Melodic Interest (Ireland v. Scotland)

Melodic Interest (Ireland v. Scotland)

There has been a bit of a discussion in a recent tune submission, Farewell to Chernobyl.

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. πŸ™‚

[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.

Lack of Evidence, Lack of Logical Argument

No one takes your argument seriously, I guess.

First, you have not presented any evidence that Scottish music is melodically less interesting. You are just mentioning "Farewell to Chernobyl" and "Jig of Slurs" and ignore numerous compositions, especially traditional ones. In addition, you have not presented any titles of particular Irish tunes and not explained in what point they can be called typical Irish tunes and are melodically interesting. Your overgeneralization based on your feeling about only a handful of modern Scottish tunes is far from persuasive.

Second, it is impossible for you to judge the degree of melodicality of the tunes objectively, simply because you’re Irish and, as you acknowledge, it is merely your "impression" that the melody is a bit neglected by Scottish musicians and is more important in Irish music. In other words, it is not Scots but you who is blind in patriotism and should stop making the discussion unfruitful.

It is a shame for other Irish musicians to be mistakenly thought to share the same opinion with you. It is obvious that there are numerous counter-examples in both traditions and they deny your generalization. In a nut shell, it is meaningless to argue which is more interesting.

Re: Melodic Interest (Ireland v. Scotland)

I guess you’re right that it’s not an interesting argument. Just to keep the patriotism bit straight: I am not Irish. All the things you say about my inability to provide a list of Scottish & Irish tunes to support my argument and the impossibilty to judge objectively are true.

It is about my feeling and my personal impression. That is what I was hoping to dicuss, or share if you will. It is only interesting because it is elusive, personal, and tricky. But again maybe it’s not interesting.

Re: Melodic Interest (Ireland v. Scotland)

I follow what you are saying. To say that one is more or less *interesting* than the other is a rather rash, and somewhat loaded, statement. As you have said, it is purely subjective. There are certain clear distinguishing characteristics (which are by no means universal in their application). Perhaps one way to demonstrate this would be to select tunes which are known to have passed from one tradition into the other - particularly Scottish reels which have entered the Irish tradition (since there are a great number of them), and compare the way they are commonly played by Scot musicians with the way they are played in Ireland. Of course, this would only be representative of Irish and Scots traditional music in their present forms, which continue to influence one another.

Anyway, I’m not an intellectual, so I’ll pass the talking stick (That’s TALKING stick, not talking STICK) to the next person.

Re: Melodic Interest (Ireland v. Scotland)

Is that the same stick as the bashing stick? As in "talk softly and carry a big stick"? πŸ™‚

Scottish music is great and beautiful. Thing is, life is probably too short for one person to get to know both Scottish and Irish music in depth.

Allright, who wants the schtick now?

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Sorry, Bloomfield, for mistaking your nationality. I’m also from non-Celtic nations but love both Scottish and Irish music.

I always think it is a pity that Scottish music is less appreciated throughout the world. In fact, a lot of people, including Scotts, have the impression that Scottish music is a bit dull and less lively. But actually not. It is just many great tunes (both traditional and modern) and fine recordings are not so widely available outside the country.

Again, in my opinion, it is impossible to evaluate the tunes in themselves because the same tune sounds quite different when played by different musicians, in a various ways. And also the familiarity with tunes affectes the judgment. If it sounds dull at first, you may discover the tune is melodious later.

But it is true that concering the attitude to their folk music there is a gap between Scottish and Irish musicians, and this is worth discussing, I think. Irish musicians seems relatively conservative in a good sense. They tend to choose the tunes (both traditional and modern) which sound purely traditional. On the other hand, Scottish musicians seems to love the new and experimental tunes. Their CDs mostly include the recent compositions influenced by different genre of the music. I think both approaches are necessary to keep the tradition alive. If either of Scottish and Irish musicians go to extremes, the other can balance the shared tradition with different attitude.

Yeah, it’s a quite hard discussion.

