The instruments and history of Irish music

First I’ll say, céad míle fáilte, which means hundred thousand welcomes in Irish Gaelic, so welcome to this today, I’m very excited to be here to celebrate the day, I feel like we have a few more stars here that haven’t been introduced, and that’s the instruments, and I’m sure you all want to dig right in, and get to know the instruments as well, so I thought maybe we could take a few moments to have the instrumentalists introduce the instruments, and then we’ll talk about the music and the history of Irish music, whatever you want to know, and please do feel free to ask questions as we go along. In the style of an Irish thing, we ought to be doing some real conversation here, and I’ll talk more about that in a few minutes, but we’ll start with the instrumentalists first. I have a variety of different sizes of whistles, not all of which I’ll be playing today in the tunes, but the reason there are so many different sizes and there are actually more, is that each of these whistles can only play in a limited number of keys, unlike the percussion,
[laughter] and the fiddle, and the guitar, and a lot of other instruments, so the flute type instruments ans the pipes are the ones that kind of dictate the keys. So each of these whistles plays in only a certain key, and obviously the little one is going to be the highest,
[plays music] and next comes the one that’s the deepest, which most people are familiar with, [plays music] then, as they get bigger, they get lower and harder to play, [plays music] and I don’t know if I’ve ever played that on this one, let’s see how it comes out, [plays music] I told you
[laughter] And this concertina is a later addition to the Irish music scene, in the 1800s more or less, this is called and Anglo Concertina, it works like a harmonica, You push a button, you pull out on the bellows, you just keep the same button down and push in on the bellows, you get a different note. That’s the difference between an Anglo Concertina and what some other people play, called the English Concertina, where each button has the same note, whether you’re going in or out, so the scale on this would be: [plays music] So if you play harmonica this will probably work for you. It has six finger holes and one blowing hole [plays music] and it’s what they had before they had flutes with keys, and flutes made out of metal, with cylindrical bores that were louder and were becoming more popular in the orchestra because they could be heard. Fiddles were getting larger and louder, and this guy kind of got put on the shelf because no one could hear him, and so the poor people in Ireland had this to play, where the wealthy people had metal, but they weren’t always metal, in the beginning they were wood, but they were keyed, and they were louder. These were in lots of homes, and they crack and they get pretty ugly when they’re not taken care of. So what are your adaptations on there, Patty, I see? Oh those are, those are a secret [laughter] Those are orthopedic.
Well it’s nice to know, people might wonder what that is. People don’t usually do that to their flutes, I don’t usually talk about it. Sorry! [laughter]
I didn’t look at my notes, just kidding. I hurt my hands a number of times, that’s all. Well, it’s good to know that you can still play your instruments. Yeah, it is.
Yeah, that’s very good. I think I’d be out of luck!
We’d really be out of luck if Patty couldn’t play. So, I’m sure all of you has seen one of these, this is a fiddle, it’s the same thing as a violin, in case you’re wondering if there’s a distinction. It’s the same actual instrument, it’s just a difference in the style that you use when you play it. In Ireland, if the poor people did not play a whistle or a flute, they played a fiddle. All the people with the money really, played the pipes or harps, and so the fiddle has a long tradition of being the, you know, poor citizen’s instrument, I guess. The only real difference between the modern instrument that we play now, and fiddles that were played in Ireland during the time that we’re referring to, is that now we have a rounded back, I dont know how well you can see this, but it’s not completely flat, it has a little bit of an arc to it, that helps it resonate more and project better, and fiddles before that had a completely flat back, which makes them a little bit softer, and a little more difficult to hear. Percussion around the world of course, came from what the people had around them, they’d use their gourds which had dried out, they would use roots and seeds and little pods, They used the skins of the animals that kept them warm, and fed them, and the sapling trees to make their drums. So the history of the Bodhrán, its a Gaelic word, B-O-D-H-R-A-N, pronounced /ˈbɔrɑːn/ or /ˈbaʊrɑːn/, either way is fine, and many other ways of saying it, is questionable, as is a lot in this tradition, because it’s handed down through word of mouth. So there’s two basic ways that they talk about the Bodhrán, it either was a traditional instrument and it came from an actual sieve-like instrument that they used to separate the chaff and the grain, or there are also stories that it came in when the Roman empires came through, or when the Arabic traders came through, and they brought what’s called a frame drum along, these are called frame drums, they have the wood around the outside, and the skin is stretched across the head, they can have 1 or 2 or no crossbows behind them, each drum and each drummer is different as to how they like to play it. The skins are often goat skin, deer skin, there’s very few with cattle, those are mostly the African drums that have the cattle skin, I can’t remember the other one at the moment, maybe some sheep skin because there were so many sheep. So what they do, is they create a shell, or