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PostPosted: Mon Mar 04, 2019 12:40 pm 
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Last night I saw a documentary, Lomax in ireland, about, yes, Alan Lomax's trip to Ireland in 1951, where he drives around with Seamus Ennis. The documentary (https://www.thejournal.ie/alan-lomax-in ... 6-Jul2018/) positions Lomax as "saving" Irish music and lots of people voice that sentiment, which is what was voiced about O'Neill and Petrie and Bunting. Irish music has been about to expire basically forever.

The film was made by a number of worthy Irish cultural organization including TG4. One of the examples in there is Lomax and Ennis, who the film makes oddly invisible, recording Aggie Whyte playing "Miss McCloud's" and then juxtaposing it to "Uncle Joe" in Appalachia and lo and behold it's the same tune. But the film treats Aggie Whyte and Miss McCloud's like Lomax found her in a bog, when in fact it's been played since forever and the song is still in circulation--my daughter grew up hearing "Uncle Joe" on a Dan Zanes CD, for example.

It's great that Lomax recorded what he did, but the positioning is really odd

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_f28mjM ... e=youtu.be


Last edited by PB+J on Mon Mar 04, 2019 6:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 04, 2019 12:51 pm 
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If you look at it from the perspective of its day, perhaps the positioning isn't as strange. Fair enough, Miss McLeod's was the most well known and most widespread of all, Scottish, tunes but in terms of music and culture, traditional music was pretty much a marginal pursuit that was not met with any appreciation outside the circle of practitioners and country people.

In 1951 it was pretty much underground, it was referred to in terms of 'The Hidden Ireland' for a reason. !951 was the year of the first Fleadh, in Mullingar. A revelation for many musicians who met for the first time with players from all over th country. The march towards even a degree of popularity was only about to start. And even today, with more players than ever before, it remains very much a minority interest.

It is perhaps not completely right putting Lomax forward as the one 'saving' it all. Ennis was the hired hand and he basically took Lomax to see people he himself knew and had already recorded when working for the Folklore Commission (and later the BBC). Ennis later did the same for Jean Ritchie and George Pickow on their collecting/recording trip. Diane Hamilton was active in Ireland as well. Pete Seeger did it as well, as did many others All on the same mission, to record what was there before it disappeared. Lomax was perhaps the first of the high profile visiting collectors.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 04, 2019 6:35 pm 
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Mr.Gumby wrote:
If you look at it from the perspective of its day, perhaps the positioning isn't as strange. Fair enough, Miss McLeod's was the most well known and most widespread of all, Scottish, tunes but in terms of music and culture, traditional music was pretty much a marginal pursuit that was not met with any appreciation outside the circle of practitioners and country people.

In 1951 it was pretty much underground, it was referred to in terms of 'The Hidden Ireland' for a reason. !951 was the year of the first Fleadh, in Mullingar. A revelation for many musicians who met for the first time with players from all over th country. The march towards even a degree of popularity was only about to start. And even today, with more players than ever before, it remains very much a minority interest.

It is perhaps not completely right putting Lomax forward as the one 'saving' it all. Ennis was the hired hand and he basically took Lomax to see people he himself knew and had already recorded when working for the Folklore Commission (and later the BBC). Ennis later did the same for Jean Ritchie and George Pickow on their collecting/recording trip. Diane Hamilton was active in Ireland as well. Pete Seeger did it as well, as did many others All on the same mission, to record what was there before it disappeared. Lomax was perhaps the first of the high profile visiting collectors.


It was a minority interest in O'Neill's day too-all the sales in sheet music and recordings, all the top billing in vaudeville--was what we would have to regard as pop music churned out by tin pan alley. That stuff was overwhelmingly more popular and Michael Coleman's records were decidedly a minority interest.

I'm not wiling to call Ennis a "hired hand." Lomax always relied on local people to find musicians and to smooth the path to recording them. Famously he never would have found Muddy Waters without John Work, a musicologist at Fisk University who gained him entry into African American communities that would have been closed to him otherwise.

Lomax's recordings are great and it's great to have them, and I can't disagree about the totalizing pop culture juggernaut, but it's always the same story being told, from Bunting on. And yet the same songs are still being played and were still being played, by minority communities, minority meaning "small numbers of people" rather than "people of color."

