Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

A few months ago I purchased a mandolin and I’ve been playing trad Irish music almost exclusively since. As a newbie to the Irish music scene I have been trying my best to learn things the right way.

When learning a new tune, some people appear to have the opinion, “If you didn’t learn it from O’Neill’s, you’ve learned it wrong”.

Is this true? It seems like there are a lot of regional/personal variations of tunes out there. Should I be trying to use standardized sources, or is there even such a thing?

As I said, I’m a newbie to mandolin and Irish music. I’d like to do things the right way. Once I’m confident to play in front of someone, I’d hate for them to say something like, “Your technique is pretty good, but you’ve got the A part for the gravel walk all wrong”.

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

(A) “If you didn’t learn it from O’Neill’s, you’ve learned it wrong”. Rubbish! And I think O’Neill himself would have been the first to agree.
(B) “Your technique is pretty good, but you’ve got the A part for the gravel walk all wrong”…. Without hearing you play it I couldn’t say if you have it right or wrong. There would, of course, ultimately be a wrong way, but there are also endless versions to most of these tunes that would fall within the right (i.e. acceptable) way.

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Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

“If you didn’t learn it from O’Neill’s, you’ve learned it wrong”

They could also say “If you didn’t learn it from O’Neill’s, then it’s not Irish Music” which would be just as ridiculous.
The tunes in the book were only those which O’Neill and his sergeant(who did most of the collecting, I believe) heard and the versions would have been notated as played at the time. There would no doubt have been many versions and variations even then. It’s also probable that many weren’t notated exactly either.

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These people are not the music friends you are looking for…

The Dunning-Kruger force is strong with them…

There are as many "versions" of tunes as there grains of sand on the beach.

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I’ve never heard of such a ridiculous thing, that O Neills is the end-all and be-all of ITM.

I once heard a fiddler call O Neills "the greatest collection of tunes nobody plays" which is probably going too far the other way.

But some of the O Neills versions aren’t what people generally play nowadays, and some of the tunes are in strange keys.

About James O Neill, since Francis O Neill was musically illiterate James had to do the actual transcribing:

"With astonishing facility he reduced to musical notation any tunes sung, whistled, or played in his hearing…whatever value the various O Neill Collections of Irish music may possess, no small share of the credit is due to the tireless zeal and unselfish cooperation of Sergeant James O Neill." -Francis O Neill

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The best version is probably the one that everyone else plays in your regular pub session - then there will be no surprises or indignant faces if you play tunes the same as they do - but of course, we can’t do that right now. Perhaps you can communicate online with other local musicians, or find out if there are any Zoom sessins going?

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"The Dunning-Kruger force is strong with them" …. Thanks Michael… I don’t know how many times I’ll have to look that up before I remember what it is. But you are right!

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O’Neill’s is truly the bible of Irish music—everyone is more or less familiar with it but nobody really follows it.

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I’ve heard it said, in the Session and elsewhere, that in order to play in the proper traditional manner, one must listen to the good players, and listen some more. Work on the tunes, and listen some more. Plenty of recordings on Youtube of the older players, including Denis Murphy, Julia Clifford, Padraig O’Keeffe, and others. You do not have to copy note-for-note, or stew over bowing patterns, etc. Just try to emulate the overall sound. A good one to listen to is Fergal Scahill, for example. He is capable of playing a "stock" tune, and then on the repeat introducing little variations on the phrases, without trashing the tune. Nuff Said.

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"O’Neill’s is truly the bible of Irish music" … Well maybe it used to be. Nowadays I would suggest the new authority is thesession.org

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Who’s O’neil? Not everyone has heard of this chap. I’m not in Ireland and although I’m on the boards regularly, I’ve not read about him. Is there a book I must have or sommat?

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Michelle, Michelle, Michelle, Oh No, Horror! I’m not sure if you are just embarrassing your fellow antepodians with your confession or you’re just doing the normal Australian thing of ‘taking the Piss’ (perhaps little of each. I suspect). In my opinion you don’t need the book unless you are interested in history. As I said above, it’s all now available here (BUT WAIT… THERE"S MORE).

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And in case you are totally serious…. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_O%27Neill
I have never personally set eyes on the book and if I did my only interest would be about the history.

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When I first started out one of the first things I was told was that I had to buy a copy of O’Neill’s. One of the next things I was told is that no one actually played those tunes/settings. But it’s got a nice smart yellow cover with some lovely Celtic artwork on it and it looks smashing on my shelf next to all the other tune books I never use. 10/10 would buy again.

The right setting is the one that matches the person/people you’re playing with.

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I envy those of you with the yellow book. I’ve had the green 1001 Gems for more than 50 years (many of which were not musically active). I think I got one tune out of it.

OR… You can download the contents of it all as ABC files off the net somewhere. Way to go?

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I have the one with a "brown" front cover. It’s actually a photograph of a room with, among other things, sheet music, harp, fiddle, and a Planxty album.

Like some others here, I’ve actually learned very few tunes from the book although it’s handy as a reference. It’s not the sort of book I want to just browse through and play tunes at random, mainly because the notation is very small with so many tunes on a single page.
I’ve also downloaded an online version in the dim and distant past but I find that I tend to forget such things are there. Once advantage of physical books, Cds, vinyl etc is that I can still see them on the shelves from time to time and remain aware of their presence.

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Think of a well known tune. Listen to every recorded version of it you can find. They will all be different, and none of them will exactly match what is written in O’Neill’s. Tradition is a living thing, tunes adapt and evolve to fit with contemporary tastes. O’Neill was collecting in New York, so the tunes were already very second hand by the time they got to him. And anyone who thinks there is a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to play traditional music is probably a classical musician.

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Does anyone really say that you have to play tunes as set out in such-and-such a collection in order to be somehow ‘authentic’? Surely that’s just silly? It does, though, prompt some thoughts about the merits or otherwise of the written dots (much discussed from various viewpoints in these pages).

Personally, I enjoy putting a book up on the stand and playing through the tunes - partly for practice and partly to find ones I’d like to learn - but I don’t believe that doing so makes my playing more in keeping with a traditional style, however defined. That would be like assuming that learning French from a dictionary and a grammar book would make me a fluent linguist. I suspect it’s impossible for written transcripts to capture the detail, nuances, flavour, idioms, and accent of ‘native-speaker’ players who have grown up, and are immersed, in a traditional musical culture. Cecil Sharp may have saved a lot of songs and tunes from being lost, but hasn’t he been accused of putting his collected English music in a straightjacket with his academic notation? Anyway, when you do see a setting that’s tried to include the variations, inflections, decorations, etc., it’s practically unreadable. And some renditions of trad music by classical muzos trained in a very precise reading of the score can sound stiff and formal - which misses the point, to my ear. (Like when opera singers do Beatles songs).