frame, and then they put this skin on top of it. Now because the skin is a live thing, it will react to the elements, so under these lights, this head is going to keep getting tighter, so you’ll see me pick up a little spray bottle here, and I’ll be spraying the back of this drum, to try and keep it a little more supple, otherwise it gets really tight, and like with Patty’s wooden flute, if you don’t take care of it, it will eventually crack and you won’t have a drum anymore, and you’ll have to get a new head on it. The answer to that is to use a synthetic head, which is what this drum is, made by a percussion company called Remo, it’s a synthetic head, I can stand in the pouring rain and play that drum, it doesn’t shift at all, so that’s really a godsend to us, to me as a percussionist that plays outside, but also in symphony orchestras, they replace the calfskin heads on the timpanis and the bass drum, with these synthetic heads, and that made a big difference. So, this is the Bodhrán, they come in anywhere from 13 to 18 inches, and anywhere, the traditional ones have been about this deep, a little bit deeper, now they are making them very deep, you’ll see people playing a much smaller drum, with a very deep, and that gives you a very deep sound, and as you press on the head, it will change the timbre of the head, so you can go from very low, very rich resonant tones, and the word Bodhrán, one of the meanings of it is ‘thundering’, or dull sounding, you often play, it is a resonant drum
[bangs drum] but you play it most often with a hand, which stops the resonant, or dull sounding, those are two of the meanings of the word Bodhrán. So these are typically the drums that people play in Irish music, then because the people had a lot of sheep around, and some cattle, they began to play the bones, the rib bones, and that’s what these are. They also make them out of rosewood, so you get a lot of different sounds, you can see that this pair is a lot larger than that pair, so you’re gonna get a whole different sound, and there’s different ways to hold the bones to play them, because I have large hands, I have to adapt with smaller bones. And the other thing they did was they picked up the spoons on the table, and they started to make rhythm with those, now, I can play spoons off the table, but not very well, so I do the cheating thing and bought two different kinds of spoons, these are made in Canada, Canadian spoons, they’re hollowed out inside there, and they’re a little notched there, so they move down your fingers very easily
[plays spoons] So it’s an instrument that most people can play very easily. There’s a gentleman that plays in the Louisburg area named Steve Catania, and these are his cat paws, he makes these, a much more delicate sound, so depending on the piece that we’re playing, I choose which instrument sounds best. As well as with the bones, because they have very different sounds. Then the tambourine, you add that in, this is a great little instrument, and then all my little shaker eggs, including this one, which is from Hawaii, so a wooden shaker egg. Again, they all have different sound and different timbre, so depending on the piece that we choose to play, I choose the instrument to go with the sound. And then what you play the drums with is a thing called the tipper, and this is what a tipper looks like, they come in various sizes, various shapes, and it really depends on your hand, and your sense of balance and how it fits for you. So I really love, this is the first tipper I ever picked up and used, and I really love this particular style of tipper, it has a little notch, my hand fits in there very nicely, but you can also just buy dowel rods, and put those little pencil holders on them, and that creates a tipper for you as well, I took a lesson with a gentleman named Richard Sutton, who studies a lot in Ireland, and then he opened up the world of playing with paint brushes, and these wonderful little other kind of drummer brushes, these are plastic, and this creates, we do a medley, and in that medley I start with the paint brush on the very soft one, which is, what’s the first piece, King of the Faeries? Oh, Return from Fingal.
Return from Fingal! And then we move on to the next piece, which is King of the Faeries, and so then I use this brush, a whole different sound, and then I move to this drum, and this tipper, this tipper is very light, it moves very quickly, I have to be careful to have a very good grip on it, because it can go flying in the air.
[laughter] And I play this drum on that piece. So that’s all the fun stuff that I get to play with, and I hope that, yes, a question? Yeah, if we’re not going to hear some of those things later, I would like to hear particularly the eggs and the bones. Oh, sure, we will be playing the bones. The eggs are:
[rattles egg] Oh, what has it got in it?
Little seeds, like bal bearings or bbs. So there’s that one, listen to the sound and the depth, it has a lot in there. That has more, so its a little bit deeper sound, then you go:
[rattles egg] nice and delicate, I use this one when we do Broom of the Cowdenknowes, in which both of these ladies sing as well, they both sing. And then, we have a piece called King’s Shilling:
[spins egg] And that’s just a.. and then when it changes, from talking about love lost, it goes into war, and then I switch to:
[rattles egg] You know, and make it, as hardy as this one’s gonna get. So those are the eggs. They’re all plastic except for this one, and you can buy them, you can go to Sides and get yourself some eggs, all different variety of eggs are available, and fruit, we play the lemon and the orange, and we have bananas and tomatoes. Real fruit?
