General characteristics of Scottish and Irish traditional music

The sunday acoustic sessions at the Old triangle Alehouse will take place every week on Sunday afternoons 2 pm to 5 pm and these are open to everyone. First hour is a a slow session and there's often some Irish set dancing.

The acoustic music sessions have been attended mostly by fiddlers but there are several mandolin players, bodhran players as well as concertina, bouzouki and banjo players joining in. The music is mostly traditional Irish but we’re playing Scottish, Breton and even the odd bluegrass tune. The first half is a slow session and the last half is regular tempo with tunes learned by ear. Everyone is encouraged to bring new tunes to the group to learn.

I’m often asked to characterize Irish fiddling compared to Scottish or Cape Breton fiddling. It’s a challenging question since there are tunes common to both styles and many players these days listen to a wide variety of styles. Both styles are very dynamic and expressive and the music, for the most part has evolved as accompaniment for dancing. The Strathspey dance and music originated in Scotland but the tunes are played in Ireland. The jig, although originating in Italy, was embraced in Ireland but it is commonly played and danced in Scotland. The hornpipe dance and music seem to be original to Ireland but the music is played in Scotland, often as a reel. There were many cross fertilizations ot tunes and styles with players traveling either by sea or land, sharing their music and dancing but a unique characteristic sound for each still remains .

To my ear the sound of Irish music is more lyrical, more fluid, the ornamentation is also smoother and less angular than the Scottish style. Perhaps this relates to the nature of the landscape of each originating country. The rugged harsh climate of the Scottish highlands has lead to a more rugged, angular style of playing while the rolling countryside or Ireland has produced a smoother more rolling style of sound. Again, this is an oversimplification since within Scotland and Ireland there are many local styles within each country, and even within a county. The relative isolation of peoples in the 19 and early 20 th century meant that local fiddling “dialects” developed and were maintained. This is the main reason why Cape Breton fiddling is so highly characterized and is truer to the playing of fiddlers in Scotland in the early 1800 “s than what is found in Scotland today. The Scottish immigrants brought the music with them in the early 1800’s and the relative isolation of Cape Breton preserved the music relatively unchanged.

While back in Scotland, after the migrations to the New world there were many outside influences including classical and European music which changed the traditional music. As we can see music is a very dynamic and evolving art form and this continues to this day.

keep the bow rosined and the fiddle in tune!!!

copyright @ Roy Johnstone

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