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From foot percussion to bodhrán: the percussive impulse Irish music

28 June, 2012
University of Ulster
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Northland Road, Derry

Paper at the NAFCo fiddle week conference. 

Irish music does not have any recorded evidence of musically-significant, 19th century or earlier percussion practices. In the 20th century the standard drum kit was used by bands, the tambourine occurs momentarily on recordings and later, in the 1950s, the tambourine was formally adopted in the form of  the ‘bodhrán’, a large-diameter frame drum. Early critics of the bodhrán cited the absence of historical references in their dismissal of the drum, and held that Irish Traditional music did not need percussion on that account. But the fact that the bodhrán now enjoys such popularity suggests the presence of a formidable rhythmic or percussive  impulse which is unlikely to have been absent in earlier eras. Indeed, observations of step and set dancers’ foot patterning and impact sounds suggests that percussion was ever present – provided by the participatory energy of dancers. The inverse is seen in the mimicking by older musicians  of step dance percussion with their feet while playing, and, too, in  the loud, visible keeping time with the foot done by all players still. This paper puts forward that the dancers’ foot percussion is today exercised and carried on carried on today by bodhrán players.

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