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September 25, 2006

The music of Celts

While in Ireland recently, I had the opportunity to attend a live concert at the special visitor centre and theatre adjacent to the Rock of Cashel. This was the Bryn Boru concert which is a group of extremely talented musicians and dancers who put on the most stunning performance of music, song and dance - with a dash of Irish humour thrown in for free. My companion, who has suffered a brain tumour and now lives with epilepsy and diabetes, is herself a talented musician. Although, with her eyesight now failing due to glaucoma, and her motor co-ordination not the best, she listens and appreciate things rather than sees them or performs them. For her this was possibly the highlight of the trip - although the previous evening we had been taken to a pub called Strawberry Hill and been treated to a totally unplanned and impromptu concert by a group of musicians who practice and play there as it is their "local".

Celtic music at its best is emotive, provocative and full of a sense of pride in their achievements - and in the anguish of their suffering through various conflicts, suppression and the years of poverty. Ireland was poor for much of its history, dirt poor and ruled by absentee landlords and owners from afar. Thus a tradition has grown up which allows simple things to be used as musical instruments - the tin whistle, the fife, the bodrhum, the fiddle, the harp and of course the Celtic pipes. This last is a strange instrument with a bag tucked under the players elbow and strapped to to his waist, a simple bellows is operated by the other elbow while the chanter is played by the fingers and the drone pipes are keyed and operated by the wrist of the hand holding the upper part of the chanter pipe. The drones lie across the lap with the top end cradled over the left elbow as the player makes the music of the soul.

The Irish Harp - no pedals, a sounding case and a tuning system that is as simple as it is complex in its sound.

The concert was an amazing performance, solo harp, solo accordian, solo fife all blended into an extended performance interspersed with the most amazing dancing. At one point the piper picked up a tin whistle and wandered through the audience playing a jaunty solo and being teased by one of the dancers - whose fine baritone led performers and audience in several renditions of well known Irish songs. But it is definitely the versatility of the players which takes one's breath away. A harpist plucks out the most complex melody on her harp, then, as the accordians and the fifes pick it up and the bodrhum starts its rythmn - she stands, unclips her flowing skirt and steps off into the most amazing reel across the stage to be joined by several more ladies and finally the men as the performers pick up and develop the original tune. It is difficult to find the words to describe it all - and I sat enthralled, wishing I could capture even a tiny part of it on video - but not wishing to distract the performers even for a second with a camera!

At the end, the performers all stepped out from behind the curtain - and as this was the last performance for this season - invited the entire audience to the end of season ceilligh downstairs in the bar! What a party - the music never stops! Celtic music is best described as the music of the soul - for that is where it resides. The rythmns make your feet tap and your hands clap, your voice lifts to the songs and the heart sings with the beat of the drums. Young and old leap to the dance - it is irresistable and it is a part of everyone with even a trace of Celtic blood in their veins.

Resistance is futile!

Posted by The Gray Monk at September 25, 2006 05:25 PM

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