Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

Hi everyone,

I have just published a long-read article on Irish trad music that some theSession readers might find interesting. My perspective is an outsider’s, a Norwegian having plenty of exposure to Irish trad but little prior knowledge of regions, customs, institutions, etc. Interviewed in the story is Niall Keegan, Liz Doherty and Tom Sherlock. I am very happy for all comments, corrections or general shout-outs!

http://folkemusikk.no/sketches-of-green-irish-folk-music/

Cheers,
Audun Stokke Hole
editor, Folkemusikk magazine
Oslo, Norway
audun/at-sign/folkemusikk/full-stop/no

Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

I’ve just skimmed this article - it’s remarkably well-written, containing much information and food for thought. I hope to come back to it. Thanks! 🙂

Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

Fascinating article loved reading about it. In the Netherlands I’ve seen a surge in popularity for scandinavian music. You notice it at the sessions where every now and then a tune is played from the area. Absolutely beautiful music.

" When The Chieftains made Irish trad big in the 70s, all of a sudden people started asking, «What is this?», and «Can I have some of this?» "
As an outsider of Nordic music, take it with a grain of salt, I think what the Nordic music lacks, in comparison to Irish music, is not beauty, fun or ambassadors but rather opportunity for people to join in. But rather a gateway, an easy way to get introduced to the music. For Irish music I would say that is the Whistle, the Bodhran and Ceilidh dancing.

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Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

Strålende artikkel! Skal leses i sin helhet ved anledning.
Just wrote in norwegian it is a great article and I must read all of it when I can!

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Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

A lot to read in this article, I too skimmed through it, probably good as a quick guide to Irish trad for Scandi readers. I don’t know a lot about Norwegian trad music apart from the occasional Hardanger fiddle tune and of course the old cultural association with Shetland music.

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Thank you for your wonderful comments!

@Boyen, I completely agree with you that what Scandi music has been lacking is a gateway into the music. As you also mention, a Scandi repertoire seems to be developing among trad musicians globally - if this trend continues, it might just be the ideal gateway. After all, instrumental tunes are the backbone of our contemporary trad music (and, because of various financial issues, our touring musicians tend to keep close to home).

Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

Good day, Audan,

Let me start by saying that I am going to be rather brutal in my response because it establishes the degree of emphasis that I want to convey and gets me to the point more quickly. Don’t be offended or hurt.

A quick one to get out of the way: Never, ever, refer to a gathering of Irish musicians as a jam session. It is not the right term and conveys an image of improvisation and looseness of style that is anything but what an Irish session is about. So, the correct term is "Session" without the "jam."

Second, we have a gross factual error with regard to Irish music being in a slump during the 80’s. The 1980’s was the golden decade for Irish music. A partial list as to why:

1. With the exception of Chieftains, Bothy Band and Planxty, many of the best recordings came out during the eighties or were re-issued then.
2. In the U.S., the Public Radio series, The Thistle & Shamrock, began in the 80’s and is still on the air.
3. Fintan Vallely published what I believe is the first book on Irish flute playing.
4. Many of the best Irish players were touring the U.S. during that decade, whereas they have not since and did not in the 70’s.

Finally, to the heart of the subject, I do not know who the audience for your piece is. I don’t see it sustaining the interest of someone not already steeped in the genre, since it does not give any sense of the character of the music. What would a person be looking to take away from what you have written? Getting into whether or not guitar is an accepted instrument or whether or how the music should evolve is a matter of no consequence. Everyone who enjoys the music will reach their own conclusions without need of consensus. Someone new to it does not even know what you are talking about. The three people interviewed shed no light, new or otherwise, to why they like the music or why it is more popular now that it was years ago. And who cares, unless whatever conclusion one draws adds either to the enjoyment or future growth of the genre.

Music is hard to discuss, since it is the playing and listening that conveys most of what you need to know. In my opinion, history of the music and its players is about all that can add to the knowledge base of the experienced. To the newcomer, I would invite them to explore what makes Irish music a joy by elaborating on this partial list of what characterizes Irish music:

1. It can be fully sustained with a single melody instrument.
2. There are no parts; just a melodic line played by one to many instruments.
3. Dance tunes are very melodic and rhythmically compelling.
4. Slow tunes are melodic and haunting.
5. One need not be a virtuoso to join in.
6. The genre lends itself to learning by ear.
7. One need not be in a performing band to engage in ensemble playing.
8. The repertoire is vast and most people take to it readily.
9. It gets your foot tappin’.