But I’m not a player brought up surrounded by the traditional music I like to play now; so I make do with a combination of reading the tunes and listening to people who were.

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MandolinSnow, as a newbie mandolin player myself I can give you a good example: last Thursday, my teacher started working with me on Banish Misfortune - online lesson, following her phrase by phrase. As a change, she didn’t send me the tabs and dots, just a video so I could keep going over it. I tried to cheat - got 2 versions off the net - both different to what she is showing me. Had watched the wonderful Shannon Heaton’s video - also non-identical. I have the O’Neil’s 1001, the 1850, Dow’s List and scatters of other tune books. I am not bothering with them - I need to play with her on the next lesson, so the others don’t matter for now. And when the plague recedes I look forward to trying to hang on while playing it with others in a session as they speed away over the hill at 1,000bpm 🙂 So not rules, plenty of good sense here. And years of fun ahead.

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"Who’s O’Neill? Not everyone has heard of this chap. Is there a book I must have or sommat?"

There is a book or summat! Several books in fact. Surprising you know nowt about him.

He was a trad fluteplayer from Ireland who immigrated to the USA and worked his way up to Chief of the Chicago Police Department. In the mid-to-late 19th century a large number of top Irish trad musicians were immigrating to the USA and Chief O Neill let it be known that they would be given jobs with his department.

To qualify you had to audition for the Chief. If you were good, you had the job.

Realising that he was sitting on top of the largest gathering of good trad Irish musicians in the world (they having come from every corner of Ireland) but musically illiterate he got his sidekick Sergeant James O Neill (no relation) to notate down thousands of tunes.

His first book had 1,850 tunes.

Then he published a book of only dance music, 1,001 tunes. (The 1,850 book had loads of airs plus marches and such.)

He was a huge champion of the uilleann pipes (which were in precipitous decline at that time) and he wrote a wonderful book Irish Minstrels And Musicians with biographies of numerous Irish players esp uilleann pipers.

And he also wrote Irish Folk Music: A Fascinating Hobby.

Taken together his output is astounding.

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The general consensus is that the statement in the OP’s post re O’Neill’s is a load of ……….! to which I heartily agree.
I don’t think I’ve ever played a tune or sung a song exactly the same twice and that’s part of the joy of it. It all depends on the mood I’m in, the atmosphere of the session, the company I’m in and a hundred other variables.Another and important thing to remember is that from whatever source you get the dots, they are only that - dots. Like a kids puzzle book it’s up to you to join up the dots to make the picture and then colour it in in whatever way you like.
FWIW, I do own a copy of O’Neill’s 1850 which was given to me by a good friend after his father died, it was his father’s copy, and to which I refer frequently. But it is only a guide not a bible.

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“If you didn’t learn it from O’Neill’s, you’ve learned it wrong”.

If you learned a tune from O’Neill’s, the chances are, it will be out of kilter with how it is played in sessions nowadays and you’ll need to adapt your setting somewhat. Furthermore, a great many tunes played nowadays were not yet composed when O’Neill published his collections.

This music is a ‘thing’ – call it a ‘tradition’ if you will but within that, there will always be those that seek to push or blur the boundaries and those that resist any form of change; those that see it as just part of a fluid continuum of musical styles begging to be mixed, matched and reinvented, and those that see it as isolated from and inherently superior to the rest of the musical world. Then there is the majority of us somewhere in the middle, who see the the bigger musical picture but choose, to a greater or lesser degree, to focus on one small part of the picture.

So, in short, ‘musical elitism’ exists among players, listeners and scholars of Irish Traditional Music – as it does in many musical genres – but that is only a small part of the story. At best, in my view, the elitists and purists, along with the relentless innovators at the other end of the spectrum, help keep the music vibrant and healthy whilst keeping it from straying too far from its roots. Attitudes at either end of the scale become problematic only when they start to impair enjoyment of the music (which they can sometimes do in a localised way).

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I assume the OP’s ‘quote’ re O’Neill’s is meant as an illustration (perhaps a slightly misguided one) of an attitude rather than being a direct quote – either that, or the person that said it shows up the shallowness of their knowledge. Anyone that listens to traditional music will know that a good player rarely sticks rigidly to a specific written setting, from O’Neill’s or any other book. The degree of rigidity/variation in Traditional Music is, in itself, very variable, depending on local style, personal preference and musical ability (by which I refer here specifically to the flair for spontaneously varying a tune – some players may be great in many other respects but prefer to have a ‘plan’ to their playing); Denis Murphy, for example, stuck very closely to the versions of tunes taught to him by Padraig O’Keefe, whilst Bobby Casey was a highly individualistic player.

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It’s one thing for someone to casually acknowledge a different setting "That’s not how it is in O’Neill’s 1850" — nothing wrong with that, you might say the same about a tune from The Goodman Manuscripts, Köhler’s, Walton’s 100 Essential Session Tunes, or thesession.org etc. But if someone seriously says something like "if it’s not exactly like it is in O’Neill’s (or wherever) then it’s wrong" then they’re pretty much a ______ and their opinion can be safely disregarded.

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I’ve only been at this about three years, but I think everyone I’ve met would say you’re doing it wrong learning it from O’Neill’s, unless it’s a tune that (seemingly) hasn’t been played/recorded since then, in which case you’re doing your part to resurrect it.

At the risk of further speculation, “you have to learn it from O’Neill’s” feels like words coming from someone who’s never sat in a session or learned person to person.

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The oft repeated advice is that "there is no one way to play a tune right, but a whole lot of ways to play it wrong (except that the way I play it is the true right way)".

Living among the majestic western mountains, and after many wilderness canoe trips, I have found the way to never be lost. Whenever I seem confused about my location I take out my flute and start a tune. Several other players will show up in moments to tell me I’m doing it wrong and I just follow one of them out of the woods!

C’mon guys they’re just simple tunes. If we’re gonna play "mine is better than yours" at least wait ‘til I’ve left the room. Any one who would repeat the OP’s quote just isn’t worth using up your valuable time. Or, you are welcome to follow me down the one true path!

