Changing Attitudes To Irish Traditional Music
After 40 years of playing Irish Trad I have finally come to the determination that Irish Trad is now becoming very stuck up, not just with many players but many listeners as well . I am sorry if that offends, but after 40 years, it is a very matured determination . I started playing in the mid 70s when it wasn’t just as fashionable to be into ‘trad’ as it is today, and yes we all knew those certain players who had attitude back then, but they were few and far between. However, in Ireland today it is fast becoming the norm rather than the exception, even with some novice players.
When I started playing in sessions, there was craic, banter, fun and laughter as well as manners and common courtesy . During a session older players, for example the likes of Lesslie Bingham, would advise and pass on tips, tunes and stories. Music was played and shared by all, there would be singing (which is now scorned upon in many sessions) and even dance . This was all mixed up in a magic, a melting pot of entertainment, which at times may have deviated from the session but never took away from it ..Its seems those days are long gone, replaced today by conservative political correctness at best , or pure snobbery at worst !
Playing last week in a session was perhaps the breaking point for me. I listened to a young lady on a fiddle asking another to put their’s down..it was putting her off..I was flabbergasted … when I put my flute down to go to the toilet, the same young girls mother commandeered my seat …and wasn’t for moving… she spent the next 3/4 of an hour telling the daughter what to play next and both took virtual control of the session..I went to the bar.
I am tired of open sessions being dominated or took over like this. I am tired watching two or three players in the company of 6 or seven insist on playing obscure tune after tune, or playing in Eb or an obscure well practiced key, or battering out tune after tune out with no respect to any other players repertoire (by all means it’s different if it’s their specific gig). I listened to one lady in leitrim a few months ago at the start of a session telling the session what speed she wanted it played at, and her only been playing for two years…my jaw was on the floor…I would never had even thought of coming out with such a thing when I was at that stage.
We are traditional players, very few are world class maestro’s or resemble Jose Mourinho’s chosen ones , however a sizable minority of players today seem to class both themselves, their music and their knowledge at this high level and seem to demand respect for the same…
I have watched stern faced middle aged woman fight their way around tables in pubs or wrestle to the front of the crowd at fleadhs, especially if there’s a tv camera. I watched a publican in Westport last year get verbally abused as he fought to move a group of listeners who had taken over half the tables and seats in his bar and completely encircled the session…nobody else could see or hear a thing and yet the same people bought nothing from the bar… Such stern , ignorant and obnoxious attitudes are ruining sessions, there is no friendly banter or relaxed atmosphere when these people are about . If people want to listen to music in this way, go and pay into a concert, by all means they can criticize all they like then. Or if musicians want to play like this, organize their own gigs and don’t impose their music and bad manners on other musicians.
I taught whistle for bit just over three years ago, i stopped after the first few weeks. Several of children clearly didn’t want to be there, but ‘mammy’ insisted. I was quizzed on what tunes they were learning , I was even asked how quick it would take to get to competition standard and how quick they could move to the flute or pipes. The pressure was stupid, and it was no were near enjoyable either for me or ,I would say, several of the children.
Irish Trad Music to any player should be first and foremost fun, and is there to be shared. I don’t have to be as good or better than you, my children don’t have to win competitions, the world does not have to stop and listen to me, and by all means the last thing I should ever be is arrogant, snobbish, bullish or stuck up with my music…Perhaps we are reaping the rewards of continual comhaltas competitions that thrust young players and their parents into the ‘win win win’ mentality, or perhaps we are victims of what has now become fashionably Irish .. I for one miss the craic and diversion of the sessions many years ago , sessions that were more informal and any form political correctness, snobbery or nose in the air type playing was treated with distaste and contempt. Just because we play or listen to Irish Trad music, doesn’t give us a licence to be ignorant or arrogant in pursuit of that music …I get better contentment playing at home these days or with a few friends, I have even found myself walking out of sessions when I can see or judge who is playing…..enough is enough.