What he was recording was less vanishing music--because you could hear "Uncle Joe" on the Grand Old Opry--than evidence of minority communities. I mean that's interesting and worthy in and of itself, but it's not the same as "saving the music," since your example of the first Fleadh points out there were people all over ireland playing more or less the same music O'Neill's people were playing in 1900, and O'Neill heard as a child in 1855. If you look at Ryan's Mammoth collection, published in Boston in 1883, it's amazing how many of those tunes are still standard repertoire. So 1840, 1883, 1900, 1925, 1951; it's been a very long and lingering death


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 04, 2019 7:39 pm 
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PB+J wrote:
it's been a very long and lingering death

Given that all things without exception must pass, the death part is not a matter of opinion. But why so bleak? Call me Pollyanna, but after all, isn't it just another way of saying that the music has survived against the odds?

I think you need to make an eponymous sandwich, grab a glass of milk, and watch Despicable Me. :wink:

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 04, 2019 7:44 pm 
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Nanohedron wrote:
PB+J wrote:
it's been a very long and lingering death

Given that all things without exception must pass, the death part is not a matter of opinion. But why so bleak? Call me Pollyanna, but after all, isn't it just another way of saying that the music has survived against the odds?

I think you need to make an eponymous sandwich, grab a glass of milk, and watch Despicable Me. :wink:



No i think you completely misunderstand me. I'm exactly pointing out that it is NOT dying and has NOT been dying since people first started claiming it was dying 200 years ago


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 04, 2019 7:45 pm 
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Sorry; I couldn't read the snark for some reason. Embarrassing. :oops:

I am now officially on board, and a world has opened up. :)

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 04, 2019 8:02 pm 
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I'm not really being snarky. I've just been doing a ton of research on the history of irish music, and for two hundred the starting point in virtually every account, from Petrie and Bunting on, has been "the music is about to die and I'm saving it."

I have a feeling there may be some refreshing adult beverages involved in this exchange? :)


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 04, 2019 8:13 pm 
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And besides, we're coming up on the 25th anniversary of Riverdance which, of course, saved Irish music from its deathbed. Except for O'Carolan who is eternal (or chronic, take your pick).

Best wishes.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 04, 2019 10:32 pm 
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 04, 2019 11:49 pm 
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I play in a session with an 80 year old from Mayo who says the music was seldom played in his childhood except within families, And Chicago has some fellows in their 90s who immigrated to Chicago as young men who state the same. These then young immigrants to Chicago reared a generation who are now themselves up in years, but participated in the popularity of Irish music as we know it now, growing up playing in their homes with their families. And as we know from the relatively large selection of 78s from before the war there has always seemed to be a niche market. Green Fields of America was launched 40 years ago by Mick Maloney with a large selection of Irish American musicians (best researched on Wikipedia rather than my typing them here.) Many of those folks were those kids who grew up playing in each other's homes, sometimes crossing the pond to win All Irelands and went on to careers of lively cross pollination of the music on both sides of the ocean. I seem to remember Alan Lomax was a pivotal character in Mick Maloney's musical history, but I can't quite recall. It was someone who was recording for the Smithsonian. A number of those Green Fields of America folks went on to make careers in Irish music, some focusing on maintaining the tradition as "purely" as possible, some pushing the envelope and expanding it to larger audiences in such pursuits as Riverdance. Now that we are post the Riverdance bubble it may seem the music is on the verge of the deathbed, but that seems an exaggeration.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 05, 2019 2:14 am 
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I'm not really being snarky. I've just been doing a ton of research on the history of irish music, and for two hundred the starting point in virtually every account, from Petrie and Bunting on, has been "the music is about to die and I'm saving it."


And they said so with some justification. Bunting documented the dying breath of the bardic harp tradition, which died with his informants and is gone forever. I think we touched on these points before, O'Neill and piping, Junior Crehan and the housedances, and I think you strongly under-appreciate how marginalised the traditional arts and culture were at some point. It was pulled back from the brink where it only existed in families and isolated communities with no audience in the wider population, ghettoized, derided and put down, a vehicle of cultural national nationalism at best but appreciated and practiced only by the few. It took hard work and dedication to achieve that. The foundation of Na Piobairi Uilleann successfully pulled piping from the brink, for example.

