Why Irish Music?

Why Irish Music?

Here’s a question for the non-Ireland countries: why does traditional Irish Music hold a fascination for so many?
Maybe it’s just my area of the country, but when it comes to celebrating Irish culture, ITM is never far behind. You could go to a session almost every day of the week. There are numerous schools of Irish dance. A pretty large number of local groups playing the old songs. At least two festivals of Irish music during the year within a day’s drive.

This in stark contrast to, say, Italian culture, where you’ll likely get Sinatra and Dean Martin and MAYBE the tarantella. Or Italian opera, but that really only represents the Italian gentry. Other than being of Italian descent I don’t know how Sinatra made his was so deeply into Italian-American culture. My wife even went searching for the music of the Italian countryside (looking for the Italian equivalent of ITM) but had a hard time.

Sorry I’m rambling. Anyway even with the most pop or punk Irish stuff there seems to an effort to meld with the traditional. The Pogues, Dropkick Murphy’s, etc. can EASILY be gateways to The Dubliners, and before you know its you’ve got a few hornpipes and reels under your belt.

In the words of Walter Sobchak, "Am I wrong?"

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Might have something to do with diaspora, famine, and tradition…
Might be that the music is approachable, enjoyable, both to play and listen to while bouncing your feet.
Could be good [or not so good] beer/whiskey?

Or that the Irish tradition touches something innate in most humans.

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There a dedicated young player (now in his late teens) who comes to our closed session. He plays concertina, fiddle, and basouki and he’s a great player. Last year I teased him about playing this stuff, which is so demanding, when he could be playing rock and roll, or blues, which would be "easier," and more lucrative.
He looked at me as if I was crazy and said, "Because it’s beautiful."
That’s why I play it.

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I think ITM is particularly appealing to folks of Irish extraction in the US, Canada, etc. for the obvious connection to the past. I think the social nature of it is also a big draw for folks of all stripes. And to echo David’s point, the music is just plain beautiful.

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Don’t know about anyone else, but I play it because it’s fascinating and weird. There is a haunting, off-kilter quality to the music even when it’s played fast at dance speed.

To my ears trained on Pop music, Rock, and Blues as a guitar player (before getting into mandolin and flute ), it’s different enough from the standard sound and modes of Western music to be fascinating, without being so weird that it’s unapproachable like some of the Balkan stuff, or Javanese Gamelan music.

The rhythms are compelling too, with a wide variety that mask how short the scale is for the tunes, and how few modes are used. It’s a refreshing change for someone like me who grew up listening mostly to music in straight-ahead 4/4.

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Hi their,try listening to some of the traditional northumbrian music.fiddles,pipes & concertinas!.you might like.
I think their is a similarity.

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I really don’t have a fascination with Irish culture. I appreciate many Irish style music players (inside & outside Ireland). A good session is the best time I have. And I like playing flute.

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For sure the music is lovely. ITM is approachable, inviting, and inclusive. It’s a community. To my mind there is something important about what it isn’t, the tunes at least. ITM is not about soul searching, angst, meaning of life, lonely life on the road, bad breakups, "my girlfriend left me and I’m not getting lucky anymore", mis-spent lives, Taylor Swift’s boyfriend, or anything of the sort. The tunes we play are (for the very most part, even the most minor-keyed ones) are light, simple melodies, played in good company. I’ve played in a lot of "jams" over the years, in a very wide variety of genres, and none of them have left me feeling as good as an Irish session. Maybe that’s why they call it a "session" and not a "jam". I’ll play two, 2 hour shows tomorrow. I’ll "get" to play one Irish and "have" to play one Old Time (I’ll enjoy it, and the other players, but it’s not the same). That’s why I play ITM anyway.

And I haven’t forgotten the songs. I think it’s just built into our DNA to make up songs about all of the things I mentioned. At least the songs thought to have "meaning".

