I have always wanted to know…

I have always wanted to know…

I’ve only been on here for about 5 months (but would read sporadically before that), so there might have been a discussion about this awhile back, but…
I have always wanted to know why the term "Irish" is used on a site where there are recordings of and discussions about English, Scottish, and Welsh music as well. It’s used on the discussion rules page (where it says discussion should be kept to Irish music), and even if you Google a tune on here before you open it, it will say, for example, “a traditional Irish waltz with 3 settings and 2 comments." One could argue that most albums on here are predomenantly Irish… but while there are fewer English and Welsh tunes, there seems to be a good number of Scottish ones.
I’m fully aware that modifying the wording so that it reads "Irish, English, Scottish and Welsh traditional music" is a mouthful. But perhaps "Celtic?"
I’m not necessarily advocating for a change (and know I would contact Jeremy privately if that was the case). Rather, I am purely putting this out here to see what others think.
TW

Re: I have always wanted to know…

The Celtic nations include Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Isle of Mann, Brittany and somewhat the Galicia and Asturia regions of Spain. That would make using "Celtic" a bit too broad. Besides, there’s enough music called Celtic on YouTube that has nothing in common at all with any music originating from Ireland or Scotland or wherever. That stuff seems to me to be a bit synthetic and ponderous but it gives the term "Celtic" an uncertain position in reference to trad. When it comes to the "Irish" moniker, it mostly applies to music that is played in the "Traditional" style, ie, Irish Traditional or just trad if you’re playing it and want to use the common term. Lots of people in different places play trad and consider it Irish unless noted otherwise. I know of at least one person from Ireland that considers Scotland a fine part of Ireland - just on the wrong side of the Irish Sea - the Scots likely have a similar view oriented the other direction. I think the term you’re actually looking for is simply "trad". I hope I have that right. If not, someone will surely inform me of my erroneous ways.

Re: I have always wanted to know…

Not everything has to make sense.

Posted by .

Re: I have always wanted to know…

This site was founded by someone with an interest in Irish traditional music, for people sharing that interest. Once the tune database became fully open to public contributions (tunes were initially posted only by the site founder himself, Jeremy Keith), people began to contribute tunes from outside the Irish repertoire, albeit mostly from related genres or traditions. Other kinds of music also come up in discussions. But it is fair to say that, whatever other musical interests site members may have, the commonality we all have is an interest in Irish traditional music (…and anyone coming on this forum expressing a dislike of or indifference towards it would, I suspect, quickly be put in their place ;-) ).

The term ‘Celtic’ is disliked by many members of this site, for a couple of reasons:

i. It is very difficult to define in musical terms. The term ‘Celtic’ can be clearly defined as a family of languages and, as such, ‘The Celtic Nations’ can be regarded as those countries having an extant indigenous Celtic language (i.e. Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany, The Isle of Man). So, ‘Celtic music’ could perhaps legitimately be used to encompass the traditional music of all of those places. The problem with that, however, is that the musical commonalities between those traditions are not clear enough to put them all under one umbrella. Scottish and Irish music have clear links and a significant amount of overlap; the links between them and, say, Breton music are much less obvious. Welsh traditional music may have somewhat more obvious similarities with Irish and Scottish, but this could be regarded more as the result of geographical proximity than common ‘Celtic’ ancestry; it probably has more more in common with the traditional music of its nearest neighbour, England (not a ‘Celtic’ country, by the above definition). One might argue that, in pre-Saxon times, the whole of Great Britain was Celtic-speaking and therefore English music too can be included under the Celtic umbrella (although I doubt whether a single tune in the English traditional repertoire could be traced back to before about 1600 at the very earliest - but that ends up being barely relevant). But then, so was France (Gaul) before Romanisation (and various other parts of Europe through history). What most people mean by ‘Celtic music’ when referring to traditional music is ‘Irish and Scottish traditional music and styles derived from them or that sound similar to them’ - which leaves Welsh, Breton, Cornish and Manx out of the equation.

ii. The term has come to be used as a marketing label for any modern music that has superficial stylistic borrowings from Irish or Scottish traditional music, but not rooted in either (or any) tradition.

Furthermore, regarding the range of tunes in the database, there are French, Scandinavian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Galician (arguably ‘Celtic’), Appalachian, Klezmer and other tunes in there, so ‘Celtic’ doesn’t cover it by any stretch.

