Are university courses in traditional Irish music making a positive contribution to the genre
Yes and No
Only when the graduates form bands that I like.
another source of income for musicians other than gigs and touring?
I certainly have thoughts on this in relation to the Scottish scene, but I’d like to hear what people think about the question before we wander slightly off-topic into that area.
I might have the same thoughts as Calum, but was also awaiting other responses before veering off.
Ok I was too specific I guess because the question applies to Scottish music scene as well. Although the site is dedicated to Irish dance music I feel the line is blurred and that as tunes and influences have crossed borders consistently for generations that there is no clear distinction and could as well apply to any of the threads in the broader tapestry including cape Breton and Nova Scotia for that matter and to be honest it’s a fairly sensitive subject probably!
But let’s here all sides of the picture from those studying and those firmly against the trends, what those trends might be according to our individual positions and opinions .
My own opinion is that the academic approach is drawing us away from the roots of the music, dance and social functions of community, to what might be termed Art music and an intellectual approach that could have negative repercussions on the whole scene as regards tuning , technical requirements and creating a hierarchy where one might need a degree in the form before getting gigs! Ok tongue in cheek a bit but I guess as the OP it’s better to nail my colours to the mast so those so inclined can take pot shots and fill them full of holes, or not, depending on their aim and quality of ammunition. 8-)
If the results improve the scene in general then of course I’m all for it, but improvement is a relative not absolute thing and what might be an improvement to some, could be the opposite to others….
Hence my comments on another thread regarding modern tunes full of technical virtuosity but lacking in melody , bands where there is a surfeit of ability but what do we get as a result ? Vague aimless pieces with little in the way of soul but lots of technique.
In general, I think it’s a good thing. It’s an increased exposure for the tradition, and just like publicity, any exposure is good exposure, even if it has some negative consequences too. I tend to like the technical virtuosity that you find in a lot of polished bands these days, although it’s not necessarily what I aspire to. Is it really part of the tradition, you might ask — but my answer is that it doesn’t matter, because if it inspires more people to become part of the tradition, it’s a good thing.
I know several people that have music degrees from Limerick or Cork, and not only are they great players, they’re also great advocates for the tradition. Many of them are teachers, helping spread the love of this music around.
And on another note, it’s a bit of a struggle to be taken seriously as an Irish musician in the U.S. if you’re not Irish. That attitude doesn’t come from the people that are IN the tradition, it’s more from festivals and gigs that are organized by people that don’t really know whether the music is good or not, they just know they can sell "authenticity". In those cases, a degree in traditional music from an Irish university can lend a certain aspect of credibility to someone looking for jobs or gigs related to the tradition. ("That and a quarter will buy you a cup of coffee", as a friend who has a degree from Limerick is fond of saying…)
I am acquainted with Mick Maloney, who I feel has made a substantial contribution towards the advancement of Irish music as both a practitioner and an academic. One can never be less by knowing more. I suppose the value of formal study of any subject comes in direct proportion to one’s goal in pursuing it.
Yes. Education is good. High skill levels are good. Improved practice is good. Academic vigour is good.
I agree with all of that, Allan, although 2 & 3 do not necessarily require attendance at a University course.
Having said that, the young musicians who attend the RC in Glasgow (I’m sure it will be the same for Irish courses) do have access to highly respected mentors and so called "tradition bearers" who are very "au fait" with the more informal side of things. Many of them honed their craft on the folk and session scene from the days of the folk revival and subsequent years. I could probably mention a few names too. :-)
Of course, the students just don’t stop at learning songs, tunes, skills from the older musicians and, perhaps, this is where discussion of such courses is likely to become more contentious.
In my experience, the majority of these younger musicians CAN play traditional music very well when they want to be bothered. Thankfully, some of them still do although I wouldn’t suggest that they are able to play everyone else "under the table". Of course, they may have more knowledge and skills beyond "the basics" plus loads of energy but none of that is strictly necessarily to play good traditional music well.
I find this interesting, in part because I can’t recall hearing about universities here in the USA offering coursework and degrees in our traditional "old time" music.
I do know of a couple universities here in the USA who offer (or did offer) degrees in Scottish Highland piping and drumming.
Didn’t Leo Rowsome teach university courses in Ireland? He produced some fine players.
The place where traditional song, dance, and dance-music has become entrenched in academia, in the university system, is Bulgaria. A criticism heard is that the music and dance has become divorced from its original function in the life of the traditional Bulgarian village, and has become a technical exercise.
So, my daughter is in a traditional music program, here in Cape Breton. She is actually splitting her major and doing history, folklore, and business courses. It is not a performance PROGRAM, but there are performance courses; this year she studied CB composers with Stand Chapman, next year she’ll have Kyle MacNeil from the Barras. She has already played with him a number of times. She did a course with Kate Dunlay. Next year she will do a semester at the Conservatoire in Glasgow, but she could have chosen Sabhal Mor Ostaig, Limerick, or some other schools, and there are always students here, from there. In her case, what she learns at school doesn’t replace what she learns the old way, it is in addition to, and it’s useful. Would be nice if this program had more performance stuff, but that’s not how it is organized. She is getting a good well rounded education while spending some time focusing on her main interest. I don’t see any downsides in our situation.
Overall, I think going into a formal music program is one way to do it… not essential, but it never hurts to have more knowledge. One of our top fiddlers, Kimberley Fraser, went to Berklee, and one of our busier piano players got a jazz degree. I know a couple of other great CB fiddlers with music degrees (from before the advent of the trad programs). It didn’t spoil them for trad, not by any means. Then I look at a band like Imar…. at least two of them did formal music programs of some kind, and Murphy, an Irishman, went to London to do a course in Traditional Irish Music (from the band bio), and from there to Limerick. Are there people hoping a program will turn them into a hotshot and set hem up for a professional career? No doubt. In the end, the test is the same for everyone: have you learned to play well, or not?
>That attitude doesn’t come from the people that are IN the tradition, it’s more from festivals and gigs that are >organized by people that don’t really know whether the music is good or not, they just know they can sell >"authenticity"
An entirely separate thread could be started on what passes for "authenticity" at Highland Games in the States.
Painful, painful stuff. Bad accents, bad history, bad music, questionable costumes, invented traditions ("Kirkin O’ The Tartans"), and beyond. A "Wee Dram for Charlie" anyone?
I guess my view of this is different, because it’s made the politics of the session scene here in Glasgow a real headache, unless of course, you are a Royal Conservatoire student. In which case, I’m sure it’s great! Cliques usually are when you’re in them.
If you’re anyone else, you will find that many sessions in the city are dominated by RC students, and they are pretty unwelcoming to the great unwashed. The standard of playing is high, for sure, but the ice cold attitude is unpleasant. And in my experience, they don’t play ‘common’ tunes or old tunes like ones in O’Neil’s. Some may know or play them, but the the repertoire at those sessions is very modern, and I suspect lots are written by their tutors, friends, etc. When I’ve shown up at those sessions, I had all the fun of sitting in the outer circle, completely ignored, not playing a note and feeling like I shouldn’t be there. And they don’t want me (or musicians like me) there. Once I related an anecdote on here about being told to play at the beginner’s session in the pub across the road, instead of at a session consisting of mostly RC people (and I didn’t even have an instrument with me — I’d just suggested I could come down for a tune at some future point). The guy who said that to me was one of the *lecturers.* Way to promote the right kind of attitude in your students!