That’s the type of stuff someone wanting to find out more about Irish music needs to know to get them wanting to experience more.

I think you need to figure out what you are trying to say and who you are saying it to. From there, figure out what makes your subject and the information you are attempting to impart compelling.

That’s my input. I hope it helps.

Cheers.

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Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

Pardon me for misspelling your name, Audun.

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Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

Hi Alan/Ailin,

thank you for your reply. No offense taken of any kind – on the contrary, this is exactly the knowledge and perspective I was hoping to get, posting my story to the Session.

What I should perhaps have clarified in my first post, is, the article’s is written not only from an outsider’s perspective, but from a particularly Norwegian perspective. This is a regrettable omission on my part, and I apologize. (My text has other kinds of flaws as well, of course – I am no native English writer, my knowledge of Irish trad is in some ways and areas superficial, and my selection of interviewees is perhaps unfairly small. The text is in some ways my own way of getting going on the subject, a technique I have often used immersing myself in Norwegian traditions. There are many of them, and one always has to start somewhere, often with too little time for true immersion.)

Folkemusikk has a fairly specialized readership, very similar to what the Session has on Irish trad. Plenty of my Norwegian readers know their Irish trad far better than I do; the majority, I suspect, do not. In any case, as I am myself steeped in this Norwegian perspective, it is not always clear to me what might be missing from a piece. There are sure to be several assumptions made that I should probably not be making. (I tend to make the same mistake when writing on Norwegian trad for a Norwegian readership of outsiders.)

Also, Alan, describing music doesn’t always come easy to me; writing about the music’s surroundings and practitioners often does. Hence you are right in missing a musician’s perspective, as I am no trad musician myself – more of the journalist–academic, I guess. But I already know more than I did writing the piece, and yet more than I did posting it to the Session. I am always keen on expand my knowledge, and you have helped me doing just that.

Thanks!

Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

Brilliant! Much appreciated. I couldn’t wait to read your interview with Liz Doherty. It was the Liz
I hoped to hear; vital, a strong call for action and an emphasis on the importance of unity.
~
"Doherty describes a rollercoaster, with hard and better times alternating; one reason surely being, she admits, how easily one becomes complacent. She urges her trad colleagues to continue stepping up the game, making sure trad music always gets its due.

– Funding is crucial, but even more so is validation and acknowledgement – the badge of honour of being politically important. I absolutely feel trad music – in all its guises – is still not as supported and as subsidised as it should be. To be fair, and I say this as a member of the community: the trad community doesn’t always have its act together – and then it’s difficult to convince anyone else to push it to the top of their priority list."

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Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

A most enjoyable read, Audun, well done!

If I had one nit to pick (hmmm, I hope that metaphor doesn’t escape translation!), I would much prefer to see quotes in "quotation marks". I often found myself wondering who was talking, you or Liz, for example. But perhaps that’s how things are done in Norway?

But ignoring that quibble, I think you pulled together lots of interesting sources and ideas. It made me think that we don’t talk enough about some of the subjects you raised.

Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

Thanks again! Terry McGee, I have taken your advice and substituted Norwegian-style punctuation (quotation dashes and angled scare quotes) with proper English usage. It was only an unnecessary possible source of confusion.

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I wonder why Liz makes such a big deal of Glasgow’s Celtic Connections? What has Americana, Jazz, Indie, World Music to do with Scottish traditional music? Whereas in Ireland there is the amazing Willie Clancy Week which started back in 1972. Liz fails to mention this phenomenal event. Willie Week is a week focused solely on all aspects of Irish traditional music, with concerts, sessions, lectures, workshops, and classes. People come from all over Ireland, and the world to partake. Also as Ailin mentioned, Irish traditional music was indeed thriving during the 1980’s, especially in Europe. I doubt any other traditional music, including Norwegian, could, or can, be as widespread, or as popular as the traditional tunes and songs of Ireland. This I think is because of the accessiblity, and quality of the music. You don’t have to be virtuoso, you can play solo, or join in on many different levels of group playing in sessions, for example

