The sad death of composer and musician Vincent Broderick (see below) last week recalled how he won the All-Ireland flute playing Championship in Loughrea, Co Galway, in the mid-Fifties with a copper flute he made himself after he had lost his regular one.
It reminded me of the only conversation I ever had the pleasure of with Mairead Ni Maonaigh of Altan in which she commented that the true creativity in Irish music lay in the broad area of interpretation. Many of the tunes, as she would know coming from Donegal, may well be of Scottish and Jacobite origin, and many of the dances may have originated in Europe (I use ‘may’ simply to bypass argument). But what stands out and gives Irish music its universal appeal, is the interpretation which the Irish have put on those tunes and dances.
Vincent Broderick’s copper flute reminds me how the Irish have adapted foreign instruments to local conditions and tastes, and in the process have made technical advances. While the bagpipes were common throughout western Europe by the 11th century, by the early decades of the 18th century, the uilleann (bellows) pipes with added drones and regulators began to emerge in Ireland.
A more recent example of the creative application in Irish music is the bouzouki. Johnny Moynihan adapted the instrument to Irish music in the mid-1960s. Today it is central to the Irish music session and has been adopted also by Scottish and English folk groups.
Then there were the generations of traveller musicians who made fiddles out of wooden boxes. Blasket islanders made fiddles out of driftwood. I even heard of a man in Co Mayo who made a fiddle out of the bonnet of an old Morris Minor.
And Riverdance: well those Balkan rhythms were introduced into Irish music by Andy Irvine and the choreography bears an extraordinary resemblence to 42nd Street, 1939 version!
Anybody out there got other examples?