This Music We Call
Traditional Irish

A session in Dublin

February 9, 2012

Traditional Irish music has never been so alive. In our cities, towns and villages. From Dublin to New York and across the United States. We are alive to its rhythm and it is thriving, growing, flourishing. It touches so many people and is enjoyed in so many ways. We dance to it, play it, mould it into new forms and take it to Broadway and the West End. We fuse it with other styles, but always, always come back to its basic form when we want to find it’s true beating heart. While we are enthralled by the stars it is the people at grassroots that keep it alive, that give their lives to mastering it and who pass it on to the next generation. Wherever our people go the music follows.

In the classrooms of a Cavan school on a hot August day our children compete for the honor of an all Ireland title in accordion, fiddle or whatever their chosen instrument might be. These people have youth on their side and talent in their bones. The talent is staggering. I sat at one under 15 fiddle competition last year and closed my eyes and listened. The music has reached a frighteningly high level. It could have been Bobby Casey on that makeshift stage, or a young John Carty. The ones that win are the ones that learn to reign in their talent, subdue their exuberance, and respect the tradition. Hold back your talent at the age of 15. That is what it has got to. Winning is not about showing off your technical brilliance. It is about the tradition and a music that has stood the test of time. You can hear what is traditional and what is not. You can hear modern influence. And now our young stars of today are taking on the challenge, making albums of the very highest quality and filling our lives with a music that will never die.

But what about the rest of us? The thousands that toil away every day in the never ending task of mastering this music we call traditional Irish. We are in the thousands and we are spread across the globe from Texas to New Jersey and across the Atlantic to Europe and beyond.  We seek to play the music that’s in our heads. In our heads and hearts, but not yet in our fingers. Never mind. It is as much a social and emotional connection as a musical one. It ties us to the homeland. It draws us back to the “well of inspiration” that is Ireland, where it is anchored and lives. We seek it out and we will play it with our very last breath on this planet. When this escapes us we will talk, or hum or simply listen.

The music that’s in our heads. There is a thought. When you hear it you will know it and it will stay with you through all you solitary nights as you scrape and hammer at whatever instrument you have chosen to torture yourself with. Then we take it out and display it to the world. We try to play it all over again, with others, and suffer once more. Then we succeed and we become what are known as a traditional Irish musicians. We have arrived. Those that haven’t quite yet arrived will argue that there is only going to be one winner in this titanic battle between player and instrument. This can’t be that difficult. Our problem here is we set the standards too high. We learn that soon enough. Then we learn that the journey is as much fun as the getting there. Then it creeps up on us and something that you have been doing for years suddenly feels real, feels natural, feels relaxed. That’s the moment you have waited for.

So let’s explore it. At www.tradconnect.com we have thousands of traditional Irish musicians from across the globe. It has become a home for people to connect with others. We are closing the distance between Dublin and Ohio, between Clare and New York. The stories are real and spring from the lives of the people that live them. The stories come from the music we love and share and hope to find in its truest form some day. Through these blogs we will celebrate the stars that make it so real as well as the thousands that play for the pure joy. We will visit the pubs of Dublin and elsewhere and meet the musicians. We may take in a festival or two and talk to stars that inspire us. Stick with us. Let’s see what we discover.  ♦

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