Re: I have always wanted to know…

I don’t think any word makes sense here yet we all recognize it when we hear it.

Celtic doesn’t make sense for reasons mentioned above. Traditional doesn’t make sense because we play many modern compositions as well. What Jeremy is trying to convey is that this is a discussion forum/tunes database for tunes/music that would fit in the Irish tradition, and therefore could be played at an Irish session, the shorthand for that: Irish.

Posted by .

Re: I have always wanted to know…

I think the title "the session" defines what this forum is about well enough.

I know it’s a circular definition, like "art is what artists make" but to me it’s always been clear that this site is dedicated to the music of the "Irish traditional music session".

Therefore if a tune that’s non-Irish in origin becomes integrated into the ITM session repertoire it’s appropriate here.

True that the Scottish traditional music session repertoire is allowed here too, so this site demonstrates flexibility which is nice.

Re: I have always wanted to know…

What CreadurMawnOrganig said, except that …

…he did not include English in his last paragraph. As The Wanderer’s tastes extend in that direction it is another reason not to use ‘Celtic’.

(and it may be best to keep quiet about it ;-))

Re: I have always wanted to know…

What Richard Cook said.

I went to a Session for a couple of years here in East Anglia that started out as an ‘Irish Music Session’, but it speedily came to include Scottish tunes, and then English, American & Eastern European tunes on occasion.
It was a matter of who was there and what they wanted to play.

It worked! :)

PS I’m so very grateful to Jeremy for this site - a fabulous way to keep up with recordings, news & new tunes - sheet music & midi - from Sessions all over the world.

Re: I have always wanted to know…

Thanks all. I can see how "Celtic" doesn’t make sense now.
@David50, it was my particular soft spot for English traditional music (and don’t get me wrong, I love a good Irish as well), that actually prompted me to question the terminology, as I had noticed that English tunes were shown on this database as being "Irish", though I think I have a better idea now. And as far as keeping quiet about it… no chance of that, not on a site like this where we can freely express our opinions and ideas and have a wide range of discussion.
I must educate myself on Cornwall and Cornish history, having always considered Cornwall a part of England. (Though most of the books I read that take place in England are modern, so I hadn’t ever thought to look in to that history).

Re: I have always wanted to know…

@CreadurMawn: is it really true that there is nothing in the "English traditional repertoire" older than 1600? What about "Sumer is Icumen In" (mid-1200s)? "Boar’s Head Carol" (1400s?)

Re: I have always wanted to know…

I use the term "Irish" music, session, dance… in regards to the style(s) of playing music. In other words
not from a place of origin or how a melody might be played in styles other than what you hear in Irish sessions. But obviously Irish is a very broad term and includes several distinct styles itself.

Posted by .

Re: I have always wanted to know…

My friends from Cornwall take great pleasure in referring to the land across the Tamar River from them as ‘England’ rather than Devon.

They may only do it when English people, especially those from Devon, are present.

Re: I have always wanted to know…

Blame bands and recordings for the lack of purity, I think. :)

We learn and share music with recorded examples now, as well as direct transmission like Ye Olden Days. Tunes become popular when played by famous Irish musicians, then they enter the session repertoire, and someone transcribes the tune for the ABC database here.

The kicker is that "Irish musicians" and bands don’t always stick with strict Irish repertoire, so other tunes sneak into the database. A band like Altan will include Scottish tunes due to local proximity and tradition. A band like Lúnasa will play a few Breton tunes on their albums. And then you get the occasional oddity like "La Partida" (Venezuelan waltz) recorded by Kevin Burke. These darned musicians just won’t stay in their lanes!

It’s not the only reason there is a mix of Irish and non-Irish tunes here, but I think that’s one reason for the mix. If you don’t see a lot of English trad tunes in the database, it’s because "Irish bands" aren’t recording and performing them.

Re: I have always wanted to know…

Argh! Don’t use "the C word"!

Re: I have always wanted to know…

"is it really true that there is nothing in the "English traditional repertoire" older than 1600? What about "Sumer is Icumen In" (mid-1200s)? "Boar’s Head Carol" (1400s?)"

Yes, I suppose my comment was a bit vague and flippant. What I was really referring to was repertoire currently popular in English sessions, and principally dance tunes at that, most of which (like their Irish counterparts) date from C18th onwards. Whilst I am of the view that *all* music has links with earlier music (either borrowing from it or conceived as a reaction against it), I doubt very much whether there is any specific English tune in circulation today that can be linked to a specific tune from pre-Saxon Britain.