This isn’t just me. Other people I play regularly with report identical experiences. The result? A split session scene in the city. The RC players won’t go near the community sessions, and average, amateur players avoid RC sessions. RC players look down at the rest of us muddling amateurs, and I think there’s some resentment amongst us muddling amateurs towards the RC. You can admire their playing, but not their attitude. If it was just a couple sessions, who cares, but they’ve got their fingers in the majority of sessions, especially around the West End, so if you live here, your session choices are incredibly limited even though there are sessions almost every night of the week. That sucks.
To answer Will’s question, not really. And it’s a shame. With all the talent and musicians the RC folk degree brings to the city, you could have an energetic, vibrant, and inclusive scene if the attitudes were different. But as it stands, it just makes it a hassle.
Yes, it’s like a "two tier" system in Glasgow from what I’ve experienced there.
Less so in Edinburgh (and definitely elsewhere) even although you’ll still encounter many better players and some sessions which are very advanced. However, you will still find a welcome in most of them and, at least, feel that there is an opportunity to progress within the set up even if some of the tunes may be unknown or are being played at a higher level.
@Richard D Cook
Regarding any universities offering courses in OldTime here in the USA, the only one I’m aware of (there may be more) is at Berklee School of Music, where you can major in performance and then minor in "American Roots Music." The description from their site:
"The American roots music minor will enhance a student’s knowledge of the musical basis of a wide range of American roots music styles while also exploring the historical and sociological components of these styles—including, but not limited to, country blues, old-time, bluegrass, spirituals, early gospel, classic country, cajun, celtic, and other related offshoots. "
With that wide a range of somewhat related styles, it’s obviously not going to go too terribly deep into any one of them. And I wonder if throwing them all into one category risks a "fusion" approach. But at least this is one place you can get a study of American roots music at the university level.
How long has the split session scene in Glasgow been the status quo?
The way I see it the vast majority of sessions in Glasgow have started after and a result of the music course.
The Ben Nevis was surely running before the music course, as was Waxy’s.
When I moved here in 2009, it was going that way but was a bit more amorphous. Some of the good players who might have had some association with the RSAMD (as it was called then) were happy enough to play with the great unwashed. I dropped out of the scene, roughly from 2014 to 2016, and when I tried to get back into it in 2016, it was like walking into a wall.
When I spoke to the members of Imar (who were really nice guys) last year they were of the opinion that Glasgow was the place to be if you were a young traddie. I guess the session is where the young students and professionals do a lot of their networking (Imar grew out of a session) and as such sessions could be viewed by them as part of the business.
I should imagine the youngsters are not that interested in playing the old standards. In a buzzing and vibrant scene there are so many hot new tunes to learn (and, actually, some of those hot new tunes are pretty good, in my opinion).
We should be rejoicing in the fact that there are so many young people playing trad nowadays and that it’s a cool thing to do (as opposed to say thirty years ago when kids learned the fiddle in secret for fear of being bullied by their peers). It does mean though that because a lot of them are going through the Conservatoire there are a lot of players who all sound the same. It could be seen as a generic style rather than regional.
Dr SS, I’m pretty sure it was the Croft No.5 boys that started the Ben session when they were in Uni. Certainly 15 years ago I wasn’t aware of many Glasgow sessions, Edinburgh was much better known for traditional music than Glasgow.
And there’s me having studied these last 65yrs at The University of Life.
And with no degree to show for all my efforts!
I wonder if I apply, will I get all my fees back? Will they refund all my travel expenses?
All the best
For what it’s worth, my opinion is that the Glasgow courses have made an extremely positive contribution to traditional music. It should be remembered that most of the folk on the courses are young, a bit naive, though not as naive as their age group in my day, and full of energy and ideas. You’ll get some that will come across as a bit rude but to paint them all with the same brush is very unfair.
Though the courses were before my time, I’m lucky enough to play regularly in trad situations with many of the first wave of graduates from 15 odd years ago, or whenever it was, and most of them have developed with maturity to be some of the best traditional musicians you could hope for. In my opinion, superior in every musical way to the preceding generation. Though I’m sure that statement will ruffle feathers.
I would agree with you there, bogman. I think when the current crop of youngsters mature there will be some stunningly beautiful music produced.
"In my opinion, superior in every musical way to the preceding generation. "
That would very much depend on how much of "the preceding generation" you were around to hear, to be able to make that comparison.
For sure, the music being produced is fantastic. And you’re far from being one of the great unwashed, bogman, so even if you lived here, you would not deal with the experience of most week night sessions in the West End having arguably impassible barriers. Lots of people in the world are amazing players, producing beautiful albums — and some are still friendly to the single cell organisms who roll off the street and into their session!
With the McHughs and a very active Comhaltas, etc., there is a vibrant history of trad music in Glasgow that far precedes the RSAMD. I think the Vicky Bar session (RIP) included people with that background, as well as players associated with the RSAMD — as both students and lecturers — in its nascent years. As I said, it was once a more porous music scene.
There are still sessions for old people in Glasgow. They coexist with the fast, youthful ones, but you get a good mixture.
I go to the Islay inn on a thursday night and we get an older crowd but there are different sessions on right along the street. Mind, Finnieston has changed too: a bit hip and trendy now.
"That would very much depend on how much of "the preceding generation" you were around to hear, to be able to make that comparison."
I totally agree, and am confident to make the comparison.
"There are still sessions for old people in Glasgow" - haha, that did make me laugh.
On my travels I’ve been blessed to meet, play and share with many incredible people, including some 50+ members of The Session.
Note that I wrote people, not musicians. Some were so qualified you wouldn’t believe it! Nuclear physicists, professors of everything, geneticists etc; the list is endless.
I’ve played and stayed with some of the poorest, those who would give you their last penny (or whatever currency you care for).
The most important thing is they are, or were, all people. People who play music. People who sing. People who live on the same planet, breathe the same air. Just people who love the music!
Did, does Jeremy ask for a musical qualification to be a member of or to contribute to this site?
All he asks is that we be civil, respectful to one another.
Doesn’t he mention the importance of sharing tunes?
There’s no elitism in those parameters, and it’s been great, over the years, to see the encouragement given here to so many people embarking on this wonderful journey of music.
In my lifetime of music I’ve been dedicated to sharing and passing on that which has been given to me. And believe me, for that I must be one of the most blessed. And all that was from people, not one of whom had a degree in Irish, or for that matter any other, Traditional Music!
And Kenny mentioned about the preceding generation. Yes, don’t forget those gone on, those who never recorded, those who played because it was their way of life. And believe me, there are just as many now of that same ilk!
It’s more than an art form!
Oh! By the way, if we’re getting intellectual, don’t questions normally have a question mark? :-)
I’ll try to finish my breakfast now
All the best :-)
"I totally agree, and am confident to make the comparison".
Then please make it.
PS… "sessions for old people" - made you laugh ? Made me vomit.
