Melodic Interest (Ireland v. Scotland)
There has been a bit of a discussion in a recent tune submission, Farewell to Chernobyl. https://thesession.org/tunes/767/comments
I just posted a response there, but felt that I was going beyond commenting on a tune, and therefore thought I should make a new discussion thread out of it.
As background, Maol Dhomoaigh critized the tune as boring and the title as naff. For which he got some flack, as you can imagine. I then posted this:
Bless you, Brad. I think it’s important for the Tradition to stay alive that the experienced musicians, in whom the Tradition reposes, speak their mind clearly.
Doesn’t stop anyone from playing the tune, after all. This tune, btw, confirms my general impression that Scotish tunes are melodically less interesting than
Irish tunes. That’s of course overstated etc. etc. but just consider the Jig of Slurs.
Incidentally there is a very nice tune called The Return to Chernobyl on a House Band album (Another Setting, first tune in the Twin Katies set), that they
credit to Vincent Blin from Paris.
You will not be surprised that I got cricized for that remark about Scottish music, including being asked whether I thought that Scots music was melodically less interesting than Irish music to five million Scots?
As far as that implies that I am Irish, I take it as a compliment. But there is a serious point in here, about the characteristics of traditional music and about how much is objective and how much is just likes/dislikes. Anyway here is my reply once more, I am hoping for some comments here to see if I am completely off base. 🙂
[quote] Bloomfield wrote:
… I’ve considered not answering your question because it’s more of a point than a question and because I am not looking to get people’s goad or
infuriate them. But I will answer to say two things, the first being that I doubt that 5 million scots listen to traditional Scots Music. Maybe a tens of thousands
do, probably fewer. Of those, only a fraction could reliably tell one reel or strathspey from another, and even fewer I think would be aware of enough Scottish
and Irish tunes to get an impression of differences. Now this is the sort of niggly and unhelpful fact that I normally avoid as supercillious, but I brought it up
because it allows me to make my second point. You weren’t concerned with who actually listens to Scots music and thinks about its characteristics, but
with national pride (of 5 million Scots) in their Scottish culture, music, etc. You are trying to tell me that I am insulting the Scots by picking on their music.
Patriotism is like love in that it makes blind, I guess. You can of course agree or disagree with me about Scottish music, but don’t turn it into a "you are
dissing my country" thing. That makes the discussion a bit boring.
You also seem to think that melodic interest is a personal or subjective thing. I don’t agree. This is the musical part of my answer if you will. I am happy to
make all the usual disclaimers (as I did in my original post) about preferences and perceptions, but I do think that it is possible to discern different
characteristics of music. You can observe that tonality are harmonies are quite different in Irish or Scots music compared to barroque music. In this fashion I
think it is also possible to get a general importance of the role of melody vs. harmony, accompanyment, rhythm, and all other musical parameters. In Irish
music the overwhelming emphasis is on melody. And I don’t just mean that all other points, like harmony and rhythm, are conveyed through the melody (in
it’s purest form trad Irish music is unaccompanied liting or unison instruments), but I mean that what musicians think about most is melody. In the minds of
traditional Irish musicians, what makes one of them great? It is command of the melody, the consistencies and subtle variations, and all the little things that I lack words for but that bring out the power and beauty of the melody.
Scottish music is similar in many respects to Irish music, but it is my impression that the relative importance of the melody is less. Other things are
cherished as well, or while melody is central, it is not as overpoweringly important as it is in Irish music. It’s a subtle thing, and it may just be that if you
asked an Irish traditional musician what the most imporant thing about the music was, he/she would invariably answer "melody", while a Scottish musician
might list melody as one of several most important aspects.