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FWIW, the one thing I’ve found useful in O’Neill’s is looking up a tune when I’m wondering if it’s recently composed or has been around for a while. Not to say that older is better. I love many recent compositions, I just think the history interesting. If the tune name is in O’Neill’s and the dots are at least somewhat recognizable, then I know it was in the shared Irish repertoire at least as far back as the late 1800’s and through the turn of the century.

Other than that, and joining the chorus here… I don’t bother learning directly from the books, because local session settings or interesting recordings are usually different than the way they’re set down in O’Neill’s.

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I just finished a new biography of Francis O’Neill which will be coming out in early 2022 from the University of Chicago press. I think part of the value of his collection is the snapshot it offers of how familiar tunes were approached in 1900 or so. It’s interesting to compare the version of "Banish Misfortune" he got from Edward Cronin to the ways it’s played now.

But most, or at least a substantial part, of the tunes in his collection were heavily edited by O’Neill and his collaborators. Some were adaptations of tunes circulating under different names; some head been published before; sometimes he dis-aggregated the part B of a tune which was also the part B of a different tune: it was a pretty massive effort. He had no hesitation about altering tunes to make them more legitimately Irish or more "correct" as he saw it. So it’s not like those tunes all came straight off the fiddle of a recent immigrant from the auld sod.

The tune collections, and his books on the history of Irish music and musicians, were quite an extraordinary accomplishment. But not the definitive version: there are really no definitive versions, just versions a lot of people like

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"When learning a new tune, some people appear to have the opinion, “If you didn’t learn it from O’Neill’s, you’ve learned it wrong”.

who are you referring to, when you say, some people ?
what do you mean by appear to have the opinion, did they say/write those words or not ? or are you interpreting what they said ?

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"It seems like there are a lot of regional/personal variations of tunes out there."
Yes.

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There are many discussions on The Session that address this issue, and others such as:
Reading sheet music, should I, shouldn’t I?
What book should I get to teach me everything?
Is using a metronome a crutch?
Is a session a performance?
Can I bring a microphone and amplifier for my mandolin?
Why can’t I call these notes ornaments?
I’m a guitar player. Do I have to know the songs they’re playing?
What is a glottal stop?
…and these are only the tip of the iceberg.

You’ll find all of these things discussed on these pages. Enjoy yourself and do some searching.
There’s a lot of reading to do.
Maybe, start here: https://thesession.org/discussions/2885

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There is a very detailed account of the history of the O’Neill music collection in the book "Handed Down" by Nigel Boullier. This book about about Music in N Ireland gives a history of James O’Neill who came from Banbridge. Two points to note some of the tunes were not collected in America but were music which had been written down by James’s grandfather. The notation and and style of tunes is in the Ulster/Scots tradition of east counties of N Ireland. The lask of ornamentation reflects the same emphasis that is placed on playing the tune with a strong beat for dancers, ornamentation is in Glens of Antrim sessions often frowned upon as "show boating".

There are many ways to play a tune and music in general badly, but not one way to pay it correctly knowing the difference is called good taste.

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"No reason to get all bitter at somebody who is inexperienced for thinking the music is what’s written down rather than that what’s written down is only one snap shot of the music at a certain moment in time. Hey, they’re to be regarded as learners, because no real player really sees the music like that, and if they’re nice to you, maybe you can help them learn a bit more about the music. If they’re not, well, people who want to be ignorant will be.

Written music is a tool. Like any tool, you can use it or misuse it. One person’s abuse will be another’s use.

Fiel, the reason great musicians can give life to a tune even when getting it off the dots is that they know what it’s supposed to sound like because of their experience with this stuff. They take the framework of the tune and then they turn it into something coming from themselves rather than off the paper. No big mystery."
Posted by someone on thesession Feb. 2004

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Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

I can almost guarantee that if you learn some of the tunes out of O’Neill’s you can begin pointing out to them their own mistakes relative to what’s written - not that you would do that but…

Where are you? I’m really surprised there’s a session like that anywhere. If you want to get a general vibe you can find session recordings on YouTube. Everybody does subtle things a little bit different. There are general rules but most of them get broken and most players don’t get too upset about it. The best thing to do is get what you can from them and be polite. If they have strong opinions of how tunes should be played then it is what it is but they are most definitely on the fringe. I’d just be quiet about it. I love O’Neill’s so on some level it could be a lot of fun to play them as written. On the other hand, if they’re learning their tunes straight from a book, I’d be surprised they are playing with a good lilt. My guess is they’re energy is a little flat.

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O Neill’s is a snapshot of a certain time and place and I think should be viewed in context.

Over 100 years on, it is surprising how many tunes you’ll hear nowadays more or less as they appear in O Neill’s.

But many aren’t, for sure.

What I find fascinating are the fossilised partial performances of airs. Happily a few performances are written out in full.

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I used to be a singer of Shanties and Work songs, and often heard variations of words depending on the region of the various singers, music is no different, my roots are in the North East of England and many tunes are shared between various countries of the UK and of course there are lots of different variations, I would say it is all in the Celtic tradition which of course got exported to the US as well as many other countries I would say we should celebrate the diffences, it is what makes life interesting.

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Thanks everyone for your replies, this has really cleared up the issue.

"When learning a new tune, some people appear to have the opinion, ‘If you didn’t learn it from O’Neill’s, you’ve learned it wrong’." — To those wondering if the quote is real, yes, my neighbour said it. (He’s been playing the fiddle for decades.)

The reason his opinion stuck with me is because I have heard a YouTuber called WhistleTutor say something similar. He refers to the settings in O’Neill’s as "legit" and throws into question other settings found online, specifically on this site. Also it seems like a bit of a common occurrence in YouTube comments people nit-picking other people’s performances of tunes.

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@MandolinSnow: I would not like to pass judgement on your neighbour, as I have neither met him nor heard him play – he has clearly made enough of an impression on you for you to listen to him. I wonder whether his comment was meant to be taken literally… I cannot imagine a player who has played for decades having learned every tune in his repertoire from O’Neill’s.

The YouTuber you mention is right to question the legitimacy of settings found online, as many of them (including most of those on this site) are posted by people without verifiable credentials. O’Neill’s could be regarded as a good reference source, but only one of many.

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I’ve mentioned this before in other discussions but there is a series of publications of Scottish tunes and in the more recent books they have included what they have described as "Composers’ preferred versions".