On Imar again,DonaldK mentioned they came out of a session, but their band bio says they all knew each other from Comhaltas, which DrSS mentions…. I know there are going to be opinions about whether Comhaltas is good or bad. So you have young people coming out of Comhaltas, or university, or both, getting confusing…. if there is an elitist attitude being created at the Conservatoire, that’s disappointing. I haven’t heard a word of that about any of the young players coming to these parts; we’ve had quite a few Irish, and some Scots. Couple of Scots in my daugter’s classes, and I met one a couple of years ago. Never heard a bad thing about them.
Brian, as far as I’m aware there is not one graduate of a music degree on this entire thread. It’s nothing to do with elitism. Being a good traditional musician comes from experience, both musical and life, my point is that the grounding graduates get leave them a fantastic platform for later life. I’m not particulary educated but it doesn’t leave me with a prejudice and disregard for those who are.
Got me on that one Brian! Fixed it at least on this post!
I’m sure there are plent of young people who play every bit as well as those with degrees! And old people , of which I guess I’m an honourary member !
Thing is music is an art form and a craft, so yes I’m all for education and anything that can improve our playing. But I have to add, I see people who appear to think that good technique , speed and ability to play lots of notes, equates automatically to better playing. This is not so. The better players are not necessarily those with the best technique or who can play the fastest or can fit a million notes in and ornament each of them And ornament the ornaments ! Sure good technique is important enough but it’s the spirit of the player , the spirit that reflects in the music. That’s what makes a good player something special …..
And the same goes for tunes! It’s not the tunes with loads of notes and ornaments that are automatically the better tunes! Sometimes the simple tunes are the best, because they leave space for artistic creativity , they have strong beautiful melodies and are memorable and Musical, something that I find not the case with many of the new crop of tunes ( and players)
Anyhow. Carry on.
Kenny, I already made the comparison, I said it’s my opinion that the younger generation are becoming better musicians than older generations. I am not one of the younger generation but am delighted to witness so many better players than I used to. That is a general statement not and exclusive.
Do you really think Allan’s line about "old peoples sessions" was meant as an insult? I’m in my fifties, the session whippersnappers think of me as old but I’m not going to take offence.
Please bogman don’t think I was in any way alluding to your contribution. Far from it!
It’s just the whole context of this thread.
May I add generally that I spent some years playing in most wonderful sessions in Glasgow; I used to hitch 100+ miles each way for a tune with Jimmy, Brendan and Martin, plus of course everyone else, including some contributors here.
I suppose I’m not that ‘youthful’ these days either. :-)
All the best
Brian, and Kenny, I hope my post didn’t suggest there weren’t tremendous players in the previous generations, of course there were and are and I have the utmost respect for them. My positivity for the prospects of emerging players maybe left me looking disrespectful - that in certainly not what I meant.
Well I’m certainly not a graduate with a music degree - I don’t even have grade one in triangle.
I don’t think you need a music degree to be a good musician. But what doing a music degree does is give you several years of concentrating on playing your instrument(s), getting tuition from some of the masters of the genre and being with other people of a similar bent. That’s not quite the same as living in the middle of nowhere listening to records and trying to work out what is going on, on your own.
"Old people’s sessions." One of the things I really appreciate about Irish trad is that this doesn’t exist.
Wow! I originally thought this thread was D.O.A. Cheers, everyone who has played sessions in Glasgow.
The city obviously a strong pulse. I’m not making light of the problems. Not trivialising any of that.
But I do appreciate how a very active city can be vibrant & tribal at the same time or rewarding & maddening
depending on where you are in the whole scene. All the best to Glasgow’s session players!
Kenny, sorry to hear about your vomit. ;
As an experienced drinker, never a drop spilled, I have taken a turn round all the session bars of the Glasgow over the last 35 years: I think the traditional music course has had a positive effect on the sessions and on the broader cultural vibrancy of the city and indeed country. I actually love that people are playing new tunes…I havent heard a poor tune that I thought was crow barred in to polish someone ego. I think the idea that people playing in the 70’s and 80’s in Glasgow were more connected with the tradition is simply not the case. Bars like the Ben Nervous (nevis) are not great listening places, its too busy. The thing I think has changed for the poorer is that sessions used to have songs..traditional Scottish, Irish, English and Glasgow songs this made the session inclusive for the whole bar. Back in the 90’s we used try and revive music in former session bars it was tough going. …but…I would say to everyone who feel frozen out get some folk and get something going. Aye
100% certain yes. Having the opportunity to pursue higher education for somebody who is passionate about ITM has to be a positive. And if this is done well then we end up with (technically) well trained musicians who should have a broad academic perspective on the genre. Plus all the occupational opportunities for lecturers and students to earn a living. Long term - can’t see downsides.
It also primes the pipeline with lots of talented and proficient young players. Hopefully they will always be wonderful ambassadors for ITM. Plus - the more "not Irish" people who might arrive at ITM via such a route the better… our tradition and culture is strong enough to assimilate and be enriched by eternal influences without losing it’s essential character or identity. Look what we’ve done to the Scots for instance :-)
I want to go off on a brief digression about linguistics and Gaelic before getting to my point.
There are two schools of thought about linguistics, the descriptive and the prescriptive. The prescriptive school says that we know how to speak and write (say) English correctly, and we just need to teach people this, and change is evidence that we havern’t done a good enough job. The descriptive says that language is always undergoing a process of change and that we can only describe how it is used and how it is changing. The descriptivist approach is now widely considered to be a more truthful way of inquiring about language.
Gaelic has circa 60,000 speakers in Scotland and the number is falling fast. The biggest issue facing the language is that new native and non-native speakers are not getting enough in-depth exposure to the trickier corners of the language. In particular young speakers have smaller vocabularies and poorer command of various grammatical technicalities. Things like the vocative case are slowly disappearing, along with aspects of the genitive.
Because almost all expert-fluent (as opposed to just fluent) speakers are now trained at university, they are generally taught in descriptivist terms, and therefore while they are taught these structures, they are also taught that their loss is something that is happening within the language and that they have no role in influencing it.
I’m not qualified to weigh in on these issues, but it does seem to me that for a small language with a very small caste of expert users, a purely descriptive approach to language is perhaps missing out the out-sized influence that these expert users have on the language. Of course change is inevitable and unstoppable, but I wonder to what extent academia realises it is an agent in linguistic change and what its role can or should be.
So, finally, to music. When you train people to make music in a certain way, you are creating a certain type of musician. And when you are an internationally respected organisation that trains people to a very high level, you are placing the stamp of authenticity on a certain type of person. But you aren’t just amplifying what was already there: you are defining what that tradition is, especially to the state in particular. Does it leave room for anyone else, coming through any other route? The Conservatoire is churning out beautiful singers year after year, but I don’t think they will ever produce a Dick Gaughan. How could they?
Finally, without getting into politics, there is to me something of a question around social class. Since the RSAMD as was made traditional music a degree profession, there has been a middle class invasion. Fine, the music doesn’t belong to anyone, and anyone’s as welcome to play it as the next person. But I do think a certain type of person is getting crowded out by it, and I don’t think that’s a good thing.
That’s exceedingly well put, Calum, and highlights the two main concerns surrounding the degree courses.
