The Pure Drop

The Pure Drop

This is a common way of referring to a style of playing tunes. It doesn’t need to mean where the music originated; although there are plenty of Irish tunes played in a style which is considered "the pure drop".
The pure drop of Irish music is more how you do it, less about where it goes or even where it’s been.
I use the phrase not to have anyone call me a purist, which they will; rather because it’s the only way I have to put it into words. Do you know what I mean?

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No. Isn’t it about falling off cliffs?

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No Ben, I honestly don’t know what you mean. I think the term ‘Pure drop’ (apart from when it refers to Whisky and Whiskey) is a fictitious ideal and an elusive concept.

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The Pure Drop is a phrase describing how we play our music, Examples Willy Clancy, Bobby Casey, Joe Cooley, Michael Tubridy, Sean Ryan, Peter Carberry etc etc. it’s just a feel for the .ceol.

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It wasn’t a term I knew till I came on the Session. I googled it just now and got this quotation:

The ‘pure drop’ orientation in Irish traditional music focuses on the art of the solo performer which harkens back to a perception of an authentic past. … The purist “abhor[s] commercialism, fusion, and borrowing between music genres, adulteration of the centrality of the melodic line” (Vallely, 2011, p. 555).
CHAPTER 2 — MATTHEW NOONE
https://www.matthewnoone.com › chapter-1-1

It sounds a bit like the Holy Grail - but it’s a useful idea for people like me who like the ‘traditional’ sound and want to have a way to express it. It seems perfectly possible for people to compose tunes these days that are ‘pure drop’, even though so many of the modern tunes aren’t. But tradition is a living tradition and all music has to move on, or die.

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PS - I just used the link on my previous post and discovered a musician with a green beard and plays a saroda.
So presumably not ‘pure drop’, unless musicians in the old days played for so long that lichen grew in their beards.

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I suspect that even if you came up with an iron clad definition its application would still be a matter of opinion.
Not too different from saying that the playing of a particular tune was very good/traditional/heartwarming. One might feel that way but another might hate it

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Pure Drop is just another way of saying traditional, but because the word "traditional" in Irish Traditional music has been hijacked over the years you need some other term to remind you what it means.

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The Pure Drop - the exact way St. Paddy O’Hooligan played the Ballygonefishin Hop Jig on a bright May morning in 1847.

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Brendan Breathnach said in one of his books (sorry, I can’t find it right now) words to the effect that the goodness and authenticity (purity) of the music and the way it is played, was judged by those who played it well and pure.

Now maybe this reasoning does sound a bit circular, but I "get" it. I listen to my own playing of Itish traditional tunes, then listen to those who play it in the "pure drop" style, and there’s no comparison ("those" being far superior to me).

It’s quite hard to quantify - obviously excellent timing, intonation and powerful / subtle dynamics are all there, but there’s something else which is difficult to describe.

As Donough inferred above, it’s all subjective.

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We need a term like ‘pure drop’ because ‘traditional’ has so many different meanings. In particular, many people don’t grasp that traditional tunes and traditional music are two different (and only loosely connected) things. A country or rock band might play some traditional tunes, but it isn’t traditional music, it is still country or rock music. A traditional musician might play some modern compositions, but that is still traditional music. Using ‘pure drop’ to describe the traditional musician’s way of presenting the music removes the ambiguity.

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Yes it’s subjective, and people’s views will vary, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a lot of agreement. A term is useful if it has meaning (obviously) and doesn’t mean the same as something else. So it’s not a synonym for "good," having "nyah," or "I like that." Something can be absolutely superb of its kind, but very definitely not "pure drop."

It may be easier to say what it’s not. Drumkit, synths, balkan or latin rhythm influences, - is not going to be pure drop.

My personal description (not definition) of pure drop would be one or more people playing a tune in unison in a wholly traditional ITM style, really well! You know it when you hear it!

Looking at comments above, I’d agree with Theirlandais but suggest it’s narrower than traditional.