I have to apologize you, Bloomfield, if it seemed I’m attacking you in the first comment. I think this is an important and interesting discussion, but your judgment was a bit unfair.

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Fair play to you, slainte, thanks for apologizing. No worries, though. I know how it goes with this on-line discussions and they are always open to misunderstanding and misinterpretations. For instance, I don’t think that Scots music is "less interesting" than Irish music. I think that it is "melodically less interesting" which is a different thing. I started listening to Scots music before I got into Irish, and I love practically all the Scots reels that have been absorbed into the Irish tradition (although these days I am drawn more toward the Clare style than the Donegal style where the Scots influence seems more pronounced). Thinking about it, my comment refers to dance tunes specifically and not to song airs. There I find myself drawn to many Scots tunes, like the Road to Dundee and many others that I can’t name because I sing "Irish" songs to them.

I think your post about the composed/new tunes is probably going in the right direction. I guess I now have to hasten to add that there are composed new Scots tunes that I love, like Laura Ann Cunnigham or Farewell to Brittany. As for the dance tunes, I was thinking about "the Anvil" just now. I think it’s Scots, and maybe composed. It’s a fun tune to play, but it is highly repetetive. It’s appeal is not in melodic subtlety or intricacy, but inducing a groovy, trance-like state in the listener. Great stuff, especially if done well, but there isn’t as much melodic meat to it than say to the Morning Star or the Knotted Chord (Junior Crehan’s Favorite). In the sessions I go to there are musicians with a strong penchant for Scots music, and they play many Scots tunes. More often than not I sit and I listen (I don’t have many of those tunes), and I think, "Nice, but this is a bit like the Jig of Slurs or the Anvil or those tunes."

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Don’t know if i should enter this debate or not, think i’ll try!
I completely disagree that irish music is more melodic than scottish music. I am from New Zealand, so can’t be thought to favour one or the other out of national pride. (Do like the Haka and the All blacks though…..)

From the point of view of New Zealanders, i’ve often been at festivals back there and various musicians from ireland and scotland have come over to play. I found it surprising the amount of people that have commented to me on how the scottish music (tunes) played have a more identifiable rhythm and melody. These comments are not coming from amazing musicians, just your everyday enthusiast! Alot of them thought that irish tunes just all sounded the same and just ran together therefore they couldn’t identify when a new tune was being played. This is just small comments made in a wee place, i know, but i can’t help feeling my neck out of joint when someone says that irish tunes are better than scottish tunes.

There are so many tunes played at sessions that people presume are irish just because of the way they are played (or in fact because they are being played in a session) when in actual fact loads of them originated in Scotland.

I live in Scotland and the tunes from here are fantastic, i feel i can say this because i have a predominently irish repertoire and whenever i lead a set of tunes, its generally irish tunes i play but with scottish ones chucked in. Don’t get me wrong, i love irish tunes too, but just kind of took offense at the "melodically less interesting" line.

When i was travelling in ireland, especially Dublin, i realised that there are LOADS of scottish tunes being played there, i won’t rattle off names because i learn most of my tunes whilst sitting in sessions and don’t pick up names for them, but i do think, and have been told by some irish players, that the scottish style is a bit more rythmically oriented, (can’t think of the words to describe what i mean!)

In response to the Chernobyl Reel, i’ve not looked at the transcription yet, but if anyone has heard the sharon shannon band live, the Kidd sisters (nicole and ???) play this and its absolutely brilliant, every session i’ve played in here, everyone is always looking to learn it. Will go and have a look at the version posted!

Thats my view anyhow, jumbled and incoherent as it is!
Gotta love these heated debates!!!

