|Leaving Cert Music|
Irish Dance Music
Much of what we now call Traditional Irish music originated in the Gaelic speaking peasantry of the 18th Century. Dancing was very popular at weddings and other social events. Up until the early 20th Century, the practice of dancing masters travelling from town to town with a fiddler or piper, and giving dance classes was common. In rural Ireland, dancing at the crossroads was still very popular towards 1950. Today, dance music is often played in a concert situation, to be listened to, rather than to be danced to. This affects the way the music is played. For example, a hornpipe wont necessarily be played at dance speed now. Modern players particularly in bands or groups often like to play very fast. Modern bands also like to run a slower dance like the slip jig into a faster one like the reel. The tempo change for the Reel gives the music a lift. It's also typical to run sseveral tunes of the same dance type together.
The jig is the oldest form of dance. There are 3 types; the Single Jig in 6/8 featuring all quavers , the Double Jig in 6/8 featuring crotchet quaver movement and the Slip (Hop) Jig in 9/8 featuring quaver movement. The Lark in the Morning, Morrison's Jig are examples of well known Jigs. Slipjigs include, The Butterfly and the opening of Riverdance
The Reel is of Scottish descent and is often the favourite dance of traditional musicians. Although written in 4/4 it is played in 2/2 with 2 steady beats in each bar. Drowsy Maggie, The Mason's Apron, the Wind that shakes the Barley and Toss the Feathers are examples of well known Reels
The Hornpipe is the slowest dance leaving room for the most complicated of dance steps. Many set dances are Hornpipes. It is characterised by the dotted rhythm (pizza!), triplets and 3 strong crotchets in the last bar of each section. Other dances related to hornpipes include Barndances, Scottishes and Highlands. The Harvest Home and King of the Fairies are good examples of Hornpipes.
The Polka is a dance associated with the set dances of the Sliabh Luachra area of West Munster. It is in 2/4 time and it's tempo is very fast. The Kerry Polka and Britches full of Stiches are Polkas.
The structure of Irish music is simple. In the past, most tunes consisted of 2 x 8-bar phrases, called Parts, which are usually repeated. These 8-bar parts can be further sub-divided into 2 x 4-bar sub phrases which are often quite similar. A typical form therefore is AABB whic is usually repeated. Today it is common for tunes to have 3 or even 4 parts. Repitition is still used though not always. The Contradiction is an example of a Reel played by fiddler Zoe Conway, with none of the 4 parts repeating, but the whole tune repeats. i.e. ABCD ABCD. Occasionally, tunes are structured in an irregular pattern but this is not common. Note; The parts in a slip jig are not normally repeated.
Sets and half sets were the most popular form of dance in the 19th and 20th centuries. a full set consists of 8 people making 4 couples. Different parts of the country have different forms of set. The half set consists of half the number of people. The most skilful form of Irish dancing is the solo step.
The first Céilí bands were probably as a response to the Gaelic League's creation of the céilí dance in the early years of the 20th Century. a Céilí band consisted of a Piano, snare drum and an accordion. As venues became larger so the bands grew, so today fiddles, flutes, banjos and even saxophones are found in Céilí Bands. The Céilí Band was often the only type of traditional music played on radio in the 1950s and '60s. Some bands stand out for the quality of the music they perform. the Kilfenora Céilí band are an example of a band that is thriving today and all the members are first rate traditional musicians. there is also a movement towards 'listening' Céilí Bands with the emphasis on the music alone.
This tune is a Reel played on the Fiddle accompanied by Bodhrán and Guitar. Note there are 4 sections without the usual repeats. Form - ABCD ABCD.
This is another Reel this time by the Chieftains. Note the combination of instruments. Again the expected repeats are missing. Form - ABAB which alternates with the solo instruments, Fiddle, Harp, Pipes. Note that the Harp solo is a Jig, probably for variety in this long arrangement of a short tune.
This tune is a Jig but also a really good opportunity to hear the increasingly popular instrument from Greece called the bouzouki.
This Hornpipe is called the Harvest Home played on Concertina. Note the dotted rhythm, triplets and the relaxed tempo.
3 Sliabh Luachra Polkas. The combination of Fiddle and Accordion is very common as melody instruments.
Riverdance was a huge event but the full video really belongs on the Fusion page. It's included here as the opening dance is a Slipjig in 9/8.