No. [laughter] Plastic fruit. More shakers. But I do have a book where you can make real instruments out of fruit, and vegetables, real fruit and vegetables. I will be playing the bones, I think Patty and I will be doing a piece, where you’ll hear some of the different bones. I think that’s it. Yeah, this is a wonderful representation of everything, that kind of summarizes in a way how varied the history of Irish music has been, there’s a lot of preconceived notions about what Irish music is and it isn’t, lots of debates that go on about what belongs in the category of Irish or Celtic music, and what does not, but this is wonderful, because you have everything from some of the earliest instruments of Ireland, all the way to the most recent. Does anyone want to take a guess at which one they think was probably the first one? Bones?
Bones and the Bodhrán, yep, bones and the Bodhrán are the two, Interesting thing though, the Bodhrán was not played like this until 1960, was the first time that the Bodhrán was played in this manner, before that, the way I learned the history of the term, as in the circles I understand, is that Bodhrán comes from the word ‘thunder’, or ‘to deafen’, and actually, was not really an instrument 364 day of the year, except for on New Year’s Eve, and on, well 4 times a year, they’d have 4 times a year they would get something like that out and play it as an instrument, before that, it served as a chafing, for seperating wheat from chaff, they would use it to just throw the chaff, the wheat in the air. They could also use it sometimes for serving food, for storing things, but it was a very common household item. And then, 4 times a year, especially on New Year’s Eve, how many of you have heard of the mumming tradition? Mumming actually, is something that happens in the Celtic pagan beliefs, they believe that 4 times a year, the doors between this world and the spiritual world opened up, and on those days, they didn’t want any spirits from that world to come into this world. So they would get out their Bodhráns, and they would beat them as hard as they could, to create a deafening sound, and that’s the word Bodhrán stuck with them, so it became a festival instrument, essentially. And that takes us back to probably the earliest folk music we know about, in terms of musical instruments. So, that’s probably the first one we have. And then more instruments got added on top, but this represents a wonderful collection of everything from that all the way to the present day, things like the tambourine you would not have seen probably until recent years, but it’s been one layer upon another layer throughout the many many years of Irish history. Any questions as we go along, feel free please to mention. The interesting thing, there’s one thing that ties all of Irish music together though, and it’s three words, that we can translate from Gaelic, and the words in Gaelic are, ‘Ceol Agus Craic’, If you’ve ever seen, gone to an Irish pub, you’ll often see these words up there, ‘Ceol’ is the word for ‘music’, ‘Agus’ is ‘and’, and ‘Craic’ is conversation or a good time. And that is something that characterizes all of Irish music, today it is still the most defining characteristic, and it’s what makes this whole situation as relevant, an Irish music traditional session, as anything else, because we’re having Ceol Agus Craic. Conversation, a good time, and some good music. But it hasn’t always been this way, actually about 60 years ago, something like this, we would never have been able to have something like this, We have a question over here, I’ll repeat the question: The question is where does the harp fit in? The Irish harp is the oldest instrument that we know of in terms of a classical tradition, the first information we have about the Irish harp dates back to the 12th century, and it has since become the symbol of Ireland, all throughout, you look on the coinage, it’s on the coins, it’s on the flags, it’s everything, it represents Ireland musically. But it is the oldest instrument, at that time, it was the instrument of the bards, and the minstrels, who play for the Gaelic chieftans, and the kings, and the lords, the hard thing about the harp tradition though, is that it thrived during the time of the Gaelic chieftans, but over time it declined, what happened was a gradual repression of Irish music and Irish culture with the British conquest, it’s ironic that the first time we hear about the Irish harp was the 12th century, It’s also the same year that began the British conquest, in which England came over and dominated. They started to try and repress Irish music through the bards, and actually by 15, i think it was 1571, there was a decree that all harps should be destroyed, and all the harpers hung, or hanged, because they were considered so dangerous, because they were the keepers of the tradition, they played for the chieftans, they kept everything that was Irish, and so when it was Elizabeth who felt, Elizabeth the First, who felt particularly threatened by it, as she set out a decree, and by 1602 there was a second decree to detroy all harps, and hang the harpers, and by that point of course, nobody really wanted to play the harp, so the tradition declined greatly, until about 1792, it started to come back a little bit, there was a harp festival. By that point, harps were almost gone completely, in the in between time there was a wonderful composer named Turlough Carolan, who gave us so much of the rich repertoire of Irish harp music that we still have, and I’m hoping we’ll play a Carolan piece in a few moments, but 1792 they have a very small harp festival, I think there was only about 7, somewhere between 7 and 9 harpers there that could actually play, and it fueled some interest in it, and around that time there was a start of a returning interest in Irish pride and Irish nationalism, and at that point they embraced the harp again, and from that point it started