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Irish music from anywhere in the island is recognisably all part of the same culture, there are regional ‘flavours’ to it but it is all immediately recognisable as being part of the same thing. Irish settlers in the US (and elsewhere) on meeting up with other Irish musicians would find an immediate commonality and even shared repertoire no matter where in Ireland they were all from. I suspect the same isn’t true of Italy (which wasn’t even a single country until the late 19th century) and where the different regions have their own distinctive cultures, so a musician from say Milan who sat down with one from Sicily would probably have far less in common. The same applies to many other countries - France for example has strong regional cultures. Whereas Irish immigrants found their shared music helped to bring their communities together and give them a sense of identity in a foreign land, perhaps this is less true of other communities, who had to find it in other things which they could share, such as popular rather than traditional music.

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I’d say for many players the "sport" element matters too. Pushing yourself to play faster tunes, more elaborate ornamentation, more complex rhythms, more intricate interplay with other people. For me, when I’m in the crowd watching a band like Ímar, Beoga, Four Winds, or any of the current best-of-the-best groups, it’s partly because I enjoy listening to their music, but definitely also partly because I enjoy being amazed at what they’re physically capable of. Though my experience with group sports is limited (last to be chosen, you know how it is…), I’d say the experience of a session to me is very similar to what other people might feel when playing a good game of football. Being so well attuned to your team mates that you can anticipate what they’re going to do next, finding a way to build on that to raise the energy even further, the sheer joy of being good at something.
Or maybe that’s just me.

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"Maybe it’s just my area of the country" - And what country would that be, pray tell?

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"I’ve played in a lot of "jams" over the years, in a very wide variety of genres, and none of them have left me feeling as good as an Irish session." - Ross that is so very true and mirrors my experiences as well.
I know many friends with absolutely no connection to Ireland and no musical experience whatsoever, who woke up one day and said to themselves "I want to learn how to play THAT music." I find that to be a fascinating and wonderful thing.

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For me, Irish music is in a sweet spot of great melodies and groovable rhythms; on a high level the tunes are really rather simple but there’s devilish complexity in the details, so it’s relatively easy for an amateur to make decent music while providing a lifetime of challenges; the same tune can be played solo or it can be played in ensemble, and both are just as valid and complete; it can be played fast or slow and both sound great; there’s a deep repertoire to explore; it’s gained a kind of critical mass of players so there are a lot of people to share the experience with.

Interesting what Tijn Berends says about the "sport" element—that just about 180 degrees the opposite of what I go to sessions for. I hate that aspect and nothing gets me running for the door faster than that sort of over-complicated music. Just goes to show that Irish traditional music is a big tent with room for many different viewpoints.

meself, Arthur’s profile places him in the USA.

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Two things: It has just the right mixture of folk sound and contemporary beat to intrigue the ear.
Secondly, it is very self-contained music that can be successfully played without accompaniment.

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I would find it hard to separate the music from the culture, and the impact the latter has had on the music. Sure, there is the "jolly leprechaun and shamrocks everywhere" image for some, just as we have the "tartan shortbread" stuff over here in Scotland, but we who play the music know differently, I hope!
Have visited Ireland, and more recently, N Ireland, on many occasions, and in my mind, I cannot separate the history/culture from the music: they are irretrievably intertwined. (Sorry, AB!)
It is indeed very likeable and playable music.

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There are countless associations which contribute to why anyone likes something. Its not the intrinsic qualities of the subject. Here’s a related question: ""Why do people hate Irish music?" And as a musician, I meet lots of them.

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@meself Connecticut, USA

OK I understand why WE all love it. But why don’t other cultures get the same treatment? Or do they and I’m just missing it? Why is the most German song at the German Fest “Beer Barrel Polka?” Why, in my city with a large Albanian population, is there not a session of Albanian music?

Hypothetical questions, I suppose. I don’t expect everyone to speak to the reasons for lack of something. I’m just so curious.

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Arthur, if you read my earlier post, I think you’ll find your answer. For most, Beer Barrel Polka sounds quaint and/or corny. Irish sounds very modern, but at the same time offers a complexity and depth not found in a lot of pop music. Most modern ears don’t listen to much instrumental music that isn’t relegated to the background. So when confronted with fiddles, flutes, and such, playing delightful and compelling, yet approachable and humable melodies with driving rhythms, they are frequently stopped in their tracks. I was.