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Liz has taught at the Willie Clancy Summer School. I don’t think she "failed to mention this phenomenal event". We don’t know if she spoke of it or not. We only have what was written down from the interview.
She is a teacher and has contributed to many schools and festivals. http://lizdoherty.ie/index.php/55-homepage-boxes/104-teacher

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Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

Aye, I know that AB, I’ve met Liz during Willie Week, which is why I was surprised there was no mention. I assume your man would have mentioned it though if Liz had spoken of Willie Week. Willie Clancy was a very good uilleann piper you know

Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

Steamwilkes, while taking nothing away from the Willie week, she probably makes a big deal out of Celtic Connections because it is a big deal. Over a million tickets sold a year. Also, I don’t think anywhere it claims to be about Scottish traditional music, though it mainly centres round trad. The two events are hardly comparable.

Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

I think there’s a much easier issue at play when we talk about why Irish music has become so popular. It’s not necessarily the session scene, which only really came about in the 20th century. It’s not necessarily the ease of playing or the "toe-tapping" quality of the music; plenty of folk musics have both those characteristics.

There just happen to be a ton of Irish all over the place, in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, etc. The session scene came about because Irish emigrants wanted to get together and play the music of their homeland. The most famous early recordings like Michael Coleman, John McKenna, etc., were made for an emigrant audience, not one in Ireland. 10% of the American population self-identifies as Irish, that’s compared to about 1.5% who have Norwegian ancestry. It’s a question of numbers, and Irish people around the world have Norwegians beat by a large margin. That gives Irish music a huge leg up on others, because once there’s a significant portion of the population playing and listening to Irish music, more people outside the Irish community will become interested and want to join in.

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"Doherty finds similar initiatives are sorely lacking in Ireland." writes Audun regarding Celtic Connections. I don’t think a Celtic Connections type festival will make Irish traditional music more popular than it already is. I agree Bigsciota that the session scene in many countries came about because of Irish men and women who that emigrated to EU countries etc in search or work. This was the case in Sweden and Denmark during the late seventies and early eighties

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Maybe she thinks there’d be interest in Ireland to also hear some music that’s not Irish trad. I don’t think she means it as a slur of any sort.

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"Celtic Connections" - "Over a million tickets sold a year". For that to happen you’d 1000 gigs of 1000 people at each one in the space of 3 1/2 weeks. Who counted them to get to that number ?

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Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

Sorry, I really have to pay attention to what I’m typing. Over £1m ticket sales is what I actually meant to say.

Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

…at the same time, the point stands, CC is a big deal and is not a fair comparison to the Willie Clancy Event.

Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

No argument there, "bogman", but if it’s Irish traditional music you want - head to Miltown.

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Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

Maybe Audun could point us to some Norwegian bands/musicians that we could be listening to - as I said in an earlier post my knowledge of Nordic music is very small, but I am always pleased to learn.

Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

Thanks for all your viewpoints, folks! It’s all a very interesting read to me. I am learning a lot. Also, I will post a list of Norwegian folk music recordings soon – right here, unless someone suggests it is preferable that I start a new discussion.

Regarding Ms. Doherty’s non-mention of the Willie Clancy Week / Summer School, this might well be due to my framing of our conversation. (It is also possible that she did mention the Week and I failed to pick it up – the quality of our phone call was subpar at times).

The possibility, or non-possibility, of comparing the Summer School and Celtic Connections also touches upon a bigger issue, that of mainly practicing vs mainly/solely listening to trad music. It should be a fairly obvious point to most Session users, so I won’t elaborate on it. I only mention it as the "elephant in the room" that is necessarily present in an article such as mine, as hard to ignore as it is to fully appreciate. (I hope that last sentence was comprehensible.)

Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

Audun, looking at their website it seems that Celtic Connections is a big "listening" event in Glasgie where folks go to hear Scottish traditional music, World music, Jazz, Americana, Indie. That’s fine as bands, artists can get paid, and people can go and be entertained, and also discover new music and musicians. Whereas Willie Week is more of an "active" event where folks go to play Irish traditional music in sessions, go to instrument classes to learn Irish traditional music, to workshops, traditional dance classes, to listen to lectures, and to concerts. It’s both a summer school and a meeting place mainly for musicians, though of course musicians and non-musicians listen too. I agree Bogman and Audun, these two events are not comparable as such as one is a commercial event for listeners, nothing wrong with that, and the other is mainly aimed at attracting musicians.

