How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

Hi,
I always wondered, how "exceptional" ITM is, compared to other European countries music. Do you think other countries had a similar size of repertoire and special playing techniques as Ireland, but over the 200 years or so much more went lost, compared to Ireland? Or has Ireland just always been more musical?

Or in other words: Where simple / poorer country folk people in England, Germany, etc. less involved in music than Irish people? Or had English or maybe German traditional music been a bit more connected to "classical" music than Irish music and therefore dance / traditional hadn’t been so special?

For example, when I went to a trip to county Clare, I felt like I knew the name of every second village or so from some tune name. Opposed to that, I rarely heard that small towns and villages in (my country) Germany have their "own" old tune(s), named after them.

Was that different 200 years ago and we simply lost most of the repertoire?
And even further, in Ireland it feels like every county has it distinct style of playing, has that been similar in other countries? I know that the Brittany has a music tradition, different to the rest of France, but i think that isn’t comparable, because Brittany is probably ethnically more different to other parts of France than most Irish counties are to each other.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

I don’t know about many countries TM-wise, but in Sweden we have an old and rich tradition with a LOT of tunes. It’s the same here, areas with their own ”styles”. I bet it’s the same way around the world.

Many of the musicians wrote down their music so much have been saved through the years.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

I once mentioned to someonethat Fiddler’s Companion had "thousands of tunes" from the fiddle traditions of Ireland, UK, USA etc. The person couldn’t believe it. The similar Swedish collection "Svenska låtar" is said to have around 8000 tunes.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

Wow, I love traditional Swedish and other Scandinavian music, but I had never assumed that so much repertoire got handed down.
Did traditional Swedish musicians (and music) have a stronger connection to classical music compared to Irish musicians - and therefore more commonly used to write down their music?

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

I don’t know, I’m afraid. We can hope for some Swede with more expertise to chime in.

Ah… now I saw that Jeff is Swedish. Jeff, har du koll?

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

We have loads of indigenous folk music here in Switzerland with unique ensembles and hundreds of traditional and loads of recent compositions. Neighbors in Austria and Bavaria have yet different types of tunes and instruments and then think of eastern / south eastern Europe! Endless material there.
In addition and not to bash the tradition of the green isle, regional folk musics on the continent had quite a bit more chance to cross fertilize.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

I just read that ”Svenska låtar” with its 8000 Swedish tunes is just a small part of a larger collection of 45 000 tunes. Mindboggling

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

I would say many countries had or have a similar traditional music repertoire but have lost a lot of popularity due to industrialization and 20th century modernization. The west of Ireland was very rural and had relatively little outside influence until quite recently and so it lived on. Rural and less affluent areas always have more traditions, not just music but clothes, stories, cures, sports etc… this is really obvious when you travel around the world. Even with this I suspect it could have died out in Ireland too but for a few factors including the creation of CCE. TG4 helped in later years (that’s where I saw a lot of it first) and prehaps the 1920s sligo fiddlers in the US and then the 1960s folk revival helped. Take England for example, had it’s own traditional music, regional styles and tunes but a lot of it has died out or decreased in popularity since the industrial revolution. It’s became an urban country and prosperous in rural areas (in the South anyway) which isn’t ideal for keeping traditions alive. I think some Irish tunes and the OCarolyn melodies have similarities with Baroque, the classical music of 400 or so years ago, which shows how long it’s lasted. I’d say most tunes are within the last 100 years. Think of all the tunes that were lost..it would be nice if they were found again somehow. It’s nice to think that the tunes we play were also played 100s of years ago, I really love that thought. I could be wrong but I just can’t see Justin Timberlake being played in the year 2400 🙂

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

Certainly the Spanish have several traditions that have survived and stayed relevant, from the Flamenco styles of music and dance in Andalusia, which spread pretty far and wide into Latin America, to the more ‘celtic’ traditions in Galicia and Asturias. I don’t know that it is as widespread as the music in Ireland, but a lot of the popularity of the music in Ireland seems geared toward tourists. I think the same could definitely be said of Flamenco…

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

I’d guess that the exceptional thing about Irish music is that there are more people outside Ireland playing Irish music than any other regional folk tradition, except perhaps one*.

To make a fair comparison do you have to ask how strongly the tradition survives, and how much has been lost, in the original country.

* Except one - what about the blues?

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

I’ve read several accounts of German composers taking their summer holidays in rural parts of the country and either being inspired by or simply lifting local melodies and incorporating them into their compositions. When other townies went down the country they heard what they thought were local musicians playing classical music badly. Classical music (which is a centuries old tradition in and of itself) basically overwhelmed the local traditions although the melodies survived inside the symphonies and other pieces. Sibelius did the same thing in Finland. The Jewish music of the Eastern European shetls was resurrected in New York with 1000s of tunes and songs, Russian folk bands are still really popular with huge repertoires. There’s a lot of souped up crap being fobbed off as traditional though, just as there is in Irish music.
In addition to the Blues I would add Old Timey/Bluegrass and Jazz to the list of traditions popular outside their native regions.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

@Davidread:
"Did traditional Swedish musicians (and music) have a stronger connection to classical music compared to Irish musicians - and therefore more commonly used to write down their music?"

