Definition of Traditional Irish Music

Definition of Traditional Irish Music

From Vallely, The Companion to Irish Traditional Music

“Traditional Music. The term used to denote the older dance music and song in Ireland, this distinct from both modern “folk” music, ninteenth-century “national” and “popular” music, and early nineteenth-century “parlour” national songs - although all of these have exerted influences on it…It is European music. In structure, rhythmic pattern, pitch arrangement, thematic content of songs, it most closely resembles the traditional music of Western Europe. The bulk of it comes from the past, and is of some antiquity. Much of the repertory is known to have been current in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Some is earlier in origin, and it is likely that some very old melodies and lyrics survive adapted to modern forms…the bulk of the instrumental music played is fast isometric dance music - jigs, reels, and hornpipes for the most part. String, wind, and free-reed melody instruments predominate - especially fiddle, whistle, flute, uilleann pipes, concertina and accordion, and percussion instruments are of minor importance.

Re: Definition of Traditional Irish Music

It is really hard to explain properly. I always felt that the term traditional music, does not really describe what Ireland’s instrumental heritage is. This is just a name for it. It does not tell us what it really is. However, I can offer one easy description. Traditional, means that it is handed down. It has been passed down, from generation to generation.

Re: Definition of Traditional Irish Music

Fair enough Michael, yet for example Charlie Lennon’s book of his own tunes is subtitled ; Traditional Irish music. So perhaps its fair to say that it actually describes music that fits within a genre, so some modern tunes can be called traditional because they maintain certain characteristics considered essential to the genre? look at song like this modern classic;https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cL7jyXCQ2Zc

Re: Definition of Traditional Irish Music

“…Charlie Lennon’s book of his own tunes is subtitled ; Traditional Irish music. So perhaps its fair to say that it actually describes music that fits within a genre, so some modern tunes can be called traditional because they maintain certain characteristics considered essential to the genre?”

You could take ‘Traditional Music’ to mean that the *genre of music* in question is the result of a tradition, regardless of the age of the tunes within that traditional. So a newly composed tune could be considered ‘traditional’ in the sense that it belongs to a genre of music that is traditional but, at the same time, ‘not traditional’ because the tune itself has not yet been passed on within the tradition.

Re: Definition of Traditional Irish Music

I suppose there has very generally been an immediacy in the transmission of Irish traditional music that has not been there in other forms; i.e., somebody has heard a particular person close by playing a tune, has picked it up in due course and probably asked its name - and may later tell someone else, “That’s the So-And-So Jig, I got it from So-And-So.” No further or more distant pedigree required - though of course many are keenly interested in the history of particular tunes and musicians - and the music, maybe of the highest quality, happens in the pub down the road, so to speak, at any rate geographically and socially close to home.

Rather different in the case of a kid taking Classical music lessons. The source material tends to have been composed by long-dead Continentals for performance in Ruritanian courts maybe not so different from the houses of Carolan’s patrons, an environment now gone. Careful grading and a long period of one-to-one tuition by professional teachers are needed to mediate the music to a kid. He or she has to bite the bullet of a lot of practice in solitude, and if in a family who is not really interested in music, or among peers who are antagonistic to Classical music as ‘posh’, then isolation can become a defining part of that kid’s musical or other development.

Classical music has immediacy in its beauty - it has survived the changes in its modern-era environment - but getting to play it is hardly immediate. More like The Narrow Road To The Deep North, it can seem…or a very long paper-chase through the dots.

Re: Definition of Traditional Irish Music

Definition of Traditional Irish Music: something that’s vaguely associated with things traditional, vaguely Irish and probably musical. That’s about as tight a definition as I would be prepared to countenance.

Re: Definition of Traditional Irish Music

I don’t know, Ben. That might be too stringent.🙂

Re: Definition of Traditional Irish Music

Yeah y’re right. 🙂

Re: Definition of Traditional Irish Music

Definitions are fine, but don’t forget to adopt the correct scowls while playing it 🙂

Re: Definition of Traditional Irish Music

I think it is more about attitude and ethos than anything concrete, Traditional music is all about ad hoc groups of people getting together to make music just (or mainly) for the fun of it. Here in Scotland we have sessions, ceilidh bands, fiddle orchestras, pipe bands etc. etc. All playing largely the same repertoire of tunes, but if someone mentions ‘Scottish Traditional Music’ I always assume that they are referring to the session type situation, not the more formal renderings of the same tunes.

Re: Definition of Traditional Irish Music

Tomas O Canainn in ‘Traditional Music in Ireland’ writes:

“It is difficult to define and analyse the basic elements of traditional music in Ireland. Clearly the adjective ‘traditional’ implies that something in the music is being passed from one generation of performers to the next. Most of them are aware of the traditional process to some extent, and of their place in it, but would find it difficult to define what exactly they mean by ‘traditional’. Nevertheless, without any knowledge of the history of a piece of music they are able to describe it as either traditional or not on first hearing.

This implies that the music has certain features of melody, rhythm, style, structure, or phrasing which put it, for them, into the traditional category…

Yes one must face the fact that some of the best-known pieces in the traditional musicians’ repertoire are of fairly recent origin. They are accepted because they conform in some way to the performers’ concept of what is traditional… They have, as it were, dispensed with the years of moulding and reshaping that are a part of oral transmission and have taken their place in the living tradition.“

That’s pretty darn good. Defining “Irish traditional music” is like trying to define “art”, in that you often end up with circular definitions:

“Art is that which artists make.”

and

“An artist is he who makes art.”

etc.

In music, it was said during his lifetime that

“Louis Armstrong IS jazz.”

(I think in response to somebody asking “what is jazz?”)

Re: Definition of Traditional Irish Music

Seisuns or sessions came out of the 1960s.

I get the sense that we all generally understand what “Traditional” means, at least to us. But to the outsider, the term specifically refers to “Ancient”, and while most of it may be 100 years old or so, it’s hardly ancient.

Regardless, our compatriots will continue to refer to it as Traditional, while I and my community will refer to it as Acoustic Celtic Music and be done with it.

Re: Definition of Traditional Irish Music

I can’t define Traditional Irish Music, but I know it when I see it.

Re: Definition of Traditional Irish Music

<,sessions came out of the 60’s >>,
How do we define a session 😉 after all players have been getting together and having a few tunes since year dot. To suggest that they started in the 60’s is somewhat farfetched !! wiki has a lot to answer for!

Re: Definition of Traditional Irish Music

“I and my community will refer to it as Acoustic Celtic Music”

Though Welsh and Cornish choirs are likewise ‘acoustic Celtic music’, exactly so.

And Highland Scots, Breton, and Galician pipe bands.

All of these are ‘acoustic Celtic music’ but none of these are ‘traditional Irish music’.

Re: Definition of Traditional Irish Music

While we’re at it… @celticagent: “I get the sense that we all generally understand what ‘Traditional’ means, at least to us. But to the outsider, the term specifically refers to ‘Ancient’, and while most of it may be 100 years old or so, it’s hardly ancient.”

“Traditional” means traditional and “ancient” means ancient. Two distinct terms with quite different and well-defined meanings – look it up in the dictionary if you like. Where did you get the alleged fact that “the outsider” would confuse these terms?

Re: Definition of Traditional Irish Music

@ celticagent:
Sebastian beat me to it – ‘to the outsider, the term specifically refers to “Ancient”,’ is patent nonsense.
If you have a problem with calling a spade a digging implement, fair enough; but I see little point in trying to convince the rest of us who play trad to adopt your nomenclature, let alone your philosophy.

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