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Trish, I’m not sure what you are apologising for. You don’t need to apologise to me. I appreciate your post.
Ben

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With no single Irish background I always loved the sound Irish music has. Yes I got to hear it as a kid with the "tapdance" from Riverdance/Lord of the Dance followed with some bought cd’s of which Celtic Myst 2 that I gifted my dad but listened to it myself most of the time (if its all really Irish questionable but it opened up a new world of music style for me). The beautifull Irish airs are so calming and have something mysterious to it. The jigs and reels and the likes feel warm, happy, "home" and just make you want to dance or at least move in your chair :P The whole aspect of playing together is something I like too but unfortunatly cannot participate in over here.

As for why my own countries’ music is not popular for me (Netherlands)… Its just sounding oldfashioned or childish (they contain songs we learnt as kids) and the language doesn’t sound so appealing either… Irish music for some reason is more timeless and when sung Irish/Gaellic sounds so much better to the ears… (more melodic and not so "stiff on 1 tone as Dutch")

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I’m as conical bore in fondness of its exoticisms. I was raised on American rock (recordings) which was largely black music, rocked out by whites (leaving all the Latin influences aside for now). Led zep turned me on to country twang early on, which got me into Bert Jansch, dadgad, bensusan, tunes…

And all my life I’m chasing the chiming, elegiac, harp strings in the wind. I love the slow music; the more emotion the better. In a word, I think this is what people hear in the music, almost everyone can feel this music.

*except that, I love it all: Gamelan, balkan, raga, maqam, avant jazz, everything. I’m just wired for music. The weirder the better. I’m thankful for being a child of both modernism and tradition.

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For me, well I heard this music going on in the other room of the pub and that was the start.

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@ Arthur Figgis

Even more ironic that the Beer Barrel Polka is apparently played as an expression of Germanness, given that it was composed by two Czechs …

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Always been drawn to it and don’t know why. My dad had Chieftains and Natalie MacMaster (okay, Cape Breton, but close enough) and those Putamayo ‘Celtic’ world music CDs, which had a mix of Irish, Scottish, and Cape Breton players, and that was the music I listened to more than any other. My friends listened to ’90s pop, but I was the weirdo with the Chieftains CDs.

I wanted to play it but had no idea, growing up, that there was a reasonably active Irish scene in Boulder until much later. The music seemed pretty inaccessible, to be honest, and that strange instrument that Paddy Maloney played even more inaccessible. I learned the French horn for a while and lost interest, then some years later, tried to get into Irish music with a mountain dulcimer. It’s doable, but it’s a ballache because the tunes don’t fit that well on those things. It was only when I went to Ireland for a summer, between my 3rd and 4th years of uni, that I discovered sessions and learned the music is social and accessible. Picked up the bodhran that summer (sorry) and the whistle. When I went back to uni, I found the session scene in Western Massachusetts and when I finished uni, I moved back home and connected with the Irish musicians in Boulder/Denver. If I’d known those people ten years beforehand, I would play much better than I do know!

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Ben, it was just what you said about not having "a fascination with Irish culture". I was apologising for disagreeing with you on that. Maybe I don’t need to say sorry for holding a different opinion: guess this site would be cluttered up with apologies if everyone did that! 😉

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😉

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It’s the music.