to grow, it kind of ebbs and flows, but really then it went through some dip, ups and downs, until 1960, 1960 marks a very important year in Irish music, because that was the beginning of two things: The Irish Folk Revival, and also the formation of Ceoltóirí Chualann, by Seán Ó Riada, who is a celtic, an Irish musician and composer and arranger, and he brought together a group that later became known as The Chieftans, in a new form, and it was them that brought the whole Irish music thing back into life again. So, I hope that answers the question. Meanwhile though, for the harp piece though, since harp is so important, the harp tradition is very important, I asked them beforehand, I knew Carolan would be coming up at some point, I asked if they knew a Carolan piece and they said they could play something, so if you could oblige? [playing music] It’s amazing that Carloan wrote during that time period I was talking about, the harp tradtion was being severely repressed, and yet somehow 200 of his compositions still remain, and they form a backbone of an amazing harp repertoire that we still enjoy. It’s been adapted by other instruments as well, though. Are there other questions? Yes? Just for the recording, or taping, the question is: What has the influence of Irish music been on other parts of the world, in terms of global music? Well Irish music is everywhere now, there are Japanese pipe bands, I mean you find it everywhere thoughout the world, people are interested. And that was actually in large part with, believe it or not, The Chieftans, I’ll keep bringing their name up probably, because they were considered, actually named by Irish government the ‘Ambassadors of Ireland’, they brought Celtic music around the world, during the 80s and 90s, so the point that they really piqued interest everywhere. Before that though, wherever the Irish diaspora was, the culture came, we preserved it and in some places we held it at a time when even Ireland abandoned it. For example the United States, if it hadn’t been for recordings in the United States and some of the great Irish immigrants who came here, and brought their fiddles with them, and their flutes with them, and their instruments with them, they preserved it at a time when Ireland had let it go. They were dealing with so much over there that the music just got thrown by the wayside. Say for example during the 1920s, the best Irish music from the 1920s, that was what we kind of consider the authentic sound, was actually being performed here, not in Ireland, it was all happening here in the recordings of Michael Coleman, in the transcriptions of James O’Neal, they were recording the things that still are considered the definitive recordings, the definitive arrangements, or not really arrangements, the transcriptions of the pieces. So wherever the Irish have been, they’ve taken their music, and it’s been paid back in full, because of this wonderful back and forth, in fact a scholar I studied with, I did a lot of research in Scotland, she was looking for a lot of musical traditions she couldn’t find in Scotland anymore, and she came over to the Appalachian Mountains to find the music that had been lost over in Scotland years ago, so we kept a lot of it when it was lost over there. So the music, the interesting thing that we have here though, is the ensemble you see here, is a very new development, 60 years ago this would not have happened, you would not have had a concert setting like this, certainly, if you did, even in downtown Dublin, the hall would have been empty, no one would have come for something like this, and even this whole ensemble idea is only about 60 years old, before that people primarily performed as soloists, something that happened in homes, first of all, they were known as Ceilidhs, it comes from the Gaelic word Ceilidh, which means to visit, they would visit one another in their homes and they would perform, and they would take turns singing, and again it’s that Ceol Agus Craic, music and conversation, they’d tell stories, they’d sing songs, people would get up and dance, they would do things all in the home, in non-Gaelic areas it was known as house hoolies, or house parties, and it remained that way for a long time, people performed solos though, it was not ensemble music like this, the first ensembles we see, were actually during the 1920s, with the Ceilidh bands, which were essentially the equivalent to, we had our big band orchestras in America, and they had Ceilidh bands there, they would get together for large Ceilidhs in the dance halls, and the performers that you’d have, you’d have these instruments, you’d have your fiddle, you’d have your uilleann pipes, you’d have your flutes, various instruments, but you’d also have the addition of the piano, snare drum, bass, things like that, and they’d perform and people would get up and dance. So that was their style of entertainment, and that’s really the first Irish ensembles we had, really, that performed, but it had a very kind of an international sound to it because of the new instruments that were brought in primarily from America, as a style. So it wasn’t until the 1960s that we got the first ensembles together who actually said lets put these instruments together, and it started with the composer and arranger Seán Ó Riada, who had a vision of creating ensembles that would interest the Irish people in their own music, they didn’t really care to listen to music much, Irish music has never been meant to listen to, it’s been meant to dance to, it’s a dancing type of music, so the idea of people sitting and just listening is almost a foreign concept, even still, when I teach celtic music in my classes, I always make my students get up and perform a dance, you just have to do it, because you can’t sit still. It just seems wrong. So we have the ensembles developing during the 1960s with Seán Ó Riada and Ceoltóirí Chualann, and then began the folk revival, and that brought a lot more interest in Irish music, and thus you have a whole ballad tradition, the folk song tradition, that has still, for the most part, if you notice remains very seperate from the instrumental tradition, they’re two different things, you don’t have people singing and dancing very often. Yes? Sounds like we should have some dancers here today.