It’s whether these negatives outweigh the positives.
In the end maybe we have to accept that things will change over time. As you point out, musical language is not static. I personally think there will always be musicians coming to the fore via alternative routes but they may find acceptance within the genre more difficult in the future.
"Berklee School of Music minor in American Roots Music: including, but not limited to, country blues, old-time, bluegrass, spirituals, early gospel, classic country, cajun, celtic, and other related offshoots. "
Wow. How vague and unfocussed can they get? And in what way could bluegrass (a modern invention) be considered "roots music"?
Bill Monroe developed the genre generally accepted as ‘bluegrass’ in the mid 1940s - approx. 75 years ago. I am not arguing either way, just posing the question what counts as ‘modern’ in music history? Also as it draws heavily on a much older form [Appalachian string band] would that not qualify it as roots music?
I just remembered an interesting chat I had on Twitter with Ali Hutton on more or less this topic:
You might have to click around a bit to find all the replies, it got a bit branchy, but I found it a really interesting perspective.
That’s a very well articulated position, Calum. And I agree with your concern — and I agree with DonaldK’s point that it’s hard to know if the negatives outweigh the positives or vice versa… But in thinking about the people I know personally who have traditional music degrees, they aren’t a homogeneous group of clones. They all play with different styles, and do different things with their degrees. I think part of the problem in Glasgow (and this is just a guess) is that current and recent students have formed a bit of a clique which is big enough to dominate large swaths of the scene. And that happens elsewhere, too. It’s unfortunate to hear that they’re being elitist about it, but people like to play music how they like it… Even I sometimes feel threatened by newcomers to my sessions who don’t play the way I like (although, I am still welcoming of them - up to a point).
I think it’s extremely unfair to brand current and recent students as forming a clique and being elitist, especially lumping them all together in the way suggested in this thread. There will be some rude but in my opinion no more so that many older musicians. I’ve found most of them to be extremely friendly and open.
So is that maybe because you’re not a American-born female uilleann piper, bogman? Not wanting to necessarily open up another whole branch of this thread, but it sounds like Dr. Spear has had a very different experience…
I’m aware of that Reverend, I know Dr. Spear well, and though she can stick up for herself I certainly would have made my feeling known if I’d been there. At the same time, a whole generation shouldn’t be cast as elite because of isolated incidents. There’s is a very well known older musician local to me who was so nasty to me when I was a teenager it put me off playing for a year. I have never forgotten it but I didn’t blame his entire generation.
Also, every session is different, there are plenty sessions frequented by older musicians that aren’t entirely open.
I think the Conservatoire’s had a pretty negative effect on young trad music elsewhere in Scotland. So many young people are drawn to the Conservatoire as a means of starting a career in folk music - not just for the courses, but also because so much networking is now done in Glasgow because of the Conservatoire bubble. A lot of talented young musicians therefore go to Glasgow, which I think means there are fewer in other parts of Scotland - with the impact of fewer young people playing in sessions and bands in other parts of the country. Many of the new young bands now seem to come from Glasgow (or Newcastle, where there’s the Folk and Traditional Music BA), maybe just because there are fewer young musicians in other parts of Scotland.
I also think Calum’s points are helpful - the academicisation of folk music in the Conservatoire, Newcastle Uni etc. means it is brought under the control of the intellectual establishment (albeit that the idea of ‘folk’ came about in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by an intellectual elite who collected music from ‘the folk’). If the Conservatoire sets the standard for the ‘best’ folk music, that’s setting an elite and exclusionist idea of what folk music should attain to (regardless of whether or not students from the Conservatoire behave as elites at sessions.)
I can’t say I’ve tried to crawl my way into every session, so maybe I am painting with too broad a brush, but I tried a few in 2016/17 and got completely blanked, before playing a note and at times never playing a note (except for that one time I was told to not even bother — hey, at least he was straight with me), and that happened too reliably in those sessions. And that isn’t a thing that happens with that degree of consistency, in my experience, in sessions elsewhere, even elite ones with professional players, and I’ve played in New York City, Dublin, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Massachusetts, Colorado, and yeah, Skye, etc. etc. etc. Sure, you get a little bit of that everywhere. Myself and a pal stumbled into a session in Dublin once with some Big Name players that was way above our level, and they definitely didn’t want the dross, and we looked at each other and were like, ‘Damn, what are we doing here?’ But you can go to a session in that same pub the next day, and be totally fine to join in. I’m not that fussed when there are sessions way above my pay grade, but (a) most of them will accept you eventually if you’re decent, have reasonable session etiquette, and are improving and (b) they’re not such an inevitability and everywhere.
I did stop trying, because there are only so many walls you can walk into before it stops being fun. If Cillian Vallely and Mike McGoldrick can be pleasant and friendly, why can’t anyone else? At least sometimes!
I don’t doubt that the program is doing great things for the quality of the music and the albums, but there’s something else that I am struggling to articulate, a stratification of the music scene that’s ubiquitous, to some degree, obviously, but more exaggerated here.
I can see where you’re coming from Dr Spear. Maybe the bars are part to blame as they’re hiring the hosts, and if they’re younger graduates maybe they don’t have the experience to host welcoming sessions. On the other hand, the bars know they can get consistency with the student types while other sessions can be a lot more hit and miss. The session side of things certainly seems to be in a time of change and uncertainty. Maybe what’s needed are publicans with more of an interest in the actual music than the money over the bar but they’re few and far between.
My view is that the professional traditional music courses have been a disaster for the ethos of the session scene in Glasgow because the course concentrates them in the city.
For enthusiasts, Irish sessions are amatuer in structure and that is their strength and beauty but there seems to be a different mind set with the Glasgow RC students, which claims to be Scottish music anyway.
All the hordes of graduates coming out of college every year I assume expect to gain employment from their degree but there is no corresponding work out there for them. It’s not even a good degree to become a teacher unless a private one, which you can do without the degree. A degree course in traditional music flies in the face of the tiny nature of the genre.
There has been a trend since at least the 1990s in Scottish music of modern composed celebrity tunes, many of them not traditional in structure, being to the fore and becoming a large part of the current repertoire of Scottish music.
That has led to the dismal state of modern Scottish so-called traditional music where there is no attempt to stay within traditional forms. It has become Scottish music based on traditional music but not staying within the genre.
The college almost certainly fosters and promotes that attitude.
The Scottish music revival happened on the back of the Irish music revival and expanded very quickly in Scotland.
It did not have time to develop a robust filter for crap based on traditional Scottish repertoire.
If there had been that robust filter based on the very extensive repertoire of Scottish traditional music then I doubt that many of those modern tunes would have survived long enough to pollute the genre.
I wonder if all these good musicians coming out of degree courses, forming bands and chasing audiences is making traditional music more available. My impression is that here in rural middle England we are getting more trad music in small venues that 10 years ago.
Mainly Scottish and English rather than Irish. With some audience sizes I am amazed it is worthwhile. Good for those of who go though.
I think that’s being a bit harsh, weeman.
