Modern ‘traditional’ composers

Modern ‘traditional’ composers

I asked a question about a tune and found out it was written by a member of Kennedy’s Kitchen. Who are some of the better composers/tune writers working right now?

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Liz Carroll

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(Trying to think if there’s another living composer I know two dance tunes by. Well, Jim Payne, but I think of him as a brilliant songwriter, and it’s mostly a special case I know the tunes.) (Oh right, I’m still alive. But would not put myself forward for this category!)

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Liz Knowles.
There are tons.

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Michael Macgoldrick
Adam Sutherland
Aidan O’rourke

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Peadar O’Riada

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Maybe Phil Cunningham doesn’t count as a "modern" composer, but his name popped up on a lot of recordings I listened to when I started playing this music. More "recent" names (say, during the last 15-20 years?) are Diarmuid Moynihan and of course Brian Finnegan.

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Paddy Fahey, Josephine Keegan, and Tommy Peoples are still kicking (although, I don’t believe any of them are actively composing these days - but I could be wrong)

Charlie Lennon is pretty prolific with compositions. John Carty has composed a good few. Niall Vallely also comes to mind.

You might also check out https://irishtunecomposers.weebly.com/alphabetical-list.html

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Thanks for the responses. I’ve always liked the music but didn’t really start learning more deeply until about a year ago. I knew a few big names but not much beyond that. To me, one of the great things about ITM (and other traditions) is that there is always more to learn so it never gets old. If that sounds like something a teacher might say it’s true. I’m in my 33rd year and literature reminds me of music in many many ways.

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I thought of a few of the ones above. I did not see Emer Mayock, Colin Farrell, Alan Doherty or Brian Finnegan of Flook.
Nolan Ladewski (Kennedy’s Kitchen) is heavily influenced by Brian Finnegan and some of his tunes bear this out. I don’t think "Sleeping Under the Tables" is one of them though.

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Ah, I do have a few more living composers that I more or less know two dance tunes from:
Hammy Hamilton (Kerfunten and Woodcock jigs)
Brian Pickell (Sourgrass and Granite, plus several other waltzes whose names I can never keep straight)
Donogh Hennessy

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More from the Scottish clans.
The late Ian Hardie and also Derek Hoy, both of them from Jock Tamson’s Bairns.
Calum Stewart.
Paul Anderson.
Patsy Reid.
Iain Fraser (brother of Alistair).
Ryan Young.
(Me - in a very sporadic and minor way!)
It actually seemed that, at the last Scots Fiddle Festival, everyone was bringing out a tune-book!

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TG4 Gradam Ceoil "Composer of the Year" Awards
2001 – Paddy Fahy
2002 – Brendan Tonra
2003 – Vincent Broderick
2004 – Richie Dwyer
2005 – Josephine Keegan
2006 – Charlie Lennon
2007 – Jim McGrath
2008 – Peadar Ó Riada
2009 – Con Fada Ó Drisceoil
2010 – John & Finbarr Dwyer
2011 – Liz Carroll
2012 – Paddy O’Brien
2013 – Tommy Peoples
2014 - *
2015 - * (Máirtín O’Connor)
2016 - *
2017 - Michael Rooney

* Category dropped / not awarded

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What’s modern?

Ed Reavey
Sean Ryan
Paddy O’Brien(s)

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My latest discovery : https://thesession.org/recordings/5755

PS - and I think the tunes he’s written are as good as any by anyone mentioned above.

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From the GHB world, apart from the obvious Gordon Duncan, I think Robert Mathieson, Terry Tully and Roddy MacDonald have written some brilliant tunes.

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"What is modern?"

Good question David Levine! I didn’t ask it well but what I was trying to get at is that we know many of the tunes we love are from other centuries, maybe even a couple of a hundred years old if they can be traced. What I was trying to ask, and it has been very well-answered, is if there are people writing tunes that would be accepted by the hardcore traditionalists. I don’t post much because I don’t know much but I read many of the discussions, even the older ones and I know there is a wide variety of what people consider ‘traditional’ in tunes, origin, instruments, etc. I like the idea that there are people who are still adding to the body of tunes called ITM and there will be more tunes for generations to come.

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no-one’s actually mentioned Dave Richardson of Boys of the Lough - his Calliope House and McArthur Rd are so absorbed into the tradition they seem like they’ve always been there. But he wrote them maybe 30 years ago so maybe not modern enough?

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Sure, doesn’t every trad musician play around with a few notes and phrases and put together tunes. I do it often enough, play them a bit and then forget them. I’m sure many others do so too. Aren’t we all ‘composers’? What makes one a composer and another not? If we publish or record them? Nothing special about it.

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There have been a few discussions here over the years about what makes something "traditional". My personal thoughts on the matter are somewhat complex. But in general, a tune that was written by someone who is solidly steeped in the tradition, and is played by other people besides the composer should be considered to be part of the tradition.

