Is ITM Insular?

Is ITM Insular?

Before you wisecrack, "You dummy, Ireland is an island," what I mean is:
Played today, ought Irish music sessions play only Irish (O’Neil’s type stuff)? Or can (and do) Scottish, Quebecois, perhaps even Appalachian (wink) creep in?
I’m honestly asking as a poor ignorant Connecticut Yankee.
And never do I think old time or bluegrass has a place in a session, but what about crossover tunes?
This discussion spawned off of a discussion on ITM backing in Appalachian style.

Re: Is ITM Insular?

Well, so many of these tunes have crossed various stretches of water and back, and in some cases, one nationality will claim a tune as theirs, while another hotly insists it’s theirs or they had it first. When I first started playing a melody instrument in sessions in Scotland around 15 years ago, I didn’t actually know where all the tunes came from, tho’ with some, the titles would give you solid clues: he majority would be Scottish or Irish as I later made it my business to find out: and I perhaps became more clued up on characteristic styles that suggest to you that "This tune is probably Irish/Scottish/English/American or whatever".
At risk of being shot down in flames, I’d say that any problem of insularity is down to entrenched attitudes rather than the actual music.

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The music itself isn’t insular because there’s more crossover than most people think between Irish, Scottish, Cape Breton, and yes, even the odd Quebecois or Appalachian fiddle tune creeps in somewhere. Some people choose to be insular, but the ones I’ve found with that kind of entrenched attitude are mostly North Americans, although there was a session in Newcastle called Anything But Irish night. I never went to it (obviously) so I don’t know what they played. The majority of musicians I’ve met in Scotland don’t give any f ** cks about whether the tune originates in Ireland, Scotland, Shetland, Quebec, Cape Breton….

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Crossover tunes are fine, they’ve become part of the tradition. Sometimes you have to be insular. Around here if we opened up to ‘whatever’ we wouldn’t have an Irish session for very long.

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It depends on the session. I know several "folk sessions" that welcome any folky style - Irish, Scottish, English, Breton, Balkan, Klezmer, etc. Others maintain a "strictly Irish" repertoire (even though there’s overlap with other regional repertoires, the style is still distinct). In the end, it’s up to the musicians themselves.

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I think ultimately it depends on the people/culture of each session, nothing to do with the genre.

People get into music for all sorts of reasons.
Behind all session musicians are hours and hours of solo music practice and, while not universal, I’ve found a lot of people actually play to cope with personal things going on in their lives, hence often react oddly when people challenge the status quo.

Think it’s the standard thing of just ask, be polite and give people a lot of rope when trying to analyse any frostiness! 🙂

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What the Elf said: "…if we opened up to ‘whatever’ we wouldn’t have an Irish session for very long." OT/Scottish/Quebecois, et. al., musicians can play an Irish tune but it won’t be Irish music. Few of us in the USA have had the opportunity of building a local community of musicians that goes back decades. That shared experience is precious and fragile.

I suppose that over time, distinct cultures tend to get folded into the greater culture of human-kind. Languages die and musical traditions are absorbed into the popular culture. But in the meantime, while ITM is still played at our local sessions, I will do everything I can to keep it pure drop - with all of it’s difficulty, subtle nuances, and impossibility.

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My observations on this is as a non-specialist musician. I play various instruments (fretted strummyfings, slidy strummyfings, keyboards, acoustic, electric), play all sorts of stuff and came to Trad Irish quite late in my musical career (~20 years ago). Additionally, I come from a totally London family- three grandparents and both parents born in South London (one grandmother, Helen Cameron, born in the Highlands came to London in Victorian times as a 14 year old to work in service). Trad Irish music is just one of the genres I indulge in. By the way, I speak below mainly of my experiences in London.

I find about 50% of the people I meet at sessions have absolutely no interest in any other music than the ‘pure drop’ trad Irish. This 50% turn their noses up at even English trad let alone any Americana or further afield stuff. They tend to see the music as an almost nationalist statement that identifies them as Irish (or pseudo-Irish). I don’t know if ‘they’ would typically listen to any other music privately but I would doubt it sometimes! They mainly have no idea of key, modes, chords et cetera and are a little irritated by anyone that shows any interest in the technical/ comparative musicological stuff. Also, this 50% will hardly ever offer a critique of the ensemble sound or the playing. They probably like hurling and Guinness for the same reasons.