Re: I have always wanted to know…

I don’t think of anything I do or any music I play as being celtic. But if someone wants to use the term to market their music I consider that completely their choice, not mine. I do say much of the music I play is traditional irish music, much of it dance tunes, some of it recent compositions; though I am only *loosely connected* to any actual musical tradition.

Posted by .

Re: I have always wanted to know…

Epic post by Richard D Cook:
‘About the value of the word "Celtic" for marketing purposes, I’ll never forget what happened back in the late 70s at University. There was a "Celtic Society" that put on an annual concert/show in the auditorium.

For years they alternated between two shows: Night In Ireland and Night In Scotland. Then one year they decided to combine the shows into a show called Celtic Night.

For Night In Ireland the whole local Irish community showed up.

For Night In Scotland the whole local Scottish community showed up.

For Celtic Night nobody showed up.’

Source: https://thesession.org/discussions/38606#comment783470

Re: I have always wanted to know…

There is an argument ( see abstract here: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/8262/ ) that the bulk of the dance tunes in the English traditional repertoire were posh people’s tunes that were incorporated into the tradition in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

When repeating this argument amongst traditional players it is advisable to also suggest that musicians amongst the common folk did also write tunes.

Re: I have always wanted to know…

Please define, ‘posh people’s tunes’.
Had these melodies been a secret hid from the plebs up until then? (played by ‘posh’ musicians and unknown to the riff raff?)

Re: I have always wanted to know…

@Yhaal - follow the link. There is no point in me repeating what it says.

(the full document does have sensible paragraph breaks in the abstract)

Re: I have always wanted to know…

> There is no point in me repeating what it says.

Nane sae deaf as winna hear.

Posted by .

Re: I have always wanted to know…

For a very long time (not so much recently) local musicians supported dances and would incorporate what the people wanted to dance to. Often that would be whatever the latest and greatest dances and tunes from the courts of Europe were into. Look back at how waltz’s and mazurka’s spread from their origin to many regions of the world. Well, Ireland was one of those stops along the way and mazurka’s and waltz’s are now part of the tradition. Mazurka’s are an especially poplar part of the Donegal tradition. So it shouldn’t be surprising that ITM musicians will incorporate tunes and styles from other traditions into their repertoire and if popular those tunes, styles, and techniques will become a part of the tradition. This is healthy as it keeps the music and the tradition alive and relevant.

Re: I have always wanted to know…

I think the answer is that this is a site for sharing/discussing session tunes. Everybody knows that the penal laws in Ireland blocked all expression of music and art for almost 4 centuries, and that the traditional music that became popular there after the 1904 Feis set up by the Gaelic League was a mixture of Scottish, French, English predominantly. When the Gaelic League and Catholic Church forbade dancing without a permit in 1934, the type of music available in Ireland (and the instrumentation allowed to play it) changed again. We’re all talking about 20th century session music, and calling it Irish is just putting a label on something that is almost impossible to nail down.

Re: I have always wanted to know…

"Nane sae deaf as winna hear."

You’ve been watching too much Taggart, pal :)

Re: I have always wanted to know…

"An dinnae you, iver, iver, forget it". [ Quote - Rab C. Nesbitt ] :)

Posted by .

Re: I have always wanted to know…

"We’re all talking about 20th century session music, and calling it Irish is just putting a label on something that is almost impossible to nail down."

This may be true. But there is a particular repertoire and style* most associated with Ireland, even they may be played and propagated in many other parts of the world and may overlap with musical repertoire and styles from other parts of Europe and N. America. This site has to allow for such overlap in repertoire and style (although just how much overlap should be permitted has been a matter of some debate over the years), but the music as played in Ireland, in the ‘Irish diaspora’ or by those that have learned from Irish players continues to be central to this site.

*I use the terms ‘repertoire’ and ‘style’ broadly to cover a group of related and overlapping repertoires and styles.

Re: I have always wanted to know…

"Everybody knows that the penal laws in Ireland blocked all expression of music and art for almost 4 centuries" …. Wha?