Apparently(?), some composers have complained that there have been "inferior versions" in circulation and this needed to be addressed.

Personally, I believe that tunes naturally evolve and take on a life of their own and that’s not a bad thing really. It’s a different matter if they are just learned "wrongly" or sloppily, of course.
In fact, many musicians will not play their own tunes exactly the same way all the time either (Same goes for song writers too) either by chance or design.

So, I wonder if it’s more about "copyright concerns" than anything else as far as most of these printed volumes go?

As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t really matter too much if there are a few variations in a tune. I am conscious that I often play a tune slightly differently myself even if it’s just something subtle such as substituting two quavers or a triplet with a crotchet or vice versa. It will often depend if I’m playing the tune on the mandolin as opposed to the fiddle.

When you are playing with others it is best to agree on a particular version or arrangement, especially in a formal situation. In a session situation, the understanding is usually more "implicit" but it is usually still there.

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@Johnny Jay: It’s like Chinese whispers or a mutating virus. The more a tune is played, the more theoretical possibilities for it to changed. I guess how much variation occurs depends on how strong the tune was to start with.
Although they must realise that it’s somewhat out of their control, I see nothing wrong with composers wanting their tunes to be performed as writ.

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Yes, I agree that composers will naturally prefer their tunes not to be modified although many are just as guilty of changing their own tunes either sub consciously or deliberately.

One funny story. I remember going to see Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain in concert a few years back and they were going to play one of Phil’s own compositions but neither of them could remember how it went. I met Phil in the bar during the interval and and "hummed" the tune to him and they played it in the second half. Phil even gave me a wee mention too. 😉

Oh, re the post. Kerri is actually a long time poster and a "fun" member. Her comments are very much "tongue in cheek" and would have reflected much of what was going on the discussions at the time.

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From CreadorMaunOrganig:

“The YouTuber you mention is right to question the legitimacy of settings found online, as many of them (including most of those on this site) are posted by people without verifiable credentials. O’Neill’s could be regarded as a good reference source, but only one of many.“

Oh, are “verifiable credentials” now required to post the version of a tune played at your local session?

“Legitimacy of settings”?

Who makes that determination and what is your definition of “legitimate”?

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Might be complimentary if tune modified - at least it’s thought worth altering ie a worthwhile tune.
- Transcription into ABC isn’t too easy, one tends to make errors - I find that tune in the head isn’t quite what you put down esp. if no instrument at hand. Sing Susan?

Tunes get changed constantly, that’s the tradition… and does no harm??

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Susan K, my sense is some members here see the music frozen in time like a snow globe and consider the whole act of playing this music to be more one of historical re-creation than a living tradition.

Now, if you’re an career ethnomusicologist and you make your living presenting concerts or papers on the specific style of a specific player, that makes perfect sense. Historical accuracy of settings and performance practice does matter in that case.

But we’re not all ethnomusicologists and our pub sessions aren’t required to be historical re-creation events.

The whole “academification” of the music in the common practice seems to be a relatively recent (last 40 years) thing, and in my opinion often sucks all the joy out of the music. It fundamentally comes from a position that those who don’t view the music exclusively through an academic lens and can source their playing back to some historical original setting are not “legitimate”. That’s the very essence of “musical elitism”.

Is it useful to have “source” for tunes, absolutely, but it’s not a requirement. Far better to adapt your playing to the settings in your local sessions and have the flexibility and mastery of your instrument to embody both the concepts of “source” and “the living tradition” as required.

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> Oh, are “verifiable credentials” now required to post the version of a tune played at your local session?

Clearly no-one is saying that, but I don’t think anyone would take issue with the point that there are a lot of "settings" on this site whose loss would not be lamented (even if we don’t all aree on exactly what they are…).

Historically there are plenty traditional musicians - Irish and otherwise - who had a very clear view on what was correct and what was not, and whose views on tunes "evolving" and "changing" would be similar to their view on a dog that wasn’t house-trained.

>some composers have complained that there have been "inferior versions" in circulation

Some composers are certainly very specific in their views. I know GHB composers who consider changing a single gracenote of their masterworks to be a personal insult. But then there are others who don’t even bother writing in embellishment. I am sure the same is true of other instruments.

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Why would you want to post "the version of a tune played at your local session", unless it is significantly different from any version posted here ?
eg - 21 "settings" of "Connie The Soldier" ??? : https://thesession.org/tunes/373
How many "settings" of a simple 2 part jig do you need ?

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@Michael Eskin: Calum has more or less answered on my behalf. Of course verifiable credentials are not a requirement, nor should they be (I have none myself). But this does mean that anyone, irrespective of listening, transcribing or copying skills and irrespective of their knowledge and understanding of Traditional Music, can publish a setting of a tune online, which is problematic for the less experienced player, as they may not have acquired the level of discernment to tell a good setting from a flawed one.

As regards ‘legitimacy’, I suppose it is a bit of a vague concept in this context – a fiddle player from Goirtin might question the ‘legitimacy’ of the setting of a tune played by a flute player from Ballymote. But what I mean by it (and what I assume the said YouTuber means by it) is the property of a setting whereby it reflects how the tune is played by those born into Irish Traditional Music and those well immersed in it – not missing important details and not altered or elaborated upon by somebody from outside the tradition (or by somebody that may be a traditional player but seeks deliberately to make the tune less ‘traditional’).

I realise I have introduced several new terms requiring definition, such as ‘good’, ‘flawed’, ‘well immersed in’ ‘important, ‘traditional’, ‘outside the tradition’…

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"how the tune is played by those born into Irish Traditional Music"

I’d better put all my instruments up on eBay, no point in continuing. What was I thinking?

No, I get it, but these days, how many players are "born into Irish Traditional Music"?

The rest of us musical peasants born outside the tradition will always be second-class citizens using this metric, which is fine. I have no expectations of legitimacy. We can still do our best to respect the music, support our local sessions (and now online session communities), encourage newer players, and just keep doing the work for it’s own sake.

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If you don’t continue how do you expect to immerse yourself in the tradition.
PS Are you selling your flutes? 🙂

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Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

I’ll put out a whole eBay inventory list in a few days.

I wish I had read this thread 30 years ago, I would have gone into Klezmer music instead.

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

"… how many players are "born into Irish Traditional Music"? "

A good question – there are probably quite a lot of respected traditional players nowadays that were not born into it.

