I hang with know I can do it. It’s a very rewarding experience.

At sessions, I tend to feel a bit anonymous. If I don’t know the tune, I have to sit out. I am not one to learn a tune simply because it is played at a session I go to.

I love playing Irish, but I think the article is trying to discuss its distinctions in a light that is misleading. It finds virtue in simply what is with Irish music.

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This comment from ‘Cornelius’ follows the article. I totally agre with it:-
"this does not really make sense, the reason both concerts focussed on irish music is because they were primarily irish events, for irish people. The Albert hall concert has hardly registered in the english media - all the coverage is in Ireland. Irish traditional music is certainly strong, but it is fast changing and moving away from its roots as community music (example: many more session happen in Ireland during the summer - primarily because of tourism). In my opinion there are european countries with far stronger traditional culture (england is not one of them though)."

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This comment from ‘Cornelius’ follows the article. I totally agre with it:-
"this does not really make sense, the reason both concerts focussed on irish music is because they were primarily irish events, for irish people. The Albert hall concert has hardly registered in the english media - all the coverage is in Ireland. Irish traditional music is certainly strong, but it is fast changing and moving away from its roots as community music (example: many more session happen in Ireland during the summer - primarily because of tourism). In my opinion there are european countries with far stronger traditional culture (england is not one of them though)."

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There is one quote that I liked — "Many Irish traditional musicians describe themselves as ‘self-taught’, but it is only in a musical culture in which everyone is your teacher that this could happen"

The rest, as far as I’m concerned, is a ramble through the author’s little book of possibilities. There is no logic or reasoning, only assumptions — a nice idea, but groundless. It could well be that the culture and nature of the Irish people themselves resulted in the music we have, and not, as the author asserts, the other way round.

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@Gobby — while the English are rather exclusive in their approach to the arts, the Irish are more inclusive. If there’s one thing the authorities are good at, it is organising such events. They would know that English music would not be appropriate as a welcome, just as the Irish knew that their music would be.

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"It could well be that the culture and nature of the Irish people themselves resulted in the music we have, and not, as the author asserts, the other way round."
That makes far more sense!

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All the usual provisos: by it’s very nature trad isn’t terribly amenable to generalizations or attempts at universals, and this is no more than my own opinion. Recovering from last night’s Gradam Ceoil ceremony so no more than a ragbag of observations:

The author of the article, Toner Quinn, has done more than anyone I can think of in Ireland to raise the standard of writing about music in Ireland. As well as commentating on trad and contemporary music, he’s the publisher of the "The Journal of Music" (in it’s heyday one of the better arts magazine I’ve ever read). Unlike many arts critics, he’s a practitioner; hear his fiddle duet album with Malachy Bourke, Live at the Steeple Sessions. Concerning trad, he knows whereof he speaks. Does he sometimes show the tendency of an upper sixth scholarship boy, who’s brighter than his schoolmates but not as bright as he thinks he is, to work small observations into a thesis that doesn’t always bear it’s weight? Sure. An "interesting article", not for me. Normally I can find interesting nuggets amongst Toner’s sometimes overblown prose, but not here.

Ailin, if your main experience of trad is through pub sessions then I’m afraid you know very little of trad, which perhaps explains why you find the genre "creatively limiting". Pub sessions are, and always have been, primarily a social event with music as a lubricant. Sure every now and again a session, or at least a set or two really flies, and some session hounds are constantly trying to chase that high, but no-one serious about trad thinks the best music is to be found in unison playing in pub sessions. Solo playing (and the odd duet or trio) lies at the heart of the tradition.

Gobby (and Cornelius), similarly, no trad musician is going to use pub sessions as a measure of whether the music is "moving away from its roots as community music". Pub sessions are a small percentage of the music making that goes on in communities where trad is one of the binding ties. Sure even if, bizarrely, one were to take their number as a proxy, confusing the seasonal ebb and flow of "entertainment for tourists" sessions with … lets settle for genuine pub sessions (because I’m too tired to reach for a more precise and considered adjective) is again to fail to understand the reality of the ground. There are six regular weekly pub sessions, all going for years (at least one of which started in the sixties) within ten miles of me, not one of which closes for the winter, or appears in this site’s database. It’s community music, the only way to really understand it, at a level deeper than simply another musical genre, is to have lived in such a community.

For an illustration of the health of the music in local communities one only needs to look at last night’s recipients. How many of you will have heard of Bryan O’Leary, a local musician if ever there was one? A young man I’ve known since he was born, plays a local repertoire in a local style, all his music learnt in his community like thousands of young people across the country and in Irish communities abroad.

