I am the steward of the fingers
Though the years are heavy on us
© Cathy Larson Sky 10/13/2005
Traditional Irish music suits me to a “T” because I love everything old. My house is full of mementos: my grandfather’s radio, my great-grandmother’s armchair, rose-painted teacups and vintage dolls. I don’t see these things as old. I see them as rich -- rich with memories, with history, and beauty.
Traditional Irish tunes hold the same pleasure for me; they are like stones that get their beautiful shape from mingling with other stones at the ocean’s edge. Each is unique; each tells its own story.
I learned how to play the fiddle first from my husband Patrick, who is an Uilleann piper. For this reason, my playing uses a lot of piping accents and ornaments. Though I have studied with many fiddle players, the one whose music is my deepest inspiration is Tony Linnane from Corofin, County Clare, who was my teacher during 1982 while I was living in Ireland. Other teachers living in America whom I admire are James Kelly, Willie Kelly, and Martin Hayes. All of these players have a connection to what is called the Clare style of Irish fiddling.
I have a Master's Degree in Folklore from UNC Chapel Hill. My thesis was on generational change in the music of County Clare. I like to talk music almost as much as playing it and hope to use this slot on the website to vent some of my opinions and knowledge. Below is information about the different styles of Irish traditional fiddling. I hope to post a discography and some musical links at a later date (stay tuned), but for now, scroll down to find out about lessons and some background on regional styles.
As a fiddle teacher, I try to stick to the old fashioned
My goal for my students is sheer enjoyment of playing Irish traditional tunes. Irish music is social music. Much of the joy of music is sharing it with others, so once a month students have a chance to meet, listen, eat potluck, and play tunes here at my home or the home of other students.
I teach in my home in Spruce Pine, NC on weekday afternoons and evenings, and prefer one-hour lessons.
I expect students to show up with a playable instrument with good strings on it. (It is helpful to have your ‘rig’ updated by someone at a music store, if it has been lying around for a while unplayed).
I expect students to show up at their lesson having learned the tune from the previous lesson.
I expect students to give me at least 24 hours notice if they can’t make their lesson.
• A blank audiocassette to be used in my cassette recorder, or
your own recording device (digital, etc.) You’ll also need a way
of playing back lessons at home. When we finish learning a tune, I record
it for students slowly so he or she can practice along with it.
I charge different rates depending upon frequency of lessons. I am willing to negotiate fees on a sliding scale or to barter with dedicated students who are on a tight budget.
• Once a week, regularly: $25.00 an
I prefer to teach adults and mature children with some background experience (would love if you can play a scale or two, know how to hold the violin). However, I am willing to offer lessons on a trial basis to motivated beginners who have a good ear if they demonstrate that they are connecting with the process. I recommend to moms and dads that they start out their very young ones with a good Suzuki teacher to learn basic violin skills before they attempt to learn a folk fiddling style like Irish traditional.
I can be reached at (828) 765-6628 or at cathylarsonsky@hotmail,com
WHAT IS A REGIONAL STYLE?
Players of Old Time music are familiar with
regional styles. For instance, they may favor Kentucky tunes, or the
music of Round Peak, NC. The style is often defined by influential
players of the region, one whom local musicians like to emulate, or
from whom they take certain licks -- ways of bowing, phrasing, ornamenting
their tunes. Style often includes a certain body of tunes that are
popular in a given region, a distinctive repertoire. During my fieldwork
in County Clare, Ireland, for my master's in Folklore, I discovered
that favorite tunes can become that way because of their link with
tune may have a pattern that encourages rhythmic improvisation for
dancers. In Clare style sean-nos (old fashioned) set dancing, there
is a tradition of battering, in which men strike the floor with flat-footed
outbursts of percussive exuberance. This pattern may often fall in
the end part of the tune phrase, or be distributed throughout the melody.
"Over the Moor to Maggie," a reel, is an example of such a tune, as
is "The Woman of the House."
In Ireland, during the 1950s, a
composer named Sean O'Riada traveled to rural counties with John Kelly,
a fiddler from Clare who moved to Dublin and befriended musicians from
all over the country who flocked to his music and hardware shop there.
O'Riada wrote a booklet from these journeys for an Irish Radio RTE
series called "Our Musical Heritage."