I assume a lot of the material in big collections is based on what music collectors had transcribed during field research. Who knows how common or spread the tunes were. I think that the repertoire could be quite idiosyncratic.

One ITM example of a music collector is Brendan Breathnach, who according to Wikipedia "had collected over 7,000 tunes." ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breand%C3%A1n_Breathnach )

There are of course also Scottish collections. Just have a look at Nigel Gatherer’s impressive list here:
http://www.nigelgatherer.com/books/biblio.html

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

I don’t know the answer to the question, but I think a particular fact is worth mentioning in the context of this discussion: a player can find an Irish Traditional Music session in just about any major city of the world. I’ve had only a little personal experience in this regard: Chicago, Roche Harbor, Detroit, Houston, Boston, London, Paris, and Doolin, among others. And, in conversations with other players, I’ve heard of sessions in many far-flung places. It strikes me that ITM is unlike other forms of traditional music in that it seems an exceptionally widespread practice in places all around the globe. I could be wrong of course, but I’m not aware of other types of traditional music that are so universal.

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Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

I would go along with TomB-R and say that The Blues is probably as universal.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

In terms of the Scottish tradition, there are undoubtedly many, many thousands of tunes. The "Athole Collection" in the AK Bell Library in Perth holds traditional music books and manuscripts collected in the early 20th century by the eldest daughter of the 7th Duke of Atholl. There are over 14,000 tunes - almost all fiddle tunes. But that’s just the fiddle tradition in one collection - there is also all the other fiddle music held elsewhere, and all the fiddle tunes composed over the past 100 years. And you can add the Gaelic song tradition from throughout the Highlands, Scots songs, pibroch / bagpipe / pipe band / Lowland piping, the clarsach tradition, lute music from the 16th and 17th centuries, bothy ballads, Border ballads, dance band music ….. .
It is an extremely rich and diverse tradition, and thankfully, very much alive - growing and changing and being added to ……
It’s rather wonderful that there are so many other rich musical traditions from all over the world. Bless them all.

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Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

"It strikes me that ITM is unlike other forms of traditional music in that it seems an exceptionally widespread practice in places all around the globe."

It may only be unlike other forms of trad music because so many Irish musicians left the home country due to the Potato Famine and other economic factors, in the days before folk music could spread worldwide as easily as it does now. Maybe Bulgarian folk music or Gamelan trad music from SE Asia hasn’t spread as far because those musicians had less reason to travel?

As far as Blues or Bluegrass expanding beyond the original boundaries, I think that’s another indication of how easily music has crossed borders since the advent of audio recording. There is more Irish trad spread around the world because the musicians themselves were spreading it as they left the home country, before recordings, radio, and the Internet. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it. 🙂

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

I went down the Bulgarian trad music rabbit-hole many years ago (I’ve had a full recovery) and the trad song, dance, and instrumental music culture is easily as varied and rich as that of Ireland.

The instruments used vary more from region to region that Irish instruments do- the bagpipe you play in one area can’t be used for the ensembles in other regions, in several cases. Ditto the melodions in some cases.

And the dance music is far more varied than Irish dance music, meaning that you would have to double the number of tune categories for a tune-site like this.

About travelling around the world, Irish music has done far more than Bulgarian music. Yet just in the area where I live (California) there were, pre-Covid, a number of regular gatherings for doing trad Bulgarian dancing and there were two or three ensembles playing that music. You can hear Bulgarian trad music played in Japan, for one thing.

Few countries can match Ireland for the size of their diaspora. Irish workers spread over most of the world and when an area developed a sizable Irish community an "Irish pub" and a pub session might follow.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

Great and interesting thread…hope a good deal more input and discussion comes of it.

"I suspect it could have died out in Ireland too but for a few factors"

I was amazed to learn just how much of a chance thing this and how much it was dependent on the ‘folk revival’ of the 60s; perhaps not in Ireland itself but for becoming a subject of interest in the UK at least.

I had always thought that trad, being such a strong and endemic thing in Ireland, must always have been strong and passed down generation to generation but was rather shocked to learn that even in Ireland much of the revival was only due to the recordings of Michael Coleman who was then in america and those recordings would drip back to Ireland; I read/watched (on a documentary or two) that trad was dying out even in Ireland (sure there would have been pockets where it was still strong but generally it was in very low ebb as far as gather) and only those few recordings from Coleman were used as reference material to inspire many of the players from his time onward and then things picked up after that and original compositions were then more common.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

I would agree that, from what little I have studied, the spread is also mostly due to chance due to how far and wide the Irish were spread as others have said.

