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Is Irish Concertina Music Boring?


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#1 hjcjones

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 07:27 AM

On another thread, m3838 expressed the view that Irish concertina is boring. As it happens, I agree.

Although I now prefer to play mostly English music, I used to play a lot of Irish. However, I never came across anglo players at the Irish sessions I played in (admittedly, these were in England rather than in Ireland). Any concertina players at these sessions played EC. I can remember meeting an anglo player only once, at a session during Whitby Festival.

When Anglo International came out I was curious to listen to some Irish-style concertina playing, but most of it left me fairly underwhelmed. The music didn't seem to flow in the way it would on fiddle or flute or even button accordion. In a few places I felt the players were struggling to maintain the rhythm while battling with bellows reversals. These are top players on top-quality instruments. I am not questioning their virtuosity or musicianship, but I was left with the feeling that the anglo concertina is not ideally suited to Irish music.

The other problem for me is that I don't really like the sound of a single free reed. Play a few together and they sing, but one on its own sounds thin and unsupported. I prefer concertinas (regardless of system) to be played harmonically. The Irish style of playing anglo, while undoubtedly technically impressive, seems to me not to make full use of the instrument's potential.

(Ducks back below the parapet...)

#2 Dirge

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 07:34 AM

OK I'm with you behind the barricade. Why the devil do you play an instrument that can play chords and restrict yourself to melody only? Why give away one of the best features of the instrument. Bit of a push over playing just melody, I can see, but what a waste!

#3 Mark Evans

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 07:47 AM

Wow! Many questions asked and what lovely potential for a good dust-up.

As Ira Gershwin said: "you say tomayto and I say tomahto...."

I love Irish music as long as it's not Paddywhackery, but then I play EC which is also very adept and some very nice chording. Irish musicians have through the centuries adapted instruments that came into their hands. That they adapted the German concertina to their melody needs is a true monument to their bulldog like resolve (this is no "dis" for I am a bulldog owner and consider them tops).

The modern cross-row technique is astounding in its variety of applications. Not for every mind for sure (I being one of those minds) but beautiful and alive in the hands of a master and so unique in each pair of hands.

Not fond of single read sound, well certainly the wet tuning of most button boxes makes it a little less stressful for one's string twangin' buddies at session ;) .

Edited by Mark Evans, 19 April 2008 - 07:52 AM.


#4 Dirge

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 07:52 AM

Sat on the fence there nicely...

I'm off to bed now; I look forward to tomorrow!.

#5 yankeeclipper

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 07:59 AM

Regardless of instrument, I find most Irish 'sessions' feature boring, mindless, hyper repetitive reel-to-reel wallpaper music. Although I'm Irish, I much prefer Scottish sessions, which usually have a nice mix of airs and dances and a broader range of tempos. :P

#6 gzeg

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 08:21 AM

Regardless of instrument, I find most Irish 'sessions' feature boring, mindless, hyper repetitive reel-to-reel wallpaper music. Although I'm Irish, I much prefer Scottish sessions, which usually have a nice mix of airs and dances and a broader range of tempos. :P


I agree with you about the tempo and lack of variety in rhythms at some sessions. I always hope ours are a little more adventurous (crosses fingers).

But to answer the original question - no, I don't think Irish music on the concertina is boring. It probably helps if you're into Irish music to start with though. What I find odd is that some of the big name players who play highly ornamented, full speed Irish dance music are arguably less interesting - to my ear - than the old-fashioned, "rural" players like Mary McNamara and Miriam Collins and their ilk. The video of Mary McNamara and Martin Hayes posted recently in the video area is a good example of what I'm getting at.

#7 hjcjones

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 08:23 AM

Regardless of instrument, I find most Irish 'sessions' feature boring, mindless, hyper repetitive reel-to-reel wallpaper music.


Unfortunately, this is too often true, although not always. However my criticism was not that Irish music is boring, rather that the anglo is not especially suited to playing it. Like a number of other instruments it has been adopted and adapted for Irish music, but even the best players seem to be fighting with the instrument. It is to their credit that they manage to get so much out of it, but I'm usually left thinking it would sound so much better on fiddle, flute, whistle or button accordion.

