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'Cat in the Stacks: Traditional Irish Dance Music

CAT-STAX

 I’m Michelle Callaghan, a first-year graduate student at Villanova University. This is our column, “‘Cat in the Stacks.” I’m the ‘cat. Falvey Memorial Library is the stacks. I’ll be posting about living that scholarly life, from research to study habits to embracing your inner-geek, and how the library community might aid you in all of it.


abstract-retro-shamrock-design_mkwW9GSt. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner, and right now you can’t turn on the morning news without hearing that chipper jig jingle introducing the Irish segment between the politics and the weather—not that I’m complaining! I, like many people, am a fan of that traditional Irish dance music. And speaking of morning news features, the subtle jealously I experience while watching a crew of kids step-dancing away is pretty amusing (I so could’ve done that! How hard can it be?). I really don’t claim to know much about Irish culture, my Callaghan-Gallagher bloodline and having completed James Joyce’s Ulysses en totale notwithstanding, but luckily Falvey has enough information to keep me in the know. When thinking about that traditional music, I decided I wanted to know more about the actual instruments involved in making that Irish sound—you know that sound. The sound.

With the help of resources archived in the Philadelphia Ceili Group collection, hosted by Villanova’s Digital Library, I listened a little more closely to the individual instruments that make up that St. Patrick’s Day sound. A little light Google research has led me to believe (and experts, correct me if I’m wrong) that the traditional Irish sound is typically made up of Uilleann pipes, fiddles, tin whistles, and flutes. Click on the names of the instruments to listen to recordings from past Philadelphia Ceili Group events!

Uilleann Pipes
Uilleann pipes are nifty because if, like me, you don’t have a honed ear for those bag instruments, you might have expected something identical to the Scottish bagpipe. They sound similar, but they are indeed different. Check out this Youtube vid to see them battling it out! The bagpipes incorporate blown air; Uilleann pipes are pressed under the arm.

Fiddle
What’s the difference between a fiddle and a violin? Not much. Fiddling is a folk style of playing a violin. Nothing makes me want to get up and dance more than an enthusiastically played fiddle.

Tin Whistle and Flute
I have a cheap tin whistle I found somewhere in my grandfather’s junk cabinet as a kid, and the only thing I can play is Concerning Hobbits from The Lord of the Rings (this isn’t me, and I’m not this good). I know I’m not maximizing its potential or anything, but hey, it sounds pretty.

If you’re interested in learning more about Irish music beyond the instrumentation of traditional dance music, we also have a few text-based resources.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone!


Article by Michelle Callaghan, graduate assistant on the Communication and Service Promotion team. She is currently pursuing her MA in English at Villanova University.


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Last Modified: March 12, 2015