Exploring the Tradition by Shannon McKee

Over the last few months I have had the opportunity to delve deeply into Irish music in all of its different forms as part of my studies in Queen's University. My listening has ranged between both older and newly composed tunes to sean-nós style songs, and from ballad singing of the 1950s to the revival bands of the 1970s and beyond. This has helped me build upon the knowledge of traditional music that I developed by taking the fiddle workshops with Belfast Trad in early 2016.

I recently had the opportunity to perform as part of my assessment at Queen's and my group's programme included a number of contrasting pieces. In this blog I'll mention two that were of particular interest to me. Firstly, I performed a song named 'Bríd Óg Ní Mhaille' as my solo piece. This song tells a dramatic story of heartbreak. Its slow tempo, captivating melody and beautiful Irish lyrics intrigued me as a singer. The decision to include this in my programme was not a difficult one. The version that I believe communicates this song best is Altan's version, and is sung by Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh. Altan's version of the song can be found here:

Along with a translation of the lyrics: 

Is a Bhríd Óg Ní Mháille                 Oh Bríd Óg O'Malley
'S tú d'fhág mo chroí cráite           You have left my heart breaking   
'S chuir tú arraingeacha                 You've sent the death pangs
An bháis fríd cheartlár mo chroí    Of sorrow to pierce my heart sore
Tá na céadta fear i ngrá                 A hundred men are craving
Le d'éadan ciúin náireach             For your breathtaking beauty
Is go dtug tú barr breáchtacht'    You're the fairest of maidens
Ar Thír Oirghiall más fíor              In Oriel for sure  

Níl ní ar bith is áille                       No spectacle is fairer
Ná'n ghealach os cionn a' tsáile    Than moonbeams on the harbor
Ná bláth bán na n-airne                Or the sweet scented blossoms
Bíos ag fás ar an draighean          Of the sloe on the thorn
Ó siúd mar bíos mo ghrá-sa        But my love shines much brighter
Níos trilsí le breáchtacht              In looks and in stature
Béilín meala na háilleacht           That honey-lipped beauty
Nach ndearna riamh claon           Who never said wrong  

Another part of our programme that I thoroughly enjoyed is modern tune named Michael McGoldrick's Jig, named after the virtuosic flute and whistle player Michael McGoldrick. The resources for this tune are limited, making it a little more difficult to learn and even more so to investigate its origins and composer. Below is a version of sheet music for this jig:

Source: < http://archive.folx.org/tune/michael-mcgoldricks-1800 >

Source: <http://archive.folx.org/tune/michael-mcgoldricks-1800>

Here is a video of a young band playing this tune (in a different key than D Major):

Studying this subject in depth has opened up a new realm of musical intrigue from all different aspects of the tradition. I'd encourage anybody, whether you're studying this subject or are a casual traditional musician, to always challenge yourself to discover more about the music you're engaging with!