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You’ll here precious little Scottish traditional music at "Celtic Connections". Just to make things clear, I may be one of few people here who’s been to both.

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Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

Comparing Willie Clancy Week to Celtic Connections? LOL.

Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

There are plenty of music school weekends and weeks in Scotland, which would be a much fairer comparison to the Willie Clancy summer schools, than to try even remotely to compare it with Celtic Connections! e.g. courses at Sabhal Mor Ostaig (University of Highlands and Islands on Skye), Feis Ros, Blazin’ in Beauly, Ian Lowthian’s accordion weekends, Lismore retreats, Black Isle fiddle weekends, Nigel Gatherer’s Gatherings, Rick Taylor’s Ensemble weeks, various events at Wiston Lodge, Tinto. Yes, there are workshops at Celtic Connections albeit not the main thrust of the festival, and yes, they have, over the years, moved a bit away from what used to be considered the Celtic nations, but there is still plenty of trad stuff there too, including Irish and Scottish!
As for Audun’s article, I liked the bit about about "horizontal learning" as described by Liz Docherty, which seems to mean, I think, to keep your eyes and musical ears open to all that is happening around you and absorb what you want to of it.
In Edinburgh, we have an annual festival of Scottish and Scandinavian music, called "Northern Streams", and have, over the years, included musicians from Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Denmark. It is sometimes enlightening to see how well our musical cultures interweave, with some tunes in common, as well as similarities and differences in style of playing. It has proved so popular that there is now a monthly session devoted to playing Scandi tunes.

Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

Why I don’t relate Norwegian music with Irish Trad:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYn1N4bf78I

Scenery - gorgeous!
Motorcycle - a classic
Hardanger - lovely and uniqe sound
Girl - lovely as well
Melody - uh, er, well… I cannot personally tell if it has parts like a trad tune nor fully discern the melodic content. That’s undoubtedly my personal loss but if someone asked me to compare this Norwegian music with Irish Traditional I would be hard put to come up with a valid comparison.

I’m going to have to find some more typical Norwegian music as this is obviously too small a sampling to consider valid.

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"You’ll here precious little Scottish traditional music at "Celtic Connections".
I’m sorry Kenny but I’d have to strongly disagree with that. It’s true to say the majority of the programme are acts and projects but there is lots and lots of traditional music. Not just on the stages but scattered about the city in bars and kitchens. I’m sure you’ll remember the early days of CC when the festival club was in the Central Hotel - sessions in every corner. It’s unfortunate they’ve been unable to find s venue as suitable but that doesn’t mean the non-performance stuff isn’t happening.

http://www.folkradio.co.uk/2017/11/celtic-connections-2018-programme-lineup/

Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

callison, here is (motorcycle man) Jan Beitohaugen Granli playing for a dance – it might be illuminating to watch:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QBdyC5JXthA


This tune has the same dance rhythm as the tune you posted, and the structure is also very similar. The tunes for the Valdres springar (like most springars from South Central Norway) generally don’t have AABB-style partition, but rather one melody/theme that is first introduced and then varied gradually. Also the rhythm is (generally thought to have) an asymmetric 3/4 meter.

I would say the Valdres springar is among the most difficult dances both to play and dance; the telespringar (springar from Telemark) is a tad easier. Here’s an example – the asymmetric meter is still peculiar, but watching the steps of the dancers is more helpful here than in the Valdres variety. The mode of variation is more or less the same.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GMeYjFTXsK8

Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

There are plenty of traditions in Norway where AABB-style tunes are the norm, though. Here is an example from Røros in southern Trøndelag:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oq-6VxzO-vg


All three videos are from the competitions at Landskappleiken, our national "Fleadh Cheoil". The dancing couples are being judged by a panel of three judges. The musicians are not as thoroughly judged, though there is a special "best playing for dance" award.

Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

@Audun: Thanks for the videos! I could follow that last one. The dance rhythms are certainly unique.

Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

Audun yes thanks for posting - I could almost follow the last one, was it 3/4 time like a mazurka?
the others were difficult for those of us used to 4/4 and 6/8!
ps is trad dancing in Norway always by a solo fiddler or are there ensembles, the equivalent of our ceili bands?

Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

Yes, christy taylor, all three tunes are in 3/4 time, the last one more “symmetrical” than the first two. There is plenty of Norwegian ensemble music as well - and though 3/4 is the more common time signature, we do have some excellent music in 4/4 and 6/8. Here are two examples - a reinlender (similar to schottische, played by an ensemble) and a halling (solo Hardanger fiddle). https://youtu.be/cY7WHpd_nvQ


https://youtu.be/CPSly2L4kPw

Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

that’s excellent Audun - takk!

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This video is instructive, though some might prefer to skip the first 1 1/2 minute (where contestants are introduced). It’s a complete heat, featuring a waltz, a polka, a mazurka and a reinlender, from the dance competition at Landsfestivalen i gammaldansmusikk (the national festival of old-time music). Gammaldans/old-time is the name given to these dances when jazz was all the rage on our shores. I’m unsure of the name of the ensemble.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIZU6BRgXj8

Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

Another great gammaldans set, this video focussing more on the band (though a good chunk of the dancefloor is also shown). This is Lendmenn from Ottadalen, who also has a great album out on CD and various digital platforms. Musicians Øyvind Sandum (two-row), Mads Erik Odde (accordion) and Bjørn Kåre Odde (fiddle) also has other interesting projects going on, such as Sandum Trio, Firo, Odde/Sulheim/Brimi, Odde & Holmen et al.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRQObO6HZGg

Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

I’m an ITM lifer recently falling for Scandi music as well. What’s drawn me in has been the minor/modal-minor tunes, which I do note are kind of a sub-grouping in a vast traditional pool which also includes hearty major-key music that isn’t really my thing. In trying to learn more about Scandi tradition and the styles of different countries and regions, I did notice that the modal/minor music is very strong in Norway. I’m still confused about where it is strongest in Svenska— (Getting a feeling it would be Dalarna and the North rather than the South, but not certain I’m on the mark about that). Very taken as well with the trad music of Finland!

I’ve had a wonderful time watching clips of players at the huge Scandi June festival at Ransater, Svenska. That looks like it would be a great time! I’ve fallen in love with the 3-part Norwegian vals, "Bergrosa" and am currently learning it from clips on the internet. (Though I don’t AT ALL care for the way classical star Alexander Rybak plays it, prefer the trad master fiddlers). Here is "Bergrosa" being played at Ransater by the trad quartet led by Sven Nyhus, the Norwegian spelman who composed it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=caEtwkMwAu8

Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

Hi folks,

thanks for all your comments and ideas. I know it can sometimes be tricky finding the Norwegian minor-tuned gems, so here are three springleiks from Gudbrandsdalen, all played by accordeonist Dag Gården from Lom (the last one featuring the late fiddler Knut Kjøk).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2U4IP7hp7s


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ynS349OpOwM


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFalpy-zRe4

Re: Sketches of green: Irish folk music seen from Norway

thank you for the videos. I really like this norwegian tunes. So I just ordered the CD from Dag Gården & Knut Kjøk.

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DetlefS, great to hear. Here are some more minor-tuned tunes, with some edition info. The music stretches from quite trad to rather untrad; all should be a fairly easy "pluck" for you session fiddlers in here.

Tom Willy Rustad, Ole Nilssen & Leif Ingvar Ranøien, diatonic accordion trio who have released one studio album:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-5Gu91nXbQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9i9pefk_W8


Øystein Sandbukt, guitar player from Nordmøre who recorded this schottis/reinlender on his album "Nordmør" (2011, Øra Fonogram)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTUB4TsHDnU


Kleppedalsbekken, springleik (trad. or composed by Sjugurd Garmo), available on Svermere’s album "Tonekratt" (2014, Talik) and Odde/Sulheim/Brimi album "Atterljomen" (2016, Talik)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3ZAxgxKEig


Rydvall/Mjelva playing "Hjaltaren" by Olav Mjelva, from their album "Vårdroppar" (2016, Heilo)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxK9b2pDIRw


Erlend Viken Trio playing the gangar "Fossegangar" by Leif Stinnerbom (admittedly a Swede, though here thorougly inspired by Norway), from their album "Nykomlingen" (2017, Heilo)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jF2mp4PJoRM