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Music in Ireland
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  1. Irish traditional music - Wikipedia
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The best of these have a solid background in genuine Irish traditional music, often having strong competency on another instrument more common in the living tradition, such as the fiddle or concertina, and work very hard at adapting the harp to traditional music, as well as reconstructing what they can of the old harpers' music on the basis of the few manuscript sources which exist. However, the harp continues to occupy a place on the fringe of Irish traditional music.

The accordion plays a major part in modern Irish music. The accordion spread to Ireland late in the 19th century. In its ten-key form melodeon , it is claimed that it was popular across the island.

While uncommon, the melodeon is still played in some parts of Ireland, in particular in Connemara by Johnny Connolly. Modern Irish accordion players generally prefer the 2 row button accordion. Unlike similar accordions used in other European and American music traditions, the rows are tuned a semi-tone apart. This allows the instrument to be played chromatically in melody. Dublin native James Keane brought the instrument to New York where he maintained an influential recording and performing career from the s to the present. Their greater range, ease of changing key, more fluent action, along with their strong musette tuning blended seamlessly with the other instruments and were highly valued during this period.

The latest revival of traditional music from the late s also revived the interest in this versatile instrument. Like the button key accordion, a new playing style has emerged with a dry tuning , lighter style of playing and a more rhythmically varied bass. Concertinas are manufactured in several types, the most common in Irish traditional music being the Anglo system with a few musicians now playing the English system.

Each differs from the other in construction and playing technique. The most distinctive characteristic of the Anglo system is that each button sounds a different note, depending on whether the bellows are compressed or expanded.

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Irish traditional music - Wikipedia

Anglo concertinas typically have either two or three rows of buttons that sound notes, plus an "air button" located near the right thumb that allows the player to fill or empty the bellows without sounding a note. Two-row Anglo concertinas usually have 20 buttons that sound notes. Each row of 10 buttons comprises notes within a common key. The two primary rows thus contain the notes of two musical keys, such as C and G. Each row is divided in two with five buttons playing lower-pitched notes of the given key on the left-hand end of the instrument and five buttons playing the higher pitched notes on the right-hand end.

The row of buttons in the higher key is closer to the wrist of each hand. Three-row concertinas add a third row of accidentals i.

Companion to Irish Traditional Music

A series of sequential notes can be played in the home-key rows by depressing a button, compressing the bellows, depressing the same button and extending the bellows, moving to the next button and repeating the process, and so on. A consequence of this arrangement is that the player often encounters occasions requiring a change in bellows direction, which produces a clear separation between the sounds of the two adjacent notes.

This tends to give the music a more punctuated, bouncy sound that can be especially well suited to hornpipes or jigs. English concertinas, by contrast, sound the same note for any given button, irrespective of the direction of bellows travel. Thus, any note can be played while the bellows is either expanded or compressed. As a consequence, sequential notes can be played without altering the bellows direction. This allows sequences of notes to be played in a smooth, continuous stream without the interruption of changing bellows direction.

Despite the inherent bounciness of the Anglo and the inherent smoothness of the English concertina systems, skilled players of Irish traditional music can achieve either effect on each type of instrument by adapting the playing style. On the Anglo, for example, the notes on various rows partially overlap and the third row contains additional redundant notes, so that the same note can be sounded with more than one button.

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Often, whereas one button will sound a given note on bellows compression, an alternative button in a different row will sound the same note on bellows expansion. Thus, by playing across the rows, the player can avoid changes in bellows direction from note to note where the musical objective is a smoother sound.

Likewise, the English system accommodates playing styles that counteract its inherent smoothness and continuity between notes. Specifically, when the music calls for it, the player can choose to reverse bellows direction, causing sequential notes to be more distinctly articulated. The four-string tenor banjo is played as a melody instrument by Irish traditional players, and is commonly tuned GDAE, an octave below the fiddle.

It was brought to Ireland by returned emigrants from the United States, where it had been developed by African slaves. It is seldom strummed in Irish music although older recordings will sometimes feature the banjo used as a backing instrument , instead being played as a melody instrument using either a plectrum or a "thimble". Barney McKenna of The Dubliners is often credited with paving the way for the banjo's current popularity, and was, until his death at age 72, actively playing.

With a few exceptions, for example Tom Hanway , [24] the five-string banjo has had little role in Irish traditional music as a melody instrument.


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The mandolin is becoming a somewhat more common instrument amongst Irish traditional musicians. Fiddle tunes are readily accessible to the mandolin player because of the equivalent range of the two instruments and the practically identical allowing for the lack of frets on the fiddle left hand fingerings.