Traditional Features Non traditional features
Solo Group performances
No harmony Harmony
Flattened 7th Non traditional instruments
Wide range Noted music
No dynamics Fusions
Not expressive Syncopated rhythm
Repeat final note Dynamics
Traditional instruments No ornamentation
Aural tradition – passed down by ear
Modal keys and gapped scales
Form dictates what way the dances go
Traditional Instruments Non traditional instruments
Tin whistle Piano/keyboard
Uilleann pipes Synthesiser
Melodeon/button accordion Drums
Piano accordion Orchestral instruments
Harmonica Ethnic instruments
Harp - Derek Bell, Laoise Kelly, Máire Ní Chathasaigh.
Fiddle - Frankie Gavin, Tommy Peoples, Paddy Glackin
Flute - Matt Molloy, Seamus Tansey
Whistle - Mary Bergin, Geraldine Cotter, Paddy Maloney
Uilleann Pipes - Seamus Ennis, Willie Clancy, Pady Maloney
Bodhrán - Kevin Conneff, Mel Mercier
Solo Free rhythm
Unaccompanied No dynamics
In irish Glottal stop
Ornamentation Modal tonality
Melismas Nasal tone
Glissando/sliding Regional Differences
Examples: Úna Bhán
An Droimeann Donn Dílis
Caoine na dTír Mhuire
Vibrato, pronounced nasal quality
Lots of ornamentation, very melismatic
Singers: Lillis Ó Laoire,
Singers: Róisín Elsafty, Seosamh Ó hÉanaí
Singers: Iarla O’Lionair, Séamus Begley
Irish Dance Music
Fast and lively
Most native, some English,
Most from 18th & 19th century
The Ten penny Bit
Smash the Windows
Hardiman the fiddler
4 or 2
Fast and flowing
Slower than reel
English origin, strong accent on 1st and 3rd beats
The harvest home
Rights of man
, set dancing in sliabh Luachra
Britches full of stitches
12 or 6
A fast single jig
Denis Murphy’s slide
- Ballads (old and new)
- Macaronic songs (in 2 languages)
- Anglo-Irish songs
Type of songs
Expressive, often sad
She moved through the fair
About loss, death, eviction, emigration of friend, longing for better times
An Mhaighéan Mhara
Lively rhythm, celebratory, social events
Whiskey in the jar
Preab san Ól
Níl sé ‘na Lá
For tasks like working in the fields, kitchen, forge, steady rhythm to match the work
Ding dong Dédero
Amhrán na Cuiginne
Gentle rockinig rhythm, sleep songs,
Dún o Shúile
Sorrowful, grief, focus on religious topics, usually slow, not common due to penal laws
Caoineadh na dTrí Mhuire
Light hearted, lively rhythm,
The holy ground
An Poc ar Buille
For small children, bouncy rhythm, repeats words and melody
Dílín Ó Deamhas
Ashling – dream/visions song,
Rebel/nationalist and famine songs
Four Green Fields
Táimse im’ Chodladh
Alternates between English and irish, Some patriotic in the irish parts
Siúil a Rúin
One day for Recreation
A narrative lyric song, often on political or social life, love, alcohol, emigration,the sea
The Foggy Dew
The Croppy Boy
The Fields of Athenry
Composed by irish in English language, many are ballads as well
The Last Rose of Summer
The Mountains of Mourne
All Essay topics and the years they have appeared.
The Term sean nós is used to describe unaccompanied solo singing, usually I the irish language in which the words and the music are of equal importance.
Sean nós is a singing style developed over the centuries in Irish speaking and Gaelic speaking . It has been passed on from generation to generation. The style is deeply rooted in the rhythms of the Gaelic language and in the metres and rhythms of Gaelic poetry.
Songs are sung with free rhythm, the singer speeds up or slows down to suit the words which may sometimes sound distorted. Dynamics are not used. The singer ornaments the tune to convey emotion. No two performances of a song by the same singer will be identical.
Melodic ornamentation used may be melismatic, where a note is replaced by a group of adjacent notes, or intervallic, where additional notes are used to fill intervals between notes in the tune. Rhythmic variation also is common where the notes may be lengthened or shortened. Sean nós singing tends to have a nasal tone quality. Glottal stopping is use which interrupts the flow of air through the wind pipe. Extra meaningless syllable are sometimes added to words and some singers slow down at the end while others speak the final line of the song.
