19th NY flutemakers and Irish music

19th NY flutemakers and Irish music

In the mid-1800s there were a number of flutemakers/sellers in the New York City area (Firth-Hall-Pond, E. Riley, Asa Hopkins, Jabez Camp, etc.). I’m trying to get an idea whether some, any, much of their market might have been to Irish musicians. In other words, was there an Irish music population in that area at that time?

Appreciate any input.

Re: 19th NY flutemakers and Irish music

My understanding has been that flute didn’t become popular for Irish until the 20th Century. This would have been when the Boehm flute gained momentum and simple-system flutes got cheap.

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Re: 19th NY flutemakers and Irish music

The popular narrative is how Ailin describes it above. The cast off flutes of the orchestra fell into the hands of the rural poor.
There has been a lot of research done by Hammy Hamiton, Aiofe Granville and by now many others I’d say.
From what I’ve read there is a lot more to it than the simple narrative we all tell curious onlookers who don’t recognise the black flute as a flute as they’ve only previously seen metal ones.
There is the influence of the flute band tradition in Catholic and Protestant Ireland, the flute in the hands of amateur gentlemen whether in the big houses or in the major cities, the sending home of flutes from relatives and neighbours in England and the States.
For instance in the states Riley and many others published flute tune books that contain many tunes we would recognise today as being part of the Irish canon.
Reels, jigs, waltzes, cotillions, etc. Someone was buying the flutes and using them for this type of repertoire. As Riley’s flute tutor was reprinted many times. Whether they were from Ireland or of Irish descent is tough to determine.
Even in Enlgland Nicholson and the big names of fluting played selections of “national airs.” including things like the coolin.

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Re: 19th NY flutemakers and Irish music

@dunnp
An interesting topic is, if their was a specific "Irish" style of playing the flute, even before the end of the 19th century/ beginning of the 20th century! I am not surprised that Irish dance music found its way into the repertoire of more classical oriented musicians, even before the flute went popular in Irish trad. After all, the flute was a very popular instrument (at least) among amateur musicians, during the 19th century!
It would be cool to know, to what extent even before these days, the fluters tried to include elements of piping or a specific sound to Irish dance music.
But I think it might be more likely, that these tunes just found its way into non trad music collections and were played by classical trained fluters in a classical way?

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I suspect there were fluters prior to 1850 in Ireland playing dance music. O’Neill was born in 1848 and learned to play before he emigrated from a local farmer before leaving at 16. There is a great tale about O’Neill and a ship mate who played the flute.
I suppose it’s important to note the effects of the famine on the rural poor population. Most anyone who was left to play probably didn’t and those who did probably left to America and England.
There are lots of later tales about relatives sending flutes from America and England.
I did a lot of writing in anthropology classes many years ago. Sort of social and material culture of objects. I did a few papers focused on “the Irish flute.”
The history of it was always an interest of mine but the picture is rich with loads of facets rather than the simple (though correct) common narrative.

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Re: 19th NY flutemakers and Irish music

John Neale was making recorders in Ireland in 1700 by 1714 he was playing the German flute (perhaps the first player according to some). His collection in 1724 was the first ever collection of Irish music.

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Re: 19th NY flutemakers and Irish music

Are your papers openly accessible? I am very interested in this topic!

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As am I. I’ve been trying to sort out where these NYC flutes went, and specifically whether they were being played in the Irish traditional music community (assuming there was such a thing) at the time.

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Hi David,
Unfortunately I don’t have my old papers anywhere handy.
I do remember coming across a lecture by Hammy Hamilton somewhere that was full of good info. I’ll try and find it again.
@Steve
Don’t have any info specifically about players in the US that early. But one related fact is that John McKenna may have played an American made flute.
Like most I assumed he played a German flute as his most famous photo clearly shows one. But a few years ago a flute surfaced that belonged to McKenna and it was restored by Hammy (I think) for a centennial or something like that in Leitrim.
I remember many years ago before there was Grey Larsen and McGee’s copy there was little interest in American made flutes. I used to see them in flea markets. The prices were way high though back then. But I can remember an older player in Boston had told me to look for an English flute and not to buy anything else because the pitch wouldn’t be right or the sound cause of the smaller holes. I can remember Looking through a table of such flutes at the Brimfield flea market. Prices were so high I wouldn’t have been able to afford anyway but I dismissed them as not what I should be looking for.