We should. [laughter] I thought I was looking at them!
Just dance for the people, you don’t need special performers.
Feel free to dance in the aisles. You can dance in the aisles, absolutely. I started to say something when the woman asked about the international influence, and it’s just kind of a quirky little, maybe not quirky, but we thought it was kind of quirky at the time, on one of my trips to Ireland we were in a hostel and there was a japanese woman in the same room as us, and she had friends over there and they were all just enamored of Irish music, she also was a concertina player and she taught me a tune called the Chicago Reel, so around the world. [laughter] Yes, very multinational.
Good time for another little musical? Absolutely, yes!
You wanna hear Chicago Reel? Yes, let’s play Chicago Reel, that’d be great, and then we could talk a little about the different types of pieces. [inaudible chatter] [plays music] [applause] Just a confession, the reason I was smiling so much is because I miss the guitar. [laughter]
Our guitar player, she couldn’t be here today It’s very typical for all of the instruments to play melody, no harmony, except for a guitar, to provide the rhythm and bass. Yeah, and that it the, actually the idea of accompanying with some kind of chordal instrument is very, very new too. Traditionally all this music is performed everybody playing the same melody, and then, it’s a style that we in the world of ethnomusicology call heterophony, where you have everybody playing the same melodic line, but everyone adding their own embellishments or grace notes as they go along, and it just makes for a very colorful kind of sound, often when they play you hear like, little blurps, its only when you hear slower songs, they slow things down, you actually hear what these notes are like, but it might be a good moment to talk, if you could demonstrate maybe some of those? The ornamentation?
Some of the ornamentation, maybe be.. I had asked them if they would be willing to play the skeleton of a melody, it’s called a skeleton, and then some embellishments. Speaking of ornamentation, where did you get your socks?
[laughter] My what? From her!
Your socks! Yeah! I found them, I found a whole bunch of them.
Oh, she has them on too. Yeah, I have leprechauns too if everybody wants to see.
Ohhh! Found a whole bunch of them one year. Do you want us to do the bare bones thing? Yeah, if you’d like to hear, the skeleton of a melody means just the melody as you would find it written in a tune book, just the notes without any kind of embellishments is all, if you could possible play that, it’s hard to take them out once they’re in there. It is.
I’m not gonna play at all, so they can. [plays music] And then put some?
Do it again? Put dome embellishments in there, that’d be great [plays music] No, not that fast [plays music] We’ll go faster with everything in it. Carol too.
Pick me up on the way by. [plays music] [applause] The interesting thing with, I’ve heard often in teaching music, whether you teach music history or world music, you can so often see in art the same thing you hear in music, and if you ever look at something like the old manuscript illumination, things like the Book of Kells, you’ll see all the beautiful ornamentation around all the letters, and as you hear it in a music, you can almost see and hear the same thing, so an interesting thing is what we’re playing, what they’ve played so far is two reels, and reels are actually the most popular type of music in the Irish repertoire, but it’s not what’s commonly associated with Ireland. The reel is most popularly found in Ireland now, what you’ll hear most often are reels, and they’re great for dancing, but what’s most often associated with Ireland, with the Irish, is the jig, to the point where although you can find, what defines a jig is essentially that it’s in compound meter, or 6/8, which means you’ve got that 123456, 123456, when you count it out, they have many different types of jigs, you’ve got your single jig, your double jig, your slip jig, your slide, all these different things, they’ve got variations, it reminds me of, they say that the eskimos have many different terms for snow, because they see so much snow, they’ve got definitions for different types of it, and it’s the same thing with a jig, the Irish know the jig so well, that they have different names for the different types of jigs, so I thought we could just play a, whatever you can say? A double jig?
Try a double jig? A double jig, the best way to know a double jig if you just listen, you’re counting out, you say the word broccoli over and over again, broccoli broccoli broccoli broccoli broccoli broccoli broccoli broccoli You feel like you can count out in really fast threes, or if a clock is ticking in two, so it’s 123 123 123 123 broccoli broccoli broccoli broccoli Where as a regular jig can…
Well this one has some ham in it too. [laughter]
Carrots and cabbages This particular jig has some ham in it too.
Ham? Broccoli and ham? It’s not all broccoli.
And carrots and cabbages is a regular jig. Black and Decker is a reel. [laughter]
That comes by way of, that’s our guitar player. Yep.