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The Cranberries

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Planxty opened the first door to ITM for me in 1974 - and what a house on the other side! Some rooms staying exactly the same, some ever changing, lots of weird and wonderful extensions and no shortage of young ‘uns to keep the whole shebang alive.
Two much more eloquent responses than mine can be found in P.J. Curtis’ ‘Notes from the heart - a celebration of traditional Irish music’ and Ciaran Carson’s’ ‘Last Night’s Fun - in and out of time with Irish Music’, great reads.
But never mind all this philosophical stuff Arthur, just find yourself a good session - this will always answer the question.
Papa Burke

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Speaking for myself alone, and being a descendant of both Scandinavian and Scottish music traditions, my interest in the music of Ireland is due to a shared tradition between Ireland and Scotland. Many of the tunes and/or stylizations are specific to each, but a good number share a common origin. Some to the point that Ethnic Musicologists are unsure which group developed the tune first. When I was actively performing we often referenced it as "Celtic" music, but really it was inaccurate to make that reference. Because unless you’re dealing with a crowd that is well versed in the traditions, any explanation of the difference falls on deaf ears, and as a result, it was easier to explain it as such to the philistinic majority of our crowds. Yes, we tried to have a broad representation of musical pieces from not only Ireland and Scotland, but Wales, Cornwall, Breton, Brittany, Galicia and Manx, but that doesn’t make it truly or authentically Celtic. For one, we’d have to relearn instrumentation (as the majority of the instruments played with and as traditional instruments weren’t even developed yet, when the Celts covered Europe), and two, there’s no manuscript of distinctly Celtic music to use, other than through the oral tradition of "this is a song so old in "(insert country/region)", that it predates the written word and notation." Doing such is still a fallacy, because we simply don’t have the evidence to support that it’s an Auld Celtic tune.
Still, with the many differences and similarities, we also are confronted with regional variations, with the song being played different in Kerry than it’s played in Connaught. The styles of fiddling, whistling, harping, piping and drum beat emphasis vary from a little different to hugely different. Without manuscript provenence, once again we have to rely on the veracity of the oral tradition as to where a tune came from first.
The music in and of itself, whether ITM or STM comes from two cultures that were similar enough, they share the root of a common language. Yet, the geographic isolation between the two groups wasn’t static, as many ideas and music were often shared between the two groups as well as with the Welsh.
The fascination with the music began in my late teens, early 20’s, and has consumed my interest for close to 40 years and effected and is reflected in how I play any of the instruments I currently play on, regardless of their appropriatness in either tradition. I know not how many years left of playing I may have left in me, but even after this much time immersed in the traditions, I still feel I’ve but yet just scratched the surface of traditional music.

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Many great comments. When and where I grew up, NOBODY listened to anything like Trad music. Either you listened to rock, or to commercial country. There were a very few blue grass players, but they were dismissed as weirdo hippy types. (Or course, there were places in western North Caroline and southern Virginia where old time country was still strong, and there was a growing contra dance scene. But I didn’t know about any of that at the time.) Not until I moved into the "Global Megacity" in 1982 did I start learning about any kind of trad music, as there were strong communities here. Maybe when people have some money in their pocket and are exposed to all kinds of influences, they have the means and encouragement to investigate trad music regardless of the genre? Anyway, I started to study music again (first time since i had piano lesssons as a child) and learn new instruments. The Irish music had a strong presence here, plus the ITM session community was welcoming overall. So I started to participate.

I am glad that ITM and other trad music in the USA is no longer just a city thing. Even where I grew up, people have more interest now, espcially in blue grass and old time.

I will say old time county is starting to have a great sesssion scene of its own in the Washington DC area, something I am glad to see, hear and participate in.

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Re Chuck Cochrane..

I share a similar fascination, and perhaps heritage.. I’m chasing after these sounds/experiences in my head, and that were evoked by some often traditional music. Perhaps that was badly explained - I’m like a trout fish going upstream. They might be ancient sounds. I’m drawn to old forms.

I have a feeling for fiddling (and pipes) all along the northern/coastal regions. It’s perhaps the most beautiful, and plaintive sound. I just started studying trad hardingfele to bring me closer to it.

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Why not?

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I think Arthur Figgis asks a very good question - are there other sorts ethnic music styles that have a similar sort of casual group gathering as do Irish/Scottish sessions? I have heard that participants in Greek traditional music do, but I’ve never been able to find anything like it in the towns in which I’ve lived.

