Patrick O'Reilly wrote:
>This is going to seem bizzarre I know. Not only do I dislike the term
>"Celtic" but I am weary of the term "Irish Traditional music" -
>although it does identify the music we discuss here. Here
>are my reasons - see what you think:
>1. The term "Irish traditional music" seems to me to be, if not a
>recent invention, then only of recent common acceptance. It is a
>horribly formal term, an urban term which has itself only come into common
>use mostly through the need to classify recorded instrumental music.
It could be that back when nearly all Irish music was more or less
traditional, or at least not blatantly anti-traditional, it would not have
been necessary to use the term. Though I'll bet that even back a couple of
centuries ago people were drawing distinctions between the musics, as well
as making value judgments. ("Yes, he's a fine fiddler, but after all
<snort> he plays only peasant music.") As to the present, do you really
want just to be able to talk about "Irish music?" Does it make sense to
place under the same umbrella your Irish rap, your rock, your Pogues and U2,
with the likes of <gasp> Tommy Peoples?
>2. It is a musicologists term used to sub categorise a musical
>culture and which is now widely misused to isolate this instrumental
>music from the whole musical culture and treat it with a
In my life, and I suspect that of a few others on the list, the
Traditional Music has a "disproportional significance" that is proportional
to my immense enjoyment of it, as well as my extreme disinterest in many of
the other facets of the "whole musical culture." Nor am I a musicologist.
To put it cleanly, the phrase "Irish traditional music" does just about
exactly what I intend it to do, whenever I use it in conversations,
correspondence, etc. It draws perfectly valid distinctions, it limits, and
it excludes a whole load of cultural phenomena that are of no interest to me.
>3. It is a term which makes it easy for people of outside cultures
>to be highly culturally selective about Irish music. I don't object
>to this, it just disappoints me that other areas of the music and
>culture are spurned and subverted by this careful categorisation.
I don't know about others, but I intend to spurn. Subversion, on
the other hand, is an odd concept here. If anyone could be called guilty of
subversion, it would be the exponents of some of these forms you fear are
being spurned. Some might say that Riverdance is a "subversive" phenomenon.
As to the subverting tendency of this "careful categorisation," I would
think that the latter would rather have the effect, by drawing distinctions,
of preserving intact each facet of the culture-at-large. And I can't
imagine a traditional musician being at all interested in trying to corrupt
or bring down other musics. Aren't most of them/us content to immerse
ourselves to the degree possible in that great river, and ignore the surface
bubbles, the eddies, and the backwaters.
>4. As a term of the culturally selective, "Irish traditional music"
>is very often used as a euphormism for jigs and reels and little else.
Really? Sean nos singing not included? Hornpipes, waltzes, polkas,
schottisches, highlands, flings, barn dances, the planxties of O'Carolan,
>Recently, and linked to the Manchester Archive project, I've been
>talking to older muscians and listeners. Thinking back to my own past, my
>my grandparents and on the conversations with these older folk,
>I find the term "Irish traditional music" missing. Instead they use a
>variety of labels - Irish music, the music, dance music, ceili music.
>The music they talk of knows its place - it is subservient to other
>activities - dancing, singing, partying, mourning - and doesn't have
>an overblown sense of its own importance.
In a still more-or-less traditional environment, aspects of the
culture are in the air and water, and always with you, you breathe them.
You probably don't even have to talk about them, they just happen. As the
environment becomes more threatened by outside influences, modernism &
progressivism, etc., drawing distinctions may be one good way of protecting
what you don't want to lose. It's true what you say, though, sometimes all
of this does seem surreal, a little artificial. Especially when the
ethnomusicologists get in on it all, with their jargon and their pince-nez.
>Singing, ballads, Irish music
>hall songs, Irish parlour songs, song melodies, together with dance
>music all combined and were called Irish music. Even the older
>traditional instrumental players will usually knock out a waltz or a
>song melody together with the hornpipes, jigs and reels. All these
>are often the elements of the music of their youth, when few people cared
>integrity of tradition.
>In the meantime this modern "Irish traditional music" is in danger of
>constantly being subdivided into categories - only some of which will be
>acceptible to the selective eg "Irish traditional reels". We'll join
>the equivalent of this discussion list because we play reels and
>will be berated if we ever mention jigs - and all the time the music
>will be become less relevant to the cultural life of Ireland.
>Is there a better, more inclusive term we could use?
Now I'm really confused. I've never heard anyone here saying "reels
only!." I know that reels are the most commonly played tunes at sessions,
and are probably the most recorded as well (unless you're in Sliabh Luachra).
Perhaps you'd better clarify what you meant up at the top by "the
whole musical culture."
Jeffrey S. Erickson phone: 704-892-2590
Slide Collection, Visual Arts Ctr. fax: 704-892-2691
Davidson College e-mail: [log in to unmask]
315 N. Main St.
P. O. Box 1720
Davidson, North Carolina 28036 USA
"The fact that I've made a slide of it doesn't mean that I think it's art."