EDIT: ahh didn’t like my quote for some reason so I will just say instead - to ConicalBore….

Funny how you mentioned how important Irish emigration was for its spread but totally ignore the corollary with Blues music, which probably applies even moreso with the black peoples; I am of course referring to that little ol thing called slavery which spread black people far and wide.

Then you have the melting pots where all the different folk traditions come together to form their own knew ‘scenes’ like Appalachian and creole(?) music of Louisiana etc.

Alan Lomax, as far as I understand, was responsible for documenting a lot of this stuff and his life passion was seeking out all kinds of grassroots folk traditions across the world, or maybe just in western countries, he only had so much time on this earth after all!

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

CountryRoads, I think the spread of Irish Trad followed the Irish Diaspora. The spread of Blues on the other hand may have more to do with what has been labelled ´Blue Jeans Diplomacy´ or ´Coca Cola Diplomacy´
or ´Coca Colonization´. 🙂

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

CountryRoads - "I had always thought that trad, being such a strong and endemic thing in Ireland, must always have been strong and passed down generation to generation but was rather shocked to learn that even in Ireland much of the revival was only due to the recordings of Michael Coleman who was then in america and those recordings would drip back to Ireland; I read/watched (on a documentary or two) that trad was dying out even in Ireland (sure there would have been pockets where it was still strong but generally it was in very low ebb as far as gather) and only those few recordings from Coleman were used as reference material to inspire many of the players from his time onward and then things picked up after that and original compositions were then more common."

Unless I am mistaken it almost died out again post-Coleman. Paddy Glackin commented that he was embarrassed to be seen with his fiddle case as a kid as the music was so unpopular at the time.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

@Cheeky Elf I heard from famous Ennis musicians that when they had been kids (in the 50s or 60s) they didn’t even know all the kids in their schools that played ITM at home. Only years later they discovered who played this music - back then many people who played this music seemed to have tried to hide it!

Right know I don’t have a name in mind, but I heard about quite a few accomplished Irish musicians that they started to develop in interest in ITM because of a Chieftains or Bothy Band recording - and not because of a connection to a local scene or family tradition.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

"It strikes me that ITM is unlike other forms of traditional music in that it seems an exceptionally widespread practice in places all around the globe."

I can think of a number of musical styles and contexts which many musicians will find easy to join, probably a lot easier than ITM.

July, 2014:
Why is traditional Irish music tradition so alive? - https://thesession.org/discussions/34298

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

Irish music has been dying since the moment people started writing about it as a distinct thing—the whole idea was born on its deathbed. If you look at Edward Bunting’s late 18th/early 19th century collection it’s full or arguments that the music is dying. Francis O’Neill was convinced it was dying, even though during his lifetime the famous recordings of McKenna and the Sligo fiddlers were coming out. It’s ALWAYS dying: it’s part of the lore or culture or practice of ITM.

It’s always been "minority" music: Irish people always listened and played lots of stuff. In O’Neill’s childhood in Cork brass bands were everywhere—Cork had more than 30! Brass bands were an integral part of working class culture in towns and villages. You could go see a minstrel show in Cork; you could hear street ballads, political protest songs, music hall songs. Irish people went to sea or joined the army: they came back with music. In that range of music what we call ITM was just one part.

O’Neill’s work partly made the claim that ITM was the only real and authentic music of Ireland: Brass bands didn’t count; music hall songs didn’t count; the other stuff Irish immigrants played and listened to in Chicago didn’t count. I love and work hard at playing ITM, but Ireland has a really rich and deep musical tradition that includes other stuff not counted in ITM.

It does seem as if Irish culture expresses itself most vividly in language and music, rather than in, say, painting and sculpture. But I’m guessing a lot of the "resonance" of Irish music globally comes from the fact that it’s similar to other forms of European folk dance music, and because of the unusually large and dispersed Irish Emigrant population.

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Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

Davidread - "Right know I don’t have a name in mind, but I heard about quite a few accomplished Irish musicians that they started to develop in interest in ITM because of a Chieftains or Bothy Band recording - and not because of a connection to a local scene or family tradition."

It would be interesting to get a glimpse at an alternative timeline where Planxty and The Bothy Band never put out an album. I guess you might as well throw the Chieftains in there too, but I tend to think of them (rightly or wrongly) as belonging to the previous generation. There is a documentary on Youtube that traces the development of recorded Irish music, and it goes from the Clancy Brothers and the Dubliners to Planxty and The Bothy Band, and it certainly appears to have been a real watershed moment.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

"I guess you might as well throw the Chieftains in there too, but I tend to think of them (rightly or wrongly) as belonging to the previous generation. " It’s an odd perspective on *traditional* music would seek to discount "the previous generation" .

But I think it’s hard to get a perspective. How many people around the world are actually *playing* their own and other people’s traditional music. How much of that is part of a non-commercial local culture? And how does things compare between countries and between now and times past?