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For me, it wasn’t any kind of fascination with the culture or anything like that, at least at the beginning. My musical tastes didn’t get too close to any traditional music for the longest time. And to be honest, I didn’t particularly like it when I first heard it - mostly because I didn’t understand it, I guess. What drew me to it in the first place was that it was completely different than all the other music I had been involved with - primarily that it’s not about money, fame, fashion, or popularity. Instead, it’s about social interaction, sharing, teaching, learning, (drinking?), and finding a way to express yourself without all the backstabbing, two-faced B.S. you tend to find in the popular music scenes. Early on in my playing, some friends hosted Tommy Peoples (RIP) in our town, and I was kind of blown away that someone of that caliber would sit down and play with people that weren’t even in the same galaxy with regards to talent. It would be the equivalent of sitting down and jamming some blues with Eddie Van Halen, or something… In other words, this music is more about the people than anything else, and I like that.

So once I got intrigued with the music because of those reasons, I then started to discover how much I liked the fairly simple, but twisty melodies. The genius of sending your ear in an unexpected direction. The trance-like state you can get in when you’re playing with people and everyone is in the "groove". At the same time, I was then becoming intrigued by the stories behind the tunes, and on to learning more about the Irish culture. I now spend as much time in Ireland as I can. And my horizons have broadened because of the music as well — in fact, I just returned from a week in Asturias and really loved their related music… This music has become such an integral part of who I am, and I owe a lot to it. The only way I know to pay it back is actually to pay it forward and help others discover the beauty the way that I see it.

So that’s why I’m involved in this music. I’m guessing that there are as many different stories like mine as there are players… But maybe it’s all of those stories combined that make this music as approachable as it is worldwide…

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Arthur Figgis asked "Why no Albanian sessions?" I’ve asked the (vaguely) same sort of thing about my Polish ancestry: Why can I find no Polish equivalents to, say, The Bothy Band or Altan? Why can’t I find compilations of real Polish trad, as opposed to accordion oompah polkas?

After asking this for years, I was told that Polish folk music was heavily discouraged after World War II by the communists who wanted to suppress national identity. Populations were uprooted and displaced, and only a few troupes like Mazowsza were encouraged to preserve some old music, but in highly orchestrated, overly produced form. Could that have happened in other countries?

As to my attraction: Long, long ago as an engineering student, I attended a concert of medieval music out of random curiosity and found it fascinating. Somehow the ancient modes were very appealing. Then, while slaving away at a thesis project, my radio on the "foil-on-the-antenna" edge of a tiny station picked up some Pentangle tracks based on early music. That resonated heavily with me, but baffled a friend who bought lots of vinyl LPs.

Eventually, that friend picked up a copy of Chieftains 5 at random, then passed it on to me. His exact words were "Here, this is weird. You might like it." And I was hooked. From there it was Bothy Band, Planxty, Altan, then deeper into pure trad. Another friend gave me a whistle, I started playing fiddle when my little daughter began taking violin lessons, I found a couple sessions, and I was in deeper and deeper.

I’ve never managed to come up for air, and don’t plan to.

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It is simply great music - absent any cultural, historical, folk, Irishness, nostalgia etc. perspectives. It is valued for its intrinsic enjoyment both for the listener and the player.

Works well from single instrument played tidily to a large group playing together or eclectic ensembles.

I assume that the emphasis on strong melody overlaying a subservient rhythm has something to do with the appeal and the absence of complex modes or challenging harmonies/keys.

It’s got a recognisable rhythm and is generally pleasing. Try *not* to tap or swing to the beat. It doesn’t sound old/ancient - it is sufficiently contemporary in style to be agreeable to infrequent listeners.

Great depth to the repertoire so plenty of fresh tunes but also tidy core of common tunes played widely so naturally lending itself to shared experiences wherever you travel you can "fall in" (and possibly fall out as well). How large is the corpus of ITM (5K, 25K, 100K tunes)?

Progressive disclosure or hidden sophistication means that beginners aren’t overwhelmed from the start but advanced musicians have plenty to keep them going and challenged. You can’t play classical violin and then pop into trad for a few weeks to "master" a couple of tunes before returning to the high brow stuff - it is a worthy long-term commitment to learn and master ITM.

