I don't remember the original, but what a refreshingly balanced view of
things is expressed here.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Jim Carroll" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Friday, August 17, 2007 7:17 PM
Subject: Singing Lessons
> 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'.
> Jim Carroll
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