But I realise the whole deathbed thing has been played up a few times as well: I remember Tommy Munnelly making fun of Comhaltas when they declared 1984 would be the year 'the music died' unless you'd subscribe to their organisation. Bottles of smoke.

It's not on its deathbed now and only fools would suggest that. More and better players (on average anyway) than ever before and an audience of sorts. You'll have to wonder what the ongoing commodification of it will do to it in the long run but it will survive that too, in some shape or form, once the commercial interest dies down. again It's safe for another generation anyway, as they say.


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I'm not wiling to call Ennis a "hired hand." Lomax always relied on local people to find musicians and to smooth the path to recording them.


As far as I remember, but I admit it has been a while, Lomax employed Ennis. Ennis took him to see people he knew from his previous work with the Folklore Commission. He knew the terrain, from experience, doing the same sort of work, like nobody else.



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Except for O'Carolan who is eternal (or chronic, take your pick).


But you have to wonder if at least some musicians play his music just to have something different, a bit of variety to offer an audience. Older musicians (at least the few left of the generation I am thinking of) will tell you nobody played his music before O'Riada dug him up. [nice bit about women and harps repeated the other night, by the way: Mna an Cheoil ]

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 05, 2019 9:50 am 
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So I don't know anything about living Ireland other than what I've read (a good bit) and what you learn as a tourist.

But Irish Traditional Music is state sanctioned early on, isn't it? It's part of the project of the Gaelic league. It's part of the whole "comely maidens dancing at the crossroads" image. It's deeply embedded in the Nationalist project. Which is why Seamus Ennis is being paid by the Irish Folklore Commission to record people in 1947. And Aggie Whyte, who the documentary treats like she lives on the Blasket islands with Peig Sayers, actually had a very extensive commercial career

https://abbey.galwaycommunityheritage.o ... whyte-ryan

She toured England. She was on the radio, she won organized contests, she had a Ceili band. That's not the record of a dying tradition: it's the record of a living tradition with official state sanction.

The state's relationship to irish music is really interesting and the US doesn't really have an equivalent. There's nothing like Comhaltas in the US. The US has the Voice of America, but it plays American pop music, not "uncle joe." We have institutions that study folklore, and the Smithsonian has a folklife festival, but there's no body of national music that's enlisted in the project of legitimating the state.

I have to wonder if part of the sense that irish music is perpetually dying has to do with the fact that it's part of the apparatus of official culture?


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 05, 2019 10:50 am 
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But Irish Traditional Music is state sanctioned early on, isn't it? It's part of the project of the Gaelic league. It's part of the whole "comely maidens dancing at the crossroads" image. It's deeply embedded in the Nationalist project. Which is why Seamus Ennis is being paid by the Irish Folklore Commission to record people in 1947. And Aggie Whyte, who the documentary treats like she lives on the Blasket islands with Peig Sayers, actually had a very extensive commercial career


I really don't have time for an extensive reply to all that. I think your image of it all is not correct. The state did not sanction music and in fact barely tolerated it, look at the impact of the Dance Hall act and the suppression that came with it. In an earlier discussion I already mentioned how Seán Reid, Clare County council engineer, not a minor job, was called into his superiors to be told to end his involvement with pipers and the Tulla ceiliband, or else. Does that sound like a state, or indeed a society, endorsing this music?

FWIW, in 'The Ireland we dreamed of' DeValera never mentioned crossroad dancing by comely maidens, 'fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contest of athletic youths and the laughter of happy maidens, whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age. The home, in short, of a people living the life that God desires that men should live' was what he aspired to, no mention of song or dance in his vision. Diarmuid Ferriter, by the way, had some choice words for that particular uttering by Dev.

There were different forces working in the new state, the Folklore commission did tremendous work preserving lore, songs and music and all that but that doesn't mean what they collected was sanctioned by the state.

Further nitpicking alert: Ennis started work as a collector in 1942 and left in July 1947. He intended to join the RAF, Breandan Breathnach and Colm O'Loughlin managed to find him a position, first at O'Loughlin's publishing house and from there the collecting job, that kept him in Ireland and so were probably responsible for him surviving (as was their intention).

