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Robert Borcherding writes:
 
> I started out my entry into the folk process playing Bluegrass, and it is
> bothersome to have it dominate fiddler's festivals, etc.  It CAN be quite good,
> but it also can be quite boring.  Why?  Because while I found it in some
> instances to be played with musical respect, usually it is an opportunity to
> "show-off."  The competition, whether obvious or not, between players seems
> very intense.  And as an Old-timey player (for dances) it is a very lamentable
> thing, because it has lowered the number of dances.
>
> I play music because I love it - it's hard to avoid constantly comparing
> oneself to others, but to engender a musical genre where competition is the
> primary form is silly.  FASTER, LOUDER, COMPLEXER...
>
> Regarding Irish music, although there is a bit of competition (who knows the
> most tunes, plays the best, knows of the most styles, etc.) it is primarily a
> dancing music.  I read somewhere, perhaps the Northern Fiddler?, that 80% of
> the musicians in Ireland quite playing when the dances became unpopular.  It is
> not the musicians that keep dancing alive, it is dancing that keeps the music
> alive.  Subtract the stringent requirements levied by dance and you find that
> the music will alter, as Bluegrass quickly did when it no longer was attached
> to the needs of dance.  Having good musicians available can sustain dance
> longer than it would have otherwise, but the dance is needed to retain the
> music!
 
 
There's a lot that can be said here, but I'll try to be brief!  First,
although Dan Mozell already said it, let me state again that bluegrass
isn't and never was dance music--although one often hears a
bluegrass-style banjo accompanying the fiddler in, say, a clogging or
buck dancing competition.
 
But that's picking nits over your point here, which is that music as
competition is not necessarily the most healthy thing for the music.  I
agree, but this is not a problem that's unique to American old-time
music/bluegrass or whatever.  Although I've never been to Ireland and
have no experience with Irish music competitions, I gather that for many
young players competitions are a more important/frequent outlet than
dances.  The one time I had a chance to talk with Seamus Egan he
mentioned that when he was younger (not that he's very old now!) that
playing in competitions was the main deal--not dances.
 
Maybe it's the case that for every great, musical, player like Seamus,
there are 50 automatons who ace the contests but who are never
heard of much beyond that world--that's sort of the case in America with
many contest winners.  But in any case, the contest tradition in Ireland
is already pretty well-established, is it not?
 
And again, arguing for the importance of professionals, those of us who
have no first-hand contact with Ireland, Irish culture, etc., would have
never had our ears, hearts, and heads opened to some marvelous music
without the Chieftains, Da Dannan (sp?), Bothy Band, Old Men of the Lough
(well, they're hardly "boys" anymore, are they?), etc.  I'd prefer to
have a nice, smoky pub down the street to visit every Friday night for a
roaring session and a few pints than to pay $15+bucks plus the
TicketMaster ripoff, excuse me, "service" charge, to go hear Paddy
Moloney & company in a stiff, formal concert hall once a year if I'm
lucky, but there it is.
 
Enough.
 
Paul Wells
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