"The rest of us musical peasants born outside the tradition will always be second-class citizens using this metric, which is fine."

Maybe. But is not a question of being allowed to play the music and enjoy it – or even perform it for the enjoyment of others. It is just that, as people striving to achieve the highest level of traditional musicianship that our circumstances allow, why would we not defer to the highest level of authority in the field, i.e. those with provenance in the tradition? (I think this applies equally to those that *are* born into the tradition, not all of whom have had the opportunity to become great players).

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

I personally find this thread to be taking an uncomfortable turn. I always thought that all of us were born into music. I thought its form belonged to everybody to do whatever they wanted to do with it. I hadn’t previously taken the word ‘elitism’ (in the OP) seriously. I will very quickly lose my love for ITM if that is the case. There I was thinking that ITM was now ‘world music’.

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Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

If there is such a thing as a correct version of a tune it cannot be an absolute rule, can it? An important element of playing trad tunes is having variation each time through. We can argue about versions we don’t like or refuse to play. We can argue about better vs. worse versions. But variation of a tune is traditional. Correctness is personal.

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Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

So, what is "provenance in the tradition"? Let’s assume you’re a child in Ireland taking up the pipes. You take lessons from a well-established, or even "famous" older player, who learned from someone, and down the line. Does that convey "provenace in the tradition"? I’d say, most certainly.

Now let’s say you live outside of Ireland, not of Irish ancestry, and the same well-established, "famous" older player, who learned from someone, and down the line, moves to the USA and you learn to play the instrument from that same teacher. Does that convey "provenance in the tradition"?

If the answer is "yes" or at least "better than learning from a book", then I can save a lot of money on eBay fees. 🙂

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

I think a good course of action is to go to a session nearby and listen. Also introduce yourself, and they may point you in the right direction for sources of the tunes they play that you may be interested in learning.

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

About the thread taking an "uncomfortable" turn.

It’s an uncomfortable subject, and worth discussing.

I can absolutely say I’ve been on both sides of this issue, both as being accused of being an elitist and as the target of them depending on the context.

I think it’s worth spending the time getting clear about what we are doing with this music and why we are doing it, even if it may be uncomfortable at times.

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

As far as ‘legitimacy’ goes, to say politely as I can, through gritted teeth there’s a lot of nonsense gets talked. Sadly a lot of trad pedants and trad police who seem to derive some sort of sense of identity as the definers of what is trad or not, more than having joy in the music for its own sake.

The tradition is robust enough to survive a few brash young musicians trying eclectic stuff out in bands, its robust enough to suffer us all in sessions when we started out learning to bash out a tune. It’s even robust enough to cope with the pillock who wants to sing whiskey in the jar, then dirty old town then… … ad infinitum between every set of tunes, and bash away on a guitar in the wrong key the rest of the time.

like everything else, nobody becomes a trad musician or a purist overnight.

The daftest barrier is that of ‘heritage’ often thinly-disguised kneejerk racism. I’ve seen authentic irish music played by chinese people (at birmingham tradfest most recently), and on youtube from japanese musicians dedicated enough to move to ireland to learn.

authenticity first of all has to be sought for. and to an extent comes with maturity.

i will say that a lot of people settle to play at a level, and put good musicians on a pedestal, never actively doing the things that would make them improve. While others (eg the ultra-keen japanese musicians) have a respect but a hunger to immerse themselves in the music, and a ‘student mentality’.

english parents & grandparents, no irish blood in my family as far as i know. That i play at all is kind of a happy accident. I’ve been lucky to have some exposure to the music as a kid, my dad determined that by god, we would learn to play some instrument! It just so happened that in co. durham, there was a thriving trad scene. Then as a young adult, i wanted to emulate the likes of brian finnegan and cormac breatnach, i wasn’t that interested in being a pure-drop trad player. For a couple of years i didn’t have a lot of music around me at uni, but i knuckled down and consumed cd after cd, learning tunes and playing along with CD’s. Later on, i had loads of music, and the chance to play and tour, which was kind of idyllic.

the people i played with back then, and me for that matter, mostly now find ourselves drawn back to hardcore trad lol. Which would have surprised our younger selves.

that said, i’ve never had to go to the other side of the world to learn the music i love, so i’d fight shy of knocking somebody’s legitimacy. the music is very forgiving and welcomes home its prodigal sons and daughters (of which i’ve definitely been one); pity that doesn’t always apply to some of the musicians.

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

Ancestry.com puts my DNA at 100% Ukrainian. Great grandparents moved to the USA in the 1920s as a result of the purges of Jews from Russia and adjacent countries. I grew up in North Hollywood, CA. (I’m a Valley Boy)

Played classical silver flute from age 6 through my college years. Through a series of random accidents, switched to traditional Irish music in the late 80s first through the hammered dulcimer (one of the instruments in a college early music ensemble), but didn’t start playing in sessions (initially on octave mandolin and whistle) until the late 1990s.

I was so thrilled to find a virtuoso social music that I could spend a lifetime mastering without the odd social dynamics and competitiveness I found in the classical music world.

Learned the pipes initially through our local SCUPC club and tionols, with a couple of trips to Willie Clancy week. Learned Anglo concertina through Noel Hill’s intensive workshops here in the USA. Thousands and thousands of hours of work, in the past 25 years, I’m sure like many others here. Focusing the last couple of years almost exclusively on really upping my game on the B/C box after owning one for 10 years, with a focus on John Whelan’s playing, love his energy and "older" style. I’m constantly working on tunes or techniques on one or more of the instruments I play, there is no end to the work, and I love it.

Still, at the end of the day, no matter how much work I do, I can’t change my DNA.

I have no aspirations for doing anything with this music other than continuing working on improving my skills every day, supporting/organizing local (and online) sessions, and enjoying playing with others in social settings. I’m also doing what I can support newer players in their ascent up the mountain so that as I get into my older years (I’m 59 now), I’ll have other people to play with in our local scene. That’s enough for me.

What does any of this have to do the "maintaining tradition or musical elitism" topic?

I think the question about thinly veiled racism is important. I’ve definitely experienced it, but I gave up long ago caring what those people think. It’s the same with the comments I’ve received about some of my iOS instrument apps, been told that I was literally "going to h*ll" since I was not Irish and was desecrating the tradition and Irish culture by creating digital abominations. Alrighty then…

Can a white man sing the blues?

I am pure 100% North European Askenazi. Both my parents were musicians. My mother played and taught piano and my father was a cantor in the synagogue. I have played music all of my life.