The other 50% are the opposite! They play the Trad Irish just as good as everyone else but also actively play all sorts of stuff, understand harmony, listen to e.g. Bollywood, the Sex Pistols, hiphop, reggae and Morris music (or wotteffah), play weird and wonderful instruments, know how to set up an amp or sound system and have an opinion on stuff (and say so!). They see the Trad Irsh Music in context among the many other cultures, even though they may be ‘Irish’ and mainly play Irish music.

So I’m saying it’s half and half.
For the first 50% it IS insular.
The other 50% just see it as part of the wonderful world of historical and contemporary global music.

I have another theory around this subject.
I have played in sessions and in gigs around London where the music is indentifiably Irish Trad. Sometimes the quality of the music is terrible: eg. Gigs where the music is badly rehearsed/ badly over-amplified/ just badly played and sessions where the tune playing is shaky or the five or six guitarists and bodhran players create a non-musical (but Irish!) racket.
But certain ‘audiences’ will go crackers for it. NOT BECAUSE IT’S GOOD MUSIC BUT BECAUSE IT IS ‘IRISH’. This saddens me.
I want to play GOOD MUSIC first and foremost, of any variety, not shight Irish just because it’s Irish.

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I’m in the English midlands and the Irish *sessions* tend to be insular for the reasons Cheeky Elf and David Levine suggests. If people travel an hour or so to meet up to play Irish music they want to play Irish music and may give a sour look to anyone who starts something non-Irish.

But I don’t think the *musicians* are particularly insular and some of them will be found playing other music on other nights.

I tend to be a happy listener at Irish sessions, because my repertire is mainly the ‘well known’ tunes that don’t get played much and I can’t play reels fast enough. Those tunes do get played at more general trad music sessions but there are also ‘English’ sessions, ‘Euro’ sessions, ‘Scottish’ sessions (I think) etc which focus on those things for the same reason the Irish ones do on Irish.

[crossing with Yhaaalhouse - probably a bit like that here but less frenetic.]

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ITM is anything but insular. Just check on the sessions tab at the top of the page and you will see that it is played all over the world. The numbers of Japanese , Spaniards, Finnish, Germans and so many other nationalities playing the music expertly and with love is testament to the fact that it is not insular. Also the names of tunes like the Rights of Man and the Salamanca. The Rights of Man was named in tribute to the principles of the French Revolution and the Salamanca to commemorate the famous battle.

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ITM is not insular, it is popular and played world wide. Practitioners can be insular but this is not confined to Irish music. I am mainly a singer and in that world I have encountered sessions where various prohibitions apply such as no accompaniment, only particular regional or national songs can be sung or only the big ballads are acceptable. Some people seem to have a very narrow focus which can come over as intolerance to others with a broader field of view. Taken to the extreme this can become arrogant, dictatorial and disrespectful of other music styles. However, that is just human nature.

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Re: Is ITM Insular?

I agree with trish.
I think folk in Ireland and Scotland appreciate that traditional music bounced back and forward between the nations and musicians in sessions are happy playing tunes from different places as long as they are in the same idiom. However different instruments have different cultural links: eg pipers draw from a much wider European repertoire.
Maybe sessions populated by Scots, Irish and assorted gaels in different countries are more protective of their parochial view of their ideal or imagined traditions.

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Okay, great comments guys, keep it coming. I just want to clarify one thing—I’m not asking if ITM is only played on the island of Ireland, I’m asking if not-technically ITM tunes can be considered part of the Irish Tradition. For instance, I’ve heard some Cape Breton and other Canuck styles tossed around in Irish sessions.
I’m starting a separate thread to deal with ubiquitous tunes.

NO I"M NOT ASKING IF BLUEGRASS/OLDTIME IS OKAY IN ITM.
(I think we all know the answer to that…)

Just "similar" styles.