Kelly knew many players in the Western counties, and from hearing those
musicians, O'Riada put together a definition of regional stlyles that
survives to this day. At that time, people thought that these styles
were the result of the times when people from a certain area were unable
to travel very much, before the time of the motorcar and before recordings
brought outside influences into their music circles. I have learned
that there was more traveling by foot, horse cart, bicycle, and
boat than one might think during the old days, and people went great
to fairs and markets. As well, traveling dancing masters went around
Ireland, distributing their knowledge and music across regional lines.
So the idea of pure regional styles must be taken with a grain of salt. Also,
within a region there may be pockets of players with very different
approaches than what is commonly thought of as their home style.
The main fiddle styles identified by O'Riada include:
Donegal, or Northern Fiddling: Because of
the link with Scots populations and the influence of the Scots War
Pipes in the music of Donegal, the style includes many tunes that stay
in the one-octave range of the Scots pipes. (The Irish, Uilleann pipes
have two full octaves, in contrast.)The bowing can be quite
sharp and the pace is usually fast and bright, with a love of verve
and energy. It is the style most closely linked to the Old Time music
of the American South. Ornamentation is fairly easy going, with sharp,
staccato bowed triplets being the main feature.
Clare: A style of fiddling with
emphasis on embellishment and enjoyment of melody, often in an emotive,
expressive way. Rolls and grace notes abound. However, there is an
interesting divide between West and East Clare styles of fiddling.
Western players tend to be quicker and more dance oriented, influenced
by the traveling Limerick dance master Pat Barron. In East Clare, a
player named Johnny Allen from the late 1900s made popular among his
students a "sweet" style of playing in which the melody is taken slowly,
savored, and highly ornamented. The popular fiddler Martin Hayes is
the third generation link in this chain of evocative East Clare players.
A great resource for traditional Irish music in this country is Ossian USA. They have a webpage and a huge roster of recordings, books, and video. Charlie and Mary Lou Philbin are also fun to talk to on the phone. Great folks!
BOOKS TO READ ABOUT IRISH DANCE MUSIC
This list is meant to supplement a slide and lecture workshop Patrick and I gave in Durham, NC early in October, 2008. The readings range from scholarly to popular. I have put the most readable and contemporary books on the top of the list. Many have great photos. This is a partial list, branching out from topics we touched in our workshop.
Carson, Ciaran. 1996. Last Night’s Fun. London: Jonathan Cape. (creative nonfiction)
Curtis, P.J. 1994. Notes From the Heart: A Celebration of Irish Traditional Music. Dublin: Torc, Poolbeg Enterprises, Ltd. (Clare players in particular)
Feldman, Allen and Eamonn O'Doherty. 1979. The
Northern Fiddler. Belfast:
MacNamara, Christy and Peter Woods. 1997. The
Heartbeat of Irish Music.
Mac Aoidh, Caoimhín, 1994. Between the Jigs and the Reels. County Leitrim,Ireland:Drumlin Publications. (Musicians of Northern Ireland, foreword by Tommy Peoples)
Vallely, Fintan and Charlie Piggot. 1998. The Blooming Meadows: The World of Irish Traditional Musicians. Dublin: Town House and Country House. (Musician profiles).
Gmelch, Sharon, ed. 1982. Irish Life
and Traditions. New York: Syracuse
COLLECTORS AND COLLECTIONS:
*Breathnach, Brendán. 1963. Ceol
Rince na hÉireann:
Cuid 1. Dublin: Oifig an
_____. 1976. Ceol Rince na hÉireann: Cuid 2. Dublin: Oifig an tSoláthair.
_____. 1985. Ceol Rince na hÉireann: Cuid 3. Dublin: An Gúm. (*At least two other tunebooks are published)
Bunting, Edward. 1796, 1809, 1840 (Reprinted 1969). The Ancient Music
Carolan, Nicholas. 1997. A Harvest Saved:
Francis O’Neill and
Irish Music in Chicago.
Lynch, Larry. 1991. Set Dances of Ireland:
Tradition & Evolution. Second Edition.
O' Neill, Captain Francis. 1907 (Reprinted
1965). The Dance Music of Ireland: 1001
_____. 1910 (Reprinted 1978). Irish Folk
Music: A Fascinating Hobby. Darby,
_____. 1913 (Reprinted 1973). Irish Minstrels
and Musicians. Darby,
P. A. :
Petrie, George. 1855, 1882 (Reprinted 1967). Ancient
Music of Ireland.
2 vols in 1.
IRISH MUSIC HISTORY AND ANALYSIS:
Breathnach, Brendan. 1971 (Revised edition 1977). Folk
Music and Dances of Ireland.