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I found the visual arts to be lonely and sought music as an alternative because it seemed more social. When I encountered Irish trad the social aspect was better than any other kind of music I had dabbled in. Add that to the fact that it was accessible by anyone from grannies to babies and you have something very special. Irish trad has now spread across nearly every continent… you can’t say that for many other types of folk music. It is Ireland’s greatest ambassador and has brought many people to Ireland that might not have considered it were it not for the music. There’s a multidimensional appeal, and that might be what the author is talking about.

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"There are six regular weekly pub sessions, all going for years (at least one of which started in the sixties) within ten miles of me…"

Lucky…

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I would question the validity of this article’s relentlessly upbeat assessments; to cite "in 2009, U2 committed to part-financing Ireland’s national music education programme, Music Generation. " with no mention of the well publicised tax avoidance by U2 is one example. I could be wrong in this, but would bet that U2’s sponsorship is a tiny fraction of what their elaborate accountancy has saved them.

Is the historic and increasing under investment in the arts that the article bemoans to be remedied by the charity of millionaires or by political campaigning to change the priorities of democratically elected authorities? Of course one doesn’t exclude the other, but tax avoidance is central to the deficit of accountability and equity in modern states; most of those "people in the everyday of life" don’t have the holding companies and offshore accounts to minimise their own contributions to society.

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My partner and I were at the Albert Hall for that concert on Thursday night. We enjoyed it, but from a trad point of view it was disappointing. A wonderful line up of musicians on stage, Donal Lunny, Mike McGoldrick, Andy Irvine, Paul Brady, and others, yet most of them were hardly heard! Just a bit of playing in the background, whilst a great deal of time was given to Elvis Costello, Imelda May and a couple of youngsters I’d never heard of. The Gloaming did a shortish set in the second half, but it was clearly near the end, after a big "Parting Glass" with everyone on stage, and it felt like an afterthought, with a lot of the audience getting restive.
OK the thing needed to be mainstream, but what a pity!
President Michael D did speak very well.

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"Ailin, if your main experience of trad is through pub sessions then I’m afraid you know very little of trad, which perhaps explains why you find the genre "creatively limiting". Pub sessions are, and always have been, primarily a social event with music as a lubricant. Sure every now and again a session, or at least a set or two really flies, and some session hounds are constantly trying to chase that high, but no-one serious about trad thinks the best music is to be found in unison playing in pub sessions. Solo playing (and the odd duet or trio) lies at the heart of the tradition."

Agreed, but my impression from the article is that the focus was on sessions, no?

In the U.S., sessions may pretend to be social events, but they are not, in my experience. In fact, there is almost no socializing at all. People come, people play, people leave. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I haven’t seen them.

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"In the U.S., sessions may pretend to be social events, but they are not, in my experience. In fact, there is almost no socializing at all. People come, people play, people leave. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I haven’t seen them."

Go to Austin, Tx and you will find two of those exceptions. I only spent a couple hours within’ a several week span with the musicians at these sessions. That’s not a lot of time(especially compared to the 36+ hours a week I spend with coworkers, most of them I don’t even speak to at work, let alone outside of work). However, over a course of a year and a half, these people became my friends, and I think highly of them. I always looked forward to seeing them, and it was always a good time playing with them. If one of them was absent, it was felt. And now, even though i’m almost 900 miles away, some of them still keep in touch with me. They helped me get started, were patient with me when I was learning, encouraging when I was struggling, and let me know when they noticed improvement.

There was no pretending.

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That’s wonderful, fiddlelearner. Where are you now? And are there sessions there?

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No, i’m in Kentucky and they play Bluegrass here. There’s only 1 other Irish trad musician in town and I have yet to officially meet him, though I have talked to him. Some Irish musicians down in Nashville told me about him when I visited their session. They were a friendly group of people as well and another exception for you.

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Perhaps I’m leaving the wrong impression. I’m not saying people aren’t friendly; they just don’t seem to think of the session as a social event. They take the occasion very seriously and focus on playing as the priority. In Ireland, I found that there can be a space of time between tunes, whereas here, there are no gaps between sets of tunes. I played a session last Sunday where the proprietor provided free drink to the musicians and I was the only one who didn’t have water. I’m not lying to you. I tried to get a little interaction going, since I didn’t know anyone. I got smiles, but not much else. At some sessions, I feel an undercurrent of tension regarding if it is all right for someone to start a set or sing a song. I imagine it is different in areas where everyone knows everyone else and people feel at ease to welcome a newcomer because their own place in the community is established, but I feel that Americans are somewhat intimidated by the music and thus tend to be a little guarded when they venture out. Or perhaps they take the opposite approach and try to dominate the session. I have experienced both.

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"In Ireland, I found that there can be a space of time between tunes, whereas here, there are no gaps between sets of tunes."

I’ve only been to enough Irish trad venues to count on two hands, and I haven’t been in the culture that long. But I think it may have something to do with accessibility? How many American cities do you know have sessions on the daily basis like in Ireland? I know I personally like to keep the tunes flowing cause I know it’ll be weeks or maybe even months until I get to play with others again. But that doesn’t stop me from asking my fellow musicians how they’ve been doing, or sharing how things have been going for me.

