Irish music is a living tradition which includes dance music, songs and airs. Until recent times it was passed on aurally and had a strong rural bias.
Where does it come from?
It has evolved over a long period of time. Much of the repertory is known to have been current in the 18th and 19th centuries. Some is earlier in origin, and it is likely that some very old melodies and lyrics survive, adapted to modern forms. Apart from Scottish music, with which it shares Gaelic roots, Irish music is easy to distinguish from other European music.
What is Celtic music?
Celtic music is a recent term used by people outside Ireland to describe music from countries or regions with a Celtic background.
What is Irish dance music?
Instrumental music for reels, jigs and hornpipes in the main, but also for polkas, slides and highlands. (In poorer times, this music was lilted ie, port a’ b?al or mouth music).
It was mostly unaccompanied until the 1960s. Traditionally the songs were in Irish, but since the collapse of the Gaelic order around 1600, the store of English language songs has expanded. Sean-nos (old style) singing is a unique feature and its highly-ornamented style is still heard in Gaeltacht districts.
How is Irish music performed?
Traditionally it was a solo form, but duet and group performance have become dominant in the past 60 years.
Fiddle, uilleann pipes, whistle, flute, concertina and accordion – with guitar, Irish bouzouki, banjo and bodhran playing a support role.
It is played and sung in the home, in the public house and at other social gatherings – parties, weddings, dances, festivals – and latterly at concerts, and on radio, television and record.
What is Irish dancing?
Like the music, it has absorbed European forms at will. The two main forms today are step dancing and set dancing. Riverdance is more closely associated with the formal step dance, while set dancing borrows from the French and Scots. Children dressed in Celtic-style dresses are step dancers. Older people engage in the set or social dance. The musical rhythm increases in tempo from the relatively slow hornpipe to the faster jig and the much faster reel.
Books on Irish Music
Notes From the Heart, by PJ Curtis. £7.00 (stg or Irl, includes P+P) to PJ Curtis, The Old Forge, Kilnaboy, Co Clare, Ireland, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
A Pocket History of Irish Traditional Music, Gearoid O hAllmhurain, O’Brien (Dublin).
Folk Music and Dances of Ireland, Breandan Breathnach. Mercier Press.
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