Grattan-Flood, W. H. 1905. (Reprinted 1970). A
History of Irish Music.
Cowdery, James R. 1990. The Melodic
Tradition of Ireland. Ohio: Kent
Ó Canainn, Tomás. 1978. Traditional Music in Ireland. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Riada, Séan. 1982. Our Musical Heritage. Portlaoise, Ireland: Cahill
*Noel Hill and Tony Linnane. (fiddle and concertina from Clare) TARA 2006
*Mary Bergin: Feodoga Stain. (tin whistle) SHANACHIE 79006
*Frankie Gavin and Alec Finn. (fiddle and bouzouki) SHANACHIE 29008
*Matt Molloy, Paul Brady, and Tommy Peoples: (fiddle, wooden flute, bouzouki) GREEN LINNET GLCD 3018
Kathleen Collins:(fiddle) SHANACHIE 29002
*Paddy Glackin and Paddy Keenan: Doublin’. TARA 2007
Dennis Murphy and Julia Clifford: The Star Above the Garter: Fiddle
Music from Kerry.
Seamus Ennis: Seamus Ennis: Forty Years of Irish Piping. GREEN LINNET 1448
Tommy Reck: The Stone in the Field (Irish piping) GREEN LINNET SIF 1008
*Joe Ryan/Eddie Clark: Crossroads. (fiddle and harmonica) GREEN LINNET GL 1030
Brian Conway and Tony DeMarco: The Apple in Winter: Irish Musicians
in New York.
*Tommy Peoples: High Part of the Road (with Paul Brady). (Ireland’s master fiddler) SHANANCHIE 29003
*Kevin Burke: If the Cap Fits. (fiddle) GREEN LINNET GL3009
Andy McGann and Paddy Reynolds. (classic NY fiddle duet) SHANACHIE 29004
You can’t miss with any of the above beauties. If you are not a piping fan as of now, try at least one. I’ve starred my personal must-haves – the ones that most set me on fire!
BEST OF THE 90s and 2000s (IMHO):
Maeve Donnelly and Peadar O’Loughlin:
*The Thing Itself. (fiddle and wooden flute)
P.J. Crotty and James Cullinan: *Happy to Meet, Sorry to Part. (fiddle
and wooden flute)
Mike and Mary Rafferty: The Road from Ballinakill. (button accordion and flute, some vocals, guest fiddler Willie Kelly) Larraga records, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
James Kelly: *Melodic Journeys. (fiddle) e-mail email@example.com
James Kelly: *Capel Street. (fiddle) BOWHAND RECORDS BOW 001
Tommy Keane and Jacqueline McCarthy: (Irish pipes and concertina) *The Wind Among the Reeds KELLS MUSIC KM 9505
Verena Cummins and Julie Langan: Fonnchaoi. (button accordion and fiddle,
Kevin Griffin, Roger Burridge, Michael Shorrock, Quentin Cooper: Across
Gearóid Ó mAllmhuráin, Patrick Ourseau: *Tracin’. (concertina and fiddle) CELTIC CROSSINGS CC0299-02 website www.celticcrossings.com
Liz and Yvonne Kane: The Well Tempered Bow. (fiddling sisters from Galway)
Martin Hayes: (fiddle) *The Lonesome Touch. GREEN LINNET (???)
Mick O’Brien and Caoimh?n Ó Raghallaigh: Kitty Lie Over. (pipes and fiddle) ACM RECORDS ACM CD 102 THIS IS A SOLID GROOVE
Tommy Peoples: The Quiet Glen. (fiddle) Tommy Peoples Publishing (ask the Philbins at Ossian USA)
M?cheál Ó Raghallaigh: The Nervous Man. (concertina, various accompanists) MOR Music 001
*Mary Custy/Eoin O’Neill -- With A lot of help from their friends. (fiddle, bouzouki, accordion, concertina, whistle, more) No publisher.
*Sharon Shannon. (button accordion with multiple other instruments) ROCC 8 SOLID RECORDS
*Kevin Griffin: Down in Doolin. (banjo, fiddle, guitar, bouzouki, accordion, more) No publisher
*Terry Bingham: (concertina, fiddle, banjo, bouzouki, more) Recorded at Harmony Row Studios, County Clare
There are so many great recordings. I will post more at another time, with different categories. But this is a start. All of these popped out at me and grabbed my attention. Some are sweet and some are rockin’, some lilting and light, but they all have the element of soulfulness and authenticity.