Do you live up north? People are known to be less social around those parts.

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I’m not making any judgments. All I’m doing is stating what I have experienced. Why or whether it is regional is immaterial. America simply does not have an Irish tradition outside of areas that have a hefty Irish immigrant population. We are pretenders to a tradition that is not our own and it simply does not play out the same way it does in Ireland.

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"…We are pretenders to a tradition that is not our own…"

Hey man, chill. Music is music. We’re not pretending to be Irish, we’re simply being musicians. Something that many of us have been all our lives. There is no pretending,

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As I’ve said, trad by it’s very nature is local so absolutes simply don’t work. Any idea that all pub sessions in Ireland are like this or like that, or that there’s a session on every doorstep simply isn’t true. Trad is a minority pursuit even in counties that would be classified as strongholds of the tradition.

What intrigues me is how the pub session, taken out of its … natural environment (again I’m being terribly lazy here but I suspect you get my drift) has morphed into so many different forms. I do wonder if some of the tensions one sometimes sees at sessions are a direct result of trying to make it something it’s not.

The thing is fiddlelearner, for a lot of trad musicians it’s more than just another genre of music. It’s one of several ties that bind a community, to its past, its present and its future, it links us to the land, to our history, and allows our music to live after us among those we’ve passed it on to. At its best, it’s an attempt to express the inexpressible. Asking me why I play trad is like asking me why I love my children.

Of course it’s perfectly fine to treat it as just another musical genre. If you simply like the tunes and the camaraderie of the pub session that’s great. If you aren’t playing local tunes for neighbors dancing local sets; if all your tunes have come to you from dots, or tapes, or YouTube; if sean-nós singing just sounds to you like an atonal, arhythmic nasal drone in a language barely spoken in its own country, sure where’s the harm. Just know that for some, there’s much more to it than that.

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Jerone, I don’t think Ailin’s "pretenders" comment was meant as a pejorative, just an observation on the rather sad state of community most of us experience in the US. Playing music together in public is seen as a performance, not something that just normally occurs when people who love music get together. So that puts a bit of pressure on the players to keep the tunes coming so that the bar/coffeeshop/whatever patrons are entertained. The patrons don’t care about how your garden is doing, they just want something going on while they sip a beverage.

That’s why I prefer my kitchen sessions. We have tunes, but we also find out what everyone is up to. The music is what brought us together in the first place, but I like to think that there is more than that that keeps us hanging out.

Hurler, I see your point. But where I live, we are all from somewhere else. Most of us chose to come here for our own reasons. That might just be an American thing to do: we all keep moving west until we pile up against the coast. 🙂 Then we spend the rest of our lives trying to rebuild the network of relationships that we left behind.

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Nicely put, Michele.

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Can’t we just tell everyone that Johnny Moynihan or someone brought Opera to Ireland? After a while everyone will believe that Opera actually began in Ireland and then the next time a Head of State visits we can regale them with Irish Opera, instead of only trad? 🙂

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Why is everyone talking about trad? The author of the article was writing about the contemporary and future musical culture of Ireland. I have never even set foot in Ireland but surely its contemporary musical culture is not restricted to trad? Neither is its musical culture uniquely Irish. I’ve read that your youth prefer country and western (but PLEASE correct me). The article still makes no sense to me.

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I liked this quote: "Irish musical culture clearly takes a broader approach than just sending children to lessons. It is a communal philosophy of music and it has served Ireland terribly well, not just musically, but culturally, economically and socially."

While I can’t comment on how well this idea has served Ireland, I really approve of the idea of music education being more than just sending children to lessons. I know a lot of Americans who took lots of music lessons as children, often becoming quite proficient, only to quit completely as soon as they go off to college and become independent. Their parents seemed to think that music lessons were "necessary" for their children, but they never integrated the music into some kind of community or family life. That’s one thing that any kind folk or traditional music appears to do better than classical. I took classical piano and violin lessons as a child, and worked on piano up into college. Then I picked up guitar, and found friends who played bluegrass, and then old-time, and now ITM and contradance music.

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Ok Michele, and Hurler, I see your point.

Hurler, I remember a couple years ago back when I was very in practice and still pretty much a baby in this music. I was playing for some friends out in public, and an older gentleman pulled me aside and told me how much he appreciated the music I played. He went on to tell me that he remembered that when he was a kid his family would get to together and play tunes and the set I did brought back memories and made him very nostalgic. There was this very sweet energy I felt from him, and it felt like a little hint of how much The Music means to your culture.