I think it’s great that Scottish music is being played in Scotland and at sessions as well, rather than just by pipe bands and box and fiddle groups. In my view the large amount of "modern composed celebrity tunes" is an outcome of a healthy, thriving music scene (in his day I suppose Gow’s compositions might have been considered "modern composed celebrity tunes"). If some of those tunes have non-traditional forms then so be it - things surely have to move on or they stagnate (look at the present state of folk clubs compared to even twenty years ago). In time the new tunes will become part of a new expanded tradition.
I really like Bach but I would hate to have missed out on Mozart, Beethoven and Stravinsky because they wrote "modern composed celebrity tunes".
> Maybe the bars are part to blame as they’re hiring the hosts, and if they’re younger graduates maybe they don’t have the experience to host welcoming sessions.
It’s such an obvious point, but it had never occurred to me before now - if you take a bunch of 18yos that clearly cannot have a history of regularly attending pub sessions and very quickly turn them into very high level musicians, how can there not be a disconnect there?
> not staying within the genre
I do agree with this to some extent, though it’s a complex topic. In-group musicians can break rules that out-group musicians cannot: you wouldn’t really raise an eyebrow if a piper played a little jazz lick to connect a couple of tunes together, but if a sax player showed up you’d be a lot more nervous. Similar "rules" apply to composition. But RCS students are being taught from day one to ignore the conventional boundaries of their genre.
“Very high level” thats debatable! Technically that could be the case But music is not just technique….. the highest level musicians i know, are to a man ( and women) friendly inclusive and welcoming. These are at the top of the game , not youngsters who are wet behind the ears ( what an expression) but mature hard working and gifted.
There are plenty im sure who might have the technique but not the spirit, so they are still wannabes . With real ability comes humility , they come hand in hand…..
Ive wondered why the modern players often play these ,imo meaningless , melody less , meandering pretentious pieces when the repertoir is so full of really good exciting tunes .
Maybe its because thats all they know! They don’t have the good tunes because theyre not modern , therfor of no value?
> thats debatable!
It really isn’t. I mean, I want to stay away from the question of musical "goodness" because it’s a completely pointless discussion, you like something or you don’t. But any Conservatoire graduate can play their instrument better than 99% of us, and can play any of the tunes we can, better than we can, if they choose to learn them.
As I said in the Twitter thread above, no RCS graduate would or could come up with something like Peat & Diesel, and that’s as much as I want to say about the music itself.
Peat and diesel! cheers Calum, theyre a new one to me.
99% … hmm sounds like hyperbole to me. Once again , there is more to music than mere technique!
I don’t think anyone can expect to gain employment from an arts degree these days (I have four of them and only one is of any vague use…. you know when odds are not good), but I don’t know if RCS students have become that cynical — or realistic. That said, I hear what you’re saying about 18-year olds being very good musicians, but not having session social skills. There’s probably a lot truth to that.
At the same time, the guy who told me to play at the learner’s session was one of the lecturers, old enough to be my grandfather. And he’d been around the scene for a while. A far worse reflection on the program, in my mind, than if he’d been an 18-year old acting like a douche.
As for the quality of the new tunes being composed, well, some are fine, and others remind me of a comment my ex made once: "That’s not a tune. That’s a riff." He was always pithy and sharp.
I haven’t read the term "intellectual establishment" in a long time.
This all feels like a wierd suspicion of young educated musicians who want to play traditional music.
Change is good, education is good, relax.
Here’s one of my favourite "alumnis" from the RC
I think the people who go to the RC would not have remained in towns and villages building a local scene if the course had not existed ..young people move to get educated or get work and are usually all the better for it. Dick Gaughan took the route he took…. at the time he took it. …there will no be another like him but there will be something different. If you think the course has been a disaster for Glasgow, for traditional music, for the session scene then I presume you want it shut down or wish hadnt started?…the plockton school is that a bad thing? In the 1980’s we wondered why we were not taught Scottish literature, history and music…why we were left floundering and tongue twisted trying to pronounce the Gaelic place names that surrounded us. These courses are a part of things not the whole and it is not some smothering smog, choking out some more authentic thing. The young people will develop as they get older. Also there are plenty of near melody-less tunes in the tradition which have rythmic punch for DANCING. Purity and pollution good grief . ..am away tae play Chalie Parkers welcome to lossiemouth on my crumhorn
Well said, Rob.
"That’s not a tune. That’s a riff." Thanks DrSilverSpear :D Thats exactly how I am feeling about some modern tunes! Perfectly captured in a nutshell
Yes Rob - my sentiments entirely.
I would say that these courses, and development of ‘established’ schools of excellence, are the sign of the great strength of our tradition. They must be considered in their historical context and the benefits considered along with any cons (of which there inevitably will be).
I think what is not being considered here is that courses such as those at the RCS (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) are aware of all the issues mentioned above - and they are discussed openly. Homogenisation of the music - the effects of the establishment of the course on the music etc. etc. etc.
The assumption that somehow music players from the RCS (as it’s internally referred to) are somehow separate from us all as players is unhelpful. I think, if we are honest, the suggestion that they are ‘unauthentic homogeneous peddlers of soulless modern tunes’ is (at the very least) verging on a kind of snobbery.
I’m an unashamed amateur (maybe semi-professional?) player. I’ve never had a formal education like RCS players but find that I am welcome at, probably, all these sessions frequented by RCS players. I hang back and listen for most of them and lead a few sets based on what I’ve heard - sets that I think will fit. I would do this at any session.
I like playing at them to hear what you get like with the luxury of free-time and deadlines to force you to play even better. The playing is absolutely spectacular- disciplined or wild and free. The vibrancy is eye watering - and respect for tradition is certainly at the heart of it (not a wish to erase specificity). I really enjoy playing at these. as the musicianship is world class - and it keeps me on my toes!
As for your poor experiences Dr.SS, the age of these players may be younger and the social skills (realising how you come across to nervous newcomers) may not be there as much (though I am not ageist). I’m glad this factor has been considered. I think it may lead to some of the issues - more so than the idea of a hatred of outsiders.
I’m skeptical of the suggestion above, that gender or US heritage is part of the story. There are many women who are part of the session scene - especially at those run by RCS-types. And the same certainly goes for our US brothers and sisters too!
Even the ‘older generation’ of players - Croft no. 5 guys, treacherous orchestra etc etc may not play at these ‘RCS sessions’ as much. When I left Glasgow there seemed to be another session at the Drake that appeared to be more for the ‘previous’ Ben Nevis generations… though it’s certainly not a hard and fast rule. This also contained a greater number of songs as well as tunes!
I think the question to ask is why you wish to play at these sessions and if you do-
Glasgow is session city (as you well know) and there are multiple sessions all over the city - at least one every night and frequently more! (God I miss that place). If you are not gelling with these guys then that may not be such a bad thing! It’s certainly not the only option. I also can’t help but think if you told the music tutor that you are not a beginner the man he’d probably suggest something different?
