tradition . . .

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A word about tradition, and the use of the word "traditional" to describe our music. We acknowledge the validity and existence of "traditional singing" as, among other things, solo sean-nós (translated as "old style") as performed, for example, by those people living in the Gaeltacht or Irish-speaking strongholds of Ireland. These singers learned their songs in the true traditional manner, from the generations before them, almost exclusively by ear and memory. These are often songs of immense length sung in a style that takes years and years of listening and mentoring to achieve. We ourselves are striving to learn these songs with the resources we have—for the most part tapes, books, the occasional visiting teacher and even the internet. Though we love harmonizing, we love also the traditional solo style of singing, and we often have to be careful to mention that by our use of the word "traditional" we do not want to mislead anyone into thinking that the majority of our work is—or even could be—equated with this particular style.

Extensions...
In our reading and listening (see "Bláth Gach Géag dá dTig" with Lillis Ó Laoire) we have come to believe that group singing was also practiced by Irish people at one time, and we hope therefore that it is safe to use "traditional" to describe our unison singing in that respect.

Celtic peoples in Wales, Brittany and Cornwall have various part-singing traditions ranging from stark two-part pieces which have a very “medieval" sound (often described thus) to full four-part harmonies. We therefore refer to part-singing as a tradition, as well.

Finally, there is singing in the New World, from solo to several distinct styles of part-singing, which are still to this day understood to be "Irish" in nature, or Celtic, or which stand out somehow from their Germanic, Slavic, African and other neighbors. Without benefit of age, education, musical training or particular knowledge of the subject, many a person upon hearing such a song will remark that it "sounds Irish." So, even after years of separation from the language, traditional music and lifestyle of the old countries, there is something in our experience, or minds, which gives us a feeling for what is "Irish" or "Celtic" in our repertoire of folk songs and folk hymns. This is too remarkable a phenomenon to discount, and we without hesitation include these songs and musical styles as valid categories in the Celtic tradition, regardless of the soil on which they are sung.

26 June 2000

 

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Last Updated 31 December 1969