Sorry Ailin, I took your comment as saying that we should stick to our own traditions instead of sharing others(which has been thrown at me a few times, on the site and in public with people that aren’t even Irish)… but I see what you’re saying now. One reason why I love the Irish session culture so much is because, as inaccessible as it is, it’s easier to find a session than it is to organize a get together with your musical friends, in any other style of music here. I met some musicians at work, and they’re always too busy to get together to share music. It’s so frustrating.

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A third notable aspect about Irish musical culture is that musicians will, in general, play with anyone"
Unfortunately not true, as a result of Comhaltas encouraging competitiveness, a competitive attitude is now evident among some Comhaltas musicians, because they have won some trophy or competition, some of them have over inflated egos, and will not play with anyone.

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There are quite a few multi-cultural musical communities around here (NE USA) that have adopted Irish music and the Irish approach to music. In fact, people of Irish descent, while they are certainly present, are usually in the minority. We have folks whose ancestors came from all over the world. It’s not the blood that ties us together, its the music and the way it is shared.

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Ailin writes: "In the U.S., sessions may pretend to be social events, but they are not, in my experience. In fact, there is almost no socializing at all. People come, people play, people leave. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I haven’t seen them."

When you make a statement like this you should replace "US" with whatever your local is because I live in the US and haven’t had the same experience as you. The US is a huge place and to make a blanket statement like that doesn’t represent the entire country… not where I am anyway.

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" ‘A third notable aspect about Irish musical culture is that musicians will, in general, play with anyone’
Unfortunately not true, as a result of Comhaltas encouraging competitiveness, a competitive attitude is now evident among some Comhaltas musicians, because they have won some trophy or competition, some of them have over inflated egos, and will not play with anyone."

Perhaps you should have added, after "unfortunately not true", the words ‘as to some’. My experience does not conform to yours. My musical accomplishments are modest at best, but I’ve been around, and played a few tunes with, some of the world’s very finest performers of Scottish trad. and Irish trad. music, indeed have hosted some of them at my home, and I rarely encounter those folks that you state "will not play with anyone." Did you mean to paint with such a broad brush?

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@phantombutton,

You’re right, of course. I thought I covered your point by stating it was only my experience, but perhaps I should have simply started by saying where I live, except I don’t think the attitude is regional. I have played in other states and other parts of my own state (California) and find it all to be the same. However, I did find it different pretty much everywhere I went in Ireland (not just the tourist traps), but still your point is well taken.

@fiddlelearner,

I definitely hear you, my friend.

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I was at a place in New Orleans called "The Irish House" a few months ago. They had a session on a Monday night, and it was filled with musicians, playing, chatting, etc. They were a very welcoming group, even inviting me to borrow an instrument and sit in. I declined, as I’d only been playing for a couple of months, and although my tone is pretty good, my fingers are still much slower than they need to be!

It was a very social session - they were there for the music, yes, but really for the craic. A good bunch of people.

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""In the U.S., sessions may pretend to be social events, but they are not, in my experience. In fact, there is almost no socializing at all. People come, people play, people leave. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I haven’t seen them."

I go to a weekly session in the Washington, DC area. Have been attending for a few months now, and it’s very social. Everyone is friendly, and while we are certainly there to play music, we definitely do our share of chatting. In fact, a few weeks back, I remember the proprietor at the establishment walking past and asking us "is this a playing session or a talking session?" I’ve made friends and spent time with a few people from our session, outside of the session. There are two others I have tried in the area, and one has a very active Facebook page and seemed very social, and the other one, we played about 2/3 of the time and chatted the other third.

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Okay, maybe I need to get out more. 🙂

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Perhaps you do Ailin. This article confirms to me that our little session gets it right. Perhaps I’m just lucky though. Jerome, I’ve yet to visit a session in Austin, but it’s nice to hear that they’re a good bunch of folks too.

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"Ailin writes: ‘In the U.S., sessions may pretend to be social events, but they are not, in my experience. In fact, there is almost no socializing at all. People come, people play, people leave. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I haven’t seen them…’ " (Phantom Button)

Possibly, in some US sessions things like these may apply:

(a) Attenders may come from afar, and not be neighbours living in the same district;
(b) They may be intense adult learners, not people who’ve learnt how to play in early life and don’t
feel they have to be "eyes down" on the music the whole time;
(c) If they’re driving, they can’t lubricate themselves overmuch with alcohol…

:-🙂

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Gobby, "I’ve read that your youth prefer country and western"! Funniest comment I’ve read on this board in years! With the exception of trad, I’m pretty sure the musical preferences of Ireland’s youth are pretty much in line with their peers in the UK and US. I’d bet if I polled the kids at the local secondary school while about 1 in 20 would play trad (it’s the rare teenager that listens to trad but doesn’t play), not one would express a fondness for c&w and the vast majority would barely have a clue what I was on about. Sure there’s a c&w scene (it grew out of the show band scene of the fifties and sixties) and like trad it’s in the background of popular consciousness (though nowadays probably further back) but outside of the over fifties of Connemara (they love a maudlin ballad and a dance there, which is why it’s a stronghold for sean-nós song and dance, and set dancing) most people, let alone young people, would barely know it existed. I suspect the article makes no sense to you because, to be brutal, you’ve had few dealing with Ireland, Irish musicians, and certainly Irish young people.