How many current accounts of regional folk music *don’t* include a tale of how it was almost lost, kept alive by a few families etc, etc before a revival.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

I’m not discounting anything. I’m speculating about the influence of contemporary commercial recordings in a given place and time. The Chieftains had been releasing albums a good 10 years before The Bothy Band’s debut.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

And Seán Ó Riada and Ceoltóirí Chualann a decade before the Chieftains.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

"Funny how you mentioned how important Irish emigration was for its spread but totally ignore the corollary with Blues music, which probably applies even moreso with the black peoples; I am of course referring to that little ol thing called slavery which spread black people far and wide."

I didn’t apply the same description to Blues because that genre didn’t spread the same way as Irish trad.

The roots of the Blues may be in Africa and the Caribbean, but the format we recognize today began with Black slave work songs in America and evolved from there. It wasn’t a part of the wider worldwide slave trade. It wasn’t even widely known in America other than in isolated Black communities in the South, until Whites started recording artists like Robert Johnson. It became more widely known after Blacks migrated out of the South to northern cities like Chicago after emancipation, and began recording vinyl records that were picked up on radio. The worldwide exposure and popularity of the Blues, including the later influence on Rock, didn’t really happen until after the 1940’s due to radio and recordings.

The spread of Irish trad was different, because the the musicians themselves emigrated to other countries before the modern era of radio and recordings. Black musicians in America during that same period didn’t have that option.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

The people mentioned, fearing that Irish music was dying, were correct at the time they perceived it.

The music Bunting was desperately trying to record did indeed die out within his lifetime.

"Six of the ten harpers present (at the 1792 Belfast Harp Festival) were blind and they represented the last generation of a line of harpers extending back for hundreds of years in Ireland." -Tomas O Canainn

"The blind nonagenarian Denis Hempson was the only one of the ten harpers who played in the traditional manner, with long crooked fingernails on strings of brass. Arthur O Neill, another blind harper who attended the festival dictated his memoirs at the instance of Bunting, and this account and Bunting’s own observations constitute the slender store of knowledge we possess about the last of the Irish harpers…the frayed and wasted link, joining these poor blind iterant harpers with the professional artists who had so excited Giraldus in the 12th century, parted in the opening decades of the 19th, and the traditional manner of harping passed into oblivion." -Breandan Breathnach

Traditional Irish harping died out entirely, and now we can only guess as to how the music was performed.

The ancient Irish warpipe also died out. Today we have only vague clues as to the nature of the instrument itself, the style of the music, and the repertoire.

I have read that uilleann piping came very close to dying out in Ireland, with a very small number of makers and players keeping the instrument alive through the first half of the 20th century. Happily it was still a living tradition when the Folk Music Revival hit.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

‘And Seán Ó Riada and Ceoltóirí Chualann a decade before the Chieftains.’

Nope - first SÓR & CC LP came in 1960; first Chieftains LP in 1964.

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Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

@Cheeky Elf. I understand what you are saying about Planxty and the Bothy Band maybe being a watershed so far as the commercial success of Irish music is concerned. But what’s that got to do with "the rich repertoire and culture of ITM" ?

I don’t know what was happening in Ireland in the 1960’s but Irish music was well represented in the ‘Folk Music’ section of English record shops in among the albums by English and Scottish artists. As well as The Clancy Brothers and the The Dubliners the rich repertoire and culture was represented by less ‘commercial’ recordings by the likes of the McPeake Family and Seamus Innes. Paddy in the Smoke, which I guess is almost an ethnographic rather than commercial recording was pre- Bothies and Planxty but still much spoken on on this site.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

"Seamus Innes" ? Was that a Scottish cousin ? [ 🙂 We all make typos, so no worries ].
"I don’t know what was happening in Ireland in the 1960’s but Irish music was well represented in the ‘Folk Music’ section of English record shops in among the albums by English and Scottish artists."
I doubt that very much - that didn’t really take off until the early / mid 1970s.
"Paddy In The Smoke" was released as an LP record in 1968. It was only 4 years later,when Christy Moore’s "Prosperous" album [ 1972 ] which directly led to "Planxty"’s first, "the black album" [ 1973 ] that things started to take off.
"The Boys Of The Lough’s" first LP came out in 1972. "De Danann’s" first LP was 1975, as was "The Bothy Band’s" first. "The Chieftains" gave up the day jobs and turned professional around that time too.
The Clancys and the Dubliners were first and foremost singing groups, part of what used to be referred to as "the ballad " tradition. Irish instrumental traditional music became noticed internationally in the early/mid 1970s, not the 60s. And has never looked back, which is why there are thousands of contributers to this website.
As to the OP’s question, all other European countries no doubt have their own traditional music, but whereas you would easily find an Irish session in, say, Stockholm, I think you might be hard pushed to find a Swedish session in Dublin.