Joe’s here in spirit. [plays music] [applause] Through the 18th century there, I guess early 19th century, there were 3 different types of music you would hear in Ireland: The reel, the jig, and the hornpipe, and until the early 19th century they were actually, those terms were used interchangeably, the jig hadn’t really taken form as the jig, it didn’t really become what it was until the early 19th century, but at that point they started to really develop it. It was also during the 19th century they also brought in some imports, they brought in the waltz, and they brought in the polka, and those are still really popular parts of Irish music, if you go to the average session you’ll hear some polkas and waltzes as well. Did you wanna play?
Speaking of Irish sessions, we actually have one in this area.
We do! second Thursday of every month, at the Red Horse Tavern in Pleasant Gap. You’re welcome to come and listen. Bring an instrument if you play a traditional instrument too. Wait, aren’t you playing there Saturday though?
Yes, but this is session. Session?
Session is where people just come and play. Second Thursday?
Play, play and talk. Ceol Agus Craic.
Let’s repeat that, The second Thursday, from 7 to 9:30 at the Red Horse Tavern, you can come in any time at those times. Or you can come earlier and have dinner, some of us do that too. I heard the food’s really good there.
It’s good, yeah. So the polka, or?
The polka or the hornpipe, which would you? Oh, maybe, whichever you’d like to play, or play a hornpipe that’s be good. [inaudible chatter] [plays music] Thank you
[applause] It was called the Home Ruler. How we now categorize the hornpipe versus the reel versus the jig, I said that the jig is in compound meter, that’s that counting off in very fast threes, the reel is in what we call duple meter, which means it’s counting off in twos, the hornpipe is also in duple meter, but it’s slower, and it has those, that duhduh-duh-duhduh, it’s got those dotted notes that make it have a little bit of a kind of a lilt to it. The hornpipe is actually originally associated with english sailors, but then it became popular in many styles of dance, especially in set dancing. Do we want to turn to that question that we had, any questions about the dance music? We can go back to that question, sure. Would you mind repeating your question? Just for the record, the question relates to whether variations of Irish music emerge during the struggles in the 19th and 20th centuries. Yes, especially vocal music, the vocal traditions, there are so many songs about stories of emmigration, forced emmigration, stories of dealing with the Irish government, and they continue, the songs continue to be written, continue to be sung, continue to be loved, because it represents so much of the Irish history, when you realize just the turmoil that they went through in the 19th century alone, with the potato famine, that the population of Ireland decreased by I think about 25% in about ten years, one million people died during the potato famine, another two million people emmigrated within ten years of the potato famine, many of them feeling forced off their lands, dealing with just the sadness of it, and the disappointment, and the starvation, the loss, the hunger, the pain, it’s the story of so many songs that continue to be sung, and some of them are angry, and some of them are sad, some of them are nostalgic, it covers the whole gamut of emotion. Did you wanna add anything to that? Do you know a good emmigrant song?
You wanna sing? Oh, you want me to sing? Okay, one of the most famous ones that people now associate, it’s called Fields of Athenry By lonely prison walls, I heard a young girl calling, Michael they have taken you away For you stole Trevelyn’s corn for your young to feed by morn, And a prison ship wait, sorry, prison ship stays sailing by the bay. Sorry! Low lie the Fields of Athenry, where once the young and free, wait, where once we watched the young free birds fly, Oh gosh, sorry, I’m on the spot here, I get thrown off here. I mean, I actually have them here. Okay, let’s try this again here: Our love was on the wing, we had dreams and songs to sing, now it’s lonely by the Fields of Athenry. And the whole story is relating a time where, people starving just to feed their children at the time, and there’s no food, they had to steal, and so the person gets imprisoned, and then sent away to go to Botany Bay, which is a prison colony for the Irish people, and so it’s people having to deal with the loss of a loved one, there’s so many stories, and I’m sorry, I did not represent that well. But there’s so many wonderful songs that were written, and that’s actually a farily new song, It was written in the 1970s, but people love it as though it was written during the 19th century, but songs like that date back through the last two centuries. Very political. Yes? Just a quick recap of the question, the first part being: Are there differences in the styles in different counties or regions of Ireland? And the second being: How has the music changed in different parts of the world, such as Australia? Regarding how it is throughout Ireland, it’s not so much the songs are different, but the styles of playing and the styles of singing are different. You’ll find for example in the northern parts of Ireland, near the county Donegal, they have, it’s a very strong influence from the Scottish culture there, so you’re gonna find more kind of staccato, short and little kind of quick sounds to it, it’s very sharp sounding, where as in county Clare, and in the south, country Kerry, country Cork, you’ll find that it’s a smoother style of playing, more legato, more free flowing. Then probably in terms of a whole world aspect, the global aspect of it, if people came from certain areas, they would keep what they learned where they went, but the one big difference is that some of the key performers, I mentioned before, people like Michael Coleman, when they went abroad they took their music with them and they recorded it, and when they did I bleieve Michael Coleman was from Sligo style, county Sligo style, so once it went on recording, people started playing like what they heard in recordings, if anybody tried to learn music they’d learn it from recordings, they learned the Sligo style, which is a very bright, fast kind of style, and so what most often is heard throughout the world, if it’s people who’ve learned from recordings rather than somebody directly in lineage to somebody in Ireland, they’ll usually perform in the Sligo style, so, which I say is a, and they’re all very different, and I don’t know whether you can demonstrate, or whether you have any things to add to that, as performers?
