This week has been quiet, too quiet. After the trip to the Mountains of Mourne life has been business as usual, with our guest families (including Emily with her family) touring the west of Ireland and trying to not fall off the road into a ditch (which is very, very easy to do for Americans)
Now that the Passion Play, Easter, and Confirmations are all done, we are starting to have a lot more free time in the evenings. I’ve been taking this time to keep learning and practicing tin whistle and low whistle, two instruments that I loved as soon as I heard them played and I don’t feel guilty about buying because both are relatively inexpensive to get at a really great quality. I’ve had the great blessings of being able to get together with one of our friends from the Folk Group, Stasia, who plays flute and whistle for them, and have her give me pointers and tips on techniques, styles of playing, and different tunes. One thing I’ve discovered is that when it comes to Irish music, playing it out of a book simply doesn’t cut it. Even though a tune may be written down a certain way on paper, the true tune, the real one that has been passed down through generations and families, is one that is learned by ear and learned by doing. You simply can’t put on paper all the turns, cuts, and slides that get included into a tune, especially when each county, group, and even family have a slightly different way of playing the music and making it their own, and if you just pick up the instrument and a book you would never be able to play it the way the Irish do.
What this has meant, at least what it means to me, is that the music can’t be read, but it has to be experienced, and that every time we play something we’re sharing that experience with others. So whenever I play the tune Give me Your Hand, I’ll be sharing the experience of hearing it and playing it I gained from listening and playing here in Clonard and Wexford. The music, please God, will reflect my experiences here and the people I’ve encountered and developed friendships with. If we were based in Co. Mayo, it would be a completely different experience, and the tunes would be experienced different: faster or slower, more or less turns, different parts repeated or different notes played altogether. The music is something that a person hands on to someone else; it’s part of a larger cultural tradition.
So, while I’m still a learner at those instruments, I can take solace that I can play better than this guy (Note: This YouTube video has become a house favourite, and I’ve been looking for an excuse to put it on the website all year)