I lived in Ireland on and off since about 1980. We own a house in County Clare and we have great time for the neighbors. Nobody ever criticized my music because of my ethnic background. Or if they did, they never said it to me. I was teased in the session for being a Yank from Brooklyn but I gave back as good as I got, reminding them that their saviour was a Jew and that Ireland is the 6th borough of New York City.

I think it is possible to overthink the question I asked in the header.

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

I have not listened to John Whelan in a couple of years. I’ll have to now because I always appreciated his style too, Michael. Interesting perspectives coming out on this topic. Pretty thorough I think.

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Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

If a style of music has the adjective "Irish" in its name how much of the style, and its future evolution, should derive from a place or a community to which "Irish" can also be applied?

And if a stylistic change derives from another tradition who’s opinion carries most weight when considering if it’s become part of the tradition?

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

It´s the Music, Boss…the Music. (Apologies to Tattoo.)

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Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

I wish I had a pound every time someone asked me, "Do you have Irish ancestors?" when they see me out and about playing the pipes. I’d feel like Jeff Bezos.

I bet violinists playing Tchaikovsky don’t get asked, "Do you have Russian ancestors?"

For the record, I’ve got more Russian Jews in my background than Irish.

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

Was Tchaikovsky’s music traditional?

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

From Wikipedia:

"Tchaikovsky’s complete range of melodic styles was as wide as that of his compositions. Sometimes he used Western-style melodies, sometimes original melodies written in the style of Russian folk song; sometimes he used actual folk songs."

So, no, his music isn’t traditional Russian music, but incorporated elements of some specific instances of it at times.

Regarding this:

"And if a stylistic change derives from another tradition who’s opinion carries most weight when considering if it’s become part of the tradition?"

What’s your definition of "derives from another tradition"?

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

As I said in my profile, first I heard Triona ni Dhomhnaill playing piano with the band Touchstone in 1981 and then I purchased a copy of O’Neill’s and began trying to play some of the tunes in that book. Until some other local musicians started an Irish Session here, I had no one to play this music with. I began attending the local Sessions regularly and learned quickly how these local musicians thought this music should be played. Occasionally, I have sat in and participated in Sessions in other states which was frequently a learning experience for me.
So far as I can tell, most of my ancestors came here from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England.
In 1990, I began sitting in and playing music at a local Blues Jam. Since my ancestors obviously came here from Europe instead of Africa, some of the other musicians objected to my participation in these Jam sessions. The man who led the backup band at the Blues Jams was a semi-retired professional musician whose ancestors obviously came here from Africa. This man played bass guitar in Ike and Tina Turner’s backup band for a few years and then he got a job playing guitar at Motown Studios. This man advised me to ignore the people who were objecting to my participation in the Blues Jams and he told me that I had just as much right to be there and play music as everyone else. Also, he said I was a better musician than some of the objectors. I got the same positive message from another one of the semi-retired professional musicians at the Blues Jams. This man was just as "white" as myself and he had spent several years playing piano in Marty Robbins backup band.
When the local Irish Sessions started in 1995, that was another opportunity for me to play music and I tried to make the most of it.

Laurence

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

The presumption of Irish heritage is sometimes hilarious when patrons at our local pub during our session would assume we were all Irish (none of were most nights) when asking our heritage, and couldn’t quite get around the idea that non-Irish would be playing this music. We’re like the real-life manifestation of a joke: A Jew, a Japanese guy, a Pole, and a German walk into a bar…

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

"What’s your definition of "derives from another tradition"?" Not so much a definition but I was thinking of, say, a jazzy swing or a hint of an English high stepping feel to a single jig.

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

"Not so much a definition but I was thinking of, say, a jazzy swing or a English high stepping feel to a single jig."

That sort of thing, to me at least, seems to be a local phenomenon in specific settings more than a fundamental influence on the music as a whole.

One area I find interesting is the class of tunes like "The Golden Eagle" and "The Thames" hornpipes that are part of the established repertoire, but seem to have a strong influence from the vaudeville era. I’m not clear if it came from the USA or was an phenomena in Ireland itself.

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

"Is it useful to have ‘source’ for tunes, absolutely…" Agreed, and even *more* useful is to have multiple sources for tunes! In that case, you can be even more of a "musician" by consciously choosing how you would like to express the melodic ‘story’ of a tune, instead of being an automaton that simply regurgitates a string of notes exactly as they were written in O’Neill’s…

Even modern composers will change how they play the tunes that they composed (making them the ultimate "authority" on those tunes). Listen to them play a tune that they wrote, and I can pretty much guarantee you that they won’t play it the same each time through. Listen to them play that tune by themselves, compared to playing it with other players - it will very likely be at least subtly different. And listen to a recording of them when they first wrote it, compared to years later…

The tradition is a living tradition, and it’s not like a historical re-enactment. It’s *us*! WE ARE the tradition! We learn tunes in a certain style, we play them in social gatherings, we write new tunes, we resurrect old tunes, we pay reverence to the people who carried the tradition before us, we have a few pints with our mates, and it all enriches our lives. We’re not preserving the tradition, we’re living it. And the good thing is that it is now a world-wide tradition which will continue to evolve with time. It wasn’t that long ago that bouzoukis, guitars, banjos, etc. weren’t considered part of the tradition, and now they’re considered fairly integral to it. Things change… And as part of that, the tunes change as well. I like to think of tunes more like stories. The plot is the important part, but the same story can be told many different ways.

So I don’t know your relationship with your neighbor, but maybe you should suggest that they read this thread. (And if they feel strongly enough about O’Neill’s being some sort of definitive source, they could post here and tell us why we’re all wrong 😉)

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

Michael Eskin: ‘So, what is "provenance in the tradition"? Let’s assume you’re a child in Ireland taking up the pipes. You take lessons from a well-established, or even "famous" older player, who learned from someone, and down the line. Does that convey "provenace in the tradition"? I’d say, most certainly.’

Yes, that is the kind of thing I meant. I should also add that I use the expression ‘born into the tradition’ somewhat loosely, since a lot of young traditional musicians nowadays do much of their learning through organisations such as Comhaltas and the various traditional music summer schools in and outside Ireland. So, without necessarily being descended from a dynasty of musicians or even coming from a part of Ireland with a strong local tradition, they may have been immersed in the music from a very early age.