Michele, I’ve lived, worked and played in the US so am all too familiar with the "huddled masses" and westward expansion mythos. Obviously tens of thousands of people across the world with no connection at all to Ireland play trad tunes simply because they like to and not because the tunes carry any additional resonance or psychic weight for them. Music making, pretty much for whatever reason or even better without much of a reason, is a wonderful thing. What intrigues me is that the aspects of trad that these musicians have latched on to, are the same aspects that many musicians born to the music find the least interesting. I’m not making any value judgement at all, I simply find it intriguing. But as I repeatedly say, trad is terribly heterogeneous: the way it manifests in one place can be very different from another (even within Ireland). I should probably say that I’ve played in hundreds of pub and kitchen sessions in the US, from the eastern to the western seaboard, over the years and enjoyed most everyone of them.

John Townsend, people are people; not every trad musician is a fountain of virtue. It’s a real shame you’ve encountered such musicians. But more so that you’ve linked their ill manners to Comhaltas, the fleadh and winning an All Ireland (surely to God they’re not crowing about winning the Mid Atlantic!). I’ve been attending, playing in, organizing, and adjudicating at fleadhs for the best part of fifty years. I’ve played with an awful lot of the winners over the years and it’s clear, at least to me, that those very few musicians who behave like eejits over winning, don’t need an excuse to behave like eejits.

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"What intrigues me is that the aspects of trad that these musicians have latched on to, are the same aspects that many musicians born to the music find the least interesting."

Which aspects are those? Just curious because I find this statement a little mystifying and don’t know what you mean. 🙂 Obviously if your family and neighbors don’t play it, you won’t have that connection to it but even if they do, you still have to like the tunes at the end of the day. There are more people in Ireland who don’t play trad than who do, regardless of having it in their blood.

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The perceived popularity of C&W over trad, among the general populace of Ireland was summed up by a cynic who said something like "yeah, it’s not Seamus Begley they want - it’s Philomena Begley!" 🙂

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Doc Silver, pub session playing, group unison playing without dancers, having to know tune names, finding the exact notation …

Not sure the point of your last sentence. Of course trad is a minority interest, even in Ireland, even in the stronghold counties. Oh wait I said that earlier in the thread! As for "having it in their blood", to me that connotes being born into a family that plays trad. In my experience it’d be the rare child born in that circumstance that didn’t play. As I’ve opined here before, playing trad well seems to me to have nothing to do with nationality and everything to do with community.

Jim, oh to be sure she’d win on name recognition among the general populous. Think Lulu.

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For a lot of people, the pub session seems to be a vehicle to get out and pretend (in some cases, it really is pretending) that you have a social life. There’s a lot more to it than just playing tunes in unison, for North Americans and Brits.

To address your other points, I have a terrible memory for tune names and I’m even worse at reading dots. I think it’s *some* people who think those things are important. It is most certainly *not* the British and American players I know who are actually good.

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C’mon Doc, you can do better than that. When my first post on the thread started "by it’s very nature trad isn’t terribly amenable to generalizations or attempts at universals" did you really think that later down I was proposing the generalization that ALL "these musicians have latched on to, are the same aspects that many musicians born to the music find the least interesting"? Count the number of times I qualify my remarks with "in my experience", "in my opinion", "some", "many". I really am so very sorry that I didn’t do so I that particular sentence or indeed on the last post. I see it now, I’ve labelled all those non-Irish musicians playing trad as shallow tune chasers. God forgive me.

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Hey dude, you were the one to say that the Yanks focus on the wrong stuff. DSS was just asking for clarification. Perhaps it’s your attempt at clarification that is ‘flopping around’.

"What intrigues me is that the aspects of trad that these musicians have latched on to, are the same aspects that many musicians born to the music find the least interesting."

Care to try again?

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Obviously my reading of what you meant by "the aspects these musicians have latched on to, are the same aspects that many musicians born to the music find the least interesting" was incorrect. Sorry, it does read a bit like a generalization, one that doesn’t reflect my experience, and needless to say, I don’t know what you are thinking as you write a post. If you mean "some," then say "some." Don’t assume it is implied nor throw sarcastic invective at me because I misread the meaning of your sentence and got a little annoyed at the generalizations and assumptions I thought I was reading about people like me.

Perhaps a bit like your reaction to Gobby’s comments on Country and Western music…?

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Cross-post with Cheeky Elf.

