Guest post graduate seminar lecture
From foot percussion to bodhrán: the paradox of the percussive impulse in Irish music
Irish music has little documented 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 Early critics of the bodhrán cited the absence of historical references to justify dismissal or trivialisation of the drum, and held that authentic Irish Traditional music did not ‘need’ percussion on that account. But the fact that the bodhrán now enjoys such popularity suggests the existence 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 suggests that among dancers there were and are foot percussionists, and this skill is also exercised and carried on today by bodhrán players. It draws on original research done on the tambourine and bodhrán, this raising questions not only about origins, but also about terminology and interpretation of language.
READING – Companion to Irish Traditional Music, 2nd edition (2011)
Dance – 180 -200
Bodhran – 68-74
idiophone – 357
tambourine – 676
foot stamping – 282
bones – 76-78