Do you wanna hear a polka? What’s that?
We could do a polka. [plays music] [applause] We have time for a couple more questions, and then maybe the band could play us out. We have a question up front:
Well perhaps you traveled in [inaudible] How about James Galway, and any whistle things, is that considered south, maybe? Yes, yes certainly, James Galway, he is a classically trained flautist, but he, what? Flautist flutist, yes he made that crossover, I believe the first time he really explored a lot of the Irish connection was once again working with The Chieftans, when they worked with him on an album, he played some before that, but it’s really what it’s, I think it came out, do you know more about the history of James Galway? Just that he’s a classical player, and that he’s from Ireland. [overlapping voices]
He does, yes. Because I have a disc of his, and there’s sakura.
Mhmm, Japanese sakura, yeah. It’s really good.
Yeah. It’s very good. I’ve heard, and I’d like to ask if it’s true that Danny Boy was actually written in New York City [laughter] I wonder if you could comment on some of the commercialization of Irish music, and how that’s a perception what it is.
Okay, that’s a good question, I know you’ve got strong feelings about this topic
[laughter] Danny Boy was actually written by an english lawyer, the melody though, it’s known as the London Dairy Air, so it was a traditional Irish melody, but then put with English lyrics added to it, there are many other lyrics that were Irish, that were written by Irish people, but Danny Boy is the one that stuck, it got the most publicity, so you wanna add in about this at all?
No, that’s good. Okay, but it does bring up a lot of questions about this, there’s so many things I mean even, you’ve got him, you’ve got a lot of the Thomas Moore melodies, Thomas Moore was an Irish poet who wrote a lot of english lyrics to go with, for example, Carolan’s music, and a lot of the collections from around 1792, but he turned it into parlor music, what happened with that is they basically, they started back in early 19th century, they started kind of ‘cleaning up’ the music, making it sound a little better, if it was too modal and kind of weird sounding, they’d change it so it was more suitable to the, especially to the things like pianos. They started writing piano accompaniments, and so it sounded really pretty, and that was a tradition that was going on throughout the 19th century, and it entered the parlors, it entered the homes of middle and upper class people who would sing the music, so you’ve got that whole strain going, Danny Boy enters into that category of those things, You also have, come across the sea to America then, Stephen Foster got on the band wagon, how many of us think of, ‘I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair’? Is it Irish or is it not? We can’t tell, but he was drawing, essentially modeling his music after Thomas Moore so there’s a lot of this music that it’s very difficult to categorize, and well I’ve spent a dissertation and 500 pages talking about how do we talk about authentic and not authentic in celtic music, and it’s a very difficult thing to figure out, and you’ll have heated debates, I mean really heated debates between people who are very purist in their approach, and people who say, ‘Well what is it?’ The fact is now somebody who is of the more purist type would say this doesn’t belong in Irish music, Danny Boy is not an Irish tune, is not an Irish song, on the other hand people say, ‘Well if they’re singing it in Ireland, is it so bad?’ So does that make it Irish? And the debates go on and on, it just makes it so it’s constantly a point of contention certainly, and if you have things to chime in on this, especially people who perform I was in a session in Ireland last summer, and they played The Yellow Rose of Texas
(laughter) It’s always the thing, what constitutes something as Irish or as celtic is whether it’s performed in Ireland and if they make it their own then it can be, so there are many things, many examples like that, where they do make the music their own Pretty much, the music, I guess, is if it was never written down, that’s traditional music, right? Cause it’s passed down through word of mouth, that’s why the same tunes have different names Right.
So I mean, that’s sort of a little guideline anyway. Right, but even ones that were, they so quickly can enter the popular repetoire like Fields of Athenry, something like that was written in the 1970s by you know, the Folk Music Revival kind of thing, and it became so quickly adapted by the irish people that now they’ll sing it at sporting matches, and they’ll start chanting out Irish Republican chants in the middle of it, because it’s so much of something they’ve adopted so it’s not a traditional folk song per se, by definition, and yet it’s become part of the population and part of the populace. Well thank you, we have to end on that note, but please join me in thanking Lisa Jenkins, Patty Lambert, Gretchen Lee, and Carol Lindsay for a very enjoyable hour of celtic music, Thank you very much!