I certainly enjoy playing with you and I hope you can make a welcome return to Oban at some point. You’ll certainly find the welcome is warm an unambiguous! :)
Personally, I’ve had more experiences in Edinburgh where I found a colder welcome and a more rigid feeling that so and so was the high-heed-yin (big boss). It let me down because I was looking forward to play at the heart of the folk revival. But I reckon it’s ok - I just didn’t fit in as well with that group of people and maybe it was more that it just want what I was looking for…
I think regarding this issue - and the original topic - we have to accept the smooth with the rough. The fact that these world class musicians are filling our bars with blistering talent and excellent Scottish music has to be celebrated on some level. And the fact that Scottish music and culture (maligned and outlawed at various points in history - and even ridiculed to this day) is being studied as seriously as any other culture, is certainly a break through for those who’ve come before us.
"Even the ‘older generation’ of players - Croft no. 5 guys, treacherous orchestra etc etc may not play at these ‘RCS sessions’ as much. "
I’m smiling at the notion that the above and other musicians from that era are now considered to be among the "older generation" of players but, I daresay, it’s becoming true.
However, it’s an interesting point. The bulk of the players in these bands continue to have a close association with the traditional music scene in Scotland as individuals and other projects. They also teach and play the "older tunes" and will even join in sessions with the rest of us. I also find that we are welcome enough to play with them when the occasion is right. Of course, they have composed many new tunes over the years but many of the better ones have been accepted by traditional musicians in general and can be heard even in the most "pedestrian" of sessions.
I can understand that the younger musicians while they are actually attending the RC and other such courses will naturally want to hang out together and play their own esoteric repertoire of new tunes and own compostions but, in the long term, it’s not really in their own interests to continue down such a route indefinitely. Yes, the more lucky and determined ones *may* be able to pursue a successful performance and recording career without having to compromise but most will probably end up adopting a more "rounded" approach.
"I also can’t help but think if you told the music tutor that you are not a beginner the man he’d probably suggest something different?"
Oh, he fine well knew who I was and that I’d been around the scene a while. The whole context of the conversation is that I was in the pub with my OH, reviewing it for work (that’s what a PhD gets you…. writing pub reviews) while the session was on. On this particular night, they were playing a fair few Irish tunes and Scottish tunes I did know, so it wasn’t unreasonable to think if I had an instrument with me, I’d fit in. During a break, while they were all milling around, I approached this chap *because* I knew him, exchanged some platitudes, then I said something like, "Be nice to get a tune sometime. I’m thinking of popping by with the pipes some day." His first response was, "You won’t know any of the tunes, but I guess you could sit in the outer circle." I pointed out I knew most of the tunes they’d played in the last hour. That was when he directed me to the learner’s session.
Obviously one guy is not representative of the course, yet I can’t help but feel that someone who’s a lecturer is more representative than the students. After all, they’re teaching and their attitudes are influencing the students to some degree.
I don’t think the notion that the RCS students are separate from other Glasgow players is completely inaccurate. Have you ever seen them at Babbity’s? I haven’t. And the standard of music at Babbity’s can be very high. And when I’ve lurked in an outer circle of an RCS session, there are no other non-RCS players there. I don’t have a problem with folk music degrees in and of themselves nor do I deny that it’s great to have all these brilliant young people playing, but I worry about the stratification of the music between professional classes and non-professional classes that seems to be developing. It hasn’t always. I too have played with the early graduates of the program, and they could not have been friendlier and would sit down and play in any session.
Might be useful to look up cailinrui1 (I think she’s has academic job at Univ.of Galway?). Her main job on TheSession seems to be to transmit new tunes to www.abcnotation.com. She ever wants tunes to be sent far and wide from TheSession where somebody else had assiduously posted the tune (s).
Good summer to all yous.
I haven’t read through all the preceding comments, but I was moved to respond to something that Reverend said: "…it’s a bit of a struggle to be taken seriously as an Irish musician in the U.S. if you’re not Irish. That attitude doesn’t come from the people that are IN the tradition, it’s more from festivals and gigs …" The comment has reference to the money-making aspect of working the music, rather than playing the music. In bygone days the doing of it was more important than the profiting from it.
I do like making a few bob now and then, but too often the hustle becomes more important than the music. Not throwing any stones here… just saying. With special reference to those in the ivory towers.
Just another music-related hustle.
"There has been a trend since at least the 1990s in Scottish music of modern composed celebrity tunes, many of them not traditional in structure, being to the fore and becoming a large part of the current repertoire of Scottish music."
That explains the curious session I attended in Glasgow in 2007.
I certainly don’t claim to know all Irish and Scottish music, but being around ITM sessions (here in the USA) and playing in the Highland pipe scene, both since the 1970s, has filled my head with loads of tunes, and it’s uncommon for me to hear an ITM session or a modern Grade One Pipe Band playing a tune I’ve not heard.
So it was fascinating to attend a session in Glasgow with "border pipes" and fiddles playing piles of tunes I’d not heard, tunes with a load of chromaticism that wouldn’t be playable on the modern pipe band Highland pipes. I assumed at the time that what I was hearing was the recent output of Highland pipers-become-border pipers like Fred Morrison and Gordon Duncan.
Ironically as more top Highland pipers are becoming involved with the chromatic possibilities of the "border pipes" the pipe band competition Highland pipe chanters are becoming less and less capable of those very chromatic notes. The bigger bore, bigger finger holes, thinner walls/chimneys, and stronger ridge-cut reeds work against the Highland chanter’s capability of crossfingering accidentals.
This has had, I think, a conservative effect on the recent popular composers of pipe band tunes. The physics of the new chanters and the conservatism of many of the judges mean that modern pipe band tunes nearly always stay within the traditional "nine notes" of the chanter.
In the pipe band world there are many good recent composers, and their tunes are heard at every pipe band competition. I wonder how many of these new tunes are played in the modern Glasgow session scene.
These composers include
and many others.
It may strike people outwith the pipe band scene how throwaway the tunes themselves often are. For example the Shotts 2003 Medley contained 11 tunes, 7 of them by Pipe Major Robert Mathieson. A pipe band will debut a new Medley composed entirely or mostly by band members, play the Medley for a season or two, then throw everything out and start over.
The lesser bands all over the world, watching the Live Streaming from Glasgow Green, hear the tunes the top bands play and learn some of them. Thus new tunes may become widely played throughout the Grades.
Hi having read through previous comments my own personal comment would be that what is missing today
is living the tradition through families & communities especially in the cities. Music being handed down through generations, music being played at Ceilidh Dances & Family get togethers etc, community relationships were much stronger. Musicians would do their day jobs and then get together for music to relax etc. From what I’ve read sounds like some sessions now are less than relaxing. I fear its more a market for hero worshipping which is being exploited by the younger generation wanting to make a name for themselves. Yep they have technique and skills but there’s only so much syncopation I can listen to.
With regard to modern tunes, there are loads of crackers and loads of junk. That is absolutely nothing new. Read through old collections and you will find loads of crackers and loads of junk. It’s just nowadays people seem a lot more objectionable and bitter. Let young people play what they want - you (not any ‘you’ in particular) don’t have to buy, listen to or learn any tunes you don’t want to. Maybe they’re not just for you. What’s the big problem?
There are indeed loads of great modern tunes.
Regularly played at my local session are Clueless, Superfly, Jock Broon’s 70th, The Spice of Life, Good Drying, Last Tango in Harris, Ass in The Graveyard, The Devil’s Staircase, The Red Fox, La Paella Grande and 250 to Vigo, amongst others.