Tijn’s comment is humorous, but you could say , "Yes!"

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To be pure would require the drop not to have any side effects, which I can disprove as I have certainly been affected. So no Ben, I don’t know what you mean, but anyhow I strongly disagree. :~)

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Cheers!

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"Using ‘pure drop’ to describe the traditional musician’s way of presenting the music removes the ambiguity."…. and replaces it withe the ambiguity of *tradition*!

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"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said,…… it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."

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If a traditional tune sounds like a stream flowing over rocks, I know it’s ‘pure drop’.

Playing of Peter Horan, Micho Russel, Tony McMahon to name a few is ‘pure drop’.

Anyone who has succeeded learning the style from a ‘pure drop’ musician becomes one.

It’s simple to grasp ‘pure drop’, just don’t use words until you’re going to reason about the music. Listening, copying, instincts, patience are sufficient.

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Lucy Farr is also one musician who has been a part of the musical tradition both in her playing & through the people she met. "Lucy’s musical career, filled with generosity and patience, allows entrance to what, after all, is a most privileged world of imagination, quality, humour, musical kinship, social grace - all those manifestations of humanity liberated by the word, traditional."

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Surely near all of us who play, regardless of our varying skills, knowledge, and understanding, are part of this ‘tradition’. Like the word ‘culture’ it is too constantly dynamic and multi-dimensional to ever nail down to a simple definition. The definition I offered a days ago is both as good and useless as any other,- "tradition is merely peer pressure from dead people" (I can’t recall where I read that, but it isn’t mine).

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AB, Lucy Farr was indeed a very special person and musician, I knew her very well and her husband John back in the sixties.

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No. I have never heard this phrase outside of this site; I am suspicious.
In my mind, authenticty is rarely real, more marketing than real.
The past is a murky, often fabricated false place.

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Allan, the phrase has been used longer than this site has been running. Certainly you must know this?

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Eh? I just said the opposite.

I have been playing irish and scottish music for a long time. I’ve never heard a real person use this phrase.
Now, it might be lingua franca in some circles but not in mine. I don’t go to music camps or retreats, I mainly play local sessions.
I have gone to loads of gigs and know lots of musicians: never heard this phrase.

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Maybe it’s like "the angel’s share", a marketing ploy?

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You need to get out more, certainly to Ireland.
The phrase is deemed worthy of its’ own entry in Fintan Vallely’s "Companion To Irish Traditional Music" :
"Euphemism for un-cut whiskey, poitin, etc, so implying "undiluted" and "un-polluted". The term was used by RTE television producer Tony MacMahon for his series on traditional music begun in 1989" [ Pg. 302 ]
"The Pure Drop" is listed as the title of a reel in O’Neill’s "1,001 Gems", so the phrase pre-dates 1907, at the very least.

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Speaking of the first mention of "The pure drop";- Well on this site the question of the meaning was first asked 15 years ago. That’s been followed by numerous repeats over the years, including the one by yourself Ben from two years ago, with the very same title (bar the question mark). I just read through two or three of these old posts and I can’t imagine anything new emerging from this one. So far it seems to be following the very same pattern.

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A h well Kenny, I had no idea you were an fait with all my travels and who I spoke to.

The fact that there is a tune called the pure drop listed in one document may be unrelated to a definition of a phrase, related to the whisky industry, in another book.
Maybe the tv series is the true source for current users? I’ve never heard of it before. Maybe the 1989 show was shown in public service tv in the USA, Australia and Grampian and Ulster TVs?

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In the words of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, "I know it when I see it." (or hear it, really)

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Well we all do, and I guess that’s what the problem is. There is just no objective definition we can all agree to.

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I have to add that quite contrary to all my argument against the term, as a solo fiddle player I consider myself a purist, and that’s the stuff I study. Yes, a contradiction sure, but the thing is that words only point towards what WE mean, and not to an actuality. And yes, Ben, I am enjoying this thread.