Re: Is ITM Insular?

!

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At the local session I attend only traditional Irish tunes are played, together with the occasional song. No American, Scottish, or English tunes, or songs, that I am aware of. I still keep discovering so many great tunes in the Irish repertoire to play on the pipes and flute that I really don’t have the time, or the need, to play anything else.
However on my iPod Touch besides traditional Irish musicians I also listen to the Grateful Dead, Karen Dalton, Dylan, Keith Jarrett, Breabach, Talisk, Mike Bloomfield, Sean Costello, Anne Briggs, Nancy Kerr, Jacky Terrason, Miles Davis, Daniel Lanois, Tara Nevins, Lena Jonsson, Brittnay Haas, Lake Street Dive, Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, Hille Prel, Joni Mitchell, Alisdair Roberts, Sam Lee, Taj Mahal, Bert Jansch, Trucks Tedeski Band, Van Morrison, Washington Phillips, Otis Redding, and the Supremes, to name a few.

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I go to the session. We play tunes. Many of them are Irish but some are not. We’re happy with that. If someone turns up and plays tunes we’re not interested in, we may join in out of politeness, but not to the extent the session changes a lot.

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Emily, since you’re talking about sessions, my experience is that it comes down to the individual locale. When I lived in southeastern Connecticut (Uncasville), the sessions (mainly at private homes) were a mix of Irish, Scottish, and sea shanties. Just a few players and a lot of talking about newly discovered tunes or songs.

When I lived in New Hampshire, I went to a regular session in Portsmouth. Being a port town, it was heavily influenced by sailor songs.

In the NYC area, Irish sessions I go to are Irish. And that suits me. When I go to an Irish session I want to play Irish traditional music.

In the 1980s, I worked at the NYC Irish Arts Center in midtown. The center’s goal was to promote Irish art and history. I helped organize the center’s (now defunct) annual Irish music festival at Snug Harbor, Staten Island for a couple of years. The 1980s were still part of a Renaissance period for ITM in America. Our goal was spreading awareness and appreciation of Irish Arts. I think my point of view is still anchored in that.

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Steamwilkes, "At the local session I attend only traditional Irish tunes are played" - I’d be extremely surprised if that was the case. Tunes that belong to the Irish tradition sure, but many, many tunes in the Irish tradition originate somewhere else.

In my opinion traditional Irish music and the way it evolved into the many styles you hear today is anything but insular. Some individuals who wrongly believe that their own particular taste is the "real stuff" have an insular attitude - which is usually through ignorance of the music they’re playing. If, through the centuries, the musicians who compiled the music seen as Irish traditional today wet their pants and stamped their feet in a tantrum any time someone introduced a Scottish tune or a polka or mazourka (for example), Irish music would be much worse for it.

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Re: Is ITM Insular?

Well it can be insular, despite Ireland being a LARGE island. Its folk dance music is certainly peculiar to it and nowhere else.

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Susan, what about the USA?

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Well the tradition has survived and thrived for centuries(now) far beyond the shores of Ireland.

New tunes and compositions which are distinctively in the Irish style are and have been composed by players who have never set foot in Ireland or only visited on occasion.
Many of these musicians are second, third, or more generation Irish, of course but by no means all.

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It all depends on the session. Session are gathering of musicians, a music conversation if you will. So what those people want to play is the session.

Most sessions I attend are composed of people who want to play Irish Traditional music in an instrumental style, so that’s what we play.

If a group got together that wanted to play a wider variety of music, say from different cultures or styles, that great! So long as that’s what the group wants to do.

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Not an easy question. First and foremost I love playing music with others and if I can and it seems appropriate I will join in with whatever they bring to the session. The issue of the derivation of the tunes became clouded a good while back. From the getgo when i started playing at sessions i found that tunes claimed by the irish, scots and americans were all in the brew and probably all claims had some legitimacy. Having said that, MY preference is for music played in what I think of as an Irish style. The rhythms, modes, phrasing, etc appeal to me greatly. Nothing to do with where i come from. That’s 10k miles away and i have a combo of irish and scot ancestory. I also love to play old-time and bluegrass very much but feel I’m wearing a different hat and suit when I do that. But when I play Irish traditional dance music (without being too dramatic 🙂 )I like to be able to shut my eyes and imagine that I’m playing for a set at a house dance and that the dancers boots are keeping the rhythm with me. Accordingly I dont want to tinker with that. 🙂

Re: Is ITM Insular?