There might still be a distinction to be made between "being part of the tradition" and "being traditional"… To me, we are all part of a living tradition. The tradition is not a static museum piece, where you can definitively say whether something is included or not. What makes a tune "part of the tradition" is maybe what I mentioned before. To expand on that logic then, maybe what makes a tune "traditional" is when it becomes widely accepted as "part of the tradition" by people that play the music. (And then we could argue about what the word "widely" means, I suppose…)

And I don’t remember exactly where the quote was from - maybe Last Night’s Fun (Ciaran Carson). But it was something along the lines of this: (Speaking specifically of Paddy Fahey if I remember correctly) - "Paddy is one of the composers whose newly composed tunes are automatically accepted as being traditional as soon as they’re written…" (Or some variation of that idea…) So many of Paddy’s tunes are widely played in the tradition, so maybe he earned his "traditional" badge… The same could be said about many of the composers listed above. Reavy, O’Brien, Morrison, Ryan, Broderick, Peoples, Lennon and even Carroll and Finnegan (and others) could probably be given the same kind of distinction…

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Alistair Anderson has written a few tunes over the years.

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I don’t think that I would necessarily class a lot of those composers (e.g., GS McLennan and James Scott Skinner) as modern traditional composers, AB.

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What about a few of those composers, Donald?

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Going back to the thread title, might it not have been better to ask about "modern composers writing in traditional style"? Many of those I previously cited fit this definition, most of them still alive, but then there are others such as J Scott Skinner where you are talking 100 years or more ago!

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There are "lots" of living composers on that page. And lots of dead ones too. Dig in. I am.

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Vincent McGrath as mentioned by Kenny above, the CD is one of my all time favourites.

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"There are "lots" of living composers on that page. And lots of dead ones too."

I think that was what I was hinting at AB. My main problem though with that list is that the names of some composers are missed out because the site doesn’t, for whatever reason, have any tunes by those composers (e.g., Gordon Duncan and Ross Ainslie).

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I’m interpreting ‘modern’ as still alive and kicking and playing/composing. I only play Irish trad music, so am a bit clueless on other traditional forms (Scottish, American, etc). With this, my favourites (currently) are Hammy Hamilton, Conal O Grada (some amazingly cool new polkas on the Raw Bar Collective Albums), Mick McGoldrick, and Connie O’Connell (Free access to all his amazing tunes w/recordings, notation, and background info http://epu.ucc.ie/connieoconnell/about-the-project/).

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Orlaith McAuliffe : )

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DonaldK, his glass is only half-full. It looks like he may be open to adding tunes &/or composers and the webpages include contact information. If you like the list at all you might suggest your favourite composers.

Today I’ve been listening to Liz Carroll (already mention). Here is a clip with a few of her tunes. http://www.emresanli.com/video/?id=jU7xzuSAxNE

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AB, for 2/4 marches it would be John MacColl (long since departed).

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AB, the composers listed there are the ones he has on his site, and the ones he has on his site are the ones he has the rights to publish the music for.

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So how many people have to pick up & play the ditties you make up? 2, 6, 10, 12, 100??? How many tunes do you have to ‘compose’ to be considered a ‘composer’?

I contend this is all nonsense in the sense of trad music. If someone is contracted to make up a film score or something like that, well then they may be called a composer for want of a word. They’ll claim the intellectual property rights of said collection of notes and so on.

But trad musicians as composers? Pah! This is just self serving egotistical nonsense! Sure there are some who have larger numbers of tunes ascribed to their efforts and maybe considered as major contributors to the tradition. But how to separate these from every Tom, Dick & Harry who makes up a tune is a not an easy matter.

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Kilcash, if you can make money out of composing, in whatever genre, then I don’t see why you can’t be called a composer. And I don’t think ego comes into it a lot, if at all - it’s either love or business.
Sure anyone can compose a tune. It’s another matter, though, composing a tune that others might want to learn and play.

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"…for 2/4 marches it would be John MacColl…"
Thank you, DonaldK. I will listen to some of his tunes on the McGillivray site.
https://pipetunes.ca/composer/john-maccoll/

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"So how many people have to pick up & play the ditties you make up? 2, 6, 10, 12, 100???"

Like I said, "…then we could argue about what the word ‘widely’ means, I suppose…"

I agree with you to some extent, Kilcash. It is a bit of nonsense in the realm of trad music. A lot of players in this music write tunes. I even encourage my students to try composing. Not to become a "composer", but as a tool to understand the music better (and also to understand the genius behind the really well composed tunes).

But there have been, and still are, certain players who are prolific composers, whose tunes have been widely accepted into the tradition, and that is precisely what separates them from every other Tom, Dick, and Harry. If you’re looking for a definitive line to separate the average Joe from a "modern ‘traditional’ composer", then you’re out of luck. There is no governing body that will give us a definitive answer about much of anything in this tradition.

So it’s purely subjective. For instance, I play a handful of great tunes that were written by Will Harmon (former very active member of this forum, but long since gave it up and had his user removed). I even recorded one of them on my first album. Pretty much nobody else plays those tunes (not even Will, in many cases). So I, personally, consider him to be a "modern ‘traditional’ composer" (and it has nothing to do with his ego). But other people who don’t know his tunes wouldn’t consider him when listing "composers". So is he a "composer" or not? To me he is, but to other people he wouldn’t be.

The same kind of subjective argument could be made about whether a composer’s tunes are "traditional". For instance, I consider Brian Finnegan to be a pretty prolific composer, but I don’t consider his tunes to be very "traditional". They sound more modern to my ear. But where do you draw the line? People play a bunch of his tunes - Cathal Hayden even teaches Donegal Lass at festivals. So does that make it "traditional"? To some people yes, to others, no…

I guess we each get to decide for ourselves (and then argue about it online… ;-))