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IRTRAD-L  August 2007

IRTRAD-L August 2007

Subject:

Singing Lessons

From:

Jim Carroll <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Irish Traditional Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 17 Aug 2007 19:17:57 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (80 lines)

Brķan, Virginia and All,

I apologise for the delay in my responding to the discussion on singing
classes; E-mail problems have meant my only receiving a fraction of those
sent, so if I have misunderstood or missed anything, please excuse

While it is true that Joe Heaney and MacColl came from very different
backgrounds, in their way, they were both very much creatures of the folk
song revival. In the early days of the revival, along with Seamus Ennis and
Dominic Behan, Joe was a regular at MacColl's Ballads and Blues/Singers
Club. He was probably at much at home singing at a folk club or on a concert
platform as he was in his native Carna. It is perhaps worth remembering that
he was receiving an enthusiastic reception in the British folk clubs around
the same time as he was being booed off the stage at a Dubliner's concert in
Dublin. An extremely perceptive depiction of a traditional singer's
treatment at the hands of the revival was to be found in Pat Carroll's
excellent play, 'Scattering Day' which was loosely based on Joe.

Far from being a short-lived phenomenon, the present interest in Irish
traditional singing can, in my opinion, be traced directly back to the early
days of the revival and to Lomax's, Ennis's, O'Boyle's, (and even Kennedy' - god help us all) et al, field work on behalf of the BBC. It was due to this project that outsiders such as myself, mainly from urban backgrounds, were introduced to this magnificent repertoire of songs and began to listen to and perform them. That is, as far as I'm concerned, why we are here still singing and still discussing them. The revival, like the poor, is still very much with us, to the extent that when traditional song is mentioned on this forum and others, names of revivalists such as Christy Moore and Sean Keane are more likely to be cited than say, Robert Cinnamond or Mary Anne Carolan.

Now that we have gone through the seemingly obligatory ritual of dealing
with MacColl's change of name and his Scottishness, perhaps it is worth
looking at some of his ideas on singing.

From the outset his aim was not the 'Holy Grail' of 'authenticity'. He was
of the opinion, a view I still subscribe to, that the Western singing
traditions were, at best, moribund, and in most cases dead and that what we
were hearing from most of our source singers was the dying echoes of a
once-magnificent art form. Rather than taking a guess at what the song
tradition sounded like at its height (there is virtually no documentary
evidence on this subject), MacColl chose to deal with its relevance to
(then) mid twentieth-century life. Virtually all his work was devoted to
this end.

His singing workshops were aimed at the whole of the repertoire,
concentrating on developing the voice so a singer could sing (and relate to)
narrative ballads and songs, humourous songs, lyrical pieces, rituals,
shanties....., all the rich, varied subjects which went into the make up of
the song traditions of these islands.

In order to reduce the risk of passing on mannerisms, idiosyncrasies,
misunderstandings, flaws, prejudices, and all the pitfalls connected with
'teaching', he chose to work with a self-help workshop, the aim of which was
to achieve results through group work and thought, rather than digesting a
single individual's 'pre-formed' tastes and opinions. For me, I believe his
method worked and those of us who worked with him came away with not only
improved abilities, but also a far greater understanding and love of
traditional song than we went in with. For that, I will be eternally
grateful.

It seems to me that if the singing of traditional songs is to survive, much
more thought must be given to what we are singing and what we are listening
to. Here in Ireland, it appears that singing has retreated into a tiny
corner of the repertoire, skilfully executed, melodically beautiful, but so,
so samey and so, so limited.

I am often left with the impression that it is sometimes overlooked that for
many centuries the Irish people have expressed themselves artistically in
both English and Irish, on a whole gamut of topics, ranging across such
subjects as love, hate, politics, war, heroism, cowardice, despotism,
compassion, emigration, work, land, injustice, birth, marriage, death,
dishonesty, outrage, contentment, pleasure, victory, defeat, wealth,
poverty... all the things that have gone into the making of the song
traditions. One would be quite often left with the idea that the repertoire
was made up entirely of lyrically gentle (to the point of blandness) pieces
rather than the rich vibrancy that is to be found there.

It also seems to me that a large section of the English language repertoire
is being sacrificed on the highly dubious 'Sean Nos' altar. Poetic
narrative dates back at least to the time of Homer, making any claim of
seniority for the Irish language 'old style' somewhat dubious. Ireland has a
very rich narrative repertoire which deserves attention; it seems to me to
be very much a case of 'use it or lose it'.

Best,

Jim Carroll

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