Feel a bit better now; it wasn’t just me and my floppy prose who read (misread?) that comment as having a mildly pejorative tone.

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So can you clarify the "pretend … you have a social life " ? Do you mean it’s like meeting up with your mates for a drink, chat and a game of dominos or shove-ha’penny ? Isn’t that *part* of a real social life ?

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No Dr, it wasn’t just you. I don’t even know what hurler means by "the aspects these musicians have latched on to, are the same aspects that many musicians born to the music find the least interesting". What do you mean by that hurler?

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I meant that sessions provide an opportunity to interact with and meet people that, I think, is fairly unique. Because you can go to the pub and just sit down with people who are otherwise complete strangers and play tunes (all caveats about session etiquette apply). Maybe you’ll make great friends with those people. Maybe you’ll simply see their faces every week or month and just play tunes, but never have any conversation deeper than, "what was the name of the last one?" Maybe you’re traveling alone and going to the local session and having a few tunes, some human interaction in an unknown place, sure as hell beats watching TV in your hotel room.

Sessions are far better, at least for me, when there’s banter and camaraderie between sets of tunes, but I have encountered people in my travels who, for whatever reason, struggle to interact socially but feel like they can have some kind of place in and connection to the community by participating in a session. I will admit that I have gone through phases of going to sessions just to feel like I was getting out a bit, but never formed any kind of lasting friendships to people in a particular session. Nowadays — maybe because I live in the middle of nowhere — I’m more inclined to schlep to a session if I want to see and play tunes with the people who I know are going to be there.

Obviously the word "pretend" was the wrong one to use. I’ll ‘fess up to that bit of sloppy prose. 🙂

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"Obviously tens of thousands of people across the world with no connection at all to Ireland play trad tunes simply because they like to and not because the tunes carry any additional resonance or psychic weight for them. Music making, pretty much for whatever reason or even better without much of a reason, is a wonderful thing. What intrigues me is that the aspects of trad that these musicians have latched on to, are the same aspects that many musicians born to the music find the least interesting."

"did you really think that later down I was proposing the generalization that ALL "these musicians have latched on to, are the same aspects that many musicians born to the music find the least interesting"?"

Ah, right. Not a generalization at all. "Tens of thousands" of people is different than "ALL". *rolls eyes*

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FWIW I thought it was perfectly obvious what hurler meant … but maybe that is just me.

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Thanks DSS. I understand now. Away from the travelling alone situation couldn’t it be seen as one of those many activities that someone, new in town maybe, would do to get out and meet some people with shared interests ?

I think one of Hurler’s points was that, where he is, the tunes were one part of a social group that had pre-existing links.

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Getting back to the article. Interesting, but I would have liked more comment on his observations in the first couple of paragraphs. It struck me as wierd to invite someone over and then invite a load of his countrymen over to entertain him. If the line up was mainly for the benefit of the Irish population of the UK then it’s not particulary surprising that the bulk of the UK media didn’t pay much attention - they don’t pay much attention to UK traditional music either.

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I’m just sitting here thinking, "he can’t be talking about melodies?".

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I am wondering we we would be having such a vigorous debate on the legitimacy of non-Irish born and non- Ireland raised ITM musicians if we were discussing say, non-Blacks playing blues or jazz or non-Hispanics playing samba. Would there be a strong defense by Blacks saying that unless you shared the historical and cultural identity of Blackness and grew up surrounded by Blackness you could never really understand blues and other Black genres. Could that be better understood aside other than from political correctness and sense of guilt stemming from centuries of oppression in America and around the world.

Would there be a bit more deference to the sensitivity of the issues out of respect and racial sensitivity. I think that Irish-born and breed Irish musician have a some right to consider themselves justified in taking a similar posture and having a bit of possessiveness about the music that is the soul of Ireland.

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"Would there be a strong defense by Blacks saying that unless you shared the historical and cultural identity of Blackness and grew up surrounded by Blackness you could never really understand blues and other Black genres. "

Well, is there? Lots more people, of many nationalities, races, identities, play jazz and blues. Do they have these discussions in the jazz world? I have no idea.

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Like wise, would if Black Jamaicans scoffed at and were annoyed by the idea of a group of suburban whites (or perhaps Oxford legacy admits) grew grew dread locks. Or would there be a bit of respect for the shared history of oppression and distinct differences in the English accent that allowed Reggae to evolve with such the wonderfully different change in beat emphasis.

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Buckle up! We’re flying off the rails now…

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I don’t know. Seems like it would be understandable if some Irish-born and breed musicians maintained that there is something qualitatively different about their shared Irish cultural history, a millennium of oppression, a unique language and unique accent if English is spoken - all of which all cooked together in the same cauldron. I doubt if anyone of them would say the rest of the world should not play ITM. However, I myself can understand and be a bit tolerant to those Irish musicians who feel they are the keepers of the faith - the gold standard by which authenticity is measured.

