Folk and Traditional Music

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Folk and Traditional Music:Exploring the relationship between the Chieftains and the Irish diaspora.

By Sanjana SureshFSLE-364718ULE.011.018

The original traditional Irish folk band, as far as anyone who came of age in the 1970s or '80s is concerned, is The Chieftains Their sound, built largely on Paddy Moloneys pipes, is otherworldly, almost entirely instrumental, and seems as though it comes out of another age of man's history. That they became an international phenomenon in the '70s and '80s is testament to their virtuoso musicianship.

The Chieftains were first formed in Dublin during 1963, as a semi-professional outfit, from the ranks of the top folk musicians in Ireland. Until that time, and for some years after, the world's (and even Ireland's) perception of Irish folk songs was rooted in either the good-natured boisterousness and topicality of acts such as the Irish Rovers or Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers , or the sentimentality of Mary O'Hara . That began to change in Ireland with the advent of Ceoltoiri Chualann, a group formed from the ranks of the best traditional Irish musicians by a composer named Sean Riada who hailed from County Cork. Ceoltoiri Chualann which specialized in instrumental music, stripped away the pop music inflections from Irish music -- the dances were played with a natural lilt and abandon that came from deep within the music's origins, and the airs, stripped of their worst modern inflections, came across with even greater poignancy than anyone had recognized them for in decades, and perhaps centuries. Tempos were changed in midsong, from reel to polka to jig to slow air and back again.

Paddy Moloney came out of Ceoltoiri Chualann to found the Chieftains in 1963, seeking to carry this work several steps further. The earliest recorded incarnation of the group consisted of Moloney (pipes), Sean Potts (tin whistle), Martin Fay (fiddle), David Fallon (bodhran), Mick Tubridy (flute, concertina), and Riada. They were a success virtually from the beginning, their music weaving a spell around audiences in Ireland and later in England, where they quickly became popular as both a performing and recording act -- the only thing holding them back was the decision by the members to remain a semi-professional, part-time ensemble until the early '70s. Their first four albums, spread over a period from 1965 through 1973, were originally available only from the Claddagh label in Ireland, but were later picked up by Island Records for release in England and America in 1976, after the group had achieved international renown.

The '70s saw the group break big in America. A new, younger generation of Irish-American listeners, who enjoyed folk music and whose cultural and musical tastes weren't limited to songs about "the troubles" (i.e., England), had already begun discovering the Chieftains music in the early to mid-'70s. By that time, the group had elected to go professional, and to expand its lineup. Riada and Fallon left after the first album, and Peadar Mercier (bodhran) and Sean Keane (fiddle) joined with the second. Following the recording of Chieftains 4, they'd added Ronnie McShane (percussion) and Derek Bell (harp, oboe, timpani), a classically trained musician. Bell s harp lent the group's sound a final degree of elegance and piquancy.

The group's big breakthrough in America, however, occurred when they provided the music for Stanley Kubrick's 1975 movie, Barry Lyndon. The film itself wasn't a hit, but the Chieftains were, especially one track called "Women of Ireland," which began getting played heavily on FM progressive rock stations, and even managed to get onto the playlists of some Top 40 stations. Suddenly, the Chieftains were hot in America, and a U.S. tour and a series of performances on television -- especially the network morning news/feature shows -- brought them into demand.

By that time, Island Records had contracted to release both of the group's latest album, Chieftains 5 and their four previous records in England and America. With their newfound audience, Chieftains records started coming out every year instead of every two or three years -- Bonaparte's Retreat in 1976, Chieftains Live in 1977, and Chieftains 7, 8, and 9 in 1978, 1979, and 1980, respectively, although for their U.S. releases, from 1977 through 1980, they abandoned Island Records in favor of Columbia. Ever since the dawn of the CD era, their music has been available on compact disc from Shanachie, while their more recent work has shown up on the BMG label, on both compact disc and home video. The latter have included a Christmas concert and a mixed-ensemble performance interweaving the group with orchestras, American folk and country musicians, and rock musicians, and an album (Irish Heartbeat, 1988) recorded with Irish-born folk-blues shouter Van Morrison. Additionally, the group has been engaged steadily for film work.

Since the late '70s, the group's recordings have settled into an effective but not fully inspired level of creativity. The band has kept its sound fresh with the periodic addition of new members and a search for sounds beyond the boundaries of Ireland -- as distant as Spain -- as sources for its music.