Comments 16

  • great program and music! love it! keep up the great work on our beloved irish music

  • me gusta mucho la música irlandesa , gran aporte con esta presentación…

  • I enjoyed!
    go maith, go maith…

  • Hmmm, bodhran … well, a couple of new theories here. May have come with the Roman Empire? What? Big claims need big evidence.

    Fact is, there is no evidence for the bodhran before the 1950's and Seán Ó Riada invented a "traditional" drum for his Ceoltóirí Chualann group.

    Because of its relatively recent introduction into what is essentially a melodic tradition, and a music that was usually not played in groups, it has had a troubled existence and its usage and techniques have developed drastically over the years.

    There is a rather extraordinary claim that you would not have seen a tambourine until "recent years". In fact, use of the tambourine predates the bodhran in Irish music by many decades at the very least.

    Oh, and lastly, "craic" is an import of an English word that came into Ireland from Scotland and Northern England via the north of Ireland in the form of the word "crack". Until the 1960's the term was unknown in the rest of Ireland with the spelling "craic" coming much later.

  • Well done! Thank you for uploading this video
    and sharing your talent and knowledge
    with those of us who use YT! 🙂

  • Very informative but left out the term The PULSE which is not really mentioned here but makes the music really swing. Here their playing is what I call Square playing which is almost like the orchestras over emphasizing the count or beat with no variation or ornaments called the NYAHS that really helps and perhaps follow the variation of the dance steps so then becomes like one person the musicians and dancers often referred to as the LIFT.)


  • This is interesting. However, I never heard of a violin being cheap. I was going to learn it, but rent-to-own fee was still much more than what I had to spare. The teachers I contacted said you needed a background in classical violin before enrolling in the fiddle class. Well I ended up getting a recorder. I can afford the instrument and take group lessons at a reasonable price. I eventually want to learn Irish and Scottish traditional/pub music.

  • A very interesting video.

  • FINALLY….proof that TAMBOURINES were/are part of Irish music! There are many "purists" that claim they are never to be part of Irish music!

  • A quite comprehensive history of the Bodhran has been done here.

    Most countries in the world have an identical drum, there's nothing uniquely Irish about it. However playing it holding the stick in that cachanded fashion is unique to Ireland, but has only been used since the 1960s, historically the Irish played with their hands. The 1960s stick method was imported from England, who had been using that method of playing their Riddle Drums since at least the early 20th century.

  • This video is about as informative as a dead fish,, love hearing non Irish people telling us what they know about a culture that isnt even theirs, there as bad as the English for stealing the culra of other cultures.. what a heap of utter shyte,….

  • Ha ha ha education is a great thing when people are prepared to learn, but when they dont wish to learn they wont read anything as their ego's supersede their ability to listen to anyone else.. bit sad when an adult has the mindset of a child I guess. people who dont listen dont learn and people who dont learn often have the biggest mouths and the most to say. they speak a lot and say very little so you'll be hard pressed to ever learn from an idiot, See Ahriman for proof of life and stupidity…

  • This video is a bit troubling. I have no problem with American academics sharing Irish culture, but if you're going to put yourself forth as some kind of expert you should have at least some kind of factual basis for what you're claiming.

  • "craic" = fun, not talk so "Ceol agus craic" means music and fun. The irish word for talk is "caint".

  • Just want to point out that although O'Carolan wrote over 200 compositions, his music was greatly influenced by the mainland and lost a lot of the old Irish style.

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