#8 meltzer

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 08:34 AM

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:lol:

#9 Chris Timson

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 09:09 AM

Regardless of instrument, I find most Irish 'sessions' feature boring, mindless, hyper repetitive reel-to-reel wallpaper music. Although I'm Irish, I much prefer Scottish sessions, which usually have a nice mix of airs and dances and a broader range of tempos.

You forgot to add "too bloody fast" to that list, otherwise I agree with you. And it's not that it sounds ropey on the anglo - it sounds ropey on everything. The sad thing is it can sound good - listen to Mary MacNamara - but it so rarely does. Give me non-green music any day.

Chris

#10 Greg Jowaisas

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 09:17 AM

When I stumbled upon a couple of anglos at an auction 4&1/2 years ago I felt an opportunity to explore Irish music.
I was always struck with the melodic beauty of Irish traditional music.

It has been an arduous journey working on anglo technique and learning Irish nuances.

I do it because the music inspires.

Fiddle might be a more expressive choice for doing the music, but there is something about that concertina sound.... Singular, peircing, strident. Perhaps coming from an old-time banjo background I am predisposed.

At some point I might circle round and do some english and morris anglo. Yes, the English anglo syle makes great use of the instrument's diatonic potential. Great accompaniment and rhythm in some of that playing. I also get the feeling that sessions in England with english tunes can be more social and less technical than the Trad Irish sessions I attend. But I have never found the melodic content as alluring as the Irish melodies.

Good rhythm is always a precious commodity in music. Many people play too fast.

One person's opinions.

Greg

#11 yankeeclipper

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 09:29 AM

You forgot to add "too bloody fast" to that list, otherwise I agree with you.


The word "fast" should never be attached to "food," "love" or "music" - remember, speed kills. <_<

#12 Jim Besser

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 09:50 AM

(Ducks back below the parapet...)


A topic of mass destruction, to be sure.

I'm always reluctant to play the "I don't like X music" game because too often I've agreed, then at a later date found myself playing and enjoying the music under discussion.

I play some Irish music in non-Irish settings -- for contra dances, for rapper dancers -- and mostly like the tunes I play.

That said, I personally find Irish music played at the sessions I've attended boring, repetitive and unmusical. A recent visit to a local high-level session as an observer confirmed that; after a half hour, the tunes just became a blur. Great players, high energy, but monotonous.

At a non-Irish session I frequently attend, the leader -- an outstanding musician -- likes to take Irish tunes that people bring to the group and slow them down by half. Then we fool with rhythms, harmonies, etc. Many of the tunes that sound like a speed-crazed blur at Irish sessions sound wonderful and more richly textured when played at a more leisurely pace, with more attention paid to backing up the melody.

I also dislike the excessive ornamentation of so many Irish concertina players. It sometimes seems like a contest to cram in as many ornaments as possible into a single measure. To my non-Irish ear, ornamentation that sounds nice on pipes sounds strained on concertina.

I know this is blasphemy, but I sometimes dislike Noel Hill's playing because of that. He is a master of the instrument but some of this tunes, to my ear, sound awful. Example: Fanny Power on Anglo International. A beautiful tune, but in his hands ornamented to the point of absurdity.

Is that style "authentic?" Maybe, I don't know enough to say. Skillful? Absolutely. Does it sound good? To me, no.

Finally, to me, the Anglo is in its element when played harmonically. It's a totally distinctive sound. In Irish music, concertinas often just seem like wannabee pipes.

Then again, I used to dislike Scottish music, but am finding it more and more interesting, so maybe next year I'll be eating my words and attending Irish sessions.

Edited by Jim Besser, 19 April 2008 - 09:56 AM.


#13 PeterT

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 10:12 AM

On another thread, m3838 expressed the view that Irish concertina is boring. As it happens, I agree.

Brave man, Howard!

I've never played Irish style Anglo, although I did spend a very good week at the Willie Clancy school of 1991. I went, mainly, to hear traditional players of the concertina, playing Irish music, in their "traditional" setting. Without naming names, there are certain ITM players whose playing does not inspire me (those who play almost exclusively single line melody). However, where chording and other effects are nicely used, then I marvel at the ability of these players. My postings elsewhere will indicate those who I place in this second group.