@Yhaal House" What does this mean?

"They mainly have no idea of key, modes, chords et cetera and are a little irritated by anyone that shows any interest in the technical/ comparative musicological stuff. Also, this 50% will hardly ever offer a critique of the ensemble sound or the playing. They probably like hurling and Guinness for the same reasons."

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Re: Is ITM Insular?

At the sessions that I anchor, we tend to play tunes that are accepted within the Irish tradition, and don’t play things that aren’t. But what you’re asking really boils down to whether tunes from other styles get accepted into the Irish tradition, and the answer is unequivocally ‘yes’, with the caveat that tunes from different traditions tend to get played like Irish music when they’re played by Irish musicians (big surprise, I know!)

So while there are many crossover tunes, that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to play them with people from other styles of music (thus giving rise to your next discussion).

But I also think it’s good for players to know where their tunes come from, and understand the difference in how they would be played. Which makes it possible to be insular in the way things are played, without being quite so strict about the origins of the tunes themselves…

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I think back to dedannan playing beatles covers ,
Yuck really too much. There are limits you know!! If its insular to play trad tunes followed by other trad tunes im happy to be insular!! Borders and bounderies are important .

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When I find myself in times of trouble, Frankie Gavin comes to me,
Speaking words of wisdom, Diddlydee

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K O’C: Hi mate! Which words or phrases are you having trouble with old chap?

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Yhall House : Counterpoint- your post cleared up a lot of the confusion I’ve felt about some of your attitudes. I think I understand where you’re coming from now.

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@ bogman, I think you hit on the real issue I’m wondering about; that is, how much of music in the Irish tradition originated elsewhere.
Great discussion, guys!

Re: Is ITM Insular?

*elswhere = other places than Ireland

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Here’s one for ya: At my weekly session, one of the favorites is one we call the Milky Way set - three tunes written by Vincent Broderick who, imo wrote the most traditional-sounding tunes of any contemporary Irish composers. The funny part is that we play it in a manner that sounds very old timely! Being a flute player, as was VB, I was struck by this strange approach to his very Irish tunes. I was told the set was learned from an Irish band. I have since taught my mates other VB tunes, which we play in very Irish style, but the Milky Way set remains the strange outlier in our pure-drop session. Go figure.

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First tune is indeed The Milky Way. We follow it with The Crock of Gold and Night of the Big Wind. We put a lot more swing into it.

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I think it really just boils down to the musicians in the session. I would never join a new session that was billed as an "Irish" session and charge in there with tunes from elsewhere. However I do play regularly in an "Irish" session and now I’m known, it’s ok to chuck in something random for entertainment every now and then. I wouldn’t want to do it too often though otherwise it waters down the "Irish"-ness of it. There are plenty of other sessions where they play English / French / Scottish / Welsh etc etc etc tunes.
‘tis manners really innit. You wouldn’t take pork sausages to a vegetarian dinner party.
Or would you? 🙂

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Well, from my limited observations the answer depends on where on the Globe an Irish session takes place. ITM sessions outside Ireland strive to keep their "Irish" identity in a situation, where a lion share of attending musicians come from the other grounds. Trad sessions in Ireland generally aren’t under that sort of pressure, so a number or two from other styles often feels less inappropriate.

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Re: Is ITM Insular?

From my experiences, bluegrass jams are the most insular. Don’t DARE show up with anything that isn’t a guitar, fiddle, mandolin, dobro, or bass. Irish sessions can fo either way. There’s reticence for sure, but stuff like bouzoukis and tenor banjos have made it in. Old Times are by far the most open. They accept most unorthodox instruments, and are just glad you’re there.