Now I know that none of these are written by graduates of RCS but, living out in the sticks, it will take a number of years for their efforts to reach our neck of the woods.
I think there’s a distinction between the ‘music’ issues and the ‘social’ issues of trad music courses.
For me folk music is dynamic and can be adapted by new people/experiences/etc (Hamish Henderson’s Carrying Stream), so that’s less of an issue. I do think these courses can mean that innovation is developing within a bubble so might be less diverse, but if anything that’s the opposite to a complaint that new tunes aren’t ‘traditional’.
I think the social issues are far more problematic for folk as something we all take part in though - people’s above comments on the atmosphere of some sessions, the exclusive idea of what’s ‘the best’ and who has access to becoming that, the concentration of young musicians around places with music courses (even after they finish the degree), and the pressure/need to do one of these courses if you want to be a professional musician.
> What’s the big problem?
People have written at some considerable length about what they think the problems are in this thread. You can disagree of course, but it’s a daft question to ask after 81 replies and counting.
I was referring to tunes Calum and the question was obviously rhetorical.
A little thought experiment - how interested would you be in going to hear someone whose recommendation is that they have completed a degree in the Blues?
With regard to Dr.SS’s experience being snubbed by a lecturer at the RCS session: I have noticed that when the official leader of a session is either formally or informally employed as a teacher of music, they can sometimes be a little more prickly and controlling than the average session player. As if they can’t quite leave the classroom behind, when it should ideally be a looser and more egalitarian gathering. Just an observation. There are of course, benefits in having a session led by someone who knows their stuff.
What I have heard from a friend who teaches in such a program is that distinctive local styles are being lost, rough edges are smoothed out resulting in a sameness, to some extent, among graduates of particular programs. The richness of the music in terms of diversity has suffered.
>>> "Discuss ."
Wait?! They teach ITM at universities? Why would they need to do that? I’d rather play tunes for fun rather than be graded on them. I think the best way to learn traditional Irish music is the traditional way, by going to sessions and learning tunes the regular way…
>>> "Might be useful to look up cailinrui1."
Once I posted an old-time tune. It ended up in her tune book.
She is on The Session as *cailinrua1*
I see she has over 15K tunes in her tune book
I’m not sure if The Session.org would be the first place to come if I was serious about researching tunes. :-)
There are no local styles being because of the traditional music course in Glasgow. None. it is not a lab they are not growing the students in petri dishes they did all breathe in and out before they got there and they all played music. There are assumptions about what these people "cannot" or "will never produce" , that they are middle class (I have no way of knowing that I really dont know care if they are or not). ..they are in their twenties and having a blast. Martyn Bennet was at the RSMAD before the course existed…would he have produced the body of work he did if he had been on it rather than the classical course …of course he would….and thank goodness he did.
Do university and college courses have a role to play in traditional music yes they do, are they the be all and end all of the students experience and development of no they are not.
ITM and related styles are just as important as more commercially significant forms of music, like classical.
They shouldn’t be relegated to ‘only for hobbyists’.
"It may strike people outwith the pipe band scene how throwaway the tunes themselves often are."
I hope you’re joking, Richard. ;
My experience w/university and it’s contribution to the arts is that innovation, collaboration and mutual appreciation exists and thrives on the fringes. It’s great to be able to pay music professors a decent salary.
Yet if it’s at the price of creating a superiority complex where does that leave outsiders? In academia
I appreciate the people who can exist & thrive both inside & outside the system as much as possible.
Then the good shit can happen.
"ITM and related styles are just as important as more commercially significant forms of music, like classical.
They shouldn’t be relegated to ‘only for hobbyists’."
No, but you don’t want to shut out the "hobbyists" either, because there are more of them than wannabe pros trying to make a living from the music.
Those "hobbyists" are a big part of the potential audience for the music the academics and the pros try to sell when they enter the marketplace. Respect needed in both directions, not just one.
Totally agree with Conical bore there. If I happen to go to one of those sessions and they treat me in the same way as DrSS was treated that’ll probably mean that person/band has lost a potential "customer".
It’s interesting how established pros can be nice and a n18-20 year old who’s biggest accomplishment to the day is probably being RCS student "can" be a dick because they study at the Conservatoire. But hey when they release an album they want the "commoners" to buy it :)
Having a degree doesn’t give you the right to be an arse to people. I’ve got a Master’s in Computer Science, that doesn’t mean I get to be nasty to people who don’t know computers as well as I do.
"Those "hobbyists" are a big part of the potential audience for the music the academics and the pros try to sell when they enter the marketplace."
Yes, but some of the bands and others with commercial interests would rather that we remained "in the audience". It’s not explicitly stated but we are often given the impression that we should "not try this at home" after some of the gigs.
Performers at any concert are likely to be more polished and professional than most of us "hobbyists" but, in the past, there seemed to be a more "sharing" attitude and you still felt that the music was accessible enough that you could "have a go" yourself or would, at least, be inspired to make an effort.
Of course, the music can still be enjoyable and I will often go to classical, jazz, and other concerts from other genres without feeling the urge to dash home and try out the music for myself. However, in the case of trad and folk music, it was generally the case that the bulk of the audience were usually players and singers themselves and the performers would realise that.
Monty - "I think the best way to learn traditional Irish music is the traditional way, by going to sessions and learning tunes the regular way"
I don’t know about the Irish courses but in Scotland they don’t work like that. By the time they go to Uni most of the kids are already very good players. The area I come from supplies a constant stream to the Scottish course. There are currently a group of youngsters who come to our sessions when they can. They are far better players than anyone I knew when my generation were that age, they learn and play as many of the old local tunes as they can get their hands on and are some of the nicest and respectful young people you could hope to meet. These are the folk that people here are lazily lumping together with the less grounded youngsters.
"I’m not sure if The Session.org would be the first place to come if I was serious about researching tunes. "
Just tonight I was telling a flute player from Offaly about how I read on this site that someone asked Richie Dwyer if his brother composed The Trip to Nenagh, and Richie gave a definite yes. The flute player wouldn’t hear any of it, insisted it was Sean Ryan’s creation - it’s credited to him in one of the books his son compiled. There’s a lot of valuable info here, if you want to look for it - but this site is definitely still the wild west Wikipedia was at first.
"Riff not a tune," I’ve been saying that for a long time. Lots of tunes new and old have less melody then Smoke on the Water, Iron Man, Johnny B Goode. People learn these crummy tunes to the exclusion of all the great oldies, though, which is what bugs me. So many new tunes sound like Frankencompositions too. The Merry Miss Monaghan. The Silver Cup of Tea.
Here in the US NW no one can get much in the way of gigs, no matter how hot a player they are or where they’re from. Two of our local hotshot box players - one ex Solas - have taken off for greener pastures. Maybe it’s better elsewhere in the US. Was busking tonight with a fiddler friend and some whacky guy starts raving about "Street musicians, YES! Keep playing, it’s the greatest!" Jazz saxophonist. He says when he came here a decade ago there was lots of work, but not so much anymore. Maybe no one can pay musicians of any genre, or everybody’s addicted to Spotify and Pandora.
Lucy, of course this site is very useful and I’ve found out lots about tunes, the music in general, and other good information here.
