A Musical Medley
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Mini-Music  Q & A

The Traditional Music Session: Irish Group Therapy
Sean Ferguson

Questions and Answers:

1 - What's the difference between Irish and Scottish traditional music?

While I’m not an expert on this, I do know that the West Coast of Ireland is the furthest you can get from Europe and the U.K. without landing in the Atlantic Ocean. For various reasons, traditional culture in Ireland appears to have become concentrated along this coast in relative isolation from external cultural forces. As a result, the traditional music preserved in this region may be in some senses less influenced by music from other areas, which gives it a unique character. Scotland, on the other hand, as part of the United Kingdom, has in general been more exposed to other influences, which has naturally caused its traditional music to evolve in a different way over time in comparison to that of Ireland.

2 - Do you need to be able to read music to play in a session?

At its foundation, Irish traditional music is an oral tradition, passed on between musicians through direct personal contact, rather than through the intermediary of notation. Many important aspects of this music cannot be notated, such as its rhythmic feel, its ornamentation, etc. While there are literally thousands of notated scores in different formats freely available on the internet, it isn’t necessary at all to be able to read music to become an expert performer of this repertoire. Based on my experience, there is a distinct qualitative difference between pieces that I’ve learned from reading a score and those that I’ve learned by ear, since the latter highlights important elements that can be heard, but not seen.

3 - How much did you have to rehearse for the Mini-Music performance?

We didn’t rehearse at all! In fact, I didn’t even tell the performers exactly what tunes we were going to play. Spontaneity and musical interplay between the performers are hallmarks of Irish music that would be lost in an overly-rehearsed performance, especially in the context of a session. At a session, you never even know who will show up, so it would be impossible to rehearse on a regular basis.


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