On another matter: use and misuse of the term ‘Celtic’. It is my impression that this is far more an issue on those islands on the east side of the Atlantic; I assume that this is as much to do with tensions related to regional/national/ethnic identity-politics as with music, if I may put it in such a clunky way. Ironically, the term ‘Celtic’ seemed to come into favour in (1970s) North America as a replacement for ‘Irish’, which had come to indicate the type of sing-along pub music modelled on that of the Irish Rovers. If you saw ‘Irish’ music advertised, that was what you expected; if it was ‘Celtic’, you would expect some Chieftains/Planxty knock-off. Usually if a session were advertised as ‘Celtic’, it would mean something along those lines; some Scottish/Cape Breton/etc. music tolerated, but not encouraged. So, as a label, it served a purpose. Again, that’s my impression.

Re: I have always wanted to know…

@Kenny, Thanks for the translation. Though I laugh my head off at Rab C, I rarely know what he’s saying.

Posted by .

Re: I have always wanted to know…

@myself. My impression from past discussion on this forum is that the issue is mainly over use *outside* these “islands on the east side of the Atlantic” rather than on them.

I think it is mainly about stylistic issues, especially where the repertoires overlap. Distances are small here and most people who play trad have an idea what geographic labels to styles might mean. In my CD collection I have “The Blackthorn Stick” played as for a rapper sword dance, and English country dance, a Scottish two-step and as in Ireland. Within the distance I might drive for a weekend away I could find sessions where the tune is normally played in one of those ways (and maybe also on a Welsh harp). So on the one hand ‘Celtic’ is lumping together things that people recognise as distinct but includes things that are not Celtic in a linguistic sense.

On the other hand there are contexts where lumping things together is useful. In the 1970’s there was a revival/re-invention of English dance music which emphasised styles that were not English or Scottish – both of which were and are popular in England– and ‘Celtic’ was used for as a lump term for those.

I see there is current discussion about “Flute players with ‘Northern’ Flavor”. In that sort of context, to someone in North America, ‘Celtic’ would be unhelpful. Maybe my CD collection has The Blackthorn Stick played with a ‘Northern’ flavour.

Re: I have always wanted to know…

Sorry "… which emphasised styles not Irish or Scottish…" oops.

Re: I have always wanted to know…

Thinking of the big festival in Glasgow every January, it is called Celtic Connections (and there is also the Celtic Colours Festival in Cape Breton). When the Glasgow event started, over 20 years ago, it was more representative of the so-called "Celtic nations" i.e. it featured artists from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Brittany, Galicia, for example, but with each successive year, more and more countries have been involved - from Africa, India, North and South America. You could argue that there are Scots (and Irish) scattered around the world, but some of the links, especially in styles of music, are, to say the least, pretty tenuous. At one point some people were agitating to change the name of the festival and remove the "Celtic" tag, but the answer given was that "everyone knows what it is, when and where it is". It is still a very well attended festival, running for nearly 3 weeks each year in darkest January, (having originally run for only 5 days), and there is still representation from those "nations" who were the mainstay in the early days, but a heck of a lot else that is not "Celtic"……..whatever that means to you, me or anyone else! ;-)

Re: I have always wanted to know…

Celtic is not a real thing. It’s just a marketing word. There’s pretty much something for anyone at CC if they’re looking for "Roots" music.- for the want of another word!!

Re: I have always wanted to know…

I’ve always felt a little uneasy with the "Celtic" label. For me, it would even exclude Shetland music, Bothy ballads, East Coast fiddling and so on. Also much English folk music, as has been mentioned.

Others will argue that it is broader than that but I always associate the term with the Gaelic speaking areas and other areas such as Ireland, Wales, Isle of Man, Cornwall, and so on. Also, Britanny, Galicia, and Cape Breton, of course.

Of course, there is and always has been a cross over of traditions and musicians will tend to travel and wish to play different kinds of music. So, it would have been a bit daft to try and exclude other forms of Scottish (and indeed from other countries) traditional music.

I’ve noticed in recent years that the organisers of the festival which Trish mentions have been pushing the "Connections" aspect much more. Something that they probably never considered to be that important at the outset.
I agree that it’s probably too late to change the name and, in my experience, rebranding never seems to work and often sounds the "death knell" of an organisation. Anyone remember when Edinburgh Folk Festival renamed itself "Shoots and Roots"? What was all that about?

Re: I have always wanted to know…

Glad I got it right, Johnny Jay!

Re "roots" and "shoots and roots", the youth programme at Sidmouth Folk Week is called "Shooting Roots". What’s in a name?
And as bogman says, plenty choice for everyone at CC.