What I meant was that it’s not really a source that you would necessarily visit, in the first instance, if you were intending to do serious academic research. I think you are suggesting something similar?
I’m fairly sure there is more disdain for our formally educated players, among non-formally-educated, than there is disdain for regular players among formally educated ones.
It’s quite acceptable to cast aspersions here, for example, that they are soulless inauthentic players of inferior modern tunes. There are a few who call out this misrepresentation here as inaccurate and unhelpful, for sure.
However, educated musicians talking about regular players as if *they* are inferior - or somehow fundamentally different - isn’t something I’ve ever come across. It’s true that I am one of ‘the unwashed’ perhaps - but I’ve some good friends that are graduates. The idea of factionalism is just not there among them. In fact, the norm among our graduates is people who have dedicated their life to music, knowing as well as anyone, that it is not a guaranteed income but a life commitment to carrying on our torch. Snobs are certainly the exception and not the rule.
The idea of authentic masses vs a homogenising educated elite is just not an accurate picture of what is going on. It’s far too simplistic and antagonistic. We are one community and we are unambiguously stronger for having high level education in our music and cultures.
My thoughts too Choons.
"I’m fairly sure there is more disdain for our formally educated players, among non-formally-educated, than there is disdain for regular players among formally educated ones."
Choons, please, don’t mistake my comment for disdain. I know a few RCS graduates and students, they’re lovely and enjoy playing with them very much, but I’ve also run into a few others at sessions that, probably without realizing it, made me feel unwelcome, judged and patronized. I guess if you go to a session and you’re experience is spoiled by 3 or 4 out of 12 people it’s easy to generalize and say none of them welcome people outwith their circles, even though the other 9 were nice enough.
Great thread. I have to relate my experience playing in Boston home of Berklee College of Music. When they got their roots program up and running, one of the first batches of young musicians they churned out hit the local scene. Suddenly there were these band websites. Slick, 5 fellow graduates in the band. Can play like wizards. Make you want to burn your instruments and take up fishing. But what really made me laugh was the "celtic" names they came up with. And if you looked carefully the same 5 people were in another band with a slick website and marketing strategy. In total 5 bands would be marketed with websites out of the same 5 people, each one a different "founder" with varying celtic names. Now for the corker, you could always find 1 expression in the bio of these kids, …He/She is "Steeped in Tradition"(insert roaring laugh). Sure.., you grew up going to the mall and watching Sponge Bob like everyone else. I never bought it. So put me in the camp of: when the institutions are setting the standard it’s negative. Traditional college is an oxymoron.
A great book weeman!
I wish I could afford it (or still had access to uni libraries)!
I enjoy having well trained university students at sessions in Tallahassee, but I wish most would stop and listen much more carefully. Classically trained flute players tend to tongue every single note rather than performing the rolls, cuts, and crans needed to provide a traditional sound. Fiddlers often do the same with their bows. I’d suggest an emphasis on traditional embellishments at the start of all such class — no tunes at all for the first couple of weeks.
I looked at Understanding Scotland Musically: Folk, Tradition and Policy when it first came out but was put off by the ridiculous price tag (£120). Can’t see any justification for that. Even the Kindle price is nearly forty quid.
The justification could be to maintain the class stratification …. academics …
I’d love to read it but totally agree, £120? Mad.
Academic books of this type are always hideously priced, mostly because a lot of man-hours go into them and sales are tiny. Unlike mass-market non-fiction, where a lot of the cost is borne by the author, and the publisher can subsidise a lot of turkeys with a few smash hits, there’s no real way of coping with the costs other than a massive sticker price.
I would however remind people of the existence of libraries ;)
"The justification could be to maintain the class stratification."
How so, Will?
"Academic books of this type are always hideously priced, mostly because a lot of man-hours go into them and sales are tiny."
I would have to disagree. In this case I think the research was funded and a lot of man hours go into other publications that are a fraction of the price.
I would reckon the production costs of a lot of these academic works is about 10% of the retail price. Most of that profit goes to the publishing companies and there is evidence that they actively encourage the publishing of academic works.
The reality nowadays is that there are plenty of people self publishing, getting books printed for £5 a copy and selling them for £20, which yields a reasonably healthy profit.
The original link offers the ebook at £29.95. Maybe that places an upper limit on the value of the content. Do people who use this stuff for study actually prefer paper to searchable and ‘notatable’ text?
Is it unusual for a group of young adults with a common interest and intense shared involvement in something to come over as non-inclusive to people outside that group?
Agree with Jim Cox…
When I got into ITM back in the 1970s, I found out very quickly that classical technique was a severe hindrance (and I add "classical attitude" to that as well). I’ve mostly been an accompanist, the field I enjoy the most in music, and I had to learn to "feel" the tunes instead of sitting there trying to analyze them. What saved me was that I had been doing exactly that in harpsichord continuo (improvised backup) that I had been doing, so adapted that to ITM and learning to play within the "traditional" frameworks.
I find that classical players tend to overplay their instruments in the way Jim described, and they also find it tough to get over their "paper-trained" background and learn to rely more on memorization. Playing the tune is one thing, playing it whilst LISTENING to the others in the session is quite another… and not to mention keeping an eye as well as the ears on the other musicians too. And, several had issues with acquiring the sheer patience in taking the time to learn this genre, for it’s not going to happen instantly.
One last thing - in the 1970s, a New Hampshire contra-dance group, made up entirely of traditional local musicians (who all of them had long service in the "trenches" as it were), put out an album of dance music that you could dance to. The tunes weren’t always executed exactly perfectly, but the lilt and feeling came through big time. Then, the academics stepped in… from the New England Conservatory no less, and their Gunther Schiller formed something called the "NE Conservatory Country Fiddle Band." And they put out an album with many of the same tunes, because Schiller held that the original album "could be quite improved"… and it was executed in the full-on "classical" manner. Not a 16th note out of place, the playing was highly engineered and polished so brightly… and stuffy, pretentious, totally flatlined ECG in its complete lack of expression, and dead, dead, DEAD! Where the effin’ hell was the downbeat!!? Couldn’t dance to their rendition under any circumstances.
At least I’m not seeing so much of THAT kind of elitism, these days…
I was talking to a most experienced and mature folk musician, someone who had worked, and earned a living in various ways, within folk music. He was invited to give a lecture about business matters to the folk music course at a university in England ( ok, not Irish, but the general content remains relevant ).
He said that the class was initially full, but that the students began drifting away quite noticeably, until there were about 2 left, at which time the course leader told him obviously, and to their mutual great disgust, the students plainly weren’t interested, and to knock it on the head.
They went to the local pub, and found most of the students there, drinking and playing.
As the course leader remarked to him; "All this enthusiasm for the music will count as nothing if you can’t get the business side of it organised, but if they won’t listen, what can I do ?".
I’ve heard several different combinations of students from this course, and they are making great music, but when I encountered some in a session they were only interested in playing with their mates, and not joining in the more general tunes played by the rest of the people.
‘"All this enthusiasm for the music will count as nothing if you can’t get the business side of it organised, but if they won’t listen, what can I do ?"’
So - we are to take it you agree with that, right?