Too many complexities to treat in a forum post anyway, let's just say the tide started slowly to turn one Ciarán MacMathúna started recording in the country where the music lived and broadcast what he found, the early Fleadhanna changed the atmosphere (although the whole Comhaltas situation could probably fill a book of controversies) and things gathered momentum in the 1970s with Na Piobairi Uilleann (founded in 68) and Scoil Samradh Willie Clancy starting to make an impact.

I am not sure you can say Aggie Whyte had an extensive commercial career but YMMV. Lovely fiddler though but the EP Breandan Breathnach put out of her and Peter O'Loughlin was probably as commercial as it ever got (which is not very). The Ballinakil had a lovely sound but I don't think you can look at them as a touring, income generating enterprise.

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 05, 2019 1:38 pm 
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PB+J wrote:
I have a feeling there may be some refreshing adult beverages involved in this exchange? :)

Let me know whenever you're in town. :)

busterbill wrote:
I play in a session with an 80 year old from Mayo who says the music was seldom played in his childhood except within families, And Chicago has some fellows in their 90s who immigrated to Chicago as young men who state the same. These then young immigrants to Chicago reared a generation who are now themselves up in years, but participated in the popularity of Irish music as we know it now, growing up playing in their homes with their families.

Apparently this was also the case in St. Paul, Minnesota, where the Irish population is considerable. Up until the popularization of folk traditions in the 1970s, real Trad was pretty much unknown outside the home.

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 05, 2019 2:30 pm 
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busterbill wrote:
I play in a session with an 80 year old from Mayo who says the music was seldom played in his childhood except within families, And Chicago has some fellows in their 90s who immigrated to Chicago as young men who state the same. These then young immigrants to Chicago reared a generation who are now themselves up in years, but participated in the popularity of Irish music as we know it now, growing up playing in their homes with their families.


So let me please make it clear that I'm not claiming to be an expert here. There are just aspects of the chronology that don't make sense and I'm trying to figure them out.

Nanohedron wrote:
Apparently this was also the case in St. Paul, Minnesota, where the Irish population is considerable. Up until the popularization of folk traditions in the 1970s, real Trad was pretty much unknown outside the home.



I believe people saying this, but there was a small industry of recording ITM for Irish and American audiences in the 1910s and into the 1930s. Somebody was buying Michael Coleman recordings; people in Ireland were listening to them. The Hanafin brothers had a radio show in Boston in the 1930s. John McKenna was recording into the 1930s. Those recordings made it to ireland as well. My Father in Law visited the relatives in ireland (Co. Wexford) in the mid 1950s; he remembered going to a ceili and listening to ITM, or so he said. There were irish bands playing in all the east coast cities and chicago: in the 1950s; probably not pure ITM as we might regard it, but a lot of the same tunes. I've been studying Micho Russell. Sometimes he says no one appreciated the music, but then other times he's in a band playing paid gigs in nearby towns.

Musicians in most genres tend to feel under appreciated. Because they are! They work hard at mastering something and most people can't be arsed to listen, much less pay money. Virtually every working musician I know has this complaint. The irish folklore commission starts recording people in the 1930s. They show up with the narrative "hey you're a vanishing national treasure!"


Historians who look at folklorists notice how often they bend their subjects towards what they want to hear. The account of Alan Lomax with Muddy Waters is famous: Waters plays all sorts of tunes in the 1930s: pop tunes, minstrel show tunes, cowboy songs from movies, appalachian folk songs, his own tunes. Lomax calls him "an unwashed folk singer" and wants him to play only tunes that fit Lomax's idea of what oppressed black people are supposed to play. Muddy obliges. Its obviously not the same, because the race politics would not be present in the same way, but how much of that went on in Ireland?

Terry Eagleton, the Anglo Irish literary critic, reprints this story:

"A lot of Irish music comes to us only from the oral tradition, collected and written down by scholars who roamed the countryside in search of tuneful old codgers. One such expert asked an old woman where she had found a particular song, to be told that she had heard it sung by a blind harper from a village over the mountain. And where had he got it from? inquired the expert. From his old uncle, she replied, who had been a roving tinker. And where had he got it from? He got it from the radio."


Last edited by PB+J on Tue Mar 05, 2019 4:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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