The invigorating enablement of a perfect past for Irish music (Newfoundland)

ICTM World Conference, 13-19 July, 2011, St. John’s, Newfoundland

Paper in Irish Music Panel – Indigenous Modernities: Fintan Vallely with Mats Melin and Martin Dowling. Papers:

Fintan Vallely. The invigorating enablement of a perfect past: Past and future in modern-day revision and rationalisation of Irish Traditional music practices, instrumentation and motivational impetus.

Mats Melin. Cape Breton step-dance on the small screen: The influence of visual technologies on aesthetics and over-arching stylistic ‘correctness’; capturing ephemeral moments in time for posterity.

Martin Dowling. Modernity and Irish Traditional Music, a Historical View: the indigenous music of Ireland never lacked the influence of modernity, but negotiates tradition and change with resilience.

ICTM Conference Programme

The invigorating enablement of a perfect past

Irish Traditional music is at its most dramatic a body of melismatic song practice which is demonstrably medieval, but with roots in an even greater antiquity. It also has consequent and distinctive varied instrumental forms which have been documented over some 1200 years. Though there has been much change and dilution over the centuries, because the process of this has been interwoven with the repression of Gaelic Ireland, old Irish music, song and dance have accreted great ideological tenacity. This extraordinary alliance of the music with a thoroughly rebel-led nationalism marks Irish music revival as quite different to contemporary ‘Folk’ scenes in neighbouring England and Scotland: it has come to be defined by what it excludes as much as by what it includes. This feature has been remarkably enabling and productive over the phases of revival, the energy and popularity it generated having contributed much to the music’s internationalisation among non-Irish players. However, the perceived core, motivational certainties are now radically challenged and by the great volume of scholarship which has been triggered by the very success and consequent professionalism of the genre in alliance with new technologies. But far from being destructive, this has served to lay open exciting new strata which illuminate not only an island-Irish past, but international associations, borrowings and influences, a body of knowledge which indeed mirrors that which the avant garde of Irish Traditional performers have been doing in performance ever since Ó Riada’s experimental Ceoltóirí Chualann in the 1950s.  The paper analyses the coincidence of ‘pastness’ and futurism in the modern-day climate of revision and rationalization: music practices, instrumentation and motivational myths as a synergy which is underlain by a passionate belief in the genre as a true soul music. (Fintan Vallely)