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How can anyone argue such a topic - its impossible!! We all have different tastes, I prefer Irish - not because I think its better or anything - just cause I understand it, my friend loves Scottish - she thinks that Irish music is horrible - we have endless arguments about it but no one ever wins πŸ˜‰) I just think that this thread is a bit mental ;-P (up the irish -teehee)

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Re: Melodic Interest (Ireland v. Scotland)

(i know this is a waste of a post, but then i agree with bb, (your right, we do agree!) i think we should leave these kinds of debates to the sportfield - maybe take it up next time ireland play scotland in the rugby, (i think ireland were trounced by the All Blacks a few days ago, tee hee!) or at least over large amounts of beer where we could have a good, coherent, feasable, and logical discussion……. )

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Its ok - I go for the Wallabies. And yes - I’m at my most logical when I’m tanked up on pints πŸ˜‰)

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Jamie (et al)
Note with interest your comments on great Scots tunes. My question is are the tunes played in the sessions different from those in the published sources (like the Athole collection). I imagine as you mentioned the West Coast tunes are heavily influenced by pipe tunes (highland) and thus have a limited scale. But in the end I think both Scots and Irish music are great but i have a soft spot for klezxmer and other "mittel" european fiddle music. God those guys can play!

Re: Melodic Interest (Ireland v. Scotland)

Yeah - I like all types of european music, Klezmer, Romanian etc - but I still like irish trad the best teehee (just trying to annoy Jamie - sorry πŸ˜‰)

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Re: Melodic Interest (Ireland v. Scotland)

Ha haaa! you’ll never annoy me, and in response to DONNCHAD, yes indeed, the tunes we play in sessions are pretty much a world away from the tunes you find in those big collections. Much more fun, funky and interesting. There are loads of different ones played, Mcgoldrick tunes, solas tunes, ones that blazing fiddles play, (which are generally all scottish) and some irish ones… depends on whos at the session basically. People learn tunes off whatever CD they like at the moment and then come along and play them. Our sessions are never just typical scottish strathespeys, marches, and reels (hardly any of those actually, although i am partial to a good 6/8 march…)
ANyway, will stop rambling about this now, i love european music too, and was going to spend a month in hungary learning more gypsy music, but my band ended up having a busy month in march, which is when i was planning on going. Will make it one day hopefully!!!

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Jamie and othe Scots residents

Where are these session tunes published if at all. I have the Ceol na Fidhle books. Ya see I am aurally challenged - not hard of hearing but this is a euphemism for b——y lazy about picking up tunes by ear.!

Re: Melodic Interest (Ireland v. Scotland)

Re: Donnchad

I’m not sure if they are all published together in a definitive collection? My advice would be to buy some CD’s of solas, mcgoldrick, dervish, natalie mcmasters, etc and just start learning by ear. I learnt music from an early age, just by reading music (i have my highets qualification on piano, which i teach) and always thought it easiest to learn tunes of music. I’ve changed that by learning more and more off CD’s or in sessions. Its amazing how fast you can learn a tune by ear (and how much easier it is to remember later) compared to music. I’ve just been given 23 tunes to learn to play at T in the Park in 2 weeks, and wish they were on tape as i hate learning off music now, its such a drag, (don’t have time either so will be interesting….)

Anyway, sorry as thats not what you really asked me, i’ve played the fiddle for about 14-15 years now, and recommend learning by ear, it means that in a session you can sit down and learn the tunes as they are being played so by the time the tune is played the 3rd time you can generally play along. If you do this a couple of weeks in a row withthe same tune, its stuck in your head!

But back to the point. Will try and keep an eye out for some good books with the tunes that we play in them (should make one up myself!!) and let you know if i see any!
Jamie :0)

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Thanks - good idea about putting some tunes together. About the ear thing, Its good advice and I ve been hearing it for years but due to being impatient I never get down to it when I read notes so easily. Shame really - I guess it would take real effort initially, wish I could make myself do it.


Re: Melodic Interest (Ireland v. Scotland)

If your after some of the modedrn session tunes then theres some good stuff in The Nineties Collection.

