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What is "The Tradition"


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#1 Anglo-Irishman

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Posted 25 January 2012 - 10:33 AM

In fact, many trad heads I know don't actually regard the Ancient Music of Ireland as being part of The Tradition at all, which is something I've never really fully understood.


Dick,
If a Scotsman resident in Northern Ireland has problems understanding this, I'm sure a lot of people from "across the water" do, too!

Perhaps the best way to understand this attitude is to realise that "the tradition" is a misuse of the language. "The" always implies that there's only one of what we're talking about: THE Pope, THE United Kingdom, THE North Pole. So "THE Tradition" implies that there is only one tradition. Even if we qualify it as "THE Irish Tradition", it's still misleading, because Ireland is big enough to harbour several traditions, even in the narrow area of music.

Not every Irishman is a Roman Catholic Co. Clare peasant. Protestant areas have different traditions; Cork, Antrim and Dublin have different traditions; middle and upper-class Irishmen have different traditions; and urban traditions are different from rural ones.

Jigs and reels were not so important for city people, who could go to dance halls with professional bands. Unaccompanied ballads were not so essential for people who had pianos in their drawing-rooms. This is not to say that the middle class was any less patriotic, or "irish", than the rural labourers. The Irish drawing-room of the early 20th century was filled with the strains of Thomas Moore's very Irish ballads, and Herbert Hughes' arrangements of Irish Country Songs for voice and piano. These remained popular in Ireland long after similar-style songs from across the water had been forgotten.
And the urban proletariat had their street ballads, and comic songs borrowed from the music halls. All this was folk music, and even the originally composed songs took on the nature of traditional songs, being sung by people who had never seen either their words or their music written down.

All these different traditions were traditionally rather narrow. My parents - born in the 1st decade of the 20th century - are a case in point. My mother was born in Derry City, and her violin lessons were aimed at getting her into the symphony orchestra. My father was born in rural Co. Derry, and his fiddle lessons were aimed at getting him to play for village dances. My mother always regarded "comeallyes" as the very epitome of primitive barbarism, whereas my father would often sing this kind of song when he was alone. Both were Christians, and enjoyed singing sacred songs - but again, my mother would sing the rather more classical Wesley hymns, whereas my father would sing what he called "Gospel comic songs" - the kind of popular, evangelical ditty that came over from America.
I am told that my parents performed a duet once - once and never again! (Nowadays, they wouldn't have been welcomed at the same sessions, I suppose!)

It's all a matter of perspective, really. From the outside, Ireland looks small, compact and homogeneous. From the inside, it's criss-crossed by a network of fine lines that are, however, distinct enough to make an Irishman on the other side of them seem different. Europeans and Americans - and to some extent the British, too - who have latched on to a certain genre of music which is definitely Irish may be excused for jumping to the conclusion that this is the be-all and end-all of traditional Irish music.
ITM, for instance, is a tradition. But only one of many. If it has developed so as to exclude songs and instrumental airs - that's fine. There are enough other traditions that include songs and airs.
If we can use the definite article with "THE Irish tradition", then it is the tradition that different regional and social groups each have their own notion of "Irish Music."

BTW, I wouldn't include Carolan in traditional music either. Traditional music is handed down; ancient music is written down. AFAIK, Bunting's written notes are the only access we have to Carolan's works. The Clare peasant of two generations ago didn't know them, nor did the middle-class Dubliner. I do, however, play Carolan pieces in recitals of Irish music, because Irish they definitely are. My preferred instrument for them is the 5-string finger-style banjo - sounds closer to the harp than the concertina does! B)

Hope this helps,
Cheers,
John

#2 Dirge

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Posted 25 January 2012 - 10:03 PM

I thought Dick's comment was a bit sad because I thought that I'd have a lot more interest in 'ITM' if it was varied by a mix of the sort of tunes his link went to, with or without the londonderry air.

But the whole business of 'folk music' baffles me anyway. Hudson's Hornpipe posted recently, for example, rather puzzled me. Is that folk? It would seem so but it's just a new tune written 'in the style of' isn't it? Surely taken as folk music it's a fraud? Yet that well known Max Bygraves tune 'A mouse Lived in a Windmill' was sung year after year by my family when we went on a long car journey, as was 'Lily the Pink'. Isn't this how real folk music is supposed to be; popular song gets picked up by the man in the street or the kids in the car and sung for fun? Wouldn't Cecil Sharpe, had he been sitting at the traffic lights next to us, have been honour bound to note it all down for posterity?