While the band continued to tour, they didn't record again for a number of years. Moloney had long been obsessed with the historical account of the San Patricios, a band of immigrant Irish soldiers who deserted the American Army during the Mexican-American War in 1846 to fight for the other side, against the Manifest Destiny ideology of American president James Polk. the Chieftains and co-producer Ry Cooder decided to try to tell it musically and enlisted a host of Mexican musicians in the process. The album San Patricio created a Mexican-Irish melodic mlange; it was issued to widespread acclaim in 2010.

In 2012, the Chieftains celebrated their 50th anniversary. Every living member of the band participated in a reunion of original members. In addition, they enlisted a number of vocal talents from a wide range of genres, including the Decemberists Lisa Hannigan , Paolo Nutini, the Civil Wars, Bon Iver, Imelda May, and the Low Anthem, to name a few. Voice of Ages was issued in February of 2012 on Concord.

In A History of Irish Music (1905), W. H. Grattan Flood wrote that, in Gaelic Ireland, there were at least ten instruments in general use. 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) the stoc and sturgan (clarions or trumpets), and the cnamha (castanets).There is also evidence of the fiddle being used in the 8th century.

There are several collections of Irish folk music from the 18th century, but it was not until the 19th century that ballad printers became established in Dublin. Important collectors include Colm Lochlainn, George Petrie, Edward Bunting, Francis O'Neill, Canon James Goodman and many others. Though solo performance is preferred in the folk tradition, bands or at least small ensembles have probably been a part of Irish music since at least the mid-19th century, although this is a point of much contention among ethnomusicologists.Irish traditional music has survived more strongly against the forces of cinema, radio and the mass media than the indigenous folk music of most European countries. This was possibly due to the fact that the country was not a geographical battleground in either of the two world wars.

Another potential factor was that the economy was largely agricultural, where oral tradition usually thrives. From the end of the second world war until the late fifties folk music was held in low regard. Comhaltas Ceoltir ireann (an Irish traditional music association) and the popularity of the Fleadh Cheoil (music festival) helped lead the revival of the music. The English Folk music scene also encouraged and gave self-confidence to many Irish musicians. Following the success of The Clancy Brothers in the USA in 1959, Irish folk music became fashionable again. Guitar-driven male groups such as The Dubliners replaced the lush sentimental style of singers such as Delia Murphy. Irish showbands presented a mixture of pop music and folk dance tunes, though these died out during the seventies. The international success of The Chieftains and subsequent musicians and groups has made Irish folk music a global brand.Historically much old-time music of the USA grew out of the music of Ireland, England and Scotland, as a result of cultural diffusion. By the 1970s Irish traditional music was again influencing music in the USA and further afield in Australia and Europe. It has occasionally been fused with rock and roll, punk rock and other genres, as in certain recordings of Horslips , Thin Lizzy, The Corrs, The Chieftains, Enya, Clannad, Riverdance, and Van Morrison.

Like all traditional music, Irish folk music has changed slowly. Most folk songs are less than two hundred years old. One measure of its age is the language used. Modern Irish songs are written in English and Irish. Most of the oldest songs and tunes are rural in origin and come from the older Irish language tradition. Modern songs and tunes often come from cities and towns, Irish songs went from the Irish language to the English language.Unaccompanied vocals are called sean ns ("in the old style") and are considered the ultimate expression of traditional singing. This is usually performed solo (very occasionally as a duet). Sean-ns singing is highly ornamented and the voice is placed towards the top of the range. A true sean-ns singer will vary the melody of every verse, but not to the point of interfering with the words, which are considered to have as much importance as the melody. To the first-time listener, accustomed to pop and classical singers, sean-ns often sounds more "Arabic", "Persian" or "Indian" than "Western".Non-sean-ns traditional singing, even when accompaniment is used, uses patterns of ornamentation and melodic freedom derived from sean-ns singing, and, generally, a similar voice placement.Caoineadh Songs-Caoineadh is Irish for a lament, a song which is typified by lyrics which stress sorrow and pain. Traditionally, the Caoineadh song contained lyrics in which the singer lamented for Ireland after having been forced to emigrate due to political or financial reasons. The song may also lament the loss of a loved one (particularly a fair woman). Many Caoineadh songs have their roots/basis in The Troubles of Northern Ireland with particular reference to the presence of the British military during this period. Examples of Caoineadh songs include: Far Away in Australia, The Town I loved So Well and Four Green Fields.Caoineadh singers were originally paid to lament for the departed at funerals, according to a number of Irish sources.

