The Music

The Music

Playing & Singing

The execution of music and song is very much an individual thing – it is
down to the performer who, once he or she has spent sufficient time learning
and developing his or her own craft, can hopefully put their unique stamp on it.
Of course certain rules must be observed, but within that, the scope is limitless.
In many ways the challenge for the competent performer is that very thing –
to make it your own, to explore new avenues and bring that idiosyncratic
part of your own personality to the music.


There are broadly-speaking two categories within traditional instrumental music – dance music and airs. In general, the dance music is composed and then titled, but by and large titles tell us nothing specific about the tune - they are created merely to differentiate one tune from another for identification purposes. Therefore, programmatic or descriptive instrumental music is rare. The Fox Chase would be an exception rather than a rule, as this is an instrumental set piece that attempts to express a fox chase through music.

Amongst other things, titles are often humorous (I Buried my Wife and Danced on her Grave, named after someone (McFadden’s Handsome Daughter), or named after places (The Glen Road to Carrick), but in the main this is probably incidental. Airs, or slow airs as they are often called, are generally song airs, unmetered melodies that were often in existence before words were added. As instrumental pieces they retain the same title as the song.


The song tradition in Ireland embraces both English and Irish language songs. Songs are generally sung solo and there is no known tradition of harmony singing. The subject areas covered are wide and diverse and cover the whole gamut of human emotion – from lullabies and children’s songs, songs about animals and hunting, and songs of fun and celebration to songs of war and travel, crime, love, emigration, songs of longing for home, political songs and laments. If the human has encountered a situation, there’ll be a song to deal with it.

The structure of songs is generally simple, for example AABA. This means the first section of the melody (A) is sung and then repeated, a new section (B) is introduced, and then section A reappears again – that AABA would comprise one verse of the song. The music is largely modal and remains within a two octave range. Songs can be brisk or slow in tempo, metered or in free form and as always, ornamentation is central. Songs that feature both Irish and English are called macaronic songs. Here, lines or groups of lines in both languages alternate with each other.