Fusion involves combining two genres of music to create a unique sound. Over the past 50 years Irish music has been combined with many other genres, such as jazz, classical, popular and rock. The growth of pop and rock music during the 20th Century had a significant implication no Irish traditional music. A band who incorporated both Irish and rock music in their sound was “Horslips”. The name is a combination of the hornpipe and the slip jig. Through their music they inspired an entirely new sub category - celtic rock. Horslips were committed in an Irish cultural dimension and eschewed the American and British rock clone models. They wanted a sound and material that would be clearly Irish but also successful popular music. Well known songs of theirs were “King of the Fairies” and “An Dearg Doom”. The instruments they used included electric and acoustic guitars and fiddles, bodhran, keyboards, flute, mandolin and concertina. In their music they used Irish dance tunes, old harp music, airs and marches, songs in Irish and English and folk music of other countries. Their last jig was in 1980 but they left a lasting impression on the future of Irish music. Another kind of fusion was Irish and classical music. An extremely prominent example of this is “Mise Éire”, written by Sean Ó’Riada for a film in 1960. At the time Ireland had no established film industry and the Irish people were immensely proud. The status of Irish music was raised amongst a section of society who had never taken an interest before. This combines Irish traditional tunes and sean nós songs with orchestral accompaniment. “Mise Éire” was originally conceived as the first a a trilogy of films. This last film commission in 1963 was the music for a screen adaption of Synge’s “The Playboy of the Western World.” Another example of this type of fusion is “The Brendon Voyage” by Shaun Davey. This is a work from uilleann pipes an orchestra. This was Davey’s first major orchestral suite, composed for Uilleann pipes played by Liam O’Flynn. This piece depicts Tim Severin’s adventure in reconstructing Brendan’s 6th Century Atlantic crossing to America. Irish traditional music has also been fused with jazz. An example of this is Michael O’ Suilleabhain’s piano arrangements of Irish dance tunes in a three-way fusion of traditional, classical and jazz. Also in this type is Sharon Shannon’s “Cavan Potholes”. This piece features jazz style riffs. A scene in Bill Wheelman’s Riverdance “Trading Taps” incorporates jazz, combines Irish music with alto jazz saxophone. 2 Fusion of Irish Music | Sample answer Irish traditional music has also been fused with popular music. An example of this type is De Danann’s recording of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” transposed into a set of dance tunes. Another example is Sinead O’Connor with “Nothing Compares 2 U.” This song incorporates synthesised strings, keyboards and drums using a rock beat, fiddle and Irish fiddle style. Another example of this genres is the Pogue’s “Fairytale of New York”. It is sung in punk genre with harsh used of belting of the voice. Orchestral accompaniment prevails, and after the first verse the accordion, drum kit, guitar and bass enter. Tin-whistle is added between verses. It is these types which fusion of Irish music has developed into over the 20th and 21st Century.
A piece I have studied by a 20th Century composer is “Riverdance” by Bill Whelan. Riverdance is an Irish dance piece which tells the story of people moving to new places and changing over time, taking their dances and their stories with them. These people are faced with a choice between preserving their traditional barriers or going with the flow, but instead they choose to show off what they have learned in the past and throw it in the open. Riverdance reflects the evolution of Irish culture through fusions, adaptions and new frameworks, re-emerging into a new meaning and energy. In Act 1 of Riverdance we see early Irish settlers who knew fear, joy and fire and worked stone and water to make a home. The stories of these people are about elemental forces. This is first seen in the opening dance “Reel Around the Sun”. This is introduced by a slow air acting as a type of overture for the whole show played by Davey Spillane on low whistle. This is accompanied by string orchestra. The theme of this dance portrays the sun bringing life, light and fire. This sequence represents a celebration of masculine power. There are two parts to this scene which are separated by a percussive section that helps to raise the tempo before the entrance of the male lead. The reel is danced by a soloist and then soloist and dance troupe. This scene is played by bodhrán, godulka, accordion and fiddle accompanied by the Riverdance band. Another scene in “Riverdance” is “Firedance”. The theme of this dance is the sun, and how the sun invests itself in the passion of the dancers. This was the first composition written by Whelan when composing the show, and he envisaged a female dancer, personifying fire, being discovered by a group of Irish people. He used a Spanish idiom to represent the fiery and passionate nature of this music, and unusual time signatures for both Spanish and Irish music. The entry at bar 73 is extremely native Irish. The solo guitarist Rafael Riqueimi plays guitar castanets, and Maria represents fire while Michael represents early settlers lured by the flame. Spanish guitar plays against sustained strings while the woman dances gently and enticingly. Castanets play a rhythmic obstinate while Spanish guitar plays a reel. Fiddle and Uilleann pipes are also present. When Flatley enters the music quietens while the traditional fiddle plays a reel. Another scene in this dance I found particularly memorable was “Riverdance”. This is inspired by the life of the river. “Cloudsong” begins the piece, telling the story of the river’s journey towards the sea. The slip jig which begins the dance is then danced by a “river woman”, Jean Butler, who vanishes temporarily when the male lead enters, with a batter reel. River and earth are united in Riverdance | Sample answer the 6/8 - 4/4 section, which turns into a jig for the finale. The melody remains the same, but the rhythm is changed to fit the 12/8 time signature. A fourth piece in this dance I found memorable was “trading taps.” This was added later, and is a fusion of styles set in the streets of America. It features tap dancers dancing against Irish dancers, and shows a contrast between jazz and Irish music. These scenes from the dance show “Riverdance”, composed by Bill Whelan, are an example of a piece composed by a 20th Century Composer I have studied.
Irish MusicListening Question
For the listening question you will be asked questions on three excerpts. You should be familiar with Irish dances, instruments, sean nós singing, categories of Irish songs, features of Irish music, features of the peformance of Irish music and different types of ensembles.
Common mistakes include noting a feature of the music instead of the perfomance (or vice versa), listing features of Irish music or performance in general rather than features of the excerpt played.
How should you study for this question? Doing lots of listening questions is the only way. If you run out of questions you can: start again at the beginning and redo them (you won't remember all the answers), ask your teacher for more or play random recordings of Irish music on youtube or itunes and list all the features you can hear (type of dance/song, instruments/ensemble, features of the music and the performance). There are some good linkshere.
You must write a very short essay and have a choice of four questions. There are roughly twelve topics overall that come up in this section, you should learn five. Note that some topics overlap (e.g. harping tradition and collectors, ornamentation and sean nós singing, fusions and studying a group/composer).
The most common mistake made in this section is misreading the question, or not reading it carefully, and/or not fulfilling all the requirements of the question in the answer. Your response should only be, at the very most, one page long so get to the point! Make two or three points, two substantial points with references and examples, or three less substantial points with references and examples (but maybe not as detailed). If you're asked: Discuss the importance of collectors in Irish Music. Name two collectors and give examples of their contributions. No amount of detailed information on the importance of collectors and the life stories of, say, Edward Bunting and Francis O'Neill will get you any more than 6 marks if you haven't named their publications (give examples of their contributions).