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Wackadack - Thanks

Who publishes the Nineties Collection

Re: Melodic Interest (Ireland & Scotland)

hey, my experience of when you dont like something is probably simply because you dont understand it and dont study it and sometimes simply dont want to understand it. attitudes to donegal music has been like this for years and is now only starting to break the shell
perhaps thats why you dont like scottish music, and to a lesser extent donegal music which i agree has got a lot of scottish influences. perhaps you simply dont understand it ?

if you’ve examened the scottish strathspeys for example, you’ll find that they are some of the most melodicly as well as rythmicly complex tunes. most notably the scott skinner ones, and takes a great deal of technicality to play them, i.e. the mathematician, would you say that is not melodicly interesting?
tunes from everywhere all have scope, its up to the musician to take it out.

for example, the irish reel cooleys is thought by a lot of musicians to be melodicly not interesting and i agree, have any of you tried playing in in a or g minor ? it tottaly transforms the tune. it is generally down to lack of musicianship if you dont like the melody of a tune. if the painters of music have just drawn the outline, some better than others. if you dont like the colour change it but as long as you dont change the general idea of the picture. (i.e. bending the tune out of shape)

i hope this answers your question.


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Re: Melodic Interest (Ireland v. Scotland)

Nineties collection is great! Had forgot about that…… i’d recomend it too! Also has a Double CD that goes along with it so you can listen to the tunes! (its a good cd too, not like some that come with music books!)

Re: Strathspeys


Your spot on with the strathspey comment. I had some lessons in the late 70s with Simpson Pirie (a NE Scotland Fiddler) especially to do w/ stspey bowing (they were too advanced for me at the time). However, he had great control of the bow. One of the basic patterns (asuming the notes are dotted) was to do two down bows followed by two up bows (a real *ugger for me at the time to manage) If you’ve ever seen the Kerrs books of Scots tunes, many of the strathspeys show this bowing pattern which gives areal zip to the rhythm (guess its that scotch snap thingy). Do they bow the tunes like this in Donegal?

Now im off to hunt down the 90s collection

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I found the Ian hardie publishing site which is in the UK so Ill prob order from them to avoid the postage and delay in ordering from N American sites. They also have the 2 cds which go with the book.

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Fair point!! I didn’t realise you were in the UK! Where abouts do you live? (sorry i know this is going off the beaten track a bit, but i’m sure that we’ll get back to the point of the conversation before long…..

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Im in Hawick, Scotland, Roxburgshire

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I even know where that is!!! Good rugby team….
I’ve done a couple of gigs in a pub down there last year, its a fair trip from glasgow (about 2 -2.5 hrs) so we stopped doing them! If your ever up in glasgow, come down to the park bar on a thursday night or ben nevis on a wednesday night for tunes! - its a bit random at the moment as summer is here and musicians therefore are not!! everyones away on tour or home for the summer so if you give prior warning we could arrange a session!
Just a thought…..

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- is something i know nothing about as im a box player, but as far as i know they do encorparate a lot of the scottish bowing in,
the best answer i can give you is if altan do it, then its as donegal as you’ll get !


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Re: Melodic Interest (Ireland v. Scotland)

okay bloomfield,

bloomfield you are brimming with ignorance- we all know Irish music is great but why begin to compare it to a tradition you know nothing about. for a start the neither the jig of slurs nor farewell to chernobyl are traditional tunes so if you want to insult their melodicity aim those comments at the composers (G.S. Mclennan and Michael Ferry). I cant believe this thread has had such response to an edjits statement.

a point that needs to made is that Irish and Scottish trad are incomparable- where the Irish tradition is based much around the session tunes- Scotland has a long and deep history of music that extends far beyond. The real treasures of Scots music lies in the Gaelic song, Ceol Mor (so called"classical" Highland pipe music), March Strathspey and Reel playing, bothy ballads…… far beyond the remit of this great site. For Scots music our session tunes are play things

Bloomfield, if you don’t find Scottish music melodically interesting- learn something about it or shut up and stick to whatever it is you play. whatever you do- don’t talk sh*te