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The word "blood" (and subsequent mention of genetically linked characterstics) was introduced to the discussion by people from North America. An "Irish-born and bred" (I assume) poster gave a more cultural slant to the concept of "in the family" which fits better with my experience of Irish musicians from families of Irish origin in the UK.

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Tom, we have a certain sorefingered gold standard keeper of the flame that will ocassional make his way to our session and express exactly those views. Don’t overestimate your tolerance and understanding is all I can say about that. We’ll be more than happy to send him your way next time he shows up if you wish.

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Hello Cheeky,

Ad hominum, and anecdotal but please send him my way.

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I can’t help feeling that all this chatter is making hurler’s point rather well. There’s been lots of stuff about the music itself, "authenticity", how to play the tunes, who can or can’t play the tunes etc etc. All of which misses the point completely, IMO.

I read hurler’s posts as simply saying that it isn’t really - or isn’t just - about the music. Maybe it isn’t even about the music at all. It’s about a way of life and how traditional Irish music fits into it. It’s not about the antiquity of it, or where it came from, or where it’s going to; it’s about the music’s place in certain local communities in Ireland. I would imagine that there are other parts of the world where music plays a similar role. But I don’t think there’s anywhere where traditional Irish music takes its part in this kind of setup, except in Ireland. It’s a whole social structure, in which music is just one part.

As hurler also said, or at least implied (being lazy myself now, having just come back from Ireland - got back this minute - so I haven’t bothered to go back and quote him) if you like the tunes and you want to play them, however you want, then good luck to you - hurler was not making the kind of exclusive and excluding point that, it seems to me, Tom has just made in his last several posts. However, it would be good to be aware that the music is part of something completely different in many parts of Ireland. It’s not something that *couldn’t* be replicated elsewhere, given enough time - it’s just that it hasn’t in fact happened anywhere else.

@hurler: I apologise if I’m putting words in your mouth here. The above represents the way I see it rather than being an attempt to second guess you. But your posts do seem to me to fit with what I’m saying.

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Ben, I didn’t make any exclusive or inclusive point nor was that the essence of the posts.

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They came across to me as being of the old type that says "What would you [insert any non-Irish origin] people know about Irish music? It’s hard to read them any other way, as far as I can see, Tom. If you didn’t mean that, what did you mean?

But anyway, my point was mainly about hurler’s previous comments which seem to have struck a raw nerve with a few people, for reasons that are not completely clear to me.

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Yeah, okay, but that’s a different point than the one about non-Irish Irish music players "latching onto" things that Irish Irish music players find unimportant, and when I asked for clarification on what those were, Hurler responded, "pub session playing, group unison playing without dancers, having to know tune names, finding the exact notation …"

And I thought, "Huh?" I agreed with some of those points, i.e. the session being the focal point of a lot of people’s music, especially for us lowly, useless amateurs who aren’t likely to be getting many professional gigs or invited to the circles for the right sort of tunes, but some of the others…. really? Then he got narky at me because he wasn’t generalizing, and, as Teagan has pointed out, limiting the scope of your claim to "tens of thousands of people" is, of course, not generalizing.

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What I am not clear about is whether the place of the local music in the family and community life in the place where Hurler lives is that much different from brass band music in some northern English families (I know of from direct contact) or accordian & fiddle or pipe band music in some Scottish families (have read about).

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Ben, Sorry I don’t have any idea what you are talking about.

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Fine. I can live with that.

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I don’t think gathering to play music with friends and family, or having a music session in a pub or bar, is an exclusive feature of Irish music. And those gatherings being as much about gabbing as music is not unique. Nor is Irish culture the only culture that values making music for its own sake. And certainly, gathering with friends to lift a few pints is universal. None of us overseas is pretending we are something that we’re not—we are just having fun playing tunes.

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"Would there be a strong defense by Blacks saying that unless you shared the historical and cultural identity of Blackness and grew up surrounded by Blackness you could never really understand blues and other Black genres. "

The older generation(about 2 generations back) would care more than we and the next generation do. An older black "gentleman"(who was a stranger and looked like he was in his 60’s) saw me playing fiddle, boldly looked at me and said, "What are you doin’ with that, that’s for white people." But people around my age, thugs, jerks, and gentleman, express a respect for my open-minded musicality even though they poke fun at my interest in other cultures.

I often get slagged for my artistic and style choices, many people black and white claiming that I’m not black because of the way I communicate and carry myself. But none of them would dare say that I don’t know anything about the hip-hop culture cause they know I do.

What intrigues me is that often, with the Irish Americans that I’ve met, they don’t care one bit that I’m black. One lady even went as far as saying, "You have an Irish heart". I feel more accepted by them than "my own" people. It’s like black culture has given me a rejection letter while the Irish have given me a cordial invitation into their culture.