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No problem.

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"Euphemism for un-cut whiskey, poitin, etc, so implying "undiluted" and "un-polluted"? I think if the goal is to define the metaphor "pure drop," leaning on another metaphor does not help. My bit of chemistry background suggests to me that, as a metaphor, "pure drop" must refer to something being distilled to its essence. So, what is essential? What are the impurities?

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Barry, tunes or whiskey neither is just about the what is it but mostly how is it.

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Curiously I have heard it in relation to poitín. The lads may take a swig and exclaim an créatúir! in the spirit of opposites, as in bad is good!, and when asked what they meant was told, that ´was the pure drop´ and of course go back for another swallow 🙂

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so, you lot knew what I meant the whole time. I always fall for those setups. The crack is right here; you feckers.
All this talk about the drop & I missed the lift.

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Seems somewhat analogous to the expression ‘the real McCoy’, which may be defined simply as:

‘the real thing; the genuine article.’

I would think that many cultures or traditions might have an expression that attempts to differentiate the authentic from that which isn’t.

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This thread may have almost run its course, but I’ll toss in one more reference. This was a post 16 years ago on the Chiff & Fipple Forum, where someone asked about the term, and "susanfx" related the following:

"In the current issue of Smithsonian magazine, there’s an article on Richard Waterman, who worked with and photographed many of the great blues musicians. He made a statement in that article about Son House that made me think instantly of the "pure drop" phrase we use when referring to ITM.

"If the blues were an ocean distilled…into a pond…and, ultimately, into a drop…this drop on the end of your finger is Son House. It’s the essence, the concentrated elixir."

So pick your favorite musician in ITM as a substitute, and there ‘ya go. 🙂

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Could I name drop about "The Pure Drop"?

Luke Kelley, John Doyle(Guitar), Cathy Jordan, Andy Stewart, and Liam Clancy with their singing.

Martin Hayes and Kevin Burke on Fiddle. Matt Molloy on flute, Donald Shaw on Accordion

Paddy Maloney and John Sheahan, Joanie Madden on Whistles and Pipes.

Barney McKenna, Seamus Egan, and Gerry O’Connor with their banjo playing.

How bout Donal Lunny with bouzouki and Andy Irvine and Marla Fibbish on mandolin.

AB, love the delightful controversies. I feel I have created an All-Star Pure Drop Band.

What is frightening is that I’m so deep into this music that I know who all these people are.

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"Could I name drop about "The Pure Drop"? ….
I think that that’s what it actually comes down to Patrick. But speaking of delightful controversies , of which I am always in favor, maybe somebody should organize a survey of who people think is and who they think isn’t ‘pure drop’ and then we need find an expert on statistical analysis to tell us the results. My list would be largely different from yours. Most of mine would be long dead.

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This music has an irreducible minimum, which is still complete and full Irish Traditional Music, not a cut down version, and that is the single line of the tune played by one or more instruments. If you take any more away, there’s nothing.
The Pure Drop.
😉

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An irreducible minimum? Meaning pared to the bone and therefore very simple and pure? (Cold + frosty here in Glasgow)

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Good time for a pure drop then Susan,

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thanks Conical, I hadnt heard that quote before - Son House, Baptist preacher, mentor to Robert Johnson, philosopher, whisky drinker, steel guitar player - the nearest ITM equivalent I could think of would be the late Tommy Peoples……………

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calling some music "pure" implies that there is "impure" music. I have a problem with that to be honest. Dunno who can be the judge of that.

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Really, as said before, the phrase is imprecise, the metaphors strained.
Distillation in not necessarily an exercise in concentration. It is not a simplification of flavours, rather a complexity of different elements.
References to slide guitar players?
An all-star band with 3 banjo players and a Scot?

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As I understand the term it refers to a session with no backing of any kind as was indicated by TomB-R.