It is a malleable and open musical form - strong enough and confident enough to assimilate ideas from outside and use to refresh the tradition. I’d refer to the explosion in popularity of Irish Dancing following the Riverdance phenomenon. Also for ITM the 60s/70s revival was a period of massive innovation and reworking of the genre to "keep up with the times" and remain relevant (Planxty, Chieftains, Stocktons Wing, Clannad, Moving Hearts, Horslips, Pogues). I suspect many traditional folk musics suffer from being placed in the freezer of a couple of centuries ago and thawed out for occasional performance.

It has succeeded in recruiting successive generations of young players over a period that spans 2 or more centuries so as to refresh talent pool and extend the relevance (modernisation). Skip a generation (for whatever reason) and the genre risks stagnation.

Lots of players of varying standards means that it is a broad and welcoming church. There is a "process" for onboarding somebody who shows interest and keeping them engaged until they are self-sustaining. Sessions are a big plus here. Basically it is approachable and there are plenty of simpler tunes which are within the range for a newbie to get up and running.

There is probably an intangible too in the entanglement of the art form which is ITM as a representation of the cultural heritage and outlook and philosophy on life which "being Irish" represents. I’d like to think that it is optimistic, upbeat, welcoming, joyful, playful, creative etc. and that those qualities are represented in the music from the people who created, nurtured and shaped it over centuries. That intangible has proven to be an enduring attractiveness to the music for people who are from very varied backgrounds with no particular cultural or ethnic connection to Irishness.

Apart from that, who knows 🙂

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I’ve thought about this subject quite a bit being someone that has zero Irish heritage. I can’t say I know precisely but there are several factors.
I think to an extent I was looking for music that was deeply tied to folk culture to participate in. In some ways Irish music is a surrogate. I might be interested in Hungarian folk music but it is not as well preserved and there is no local living culture in which I could partake. I enjoy the communal aspects and I believe this ‘gathering’ is an essential element missing in modern culture.
I think Irish music in general is fairly complex compared to other folk music. I think again, this is a function of it being so well preserved and the development that has only small voids over many generations. Along with this is the almost seamless development of the culture into the modern era. It has taken on elements of modern music in a way that I would argue is relatively organic and unforced. This bothers many traditionalists but I welcome it. I started with the Bothy band and eventually came to Michael Coleman and Lucy Farr… I became interested in Brian Finnegan and Michael McGoldrick as well.

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That is a very thorough and insightful post, gbyrne!

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Re Italian music (1st post), you do get some lovely folk dance tunes eg "la bergamasca" - very tuneful and quite easy to play. Should be on this site? I wonder if there’s a tarentella on TheSession? Such fantastic music came from Italy that I’m sure it had an influence in other European countries including Ireland.

I believe Turlough O’Carolan was influenced by an Italian 17th cent. composer. Geminiani comes to mind but I expect s’one else cld correct this if wrong.
Thanks.

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There are 11 Tarantellas (tarantellae?) in the database, Susan! (A quick search on the Tunes tab found them). Great for dancing! (As is ITM).

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Just looked up O’Carolan and Geminiani: their dates are pretty contemporaneous, and Geminiani did indeed come to Dublin: died and was buried there, tho his remains were later removed and re-buried in his birthplace of Lucca.

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I wonder to what extent the view of this is coloured by the fact that this is an English-language forum, and we may simply not be aware of what is happening in non-English-speaking cultures? Also, when comparing the popularity of Irish music versus other traditional music many people are looking at it from the perspective of other immigrant cultures in the USA, rather than looking at folk traditions in their native countries.

For some of those, especially those from central or eastern Europe, their folk music may have been appropriated by totalitarian regimes and may now have very negative connotations, or (as I suggested earlier) the regional differences may have been too varied for it to be a unifying force for an immigrant community. Irish music is both immediately appealing in itself and is accessible via the English language. This may also account for its popularity in unlikely places elsewhere, as English is most likely to be someone’s second language - for example, there are groups in Japan who play Irish traditional music.