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Re: 19th NY flutemakers and Irish music

"flute didn’t become popular for Irish until the 20th Century."

Here’s a photo of the Irish Music Club of Chicago (O’Neill’s outfit), from 1901: http://ptjams.com/mb/img/flutes/Irish-Music-Club-Chicago-1901.jpg

I count possibly 7 flutes in that group. It’s unlikely that those gentlemen suddenly started playing their flutes at the turn of the Century. There must be some prior tradition for so many flutes to be in this group, including O’Neill himself holding one. He played fiddle and pipes as well, but wanted to be photographed with a flute with this group. I think that’s significant. Or maybe there were already too many pipers. 🙂

The flutes here look like the 19th Century wooden/conical type. They might be secondhand, "discarded" by orchestra musicians, although it’s also possible they were bought new at an earlier date. Two appear to have ivory heads on wood bodies, which I’ve read is characteristic of the New York makers in the 1800’s.

I know Chicago was a hotbed of Irish music at the time, but I can’t imagine there wasn’t also plenty of music being played in NYC that just isn’t as well documented, until we get to the recordings of Coleman, McKenna and others in the 1920’s.

Re: 19th NY flutemakers and Irish music

When I say popular, what I mean is standard. Flute was standard in bands, but not trad as we think of it. Boehm’s flute had been around for half a century by 1900, so I would expect some 19th century transition to flute for Irish music, but I doubt flutemakers were catering to an Irish clientele.

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Re: 19th NY flutemakers and Irish music

I don’t think flutemakers were catering to an Irish clientele either. Not back then, anyway. But with all those flute players in the O’Neill photo, I think it’s hard to argue that they weren’t "standard" in Irish trad as we think of it. And from a time well before the turn of the Century, since they must have learned to play before that photo in 1901, and I believe most of this Chicago group were immigrants from Ireland.

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At any rate, “trad as we think of it”
was not traditional music twenty, fifty, or one hundred years ago. The melodeon is back in vogue , as are flat sets of pipes,
An instrument with an even shorter history, the accordion has a shorter history due to its more recent invention but in many ways is parallel to flute or any other adoption.
What may be more interesting about the box is how quickly it has been appropriated. And worldwide in other musics as well.
It like the flute slightly before it has a lot going for it over say pipes which require constant maintenance to sound at all.

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Re: 19th NY flutemakers and Irish music

@conicalbore: Perhaps you are right. I only know what I’ve read and what I’ve heard in early recordings.

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Re: 19th NY flutemakers and Irish music

For me a thread like this is about learning. Challenge your “accepted” version of the story.
The bodhran was only used on wren day and is a modern imposition on the music perpetuated by the Chieftains. Yet Tom Morrison had a ‘tambourine player’ and one of the earliest images of a flute player in Ireland shows his accompanied by a “tambourine.”

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Re: 19th NY flutemakers and Irish music

Tambourine is finally vindicated! I shall set aside the flute for my true calling! LOL.

Great thread by the way…very enlightening.

Re: 19th NY flutemakers and Irish music

Several points to ponder. Take a look through the old Sears & Roebuck catalogs. The learning curve for the Boehm ‘typewriter’ was steep, and the economic ‘bump’ even steeper. Sears & Roebuck, purveyors to the masses, were always pushing the cheap mass produced Germans, largely because they were a known system, and cheap.
My grandfather learned fife and piccolo at the end of the 1800’s. He had good ‘Shop Branded flutes’ as a youngster. When he went to the West Coast, these were left behind. As a young married man, he purchased several cheap Sears & Roebuck flutes for family entertainment purposes, before radio supplanted home made music.
A search on the ‘net will reveal some acedemic papers about the spread of the French School of flute playing (read Boehm) from the 1870’s on…but please note these players were symphonic, and far removed from the common musician.