Irish traditional music was largely meant (to the best of our current knowledge) for dancing at celebrations for weddings, saint's days or other observances. Tunes are most usually divided into two eight-bar strains which are each played as many times as the performers feel is appropriate; Irish dance music is isometric. (16 measures are known as a "step", with one 8 bar strain for a "right foot" and the second for the "left foot" of the step. Tunes that are not so evenly divided are called "crooked".) This makes for an eminently danceable music, and Irish dance has been widely exported abroad.Traditional dances and tunes include reels (4/4), hornpipes (4/4 with swung eighth notes), and jigs (double and single jigs are in 6/8 time), as well as imported waltzes, mazurkas, polkas, and highlands or barndances (a sort of Irish version of the Scottish strathspey). Jigs come in various other forms for dancing the slip jig and hop jig or single jig are commonly written in 9/8 time, the slide in 12/8. (The dance the hop jig is no longer performed under the auspices of An Coimisiun.) The forms of jig danced in hardshoe are known as double or treble jigs (for the doubles/trebles performed with the tip of the hardshoe), and the jigs danced in ghillies/pomps/slippers/light shoes are known as light jigs.Polkas are a type of 2/4 tune mostly found in the Sliabh Luachra area, at the border of Cork and Kerry, in the south of Ireland. Another distinctive Munster rhythm is the Slide, like a fast single jig in 12/8 time. The main differences between these types of tunes are in the time signature, tempo, and rhythmic emphasis. It should be noted that, as an aural music form, Irish traditional music is rather artificially confined by time signatures, which are not really capable of conveying the particular emphasis for each type of tune. An easy demonstration of this is any attempt to notate a slow air on the musical stave. Similarly, attempts by classically trained musicians to play traditional music by reading the common transcriptions are almost unrecognizable the transcriptions exist only as a kind of shorthand.

The guitar was used as far back as the 1930s first appearing on some of the recordings of Michael Coleman and his contemporaries. The bouzouki only entered the traditional Irish music world in the late 1960s. The word bodhrn, indicating a drum, is first mentioned in a translated English document in the 17th century, The 4-string tenor banjo, first used by Irish musicians in the US in the 1920s, is now fully accepted. The saxophone also featured in recordings from the early 20th century most notably in Paddy Killoran's Pride of Erin Orchestra. Cilidh bands of the 1940s often included a drum set and stand-up bass as well as saxophones. Traditional harp-playing died out in the late 18th century, and was revived by the McPeake Family of Belfast, Derek Bell, Mary O'Hara and others in the mid-20th century. Although often encountered, it plays a fringe role in Irish Traditional music.Instruments such as button accordion and concertina made their appearances in Irish traditional music late in the 19th century. There is little evidence for the concert flute having played much part in traditional music. Traditional musicians prefer the wooden simple-style instrument to the Boehm-system of the modern orchestra. The mass-produced tin whistle is common too.The piano is commonly used for accompaniment. In the early 20th century piano accompaniment was prevalent on the 78rpm records featuring Michael Coleman, James Morrison, John McKenna, PJ Conlon and many more. On many of these recordings the piano accompaniment was woeful because the backers were unfamiliar with Irish music. However, Morrison avoided using the studio piano players and hand-picked his own. The vamping style used by these piano backers has largely remained. There has been a few recent innovators such as Josephine Keegan, Brian McGrath, Ryan Molloy and others.The Uilleann pipes are a distinctive Irish musical instrument. Some of the earliest recordings of this instrument were made by Francis O'Neill on the Edison cylinder recordings featuring Patsy Touhy.

All in all one can say that Irish Folk music has slowly expanded from being deeply rooted in tradition to moving onto experimental phases to see where and how Irish folk music may evolve.

References:

1. www.thechieftains.com

2. Joyce, Patrick Weston, Old Irish Folk Music and Songs: a Collection of 842 Irish Airs and Songs Hitherto Unpublished, Cooper Square Publishers, New York, 1965. Originally published in 1909.3. Mathieson, Kenny. "Ireland". 2001. In Mathieson, Kenny (Ed.), Celtic music, pp.1053. Backbeat Books. 4. O'Connor, Nuala. "Dancing at the Virtual Crossroads". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 170188. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books.5. O'Neill, Francis, The Dance Music of Ireland: 1001 Gems, compiled and edited by Captain Francis O'Neill, arranged by James O'Neill, Lyon & Healy, Chicago, 1907.6. Petrie, George, Petrie's Complete Irish Music: 1,582 Traditional Melodies, prepared from the original manuscripts by Charles Villiers Stanford, Dover Publications, 2003.7. Petrie, George, The Petrie Collection of Ancient Music of Ireland, edited by David Cooper, Cork University Press, 2002.8. Vallely, Fintan. "The Companion to Irish Traditional Music" Cork University Press9. Wallis, Geoff, and Wilson, Sue, The Rough Guide to Irish Music.

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