The position in other countries may be quite different. France, for example, has its own strong traditional music scene, and I suspect that Irish music is something of a minority interest there. In England, when I started playing 50 years ago Irish music was ubiquitous, until we rediscovered our own traditional music; there is now a thriving English music scene, although Irish sessions are also common and of course we have a large Irish community.

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By all accounts, Carolan was an admirer of, and was influenced by, Geminiani.

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Growing up, I was exposed to what may be the worst music ever: light opera, over-produced crap classical & white people 1950’s radio. The blues, rock & roll & punk of the 60-70’s kind of saved me. I didn’t hear traditional Irish music until I was in my mid 40’s. It felt like somebody just grabbed my soul & never let go. When I hear or play certain tunes it sounds like some ancestor either yelling at me to do something, speaks of a place where the rain & wind feel familiar ~ basically, it pulls me back in time. I’m now in my 70’s & that "grab" is just as strong as it was 30 years ago.

Hawaiian music has a similar call for me, but it’s not quite angry enough … or something. I love it, but it’s not mine. Irish traditional music feels like mine & speaks to me intelligently & soulfully … rather than dictating to me … as most classical music does. So called renaissance music …. which is not at all like Irish traditional music to these ears … just pisses me off. Not sure why; it just does. I reckon Irish trad is twisted in my DNA somewhere.

Maybe Irish trad has a little drop of something so ancient & carried on so intact, like the beat of a drum …. that everyone from anywhere can relate … maybe not. Not sure, but it’s a lovely thought.

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Trish, 11 tarantellas, must look. Going for hols today! Heat wave in Edinburgh coming?

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Many good reasons have been advanced in the discussion so far, and there may be more mundane issues. My impression of a lot of Balkan, Greek and Turkish music is that each piece is often fairly long and may involve improvisational elements, so that you need to practice with other musicians before you can play with them. Most Irish and Scottish tunes are 32-bar units with distinct names, which people may play with stylistic variations but basically have a recognised unity of melody and structure. That means that it is possible to learn them one at a time and join in with musicians you have never played with before. The first tune I ever learned on whistle was Harvest Home. It was the only tune I knew at that point, but it meant that when I recognised it in a session I could play along, and that spurred me on learn more.

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We discussed this at our session last night and one woman made note that most music traditional to a culture rarely moves out of the the border. The exception seems to be Irish. A nearby city hosts an international festival and imports talent from as many as 8 cultures. Rarely are there any skilled players of many cultures to be found here. Another recent exception may be American music, i.e. Jazz, country and rock. Kinda weird huh?

This led me to remember that almost none of the "Irish" musicians are in fact Irish. Only one comes to mind. If I’m correct, and I might not be, the consensus seems to be that not even the Irish were all that interested in their traditional and it was kept alive in the latter part of the 20th century in places like Chicago, New York, Boston, London. All Irish enclaves I think. Your thoughts.

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I hate the Irish and their culture, so to seek revenge, I’ve dedicated my life to playing their music as badly as possible —- way too slow, absolutely no lift, clumsy ornaments and with many, many mistakes, muwhahaha!

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I guess it’s just a kind of music that appeals to many people.
Here in Stockholm we have weekly high quality sessions of Irish music, with 5-15 musicians of a good level every time. Only one of them is Irish (and one half-Irish) - the rest were bred and born outside Ireland and have no Irish ancestry.
It’s interesting that Irish music is so strong here too, considering that Sweden probably has the second strongest trad music culture in the world (after Irish), with thousands of musicians playing Swedish tunes - even outside Sweden.
As for myself, I now and then go back to playing Swedish tunes, but when presented with a choice (e.g. at a festival) between a session of Irish music and one of Swedish music, I will definitely go for the Irish one.

Re: Why Irish Music?

I think Conical Bore and some others have it right— the music itself, aside from any cultural associations, is very compelling. For a folk music form, it’s quite sophisticated and requires both discipline and spirit, so it’s challenging and rewarding to play.

Re: Why Irish Music?

I’m only in it for the money