Irish music in Colonial America

Irish music in Colonial America

Hi everyone, I’ve been away for a while, but now I’m back.

Anyway, I found out that the Irish were second in number only to the English in emigrating to America in colonial times. It seems that they would have brought their intruments and music with them.

What do you all think? I ask because I was wondering about the authenticity of playing Irish music in a colonial America living history situation.

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Re: Irish music in Colonial America

This is a blurred area - deciding which tunes are Irish in origin and unchanged, which are Irish in origin and changed, which are american in origin.

Now you’ve asked the question, you can’t put lid back on the worm can any more than the genie back in the bottle.

Re: Irish music in Colonial America

where do you start? where do you stop? what about the authenticity of playing donegal music in sligo on an italian violin. Or seeings we’re all from the African rift valley, why not call it african music?,

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Hi Andee —
Finally, something I *do* know something about!
(However, I do agree that this is indeed a blurry area).
The early American musical tradition was heavily influenced by Irish as well as English folk music, so, the answer is "Yes" it is very authentic, appropriate, and practically required to play some Irish music in a colonial America reenactment situation.
I play fife in an American Fife and Drum corps, and much of the "standard" repertoire has significant crossover with ITM. I’ll leave you to do the research, but I can point you to a site which has historically accurate (well, at least back to the mid 19th century, so not necessarily "colonial" times) music for fife and drum, much of which would probably have been played a hundred years before. Try here:
http://www.fifedrum.org/resources/music/
Particularly interesting is "Bruce And Emmett’s Fifer’s and Drummer’s Guide". Additionally, the "Company of Fifers and Drummers" books contain many "crossover" tunes, though the books themselves are modern.
Enjoy!

Re: Irish music in Colonial America

Musicians in the 18th century, particularly European musicians outside of the major capitals (or castle courts), often played dance music in addition to classical gigs for da swells. An ensemble I heard yesterday on NPR, Ferintosh, specializes in this blurring of the boundaries between art music and folk music. Although their repertoire is more Scottish than Irish, they play tunes and variants of tunes that have been around since the 17th century or earlier. You can check them out at www.ferintosh.com, and you could even try corresponding with the fiddler, David Greenberg, who straddles both worlds (classical and folk) very deftly.

It’s very likely that educated musicians who came over to the U.S. during colonial times could both play dances and concerts halls. And it’s certain that they brought "celtic" tunes over, many of which got absorbed into what eventually became country and bluegrass and old-time music.

So, I think there are Irish tunes that would be appropriate in a colonial living history presentation, but it would be a good idea to do some basic research first so that you’re not the position of playing newly-composed (e.g., within the last 75 years?) tunes and presenting them as history.

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Not every Irish or English person played "folk music". (is there a reason why you omitted the Scots?) To get it right you’d have to work out what part of England or Ireland they came from, whether urban or rural, what social class, military or civilian, etc etc.


Anyway I don’t like watching "living history" enactments. They all look far too healthy and well-fed.

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Re: Irish music in Colonial America

I just looked at that and realised I come across as very grumpy.
I don’t mean that, here’s a big smiley πŸ™‚
and some more:
πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

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Re: Irish music in Colonial America

It depends to a certain extent where you are. In Canada, immigrants were kind of pre-sorted into communities with other people from their home countries. So there would be a region settled primarily with people from, say, Co. Waterford somewhere in Newfoundland, and scads of Germans in central Alberta. Scottish people ended up in Nova Scotia (aptly named), communities of french people sprouted up all over the east coast, migrating heavily because the English kept displacing them. I don’t know much about the US, or if you’re talking about America as in "the united states of.." or "north…" but if you are doing your living history plop in the middle of a town founded by orthodox Russians Irish music would not be very authentic. Likewise in Cape Breton NS which would have been chock-a-block with Scots. (Although in Cape Breton your historical faux pas would not be heard over the relentless fevered din of their descendents still playing all those tunes their great great great great granddaddies brought with them from home).

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Good Bren. Now go drink your juice and cookies…πŸ˜‰

Living history isn’t for everyone. However, for the average person who has an interest in history, or for many children, it can be a wonderful addition to a static display. I took my six-year daughter recently to a living history reenactment, and she was enchanted. I learned a lot too. I’m not fond myself of civil war battle reenactments, but Spanish mission and other presentations can be pretty cool.

Just don’t play "Music for a Found Harmonium" or a similar tune for the marks…

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I could probably make a fairly safe assertion the Scots and Irish immigrants influenced American traditional music to a far greater extent than the English. However, some English traditional music eg Northumbrian is very similar to Scottish so it’s not that simple. As Bren suggests there’s lots more factors to be taken into consideration.