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I was playing gospel on my harmonica in church on Sunday, fiddlelearner, which is my favorite genre of religious music. And there are probably folks who wonder why I like "black people’s" music so much. We follow our hearts, where ever they lead us. 🙂

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More than a few times I’ve meet a musician, or run into one I haven’t seen in years, and gotten an attitude along the lines of ‘I guess it’s ok for you to play Irish music since your last name begins with Mc’. They usually look a little confused when I explain to them that it really doesn’t have much if anything to do with that. I even had an Asian friend say ‘but it’s not like I could show up and start playing jigs, right?’, and of course I explained that he would in fact be very welcome to do so, providing he left the Marshall stack at home.

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fiddle learner- The black people who have told you that the fiddle is "for white people" are ignorant of their own cultural history. There is a long tradition, often overlooked, of Afro- American fiddle playing predating the Civil War. Check out the Carolina Chocolate Drops who have researched and revived this tradition. They are wonderful-fantastic singers and multi-instrumentalists. Interestingly, there is some common ground between this and Irish music, which they have also explored.

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So, I’m probably catching the tail end of a big debate, but, I’ll throw my 0.02 in the pot, maybe it’ll be enough after this to buy a new set of strings.
Does Ethnicity really matter, as far as Irish music goes? Sure, lots of people playing it have no cultural ties to Ireland, but, we can still appreciate the music on many levels. In lots of Songs I’ve been listening to (In the Double Play Album) the words are very specificly targetted for somebody who isn’t American. "A pound a week raise" for example, is clearly set somewhere in either the UK/Ireland or that area. I haven’t looked at a map and probably won’t be able to. The message is something along the lines of "well, our government screwed us over, that sucks, and we worked so hard, too"
Many people from different walks of life can appreciate that statement or idea. Do you really need to be Irish to understand Irish music, or appreciate it for the interesting melodies?
Can’t we all just relax and get back to the music? :P

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Yes. Yes we can.

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Funny but I understand all the comments and debate in this discussion better than I can understand the original article. And thanks Hurler for easing my mind about the country and western misinformation. I feel much better.

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Somebody start a discussion about black fiddle players! (I’m too lazy to chair it). I think we’ve had one once before but it would be good to challenge the myth that fiddle playing is not and has not been part of black culture. I hate the thought that music should not transcend and change cultural boundaries. The richness feeds us.

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Amen Gobby, tribalism gains us nothing, and only allows The Man keep us down.

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I could easily see how the Irish character, humour, philosophy, history et al would be needed to produce / invent / define what we know as traditional Irish music, which differs from, say, Scottish music, which was invented by people with different character, humour etc. However, once the music is there, I see no reason why someone from another culture couldn’t reproduce it, having heard it — provided that person had the necessary faculties. Having been brought up with Scottish music, but born and bred in England, as soon as I heard Irish music I realised that it suited my character better than either English or Scottish, or indeed any other music I had heard. I thank the Irish people for creating it, but I don’t think you have to be Irish to play it — provided the clothes fit, as it were.

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Anyway, Here is what I said - above - here was said!
"Seems like it would be understandable if some Irish-born and breed musicians maintained that there is something qualitatively different about their shared Irish cultural history, a millennium of oppression, a unique language and unique accent if English is spoken - all of which all cooked together in the same cauldron. I doubt if any one of them would say the rest of the world should not play ITM. However, I myself can understand and be a bit tolerant to those Irish musicians who feel they are the keepers of the faith - the gold standard by which authenticity is measured."

Nothing about non-Irish Nationionals not being able to play or should not play ITM. I it was about, I hate to restate the obvious, about being tolerant of !!some!! born and raised Irish musicians who - see above - feel they are keepers ect ect blah blah. This was being compared face to face with perhaps some Black Jamaicans who might be annoyed by say, a band of say, white British peers in dreadlocks playing reggae ect and how that annoyance might be better tolerated than we tolerate !!some!! native Irish musicians who do the same from time to time.

I don’t think I or anyone here even came close to saying that non Native Irish shouldn’t play - or had no right to play ITM - nothing even close! To say that and then to even go further and say that non Blacks shouldn’t play black genre’s is just total obfuscation and a straw man argument.

I leave this conversation completely agreeing that anyone should be able to play what they want anytime anywhere - that Botswanian musicians should be able to play Hungarian folk tunes and all the other analogies.
And that some we should be just a bit tolerant and even amused by the fact that !!some!! Hungarian folk musicians might be annoyed by the show. Play on.

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Well, we’re all agreed that anybody can play anything then. So that’s all good.

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I suppose that our work here is done then.

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One can but hope.

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I can’t play a high G whistle… my fingers are too big.

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I think you wandered into the wrong thread, PB! 😉