PS - "But what’s that got to do with "the rich repertoire and culture of ITM" ?" They made it popular throughout the world. "The Chieftains" were the first ever western music group to tour China.

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Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

Beethoven answers the question with his Ode to Irish Airs. Of all the European melodies he used in his folk explorations, the overwhelming majority of his focus was on Irish & Scottish airs. Ireland’s symbol is the harp for good reason. The Famine ruined this reputation shortly after Beethoven, but even the remnant is beyond measure.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

@kenny. Thanks for the observations from someone close to the scene at the time - rather than buying second-hand records.

The "what’s that got to do with" part was in reference to the OP which seemed to be looking further back in time than the current repertoire and culture.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

I am not scholarly enough to address the heart of the question, but here’s a clue: when it comes to flute, is there any instrument in the world that comes close to supporting so many contemporary makers for intended use in only one kind of music?

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Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

Ireland may be strong in music but when you compare it to other traditional pursuits it might be a bit lacking! Consider other European countries’ traditional cuisine, costume, dance, pageantry, architecture, theatre etc. Cultural swings and roundabouts. Hark! touched on this above.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

little Lutonia had an amazing traditional music scene that was unfortunately eclipsed by the dominant Estonian traditional culture following World War II -

more info about the traditional music and dance of Lutonia here -
https://youtu.be/5TfhlJqWv7w

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Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

"The roots of the Blues may be in Africa and the Caribbean, but the format we recognize today began with Black slave work songs in America and evolved from there. It wasn’t a part of the wider worldwide slave trade. It wasn’t even widely known in America other than in isolated Black communities in the South, until Whites started recording artists like Robert Johnson. It became more widely known after Blacks migrated out of the South to northern cities like Chicago after emancipation, and began recording vinyl records that were picked up on radio. The worldwide exposure and popularity of the Blues, including the later influence on Rock, didn’t really happen until after the 1940’s due to radio and recordings. "

Well that is nitpicking I think. Of course every cultures’ history is going to be different and not ‘exactly the same’ doesn’t mean you can’t draw comparisons. To me both are the folk music of their respective cultures, and also spread to a wider audience over time in a similar way. That is enough for me to say they are similar, but if you need them to match up 1:1 in their history in order for you to say they have any similarity so be it 🙂.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

"when it comes to flute, is there any instrument in the world that comes close to supporting so many contemporary makers for intended use in only one kind of music?"

Probably the Highland pipes.

Though an aspect with them is that a single maker, due to CNC machines and also an emphasis on marketing, who I am told makes around 40 sets a week, occupies a space in the market that otherwise would be taken by several one-man craft makers.

A similar thing could happen with Irish flute, with a single maker using CNC or 3D printing to exponentially increase their output.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

In any case around here Highland piping is the biggest trad music scene and nothing else is close.

I suspect that all of the ITM players of at least moderate ability in the area might match the size of a Highland Pipe Band, and we have several of those.

Several years ago I compared the number of Highland pipers in the area of at least moderate ability to the number of uilleann pipers of similar level and it was around 30 to 1.

A professional bassoonist who was taking Highland pipe lessons was surprised at the number of pipers. He said there were easily more Highland pipers in the region than bassoon players.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

I’ve been thinking along similar lines of late, but about the amount of great Irish and Scottish tunes compared to English. There just seems to be a larger volume of better quality melodies in the Irish and Scottish traditions than the English. Being Northumbrian, I sometimes try to venture into the world of Northumbrian tunes to find really nice ones to adapt and arrange for myself like I’ve done with Irish and Scottish tunes. I don’t have much luck finding Northumbrian tunes that really stand out as beautiful in the same way, I don’t know why this is. The exception being something like "The Snows Melt the Soonest." It seems to me that most of the melodies are either twee or quite forgettable, in comparison to what I hear in the Irish & Scottish traditions. Of course there are exceptions, and great artists like Nic Jones and Martin Carthy seemed to find them, but overall I tend to be way more impressed and moved by Irish and Scottish tunes.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

"when it comes to flute, is there any instrument in the world that comes close to supporting so many contemporary makers for intended use in only one kind of music?"

I wonder how many Sitar, Sarod, Veena, and Tabla makers there are in India. I suspect there are many. Or consider Flamenco guitars. It’s a specialized build with a golpeador plate, thinner top and less deep body, not exactly the same build as a Classical guitar. It’s intended for just one style of folk music, with many luthiers making them.

Moving over to Latin American folk music, how many makers of Congas, Maracas, and Güiros are there? I’ll bet that many different luthiers are making the Guitarróns, Bajo Quintos, and Requintos used in Mariachi music.

As a flute player (poorly), I would like to think that our modern "Irish flute" reproductions and takeoffs of 19th Century designs are a unique phenomenon in terms of specialization for one style of music, but it’s probably not true.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

While I agree with you, I think all the instruments cited have been in continuous manufacture, whereas what we call Irish flutes have only been in existence since the 70s, which says something about the growth in popularity, although not really addressing the richness of the culture as opposed to other countries. Just a phenomenon I find interesting and relevant to the discussion.