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Welcome back ANDEE!!!! It’s good to see your voice again.

Here’s what I know, based on my thorough—but cobb-web-encrusted—research on the subject of migration.

During later Colonial times (beginning around 1740 onward), the heaviest "Celtic" migration was by Scots-Irish folk; that is, Scotsmen who flocked to the plantations in Northern Ireland and then sought real freedom in the Colonies, as they weren’t treated much better than the native Irish. (I’ve always believed that it was that pit-stop migration that caused the dual names of many tunes in the Old World where there is a "Scottish name" and an "Irish name" for the same tune.)

I’m not a musicologist, but I know that they absolutely brought their songs and tunes with them to Appalachia, between PA and the Carolinas. Scottish, and to some extent Irish, tunes are the direct forerunners of Bluegrass, and Old Time music to a lesser degree. Just as Scots-Irish tended to settle in rural areas and Irish and English tended to settle in more urban areas, the styles of music were heard in these places accordingly. However, Irish folk didn’t begin a massive influx until the 1840s and later—thanks to the Famine.

So, though you wouldn’t be totally achronistic playing Irish tunes in a Colonial setting, to fight off the Purists and their pointy, waggling fingers, play Scottish or English tunes in order to fit in with the "typical" view of Colonial America. Then again, most people would probably just enjoy the tunes and not get all technical and snarky.

Hope to play tunes with you soon…

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Great responses guys, thanks. I will check out that website Fffyfer guy. And I asked about Irish because that’s what I can play—I don’t have many Scottish tunes. I actually did some research just now and saw that for my area—Philadelphia, Irish immigrants were second only to the English.
I love living history—maybe it is a bit Disney-ish, but if it gets a kid (or adult) inspired to learn about history or music, then that’s great!

Oh and I’m not asking about the influence of Irish music on American traditional music, but rather Irish music in early America "right off the boat" so to speak.

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Afterthought

OK, it wouldn’t be odd to hear Irish tunes in Cape Breton , but it would be wierd to hear them played in an Irish way.

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Rob!! Good to see your voice as well—and your response fits in perfectly with my way of thinking—thanks for the info.

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"is there a reason why you omitted the Scots?"
Besides my personal genetic bias, no (Irish-English heritage). Just a brain fart.

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There is a group here in Southeast Virginia that does something like that - performs music in colonial costumes, including ITM, as well as other trad music.

http://www.itinerantband.com

At least one of their members is also a member or thesession.org

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typo - a member OF (not or) the session.org

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Recently I read June Skinner-Sawyers ’ Celtic Music - A Complete Guide’. It’s a good intoduction to the subject and contains one chapter about Irish/Scottish tunes and their influence on American music.
I wonder if the field recordings at the Library of Congress have been classified according to the country of origin.

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I’ve been known to earn my supper by presenting programs of music extant during the colonial period at the behest of the federal government.

Rest assured that when people got off the boat in America the music they played was the same music they were playing when they got on the boat, and they formed local communities that preserved that music for considerable amounts of time (sometimes right down to our time).

And St. Brendan’s boat got here first!

In my neighborhood that would mean Dutch music and songs, sung *in Dutch.* No more than a few miles to the north of me Dutch and English were virtually unknown and "American" music was French.

Wherever you find a colonial immigrant population you will find the music of their native land not only present, but dominant.

So play away, it’s "authentic."

KFG

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Check out the Kitchen Musician site.

http://members.aol.com/kitchiegal/index.html

This is primarily a hammered dulcimer site. However, they have a lot of information about living history tunes and colonial music.

Hope this helps.

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Looks like and informative site Jiml, thanks!

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The US East Coast has many historic, colonial sites. The focus is usually on authentic instruments and music of the 1600’s and 1700’s. The main ports usually have seaman’s music groups. San Francisco can be included. The Blue Ridge and Appalacian Mountains have a very strong Scottish-Irish tradition. There was a huge immigration of Irish during the Potato Famine. Irish ended up tragically on both sides during the civil war, and these areas usually have re-enactments of both the battles and the music. Then there are the western states with frontier and gold rush music. Coloma is a good example, where they originally discovered gold. The "Old Time Fiddlers’ Association" is active through the western states (my father has been involved) . Through all of this historic music, there is usually attention to historic detail. However, don’t forget that the music was a counterbalance to the tremendous hardships of the time. Lively music is historically accurate and draws tourists. As a participant at historic sites and demonstrations in the schools, I can say it is a whole lot of fun. Best Wishes!