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Irish-German Concertina Project Begins


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Perhaps it is interesting to note some opinions of older generation musicians I have known. Kitty Hayes could come up with the odd waltz (which she invariably called 'airs') , polka or other 'unusual' tune. Yet often when we played, at home or at concerts, and time was limited she'd say 'Peter, let's not waste time on jigs or airs, let's go straight to reels' .

 

Another man I knew was piper and fiddler Martin Rochford from Bodyke (and note that Mary Mac would have spent time with him and learned tunes from him). He'd be of the same mind, although he was probably one of the loveliest jig players I have ever met, reels were the business. There's one story he told often about the first visit to East Clare of Johnny Doran. All musicians flocked to hear Doran but as Rochford often told it, the local music teacher, Paddy Poole, was there asking Doran to play all sorts of tunes ('set dances and that sort of stuff he had heard in America') to the frustration of those present. As Rochford often said 'we wanted to hear him play reels'.

 

Hi TomBilly,

 

Interesting about the 'Irish Night'; I remember that a place in Lahinch -back about WWII time - had a 'waltz night' where they did polkas waltzes and such....popular fare for the older folks at that time. For a long time there has been a split between traditional and popular in Irish music, and everywhere else. The concertina in its heyday, before WWI, was definitely on the 'popular' side of the equation, and only joined the 'traditional' side after WWI, with the nationalism in music and dance started by the Gaelic League and continued by organizations like the CCE, who were trying hard to bring back the 'traditional' prefamine dance types.

 

Hi Peter,

 

The trouble with sources who came of age since WWI is that they are of this 'revival' era when ceili dances of reels were being brought back at the (wished-for) expense of the foreign popular stuff (which eventually left the polkas behind for jazz, then rock and roll). Kitty was of this latter reel-rich era, even though she seems ancient to us today (and was really truly special). Even Chris Droney at 90 years of age will tell you that playing dances in his era was all reels, with "never" a request for a schottisch or such at the dances he played for. But he will tell you it was vastly different in the time of his grandfather in the middle and late nineteenth century, when the concertina was all about waltzes and polkas and such. Interesting, isnt it? The only folks from that ballroom dance era with a memory of those nineteenth century dances were the old women, who began playing before 1920 and lived long enough to be recorded. While their coeval menfolks played in pubs and picked up the new reel repertoire quite handily and thoroughly, many of the women played exclusively at home and remembered the dance tunes of their youth. Here I'm speaking of Mary Ann Carolan, and Katey Hourican and a few others. Elizabeth Crotty, who like the men played in pubs (hers with her husband), picked up the reel repertoire. At least that is what I see. Kerry of course is a different kettle of fish, for the ballroom polkas and polka sets lived on there.

 

Another interesting bit. When you hear those pre 1920 menfolk play, the settings of their reels are all surprisingly modern and similar (Patrick Flanagan, Tom Barry, etc.). But some of those ladies had versions of ballroom dance tunes that were very peculiar local versions. To me, a lot of traditional tunes came to the 'tradition' in the 20th century out of O'Neill's books or Coleman and Morrison records....it was a revival from the 1920s on, after all. Hence the familiarity of the versions. The women were playing old global tunes (Shoe the Donkey is a global tune) but from an oral transmission. Maybe you would disagree, as you hear a lot more than I do. I'm just reflecting on the recordings of the pre-1920 oldtimers.

 

Ah, music.

Edited by Dan Worrall
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You're probably about right. Not sure about 'revival', more a case of changing fashions and tastes I suppose.

 

You mentioned the 'pre-famine repertoire' of pipers and fiddlers earlier. I was a bit uneasy with that, again I'll mention Martin Rochford, who was considered a storehouse of 'old music'. At some point I realised Martin's repertoire actually held a very large portion of recent compositions, Larry Redican, Ed Reavey, Sean Ryan, Paddy O Brien and many other 20th century composers featured prominently in his fiddle repertoire. At the end of the day he just liked a good, unusual, tune. He'd chase them down until he had them.