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Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

The problem with this discussion is that it suffers from confirmation bias. This is a group for lovers of Irish music, so there is a natural tendency to think that ITM is exceptional, and to have an aesthetic preference which colours views of other sorts of music. Also, I suspect few if any here are ethnomusicologists or have much in-depth experience of many other musical traditions.

The latter goes for me too, so I can only guess that most traditions were no less rich than that of the Irish. What cannot be doubted is that ITM has been extraordinarily successful in gaining world-wide recognition. In part this can be attributed to the Irish diaspora, which places considerable importance on traditional music and dance as a way of maintaining its cultural identity. Also, I can think of few other nations who use their musical traditions to promote themselves as strongly as Ireland does. Lastly, (and please don’t take this as a put-down) there is something about Irish music which is instantly appealing even to those with no prior exposure to it, in particular I think most people are unable to resist responding to the speed and rhythm of a reel. Other musics may be less accessible on first hearing and may take more time and effort to appreciate.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

I sometimes do searches using my favourite internet search browser using European words for guitar, mandolin, bodhran, fiddle…
YouTube too.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

I live in Southern California. A lot of Mexican music sounds pretty German to me. I think maybe certain traditions traveled the world but went to different places.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

Since there obviously is a lot of interest in this question, I’ll share my own perspective not as any sort of musicologist, but just from a lifetime of listening to a lot of European folk music.

First, among “Celtic” traditions (the quotes are there because I know the term is controversial) it seems to me that Welsh and Breton traditions are something of poor cousins. I’m sure that many people reading this are familiar with some Welsh and (probably to a lesser extent Breton) traditional music, but considering the excellence of these traditions, I’ve felt that they should be more prominent. Part of the reason for the lesser popularity of Breton music may be because a lot of authentic Breton folk music consists of recitative-like song which modern listeners may find tedious, especially if they don’t know any Breton (disclosure: I don’t.) But the melodies themselves are often among the most beautiful I’ve heard.

Greece has an exceptionally rich, diverse, and complex musical tradition, ranging from Italian-sytle cantadhes, to very Turkish sounding love songs (occasionally actually sung in Turkish) and instrumentals heavily influenced by Turkish classical music, to lively traditional folk-dance music, to sonorous rolling chanted heroic epic lays, to the very Western-European sounding ‘New Wave” of the 1970s. But special mention should be made of the Greek rebetica tradition, which, although it’s an urban tradition, like blues (indeed it’s been called “the Greek blues,”) is, again like blues, deeply rooted in rural folk traditions. So you may or may not consider it folk music , but it is in my opinion at its best some of the finest music anywhere.

Sephardic music is not strictly a national but a diaspora tradition. I’d consider it folk music since (according to musicological works I’ve read) its transmission until very recent times has been almost entirely by oral transmission from generation to generation, and even today it’s difficult to find printed scores of it. Both lyrics and music are often hauntingly beautiful.

Some people in this forum probably know about Portuguese fado music. I don’t know much about this tradition, but I’ve liked what I’ve heard, and I can recommend it to anyone looking for new traditional music traditions to investigate.

Finally, Russian folk music seems relatively unknown among the general public, but it’s melodies are sometimes delightfully lively, sometimes beautifully melancholy.

Information and examples of these traditions can easily be found with internet searches, but if anyone wants a few sample references to relevant books or recordings, I’d be glad to make some suggestions.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

One member of this forum pointed out a similarity between Mexican and German music. People are sometimes surprised to learn that traditionally polkas have been a popular genre in the repertoire of Mexican bands. I don’t know how this came about.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

I’ve found that one of the very best sources for really authentic folk music from virtually everywhere in the world is the Smithsonian Folkways records web site at:

https://folkways.si.edu/

The recordings are for sale as downloads, but you can get brief samples of them all.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

Polkas are a European dance that became fashionable in society all over the Western world. No doubt it was very popular at the court of Emperor Maximilian. Another influence would have been the German settlers in Texas. There’s a story of Flaco Jimenez hanging around the bierkellers picking up German tunes.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

I would guess that Chinese and Indian folk musics have the most players, makers, and grab the most listening ears. Based on sheer numbers, these two have to be the ‘richest’.

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Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

Wales has numerous folk tunes that are still regularly played in sessions. I believe that folk music in Wales was disrupted for a while by the influence of Chapels, where folk music and dancing were seen as “ ungodly”, but has recovered well. Bands like Calan are currently promoting Welsh music, language and dance internationally. Ar Log and also Hwntws, were Bands that have recorded Welsh song and tunes. Bernie Kilbride has also recorded a few on You Tube.
When sessions can resume, post COVID, the local session in Fishguard features Welsh, Irish and other tunes….I long for the day!