Yet you'd never get away with singing 'A mouse Lived in a Windmill' in a folk club would you? Or 'Lily the Pink'?
What about Kinks songs; they're witty and quirky and deserve to be kept alive. Anyone ever heard one being performed (please say yes!)? Is the most recent real folk music being ignored and replaced by shiney counterfeit goods?

I suspect what goes is set by a democratic groundswell which, at the moment, excludes slow ballads from irish folk music, and the songs of the Kinks and Lily the Pink from English music but DOES allow you to write a new 'in the style' folk music piece. But it rather kills the 'guardians of tradition ' bit. 'Guardians of the bits of tradition most of us like with some new bits added' perhaps?

But you don't really want to be guardians of tradition anyway, do you? You know who they are. They're the ones who do the 23 verse unaccompanied ballad about the maid who fell in the canal and was drowneded and then her dog mourned her for ever more and let that be a lesson to you and the moral is etc..

Yours Sincerely,

Puzzled of Napier....

#3 Steve Mansfield

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Posted 26 January 2012 - 03:09 AM

What about Kinks songs; they're witty and quirky and deserve to be kept alive. Anyone ever heard one being performed (please say yes!)?


Kate Rusby did a good version of the 'Village Green Preservation Society' a few years ago as the theme tune for a BBC TV programme, and that seems to have given that song a bit of life outside of The Kinks.

Other that that I'm just very impressed that we've survived nearly 24 hours on a web forum after asking any question of the 'what actually is the Irish tradition' variety without a 200-post punch-up breaking out. Try that on Mudcat or thesession and it would last about 10 minutes before there was blood all over the carpet and Godwin's Law had been invoked.

What a civil bunch we are on Cnet, and all the better for it!

#4 Geoff Wooff

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Posted 26 January 2012 - 06:49 AM

Perhaps John covered the Bases so well in his opening lecture (post) that that was enough said on the subject ?
As he correctly says "The Tradition" depends so much on one's personal view point, one's generation and influences.

Quite a few years ago I made some subtle changes to a "traditional" Irish tune, the Set Dance "The Downfall of Paris". I changed the swing of the internal rhythm and added a short quote from "La Marseillaise"at the end of the piece. It was quite interesting that a couple of years ago I heard a young piper playing the exact same setting at a concert in Dublin. This young man would be two generations, musically, removed from myself so he must have heard someone else play the piece in that fashion. I turned to the man next to me,who is the Archivist of the Pipers Club,to appologise for changing the traditional way of playing that piece... his reply was something to the effect of "well, traditions change and by the way it is so much more fun played like that"!

#5 Robin Madge

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Posted 26 January 2012 - 07:23 AM

A friend of mine includes "Waterloo sunset" in his folk club retertoire.

Robin Madge

#6 Dirge

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Posted 27 January 2012 - 02:58 PM

Try that on Mudcat or thesession and it would last about 10 minutes before there was blood all over the carpet and Godwin's Law had been invoked.

I missed 'Godwin's law' on the first reading; I hadn't come across it before and thought others might be amused by this concept. I quote the Wikipedia: 'Godwin's law (also known as Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies or Godwin's Law of Nazi Analogies[1][2]) is a humorous observation made by Mike Godwin in 1990[2] that has become an Internet adage. It states: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1."[2][3] In other words, Godwin observed that, given enough time, in any online discussion—regardless of topic or scope—someone inevitably criticizes some point made in the discussion by comparing it to beliefs held by Hitler and the Nazis.'

#7 michael sam wild

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Posted 27 January 2012 - 03:36 PM

Ein Folk ein Fuhrer ;)

#8 Mike Franch

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Posted 27 January 2012 - 04:20 PM

No Hitler references here, but thanks to John for an informative posting and to Dirge and others for their follow-ups.

When fiddler Kevin Burke played in Baltimore several years ago, he talked about how his fiddling was different as an Irishman raised in London. If his parents had stayed in Ireland, he would have learned one style of fiddling. In London, however, fiddlers from all over Ireland gathered for sessions, so young Kevin learned all these styles.

I've come to be uncomfortable with the term "folk." It's vague and confusing, and since most of us qualify as more "gentry" (however humble) than folk. "Traditional" is probably a better term, but it gets murky, too. On an English country dance listserv, one poster defended (although tongue-in-check) a particular way of dancing one dance as genuine Ren-Faire (Renaissance Faire) tradition, going back to 1977.