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

Hmm, I’ve heard kids with great technical talent and little soul in their playing, both in the Irish and classical tradition, even here in California. You can see the deadness in their eyes.

I bet some of them stop playing and hate the music, never to play it again because of the pressure, similar to what happens with young classical players who get pushed to be solo performers.

I enjoy listening to those players who came into the music organically either because it was in their homes as a child and it’s all they ever wanted to do, or who, later in life, fell in love with the music, whatever their heritage, and chose to dedicate themselves to it and do the work required. The prodigy children on YouTube, not so much.

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

MandolinSnow

." — To those wondering if the quote is real, yes, my neighbour said it. (He’s been playing the fiddle for decades.)"

seeing as your neighbour is the person that said it, you probably need to talk to your neighbour…

I would go to your neighbour and say "did you know that some people say that if you only learn all your tunes from the O’Neils book, you’re not learning Irish music or even the tunes correctly", you will probably then get a little more context about what he was really trying to say…. often people don’t say things straight, so it could be his simplest non direct confrontational way of getting you to think about the tunes and the approach you’re taking (maybe, maybe not)

I think you will find that his message is more or less along the lines of you need to find a reliable source version of the tune, something that hasn’t drifted too far from the essence of the tune, or hasn’t been murdered along the way….
the easiest way to do this is to listen to a reliable source of the music, people like Antoin Macgabhann, Eileen O’Brien, Patsy Hanly, etc etc etc…. especially how they play it the first time round, but not necessarily from CD’s.

If your neighbour still insists then mention that the majority of well established Irish musician can’t or don’t read music..

and if he keeps coming, just ask him, how do you learn tune 1002.

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

"… I’ve heard kids with great technical talent and little soul in their playing … I bet some of them stop playing and hate the music, never to play it again because of the pressure …"

There are some of those, for sure. But a more institutionalised style of teaching does not mean there cannot also be those that truly love and are fascinated by the music, and delve into the music in greater depth than their weekly class allows.

"I enjoy listening to those players who came into the music organically either because it was in their homes as a child and it’s all they ever wanted to do, or who, later in life, fell in love with the music, whatever their heritage, and chose to dedicate themselves to it and do the work required."

Try as I might, I cannot disagree with any of that.

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

Oh, good! 🙂

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Just imagine… if there were just one correct version for all the tunes, then we could have a conductor at sessions to make sure that we did it *right*. Oh, Happy, happy Joy, joy!

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Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

And there would be a printed program at each seat with the tune order. Make it so!

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The Horror!… The Horror!

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Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

My name and Ancestry.com say I have unimpeachable Irish credentials. It hasn’t helped one tiny bit in learning to play well. Practice, listening, more practice: that’s the thing

O’Neill’s is a great compendium of tunes but technology has replaced it with sites like this. It’s a great snapshot of how a set of Irish immigrants thought about some well known tunes in 1900, and I often find the contrast gives me insight into the "soul" or logic of the tune.

It was important in relation to his other books, in that he conferred a certain amount of legitimacy on "folk music," separating it out from vaudeville Irish tunes, stage Irish tunes, Moore’s melodies, political ballads etc. There was already a genre of "Irish music" in place well before O’Neill published. He was the first to systematically document the instrumental dance music and the culture and history of people who played it. (yes i know about levey)

It’s absolutely the work of an American: somebody who was displaced from his home and thriving in a very dynamic, complex, multi ethnic world. When he was chief of police he had to issue annual reports, including statistics of those arrested, which specified 38 different ethnic or racial groups. He was 17 years in Ireland and 70 years in the US: wealthy, successful, connected. Working in that context gave hm a heightened desire to sort out and categorize and document what was Irish and what wasn’t. The issues being discussed in this thread were exactly the issues he and his team discussed, and for exactly the same reasons: what’s legit, who gets to decide, who had access to legitimacy and why or how.

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Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

I was adopted at 18 hours old and I have no clue as to what is in my DNA, nor do I care to find out. As far as I can tell I’m a human who was born on the planet Earth, and that’s limiting enough as it is.

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

What has DNA got to do with tradition?

"the word tradition itself derives from the Latin tradere literally meaning to transmit, to hand over, to give for safekeeping." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tradition

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

"What has DNA got to do with tradition?"

Clear answer, as you imply, is - damned all. Tradition is culture.

But there ARE people who think that somehow the rhythm and feel of Irish reels, jigs and slow airs has a connection to ethnicity, and there are also those who appear to really believe that it has something to do with the hills, the grass, the stones and the water. So I think the elvish rejection of the importance of DNA is an entirely fair (and occasionally necessary) point.

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

"What has DNA got to do with tradition?"

Nothing, was my point

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Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

Judging from the sheer volume of replies here I’d have to say this is indeed one of the more vexing questions around the practice of "traditional" arts, eh?

Especially for newbies.

What I’m reading—spelled out in lots of ways—seems to be that if one is interested in strict historical preservation or interpretation then its one extreme of the answer (thus "O’Neill’s is The One Right Way"). On the other hand, if one is interested mainly in enjoying participation then there’s a lot more wiggle room.

To me the key question becomes not what is the "right way" to play something but instead when does Tune A—played more freely and creatively than from some static source—become…truly and in fact…a Tune B?

Long ago I was privileged to attend a workshop conducted by Bertram Levy and focused on traditional 5-string banjo repertoire and performance. He came of age in the New York folk music scene of the early 1960’s and was a founding member of the Fuzzy Mountain String Band. A true student of many American musical traditions he performed on a variety of instruments with both historical accuracy—that is, interpreting tunes as they might have been "back then"—and with improvisations that moved the music forward in time.

The session I attended was focused on the old-timey clawhammer/frailing/drop thumb style that had been popular in the western mountains of the United States around the turn of the twentieth century. Due to their relative isolation the tunes from the region were as distinct as, say, much of Padraig O’Keefe’s repertoire of Sliabh Luachra tunes was in the days before the global jet travel and the ‘net.

Levy’s standard was:

"If you listen carefully, every tune has a hook—something that sets it apart. Keep the hook and you are playing the tune "the right way".

In my world static sources…whether printed music or recordings and YouTube videos…should be viewed mainly as tools to help identify the hooks.

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

While O’Neill’s is considered "the Bible," we have to remember that it’s a Transcriptionist’s interpretation of what was played. It lacks any of the notational evidence for slurs, slides and other techniques, especially the regional variations. It also lacks any accompaniment notation.
I consider it to be a reference only.