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

Interesting that German settlers seem to have brought 2 different traditions to the Southern US - the 10 button
1-row and waltz to Louisiana and next door in Texas the 3-row accordion and polka . Anyone shed any further light on this?

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

Someone above stated that "Part of the reason for the lesser popularity of Breton music may be because a lot of authentic Breton folk music consists of recitative-like song".

It is true that a lot of Breton traditionnal music consists of recitative-like song (called "gwerz" in breton) but dance music is the other big part, and now the most popular in Brittany. Dance is central in breton music. I’ve often heard some of the finest breton musicians say things like "there is no different type of tune in breton music, only different type of dance" (Malo Carvou) or "I am a dancer who play music rather than a musician" (Jean-Michel Veillon).
Even here in Brittany, Breton music sessions are rare. We prefer playing music for dancers in what we called "fest-noz" (similar to the irish ceili). It requires dancers to be held, while a couple of musicians is enough to start an ITM session, so it may be a reason why they are less common around the world. Also, Breton diaspora is by far less numerous than the irish one, concentrated in other regions of France (especially Paris) and not so much elsewhere.

To answer at the first post, as far as I know, there is no tune named after a place in Brittany (like often in irish music) but usually breton tunes simply don’t have names. Here a map of the traditionnal areas (called "bro" in breton or "pays" in french) of Brittany. Every "bro" have its distinctive dances (for exemple, "Dañs Plinn" is from "bro" Fanch), songs, costumes, etc. I think it’s a great diversity considering that Brittany is half the size of Ireland.
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/25/France_Pays_bretons_map.svg/1280px-France_Pays_bretons_map.svg.png

You may find traditionnal music almost everywhere. Just in France, there are great music traditions in Auvergne, Berry-Bourbonnais-Nivernais, Corsica, Gascony, Limousin, etc.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

Another factor to bear in mind re: Irish music is pub culture. Many other musical traditions do not have much at all in the way of commercial venues, and are carried on in private, more or less, within certain communities or even just families, and therefore difficult for outsiders to access, however enthused about the music in question.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

There’s also the presence of Irish traditional music on radio (especially RnaG and occasionally RTÉ and Radio Ulster*) and TV (TG4 and sometimes RTÉ1 or 2, though there’s little from BBC Northern Ireland), plus the numerous festivals across the Ireland.

The only country I know from experience which has the same kind of media coverage and a similar plethora of folk music festivals is Portugal, as well as its wonderful fado tradition which is largely focused on Lisbon.

*Trad ar Fad is currently broadcast by RU on Thursdays - https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000qn8f.

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Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

There have been so many comments about this issue that I can’t comment on them all. ITM is probably the most widely spread "folk music" which has not been commercialised. There are Comhaltas branches in many countries around the world. I have been told that there is a large branch in Tokyo. I have made and shipped many concertinas to Japan. I have also made concertinas for people in South Korea, Indonesia, Belgium, France, Germany, Moscow, the Chech Republic, Spain, England and more, and while I cannot certify they have all been used for ITM, the anglo concertina in C/G is used almost exclusively in Ireland for ITM. It is truly a Peoples Music…accessible to all, not just people who are Irish or Irish descent.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

’ ITM is probably the most widely spread "folk music" which has not been commercialised.’

That’s just not true, as the rest of your message clearly demonstrates! 🙂 And Comhaltas has done much to commercialise it.

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Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

"And Comhaltas has done much to commercialise it."
Like them or not, Comhaltas certainly did sterling work in the first place to save Irish traditional music from near extinction in the 1950s, and they continue to promote it through their numerous branches worldwide, but I don’t see how they have "commercialised" it. It’s not as if the market is flooded with Comhaltas CDs or downloads on "iTunes". The All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil certainly appears to have changed in a "commercial" way since I first attended in the 1970s, but apart from that how else have they "commercialised" Ireland’s music ? Not looking for a rammy, here, just genuinely curious, as I must have missed something.

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Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

To quote Louis Armstrong: "All music is folk music; I ain’t never heard no horse sing a song."

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

I have French ancestors I am learning about and researched the music from their part of France, near the west coast. The area included Saintonge, Poitou, Aunis, and Angoumois. I was happily surprised to find a rich history of ballads, dances, airs, and chants populaires. These were compiled by Jerome Bujeaud into 2 volumes. I have the second volume and it’s nearly 400 pages. This is just one small region of France but the variety and volume of tunes/songs is amazing. The songs cover many topics of everyday life and were clearly embedded in the culture of the area. I dare say it’s as rich a repertoire as ITM but definitely not as well known.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

"Comhaltas has done much to commercialise it."

Back years ago when there were shops all over selling CDs there were always Chieftains albums.