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I was having a great day and now I’ve been called “ye feckers”

Ben, for fecks sake, get a hold of yourself. Hope you are ok, lol! I’m a fecker but these other folks are nice decent folk.

Now look it, pure drop needs water from an artesian source, otherwise it’s not gonna have the right shine. Like a sacred temple or holy city, the water erupts from the Earth. There’s good poiteen from all over but it all comes down to your water source.

It’s timing and rhythm at the subatomic level. You are 96% liquid molecules but if you don’t have copper tubing and hardware and artesian water, then you are right., you’d be a fecker with no lift

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Well, maybe it comes down to solo performing. The feeling, the soul, the consciousness, the nakedness. When you feel it yourself it your own style perhaps that is what you refer to as "The Pure Drop". Matt Molloy responds in this interview to solo playing in the second to last question. And he alludes to "the pure drop" in a way with his spotlight on solo playing, stripped down to the the essentials. Here is the entire insightful interview with Matt.

https://www.mattmolloy.com/interview-with-matt

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As someone said, it simply means ‘the real McCoy’, or ‘the real thing’ - i.e., unpolluted by other things. Of course not everyone will be in agreement on what the ‘real’ thing is, or even if there is a real thing. But that’s what it means. Now, if the question were, Is there actually a ‘pure drop’?, or What do you consider the ‘pure drop’?, that’s a different matter …. Carry on.

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You have to shake the hand, the hand of the man that shook the barley.

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Allan, it is a strained metaphor. Many forum figures of speech eventually become far-fetched, stretched, hackneyed, over-the-top, etcetera…but like a good single malt you know it when…
bye!

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I think that any tradition is the sum of its members.

Visualise a crowd of people, massed in a circle more or less, surrounded by a huge loop of rope.

On one side of the circle are the innovators pushing outward, doing their best to drag the whole crowd of people forward.

On the opposite side of the crowd are the traditionalists standing their ground.

In the middle are the great mass of tradition-members, neither set on innovating or set on preserving.

Slowly, very slowly, the entire circular crowd inches forward, the great mass in the middle and even the traditionalists.

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No.The innovators stretch the role by breaking point and leave the rest behind. The traditionalists don’t move, don’t change. The rest wander about, joining new circles.

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That’s not how it happens- any tradition, as a whole, slowly evolves.

A perfect example is language. There are always the traditionalists who want to keep language pure and unchanging, but they’re fighting a loosing battle.

The newfangled usage or spelling they rail against might be the norm in a few hundred years, just as the spellings and usages they think of as "correct" were viewed as alarming deviations a few hundred years ago.

It’s the same with music, with clothing, with all things.

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What Richard said.

A constant factor in any tradition is change.

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"leave the rest behind" - I don’t know how much thought you put into that wording, but I don’t see how the idea of being "left behind" fits into that of traditional music. In the modern world - i.e., the last century or two - isn’t it the ones who have been "left behind" who have kept the various folk traditions alive?

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I think you’re right about the whole thing moving Richard. Many might agree that a piper’s current playing is "the pure drop" but it’ll be very different from Leo Rowsome’s.

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Yes. The left behind remain in the tradition. The innovators become something else, folk rock, progressive, whatever.
Keep up. Its not my metaphor.

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"Keep up. Its not my metaphor."… It’s not EVEN a metaphor!

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Yes it is.

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I think Richard Cook was using a visual metaphor.

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@ Allan 21. So sorry but I can’t see your statement as a metaphor. Let me clarify that what I should have said is that YOURS isn’t a metaphor. Richard, on the other hand, offered us a metaphor in that it models a situation, which in my opinion represents that situation perfectly. Your statement models nothing! Nor does it even make sense to me.

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Hi Gobby. Role = rope. Stupid auticirrect.

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Sounds like an autoincorrect malapropism, Allan.

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"Role = rope" Oh Right! Now I get it! Sorry Allan21.

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meself you hit the nail on the head.

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Ah! Thank you - usually I hit my thumb …..