However, even listening to these virtuoso players does not encourage me to play in the Irish style.

Peter.

#14 hjcjones

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 10:30 AM

I'm always reluctant to play the "I don't like X music" game because too often I've agreed, then at a later date found myself playing and enjoying the music under discussion.


I do like Irish music, I just don't much like it played on concertina. When I play Irish music (which I did only last night, along with English, American and French tunes, among others) I play it on other instruments.

#15 hjcjones

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 10:40 AM

it's not that it sounds ropey on the anglo - it sounds ropey on everything.


Chris, I think you're being a little unfair. Played well, it can be fantastic, unfortunately you won't often hear it played well at sessions. Sessions are cursed by the "too bloody fast" syndrome, which just kills so much of what the music has to offer. Listen to Martin Hayes' slow fiddle playing for an example of what can be extracted from the tunes by taking them at a slower pace - but we English Country Music aficionados have always known that :)

It's just that, even when its played well, there's something about the Irish style of anglo which just doesn't do much for me.

#16 chiton1

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 10:44 AM

Well what can I say: I love Irish music (but I love many other kinds of music too). I love fast music, and I love slow music. I love Irish music played on AC (although I play EC). I love simple and intricate music (when well played). :wub:
I prefer Micheal O Raghallaigh dance music (do not like the way he plays airs though) to anything else I have heard (and I've heard loads). Listen to him he uses about everything there is to be used on the AC.

I do not like writing Michaeil O Raghallaigh's name (Mike O'Reilly would be a lot easier).
I do not like reels/jigs only sessions (but this has nothing to do if Irish music is boring).
I do not like Irish (or any other music) played too fast when its inappropriate and badly done.
I find some of the older style concertina players boring to listen to (not much happening there...). I fell asleep listening to Terry Bingham.
I do not like boring English music played on concertina (even if chords are played). I sometimes has a large ''hoempapa'' quality to me, but there is great English music too.
I do not like Piano Accordeons (certainly not for Irish music).
There is loads of thing I do not like, but making the list any longer would be quite boring.

In fact this quite a non issue, as everybody has its own preferences/ideas/opinions (as I said before). The fact that many people play Irish music fast, ornementated etc. means that there are many people who like that. It is certainnly not boring to them, unless they are all boring people with a fond craving for boring music.... <_<
You could also ask the following questions:
Is traditional English music boring?
Is traditional American music boring?
Is jazz music boring?
Is baroque music boring?
Is concertina music boring? :D

#17 Stephen Chambers

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 11:04 AM

... I did spend a very good week at the Willie Clancy school of 1991. I went, mainly, to hear traditional players of the concertina, playing Irish music, in their "traditional" setting.

Peter,

You remind me that 15 years ago there were a lot more of the great older generation of Irish musicians still with us, and not just concertina players. I'm afraid they're getting thin on the ground these days... :(

#18 hjcjones

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 11:17 AM

My question is not "is Irish music boring?", but "is Irish concertina music boring?"

I really don't want to get into a discussion of personal likes and dislikes of Irish music, or any other genres. My point is that the anglo concertina doesn't seem to be very well suited to playing Irish music. Its devotees have done their best to get over the limitations of the instrument, and from a technical point of view they have gone a long way towards it. Nevertheless it seems to me that even in the hands of the top players, they can often be heard to struggle against those limitations.

Sometimes the limitations imposed by an instrument can be liberating. The limitations of a melodeon, for example, can force a tune into new and unexpected directions and impose different harmonies, and these can have exciting results. In my (admittedly limited) exposure to Irish anglo, I haven't notice that. What I have noticed is that things like bellows reversals, for example, can impede the flow of the music, even if only momentarily. Irish music needs to trip along (which is not the same as playing fast!) and often the instrument prevents that.

It's perhaps unfair to criticise Irish concertina players for not using chords much, since harmony doesn't play a big part in Irish music. But it does seem a waste of the instrument's potential.

I like Irish music. I like playing it, and I like listening to it. But when I put on Anglo International I find myself skipping past the Irish tracks to something more interesting




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