Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What is "Traditional" Irish Music: 18th Century Postcolonial Secular Dance Music and Song, Of Course!

When people talk about "traditional" irish music, they are referring to the music that was popularized by the Dubliners in the 1970s, and the Chieftans, and later the music of bands like De Dannan, Solas and later Lunasa.

But that is hardly Irish music. In fact, most of it is a mixture of the secular dance music of the UK of the 19th and 20th centuries.

If you want "traditional" Irish music, you have to go back to 1724, to the first publication of said music. Still and all, it is post-colonial music and nothing of the original Irish music (pre-colonialism) remains.

So we don't really know what traditional Irish music is. We don't know what it sounded like.

We do know what the instrumentation was, taken from paintings of the middle ages: In A History of Irish Music (1905), W. H. Grattan Flood wrote that there were at least ten instruments in general use by the Gaelic Irish. These were the cruit(a small harp) and clairseach (a bigger harp with typically 30 strings), the timpan (a small string instrument played with a bow or plectrum), the feadan (a fife), the buinne (an oboe or flute), the guthbuinne (a bassoon-type horn), the bennbuabhal and corn(hornpipes), the cuislenna (bagpipes - see Great Irish Warpipes), the stoc and sturgan (clarions or trumpets), and the cnamha (castanets).

Probably the best book we have that discusses this topic of identity, nationalism and culture related to Ireland, was published in 1960 by Leith Davis and is called Music: Postcolonialism and Gender, or The Construction of Irish National Identity 1724-1874

In it, the author describes a nation without identity, struggling to form its own under the stern discipline of  English church and crown.  What follows is clearly not Irish, but becomes so as the people make it their own.

Irish Dance Traditions

Dancing in the Middle Ages (England) Irish dance dates back to its origins in Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries and became closely ...