Although almost any variety of acoustic mandolin might be adequate for Irish traditional music, virtually all Irish players prefer flat-backed instruments with oval sound holes to the Italian-style bowl-back mandolins or the carved-top mandolins with f-holes favoured by bluegrass mandolinists. The former are often too soft-toned to hold their own in a session as well as having a tendency to not stay in place on the player's lap , whilst the latter tend to sound harsh and overbearing to the traditional ear.

Greatly preferred for formal performance and recording are flat-topped "Irish-style" mandolins reminiscent of the WWI-era Martin Army-Navy mandolin and carved arch top mandolins with oval soundholes, such as the Gibson A-style of the s. Resonator mandolins such as the RM-1 from National Resophonic are beginning to show up in Irish sessions in the US because they are loud enough to easily be heard. John Sheahan and Barney McKenna , fiddle player and tenor banjo player respectively, with The Dubliners are also accomplished mandolin players.

The guitar is not traditional in Irish music but has become widely accepted in modern sessions. These are usually strummed with a plectrum pick to provide backing for the melody players or, sometimes, a singer. Irish backing tends to use chord voicings up and down the neck, rather than basic first or second position "cowboy chords"; unlike those used in jazz, these chord voicings seldom involve barre fingerings and often employ one or more open strings in combination with strings stopped at the fifth or higher frets. Modal root and fifth without the third, neither major nor minor chords are used extensively alongside the usual major and minor chords, as are suspended and sometimes more exotic augmented chords; however, the major and minor seventh chords are less employed than in many other styles of music.

Ideally, the guitarist follows the leading melody player or singer precisely rather than trying to control the rhythm and tempo. Most guitar parts take inspiration and direction from the melody, rather than driving the melody as in other acoustic genres. A host of other alternative tunings are also used by some players. The distinctive feature of these tunings is that one or more open strings played along with fingered chord shapings provide a drone note part of the chord. Guitarists and bouzouki players may play single note melody instead of harmonizing accompaniment, but in live acoustic sessions with more than two or three players but it is difficult to produce sufficient volume to be heard over drumming and the piercing sound of fiddles and penny whistles.

Although not traditional, the Irish bouzouki [26] has found a home in the modern Irish traditional music scene. The bass courses are most often tuned in unisons, one feature that distinguishes the Irish bouzouki from its Greek antecedent, although octaves in the bass are favoured by some players.

Instead of the staved round back of the Greek bouzouki, Irish bouzoukis usually have a flat or lightly arched back. The top is either flat or carved like that of an arch top guitar or mandolin , although some builders carve both the back and the top. Alec Finn and Mick Conneely are the only notable players still using a Greek bouzouki, one of the older style trixordo three course six string instruments tuned DAD.

Some musicologists suggest its use was originally confined to the wrenboys on St. Stephen's Day and other quasi-ritual processions. Mention should also be made here of the Bones — two slender, curved pieces of bone or wood — and "spoons". Pairs of either are held together in one hand and struck-together rhythmically to make a percussive, clacking sound. Occasionally, at pub sessions, there are some non-traditional hand drums used, such as the West African Djembe drum — which can produce a low booming bass note, as well as a high pitched tone — and the Caribbean Bongo drum.

The revival of interest in Irish traditional culture was closely linked to Nationalist calls for independence and was catalysed by the foundation of the Gaelic League in This sought to encourage the rediscovery and affirmation of Irish traditional arts by focusing upon the Irish language, but also established an annual competition, the Feis Cheoil, in as a focus for its activities.

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In the US, traditional musicians remained popular in Irish communities in large cities such as Chicago. Francis O'Neill — was a collector and promoter of Irish traditional music whose work was a "huge influence on the evolution of Irish traditional dance music in the twentieth century". Religion also played a role in the re-development of Irish culture.


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The actual achievement of independence from Britain tallied closely with a new Irish establishment desire to separate Irish culture from the European mainstream, but the new Irish government also paid heed to clerical calls to curtail 'jazz dancing' and other suggestions of a dereliction in Irish morality—though it was not until that the Public Dance Halls Act curtailed the right of anyone to hold their own events; from then on, no public musical or dancing events could be held in a public space without a license and most of those were usually only granted to 'suitable' persons — often the parish priest.

Combined with continued emigration, and the priesthood's inevitable zeal in closing down un-licensed events, the upshot was to drive traditional music and dancing back into the cottage where it remained until returning migrants persuaded pub owners to host sessions in the early s.

The s saw a number of innovative performers. By the 70s, Planxty and Clannad set the stage for a major popular blossoming of Irish music.