St. Patrick’s Day, part 3


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Today I want to spend some time talk­ing about Irish music and then you’ll notice that I have a music player with some of my favorite pieces.  I could talk about every sin­gle one of the songs, but more impor­tantly I want to talk about what Irish music does for us and for the cul­ture and tra­di­tion of Ireland.

Let me start out by telling you a story.   About 10 years ago, we went to a local con­cert for a group of “Celtic musi­cians” who are from Salt Lake City.  Their name is Shanahy and three of the songs on that music player are by them.  They were absolutely bril­liant.  They played the tra­di­tional instru­ments, the fid­dle, the pipe, the drum.  They sang beau­ti­fully and there were a lot of stun­ning instru­men­tal pieces as well as the great lyrics.  When we got home, my mother-in-law, who had come to the con­cert with us, expressed deep dis­sat­is­fac­tion.  She had expected “tra­di­tional” Irish songs like “Danny Boy” or “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kath­leen.”  We tried to explain to her that these were actu­ally Irish songs, from Ire­land, and not from Amer­ica; but she still wasn’t happy.  That was maybe the first time I really started think­ing about the dif­fer­ent types of  “Irish music” that exist in the world.

The first kind of Irish music would be the tra­di­tional songs that were actu­ally writ­ten in Ire­land, by Irish peo­ple, about what life is like in Ire­land and what it has been like over the cen­turies.  These are the kind of songs Shanahy sings.  Pieces like “Serv­ing Girl’s Hol­i­day,” “The False Knight on the Road,”  or the Irish national anthem.  The chances are not too great that we aver­age Amer­i­cans would be famil­iar with this sort of music because it doesn’t have a whole lot of mean­ing to us, other than  it being a lovely song.

Then there are the songs that arose from the Dias­pora, or the scat­ter­ing, of the Irish at the time of the famine and “the trou­bles.”  These are the songs my mother-in-law expected to hear that night.  These are songs writ­ten in Amer­ica, or else­where, express­ing long­ing to return to Ire­land or talk­ing about how won­der­ful it was in Ire­land.  These would be songs like “The Moun­tains of Mohr” or “Car­rick­fer­gus,” or of course “Danny Boy.”  Some of them such as “If You’re Irish, Come Into the Par­lor” talk about what life is like some­where away from Ire­land and how won­der­ful it is to meet a fel­low coun­try­man.  To me, these are the sad­der songs, although not all of them have sad music or lyrics, but the long­ing to return is present in them nonetheless.

Then there are what I would clas­sify as the mod­ern songs, writ­ten for either movies like “Finian’s Rain­bow” and “Brigadoon” about Ireland/Scotland or for musi­cians who want to play a Celtic sound but want new mate­r­ial so they write in that style, but they’re new songs. The Irish Rovers, in my opin­ion, play a lot of these sorts of songs.  I love them, but things like “Nancy Whiskey” or “The Uni­corn” use more mod­ern lyrics.

Then, of course, on top of all of that are the instru­men­tal pieces, show­ing off the beau­ti­ful Irish instru­ments such as the fid­dle and the harp and the penny whis­tle.  A lot of these are meant to be danced to.  My daugh­ter has count­less instru­men­tal CDs with really orig­i­nal names like “72 dance rhythms” and things like that.  There are also groups, like Leahy, that pro­duce a lot of music that is suit­able for danc­ing even if they throw in a few vocal pieces on the CD.

On my own iPod, I like to have a wide vari­ety.  I have songs from movies, tra­di­tional Irish, the entire reper­toire of the Irish Rovers, and even some instru­men­tal.  I love to sing along with all of them, or hum and beat out the rhythm on what­ever is handy if there aren’t words.  You prob­a­bly have your own favorite Celtic music, but don’t be afraid to try some­thing new.  All of it can get us in the mood for the St. Patrick’s Day holiday.

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