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

It’s curious that in this discussion of the global merits/misfires of O’Neill’s (assuming this is the Krassen book), that there have been few, if no mentions of other sources (other than this site).

As long as we’re discussing the ‘roadmap’ of printed music, maybe the OP would find it helpful to look into:

Ceol Rince na hEireann, 5 volumes by Brendan Breatnach
The Dance Music of Willie Clancy
The Roche Collection
O’Neill’s 1850
The Bulmer Sharpley Collection, 4 volumes
The Northern Fiddler

…and there are so many more than that.

The best source is finding players who can play, live or recorded, and learning from them. If relating their playing to sheet music is what is needed in the short term, that’s OK. It’s extraordinarily instructive to find something that you like on a recording, then transcribe it yourself. Slow it down and carefully write it out.
Secrets will be revealed!
(Regarding elitism - it’s a myth)

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"It also lacks any accompaniment notation."

Would there have been any in O’Neill’s day?

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I think P.W. Joyce had some piano accompaniment prepared though he was probably listening mostly to unaccompanied players and was mainly interested in collecting melodies. There’s no shortage of tunes scored for piano though going back 100 years and more. https://www.itma.ie/features/notated-collections/hardebec-cnuasacht-port-part1

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Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

Interesting!

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Hi yall! newbie/lurker here. Reading this thread is why I had to join so I could also comment.

But first;

Thanks to all the expert opinion and instruction over my time lurking, if you cannot do your thing because of your accidental birth location, I guess nobody can do anything unless approved by some know-it-all.

Look;

If I could play this music well, even play it at all, I would be insulted to hear such nonsense. I want to ask people who believe nativism, do I need to be Italian to enjoy Vivaldi? to play his 4 Seasons on whatever? Do I need to be German to do a Beethoven thing? or a J.S. Bach piece?

And like the person who rebutted Tony McMahon ( famous Irish Accordionist - Journalist - TV Producer ), when he said only Irish people should play Irish music; I want to ask him why does he sell his CDs and Videos all over the world. I want to ask him, did he get paid for those? And if he got paid, what is his problem? I sing Blues all the time and nobody has ever said I should not because I am not an African American.

Right off of Elf I want to ask, if you were adopted, how do you know you are not Irish ?

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

I have two editions of O’Neill’s: the yellow Mel Bay and the Miles Krassen. The latter has an interesting forward, worth looking up on-line and reading. As pointed out, Captain Francis O’Neill (superintendent of the Chicago police force around 1900) was musically illiterate, and his Sergeant James O’Neill was a classically trained violinist. Francis O’Neill feared that traditional Irish music was going to die out, so he recruited James to write down the Irish tunes as played by the musicians they got together with. A typical scenario: a musician plays a reel for James, who writes it down & plays it back. The musician says, "No, that’s not right", and plays it again, differently. That should answer the question about accuracy. Traditional Irish music doesn’t fit classical western theory (and visa-versa) and James clearly didn’t understand modal music, so a lot of the original (yellow cover) is written incorrectly - the Miles Klassen, which came out in the ’70s, was rewritten and it much easier to sight read.

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

Hello nikonimages, and welcome to the session!

I’ve always been interested in different cultures and their traditions, art, and music. The way I see it, not knowing my own lineage is a blessing. It allows me feel connected to everything, and to not feel disconnected from anything. If I’m watching Fiddler on the Roof I’m Jewish, if I’m at Octoberfest I’m German. If I’m at Dracula Fest I’m Romanian. And yes, when I’m playing Irish music I’m Irish. Someone will undoubtedly take issue with this and that’s their prerogative. I couldn’t care less.

But don’t worry about it if some random person on the internet thinks that you are not authentic enough to play this music. I have had the opportunity to meet and learn from a good handful of my favorite Irish musicians, and none of them have ever given me the slightest hint of an insider/outsider dynamic. I’ll always remember what Mick Maloney said, something to the effect of that when you take this music up you are joining a worldwide family and that you’ll be welcome everywhere you go. It’s not 100% true of course, but it’s true enough.

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

I am so fortunate to have visited Ireland a number of times and listened in on
sessions The old timers have a humbleness and a knowledge of their craft that is awe inspiring Elitism would
not be in there vocabulary. O’Neill I suspect would be known, used but not revered. The oral tradition and the recognition of those who can teach as paramount. Maybe a deep breath, relax, enjoy develop a thick skin and
become the musician you want to be. There is to much reliance on technology and far too many experts

And I chiefly use my charm
On creatures that do people harm,
The mole and toad and newt and viper;
And people call me the Pied Piper.

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

"Accompaniment notation"? What accompaniment notation? When I began playing piano at the local Sessions in 1995, all I had was the tunes and I had to make up the accompaniment as we went along. It wasn’t that difficult for me because I already had a few years of experience playing by ear and accompanying other musicians with no sheet music in front of me.

Laurence

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

Maybe Chuck was thinking of this edition:
O’Neill’s Irish Music: 400 Choice Selections arranged for Piano or Violin (also the first "O’Neill’s" I got.)

Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

Ref Tony McMahon - I have it in my head that he also said "The definition of a gentleman is someone who can play the piano accordion, but doesn’t". So, I don’t know the context but he liked a quip and may have been stirring it in his other quote.
I’m Irish but I only started trying to play this music in England. My closest approach to authenticity ever is probably the day that Tommy Potts (he lived the other side of the field at the back of my house growing up) said I had a nice golf swing. I’ll take that 🙂 Where you are from may direct you either towards or away from the music but in this case, DNA stands for "does not apply".
When I met my wife 20 odd years ago, she was friends with some VERY good players and we often went to sit near them playing sessions. One night, off Capel Street, in a lovely quiet session with very few people around, Frankie Lane (singer and guitar with the Fleadh Cowboys, a great C&W band) asked could he sit in. Not really his forte but he didn’t get in the way - and he was loving it. Then at one point he asked could he sing a song? He then sings El Paso by Marty Robbins and SLAYS everyone within a mile radius! Then plays backing for the rest of the night.
It’s always only about the love for the music, caring about not harming others’ enjoyment of it. The rest is just logistics…

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🙂 No, not that one. Good to hear Kinky again!

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Sorry , Ned - couldn’t resist that opportunity.

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Re: Is this maintaining tradition or musical elitism?

Good man Kenny! I never thought I would see the day when a Kinky Friedman video would pop up on the session.