There’s a funny thing about Irish tunes.
I’ve been going to an Irish/Celtic Session, down in Renton, with Anna, for a year now, and playing. Actually, it was a year last month, and we had an anniversary party of the session’s founding. (Wednesdays, A Terrible Beauty, Renton, 7pm. C’mon by!) There’s a big picture of one of the session meetings up on the wall; I’m in that photo. Anna and I are session founders; Anna heard about it starting up and said, “Hey, let’s go!” and I thought it sounded fun.
I should explain; “tunes” are different to “songs.” “Songs” have lyrics; tunes are instrumental, with a primary melody, played on melodic instruments, with maybe one person playing chorded instruments along as well, and maybe a drum. Lukey is a song; Road to Lisdoonvarna is a tune. Search on those if you want, you’ll have a zillion hits. There are thousands of tunes, some of which are centuries old; they’re both dance music and a conduit for parts of traditional Irish culture. They attract attention, they’re accessible, people react to them positively, and enjoy them.
I’ve been trying to learn the language of of these things for over a year now. I’ve learned some of the tunes pretty well; I’ve learned some others not as well. I recognise a lot of the tropes and rhythms.
But as much as I hate to say it, emotionally, Irish session tunes still mostly don’t make sense to me as music. It’s not that they aren’t melodic, and of course I’m not saying they aren’t music, because of course they are. But for me – they’re like particularly melodic but ultimately arbitrary exercises. Where you’ve just been says little or nothing about where you’re about to go.
I thought by now I’d start to get it. But I don’t. I enjoy going down and hanging out with everybody; it’s a nice place, it’s fun, people come out specifically for it, to listen. A lot of the time, we’re pretty good.
But in a way I’ve never run into before – at least not so clearly and not after so much effort – they aren’t music. They don’t make that connection in my head. They’re streams of notes to me in the same way that sheet music is an ocean of dots to me. Something just … doesn’t connect.
And I don’t know what.
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