 

As for pipers, I have little doubt they also followed the musical fashions of the day (and still do). An Piobaire (the Na Piobairi Uilleann newsletter) recently published a notation of a waltz by Leo Rowsome, which I thought fitted in nicely with your expose on repertoire set out during your talk at the cruinniú.

Review, programmes and descriptions of early 20th century performances point in the same direction. Which ofcourse doesn't mean there wasn't also a pocket of pre-famine music surviving along the popular repertoire of the day.

 

 

You have to be careful with the 78 rpm era records though, I have seen interviews with relatives of both Michael Coleman and John McKenna, who both recorded a good deal of polka and related repertoire, saying they were given these pieces by the record company, learned them for the recording but 'didn't think much of them'. Which indicates that they were stepping outside their regular repertoire.

Edited by Peter Laban
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For a long time there has been a split between traditional and popular in Irish music, and everywhere else. The concertina in its heyday, before WWI, was definitely on the 'popular' side of the equation, and only joined the 'traditional' side after WWI.

 

 

Yes, that's what I'm reflecting on - the difference between what is regarded as traditional and popular music. Except that this popular music is not what you'd call 'popular' music now - commercial rock & pop etc. It's an older popular music but one that pulls in many strands of previous musical fashions that moved across Ireland. I write above of the south east of the country but as far I've observed in my travels, it's common enough across most of rural Ireland, a type of rural entertainment that just survives, like a stubborn 'weed' - not regarded as fashionable or culturally sexy or anything like that.

 

It's a bit like the language, there are parts of Ireland where there are Gaeltachts and where Irish is spoken fairly freely as part of normal day to day life - outside of these areas, you'd have to seek out other Irish speakers if you want to practice your Gaeilge as everyone speaks English or Polish! Likewise with 'real Irish traditional music', outside of certain regions, you'd have to seek out other musicians - it's a minority interest. But the other type of 'popular Irish music' with it's varied repertoire is more widely understood - in many ways it is I think the real local cultural music of rural Ireland. How long it will survive, I don't know - maybe the current generation of iPod ers will sweep it all away, even in rural areas.

 

Anyway, it'll be interesting to see what comes out of your project and I look forward to hearing the music recorded on it in due course.

Edited by tombilly
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You mentioned the 'pre-famine repertoire' of pipers and fiddlers earlier. I was a bit uneasy with that, again I'll mention Martin Rochford, who was considered a storehouse of 'old music'. At some point I realised Martin's repertoire actually held a very large portion of recent compositions, Larry Redican, Ed Reavey, Sean Ryan, Paddy O Brien and many other 20th century composers featured prominently in his fiddle repertoire. At the end of the day he just liked a good, unusual, tune. He'd chase them down until he had them.

 

 

Good point. I meant 'prefamine' in the sense of the dance rhythms, not individual tunes. Anyone who played reels would compose new ones.

 

There was a natural progression of new dances in popular music in Ireland as in Europe in the 18th and 19th century. Country dances (aka RInnce Fada) yielded to Cotillons yielded to Reels yielded to Quadrilles (sets) on the faster side of dances....that was a natural progression of changing fashions. By the beginning of the 20th C, when ONeill published, his fiddler and piper sources knew reels, and they knew sets (most containing polka hornpipe and jig tunes), but generally not cotillons and country dances -- those had already died out. ONeill and the cultural revivalists of the Gaelic League threw out the quadrilles polkas and such and picked reels as being danced in the good old days before the famine, thereby breaking the progression....this was ensconced in rules set by the Irish dancing commission for their events, which were heavily influenced by the formation of the Irish State and a natural wish to bring back the old Gaelic culture (there was last a majority of Irish speakers before the famine). As a result Ireland had 'traditional' music and 'popular' music in two streams. Peculiar in that the reel had only arrived in Ireland 50 years before the quadrille! In England, those old reels (as a dance form) were allowed to die a natural death, so they are rare as a dance in English 'traditional' music. In Australia the cultural 'revival' began at the midtwentieth century, 50 years later, so it was natural that quadrilles polkas and schottisches were picked as the 'traditional' real old stuff. No judgments, just fascination!

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