There are three regions associated with sean nós singings; , Donegal and . These are all Gaeltacht areas and each has it’s own distinctive spoken dialect and sean nós style. In Donegal ornamentation is not use very often and it has a very regular rhythm. Salí Gallagher is a performer of the Donegal sean nós style. In a lot of ornamentation is use and it is very florid. The songs also tend to have a narrower range. Seosamh Ó hÉanaí is a sean nós singer in . The range tends to be much wider in and many use vibrato so it is most similar to classical singing.
The Harping Tradition
The harping tradition in flourished from medieval times until the seventeenth century. It was fostered and developed among the powerful and wealthy Irish and Anglo-Irish families. Harpers were employed along with poets and orators, known as reacoirs, to provide entertainment for the families. As the families acted as patrons to the harpers, they would often have solo pieces, known as planxties, written in their honour by their harper. One famous song is Planxty Kelly. The occupation of a harper was a very prestigious one. The harping tradition was passed on, father to son, for many years and was one of very few viable career options for blind boys at the time. However, after 1600, as the great families went into decline, there was a loss of patronage and harpers were left unemployed. The harping tradition then became a nomadic one, as harpers would travel from county to county, playing for money and food.
There were two styles of harp: the Bardic harp and the Neo-Irish harp. The Bardic harp had between 29 and 31 strings made of wire, which were played with the nails. Usually around 70cm in height with a curved pillar and a hollow soundbox, the Bardic harp was the more resonant of the two. The Neo-Irish harp typically had 34 strings made of nylon or cat gut, which were played with the pads of the fingers. They were taller (about 91cm in height) than the Bardic harp, but less resonant.
In 1792 the Belfast Harp Festival was setup with the aim of preventing the decline of the harping tradition. It consisted of eleven harpers from the age of 15 to 97, playing pieces in their own particular style. One player that was the light of the day was Denis Hempson, age 97, being the oldest player there. Edward Bunting was commissioned by the Belfast Harp Society to record the lifestyles of the harpers as well as recording and writing down the music from the festival to preserve it for future generations. This method, unlike the oral tradition which had existed up until then, did not allow for particular nuances in style and some of these were lost. There was a harping revival in the second half of the twentieth century. The role of the harp as a traditional instrument was led by Máire Ní Chathasaigh, who had solo albums such as “The New Strung Harp” and Laoise Kelly who release the album “Just Harp”
Seán Ó Riada:
Use for Irish composer
Sean O Riada (1931-1971) was born in and grew up in Bruff, Co. , where he learned to play the traditional fiddle. He studied music in University College Cork. He also learned to play piano and played it in both jazz and dance bands. He was assistant Director of music in Radio Éireann until he left for in 1955. After a further study in , where he became involved with Jazz and Greek musicians, he was appointed Musical Director of the Abby Theatre in in 1957 and also returned to work with Radio Eireann. O Riada first came to prominence in 1959 when he was commissioned by Gael Linn to write the Music for the movie ‘Mise Eire’. In 1963 O Riada took up a post lecturing in Music at , , and he continued to work there until his death in 1971.
Throughout his life O Riada was a much renowned Irish Music Composer. But he also composed Classical music. He was also a very talented Bodhran player – giving this instrument a new lease of life in Irish Music. Ó Riada was quite critical of ceilì bands and he formed a “folk orchestra” called Ceoltoirì Chulann in 1960. He wanted to create a popular audience for traditional music and give it the dignity it deserved. He hoped that his new band could revolutionize the arrangement and performance of Irish Music. There imaginative arrangements involve interweaving melodies a classical-style harmonies.
The bodhrán had been seen as a primitive rhythm instrument but once O’Riada use it in Ceoltóirí Chualann is became a mainstream traditional Irish instrument in many groups. He also wanted to revive the 18th century Irish Harp music so he played the harpsichord in order to replicate the sound. Despite not giving many concerts they had a large following. Their last performance was recorded on the album “O’Riada sa Gaiety”. When the group broke up in 1969 many of them joined The Chieftains, whose style was greatly influenced by O’Riada.