Mike

#9 asdormire

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Posted 27 January 2012 - 05:41 PM

You know, that folk term has always puzzled me as well. When I was at university and got involved with the local folk music organization, there were far more professors, lawyers and civil servants involved than what I thought of as regular folks; farmers, factory workers, truck drivers and other working people. These professionals had a whole different outlook than did the blue collar folks I had grown up around. On the other hand, they seemed to like a lot of the same old songs that I did, or at least the english language ones, that folks would play on the week end after a hard weeks work. And let's face it, a lot of those had already been pushed out by country and rock and roll. So, here were a lot of people preserving the music of the common folk while few of them or their parents had ever gotten their hands dirty, while the children of the folks I had first heard a lot of this music from are listening to Bob Seeger, Alice Cooper and Ted Nugent after their day at the Fischer Body, Chevy Truck or AC plant. It just seemed backwards somehow.

Alan

Edited by asdormire, 27 January 2012 - 05:42 PM.


#10 yankeeclipper

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Posted 27 January 2012 - 08:10 PM

It's hard to pin a label on something as amorphous as folk/traditional music, because it has grown naturally out of so many cultures, times and places, and because it changes and grows as we play it. I think of it as "organic" music, something naturally ingrained in our hearts.

#11 Ptarmigan

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Posted 28 January 2012 - 06:29 AM

Perhaps the best way to understand this attitude is to realise that "the tradition" is a misuse of the language. "The" always implies that there's only one of what we're talking about: THE Pope, THE United Kingdom, THE North Pole. So "THE Tradition" implies that there is only one tradition. Even if we qualify it as "THE Irish Tradition", it's still misleading, because Ireland is big enough to harbour several traditions, even in the narrow area of music.


Well, this is part of the problem really isn't it, because, when it comes to what I think of as Irish Music, I see the word "The" being used in an all encompassing way.
So, instead of separating out all those little factions you described, instead I include all those into the one large tradition & include much more, for example the many Scottish tunes which have found their way into the standard repertoire of so many players today, as well as the many tunes, especially Hornpipes, from the N . E. of England that are so much a part of it all, plus so many excellent tunes composed more recently, by musicians who are part & parcel of The Tradition, but just happen to live over in North America.

So, given that The Tradition is so all encompassing, I just can't understand why anyone would exclude the Ancient music of Ireland, simply because it had been written down, especially as it was home-grown, composed & played by Irish men & women in Ireland. In other words, why welcome tunes from other countries but turn your back on your own tunes. If we do that, should we then exclude any more modern tune, simply because it has been written down too, in a book or manuscript. If you did that, I suspect you'd end up with a rather small repertoire. Also, by that same token, do you then automatically exclude anyone, who is not able to learn by ear & can only learn tunes from the written note?

The way I see it, any Ancient Music that a traditional player learns today is usually learned by ear anyway, so what's the difference between that tune & any other, which he learns by ear from whatever source. After all, most of the Scottish & Irish repertoire we play today has been written down somewhere, with many tunes forgotten for a while & then learned again by new players who are familiar enough with The Tradition, to be able to play them in an appropriate way.

So I don't think the main reasons for ancient Irish Music being excluded from mainstream sessions are, to do not with snobbery or ageism or the fact that they've been relearned from written music at all but, more to do with the fact that these tunes are just not fast enough for session players today. In other words they're just not Cool enough, so I believe the real reason is to do with speed, so if they were all fast & funky, I think we'd hear them being played at most sessions. This is also why Slow Airs like the Derry Air are frowned upon at Trad sessions. Do a funky, syncopated re-mix job on the Derry Air & see how long it takes the young trendies to play it at every session. ;)

Anyway, when we sit here, on the island of Ireland & play Planxtys, Slow Airs & sing irish Ballads on a Saturday night, as well as the Jigs & Reels & use instruments like English Concertinas & Northumbrian Pipes, as well as Harps, Fiddles, Banjos & Flutes, I'm afraid we shall continue to regard it all as part of The Tradition, regardless of the what the purists might think.

It is worth remembering perhaps that, in the early days, Comhaltas tried to draw very narrow lines around what they felt Irish Music should be & in the process excluded much of the absolutely wonderful music of Donegal & Kerry, just because much of it had it's early origins, the rhythms at least, in Scotland & Europe, what with the Polkas, Flings & Barndances etc. Thank goodness they did eventually wise up, see the folly of their ways & accept that these tunes were of course all part of the rich & varied musical tradition of Ireland, as are the Ancient Tunes of ireland itself.