I never saw a Comhaltas album.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

The book of French music referred to in a recent posting above is more specifically Chants et chansons populaires des provinces de l’ouest Poitou, Saintonge, Aunis et Angoumois avec les airs originaux, recueillis et annotés by Jérôme Bujeaud, Paris, 1866 . I’ve found volume one in Google Books and Archive.org. Volumes one and two are available in fairly inexpensive reprint editions.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

I think what Frank meant is that it’s more widespread across the world than many other types of folk or indigenous music, and it’s not commercialized in the sense that Taylor Swift is commercialized. It’s accessible for punters in a way pop music is not. You can get yourself to some vague level of competency (from very low to incredibly good), and still go out in public (in the dim and distant past) and meet up with other people who play it. For no money. Hell, some sessions don’t even give you free booze. And you might run into top players while you’re at it and play a few tunes with them. You think an aspiring pop singer performing at open mikes is likely to run into Taylor, popping around to her local for the open mike? Probably not. Does that happen with other types of music to the same extent as Irish music? Can’t say, to be honest, because I have no clue what goes on in other genres. I’m aware jazz and bluegrass players have "jams," but I don’t know what, if any, bar for entry they have or how those work.

Saying it isn’t "commercialized" obviously diverts the discussion a bit, because it has clearly been commercialized. Some people make money out of playing it. They sell albums, play gigs, etc. Some of them have smoothed out its edges and added basses, drum sets, and keyboards and things so it sounds a bit more like mainstream rock or pop. Which is totally fine, by the way. I own some of those albums. But it’s also true that you can play regularly with other people, just to play, and you don’t need to be a brilliant player to have that access. The tunes sound perfect when played by a solo instrument, or a small group of accoustic instruments, so you don’t need the electronic gizmos, or even guitars and drums (sorry guitarists and drummers). It’s easier to learn than many other types of music. Single melody line. Follows patterns. You still have to be good to be good, but you don’t need to be able to play Stravinsky, either.

Then there’s the vast common repertoire that seems to have transcended borders. I could go to a session in Berlin, New York, or Tokyo, and we could probably find a bunch of tunes everyone knew. That part is cool.

Is that what you were getting at, Frank?

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

Who’s Taylor Swift?

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Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

She’s a singer and songwriter, Gobby. If you do a Web search you’ll discover more about her than you ever wanted to know.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

Thanks Donald. My ignorance was genuine. I had assumed her to be a bloke. I only ever listen to classical, jazz and folk music.

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Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

Yes, Gobby, I’m beginning to realise just how niche my main musical interests are.

Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

May I offer an apology to "GW", as I may have misunderstood his post above. A problem maybe with the meaning of the word "commercialised". If it was meant that Comhaltas had "commercialised" the music in terms of making it more popular, then I wish them the best of luck with that, as it will benefit the tradition and traditional musicians in the long run. If it was meant that the music had been "dumbed down" to make it more popular, I don’t think Comhaltas can fairly be accused of that, perhaps with the exception of certain elements of the performances - and in particular, the presentation - at the All-Ireland Fleadh.
Hope that clears things up, and apologies for the thread "drift".

PS to Richard D. Cook - there’s some great music on the Comhaltas Tour albums, but I’m not surprised you’ve never come across one. A few of the tour recordings from the last 20 years or so are on "iTunes".

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Re: How does the rich repertoire and culture of ITM compare to other European countries traditional music culture?

"I’m aware jazz and bluegrass players have "jams," but I don’t know what, if any, bar for entry they have or how those work."

We could add Blues and OldTime jams to that group. At the amateur level they function more-or-less the same as Irish pub sessions, with a few differences mentioned below. My fiddler S.O. and I started playing in local OldTime jams before sliding into Irish and Scottish trad. I used to play Blues guitar in jams and amateur bands.

There is a difference in required skill, which feeds into your comment about barriers to entry. At the risk of offending any OldTime musicians here, I’d say OldTime is an easier entry point than Irish/Scottish trad because the tunes are repeated so often, and the tempos aren’t quite as high.

The main barrier to entry with Blues, Bluegrass, and Jazz sessions is skill at improvisation, in roughly that order of skill required to sound at least competent in the genre. You can get by with Pentatonic scale noodling in Blues, you have to do it a bit faster in Bluegrass, and for Jazz you really need to know chord-based improv. I never got past Pentatonic improv as a Blues guitar player. I was starting to get interested in Jazz when I got sidetracked down this Irish/Scottish trad rabbit hole, and never looked back.

There is also an increasing degree of competitiveness as you move along that range from OldTime jams, to ITM sessions, to Blues and Bluegrass jams, and finally Jazz. Some Jazz jams feature "head cutting" sessions where you try to out-play the other person with solos. It takes a strong ego and good technical chops. One reason why Irish sessions may have spread worldwide with such success is that they’re usually far more welcoming and egalitarian (with exceptions). There may be a social hierarchy in local sessions, problems with "Alpha fiddlers" and so on. But at least nobody is under a spotlight, having to take an improvised solo break.