Cheers,
Dick

#12 hjcjones

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Posted 28 January 2012 - 07:30 AM

But the whole business of 'folk music' baffles me anyway. ... that well known Max Bygraves tune 'A mouse Lived in a Windmill' was sung year after year by my family when we went on a long car journey, as was 'Lily the Pink'. Isn't this how real folk music is supposed to be; popular song gets picked up by the man in the street or the kids in the car and sung for fun? Wouldn't Cecil Sharpe, had he been sitting at the traffic lights next to us, have been honour bound to note it all down for posterity?


Cecil Sharp wouldn't, because he was trying to record the "old" songs before they disappeared and ignored popular songs in the singers' repertoires because they debased the true native music. However I believe it is now considered good practice to record everything in a singer's repertoire, rather than have the collector impose his own prejudices and tastes

What about Kinks songs; they're witty and quirky and deserve to be kept alive. Anyone ever heard one being performed (please say yes!)?


Long before Kate Rusby, the Electropathics recorded the Kinks' "Harry Rag" (including me on anglo, so it's even on-topic). You can listen to a preview here (or even buy it!) - it's track 13:

http://www.cdbaby.co.../Electropathics

As for "what is folk?", that risks opening a whole can of worms which is discussed frequently and at length on Mudcat, with no consensus ever emerging, The problem is that it means (at least) two different things. One is the academic, folkloric definition (which might well include popular songs if they can be shown to have undergone some evolution). The other meaning is simply a convenient label for a genre of music Unfortunately the devotees of the second often get it confused with the first, and get very heated about it. If you think of it simply as a label, in the same as terms like jazz or rock or hip-hop are used, it explains why it can encompass modern compositions in a similar style. However the term can carry a lot of baggage. Best not to open that debate - go to Mudcat and start a fight there if you really want to discuss it!

#13 Mike Franch

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Posted 28 January 2012 - 11:09 AM


Wouldn't Cecil Sharpe, had he been sitting at the traffic lights next to us, have been honour bound to note it all down for posterity?


Cecil Sharp wouldn't, because he was trying to record the "old" songs before they disappeared and ignored popular songs in the singers' repertoires because they debased the true native music. However I believe it is now considered good practice to record everything in a singer's repertoire, rather than have the collector impose his own prejudices and tastes



Sharp is a good example of finding what you're interested in and not seeing other good stuff. On his trip through the Appalachians looking for ballads, he discovered lots of those, as well as dances, which was another (and prior) interest of his. But he ignored fiddle tunes, African American music, and everything outside the British tradition. Glad he got what he got, though!

#14 Kautilya

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Posted 28 January 2012 - 04:49 PM

Ein Folk ein Fuhrer ;)

I wondered what had happened to your people's car jawbones during the Xmas carol pub squeeze!
http://www.bing.com/...9771&FORM=VIRE1

#15 Kautilya

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Posted 28 January 2012 - 05:15 PM


Ein Folk ein Fuhrer ;)

I wondered what had happened to your people's car jawbones during the Xmas carol pub squeeze!
http://www.bing.com/...9771&FORM=VIRE1

As for 'written down (in stone 2000+ years, allegedly, ago) perhaps one should recall the Commandment which says:

"Though shalt not reject nor covet your neighbour's tune" :ph34r:

Edited by Kautilya, 28 January 2012 - 05:16 PM.


#16 Mikefule

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Posted 29 January 2012 - 04:17 PM

Of course, back in "traditional times" they probably didn't worry about this.

#17 Kautilya

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Posted 29 January 2012 - 04:50 PM

Of course, back in "traditional times" they probably didn't worry about this.

Well here's a boost for the McCann. Was trying to find out of Freud and or Moses played the concertina and, via the Freud Museum, it took me through 20thC London musuem hub to( scattered with 'folk') :
http://www.20thcentu...ationRecord.516

and a quick pic summary from the Horniman
http://www.20thcentu...chResults&pp=10

And it seems Elmer Bernstein (music for The Ten Commandments and 200 other films) also seems (can't track a video, but maybe Leo can)to have had a Bandoneon in the theme music in the film The Age of Innocence.
Another performance of this says: "performed by the Kurpfälzische Chamber Orchestra under Frank Zacher with pan flutist Ulrich Herkenhoff ... The original filmscore featured the bandoneón.."

Edited by Kautilya, 29 January 2012 - 05:11 PM.


#18 michael sam wild

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Posted 30 January 2012 - 09:31 AM

As far as tunes from non 'oral' sources, I reckon you can put back a bucket of water taken out of a river and when it's put back it rejoins the flow and the great river of sounds.. Things come round again as fashions change so it's great to have an archive. 3/2 hornpies are a good example and after a while people accept them as 'traditional'




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