Bit of an accident last Friday is keeping me out of the workshop so I have a bit of time on my hands (or rather hand) resulting in this and maybe one or two other rather long posts.
This is something that I’ve been meaning to write about for quite some time.
I’m sure that, like me, many of you read and sometimes contribute to the on-line boards and discussion lists relating to traditional flute/Irish music.
For those from outside Ireland in particular, this has become one of the main ways in which they keep in contact with the Irish music community in general, and in their own area of enthusiasm in particular.
To those who have come to the music in the digital era, it can be hard to explain just how different it was back in the day, when the cassette recorder was considered to be the cutting edge of technology.
When my own interest began to develop in the early 1970s the only sources of tunes or the way of playing them were a couple of dozen LP recordings, the players themselves, and if you were lucky what you or your friends recorded on the new fangled cassettes. There were also a few printed collections, but abc notation was unheard of, so this source was barred to anyone who wasn’t musically literate, and even then one still needed to hear the notes played by a traditional player to make any progress.
Classes and formal tuition were scarce in general and unavailable in many areas. It required serious effort to try to learn traditional music.
Of course this was not all bad. There’s an expression in Irish - cad is anamh is iontach- which simply means what’s rare is wonderful, which I think is appropriate here. Nowdays one can access even the most obscure recordings - even video recordings - with a few clicks of the mouse, and there’s an element, for me anyway, of over exposure taking some of the good out of it. Eating an exotic food every day soon reduces it to the level of the mundane. I suppose that part of the attraction for me, and I’d suggest many others, was the esoteric and non-commercial nature of the music scene in those days.
I have to confess to being partly resposible for this whole internet/traditional music thing. When I was a PhD student at UCC in the early 90s myself and one of my colleagues, Paul McGettrick set up the Irtrad-L discussion list which was the first of it’s kind, and amazingly this year has it’s 20th anniversary.
Since then of course, there are such resources almost without number. But the question that has to be asked is...what effect has this had on the traditional music community?
One the major effects is that this community is now more than ever an international one, not that this is totally due to the internet. Since the first days of Irish emmigration Irish music has been international, but with the advent of the internet, this internationality has moved far beyond the original limits of the Irish diaspora, which were largely the USA and UK. Recently, for example, I have sold instruments to Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Belarus, and the Ukraine, something which definitely would not have happened in pre-internet days.
However despite all this internationalism, is the internet really leading to a more homogenous traditional music culture?
One major factor that has become apparent to me, speaking as someone who is familiar with the Irish traditional music community both in Ireland and abroad, is that those outside Ireland are much more likely to be involved in the internet music community than those Irish born and still living in Ireland, despite the fact that the Irish are major participants in every other aspect of digital communications and social networks, twitter etc.
This of course, is one of the results of the spread of the popularity of Irish music abroad, and that popularity has, for a considerable number of years spread far beyond the Irish diaspora, something which in some part has been due to the influence of the internet.
Within a comparitively short period of time, we have moved from a situation where Irish traditional music was the concern of a minority within Ireland, ( lets include the diaspora for accuracy) to the current state of affairs where that same group now find themselves as a minority in a world wide community.
How this situation is now presenting via the online media is essentially what concerns me in this post.
Having been, as I’ve pointed out, there from the very start, and having been at times a keen enough participant in the whole online area, I find that recently I’ve become simply a lurker, with little interest in active participation.
There are several reasons for this.
One of course, is lack of time, but if I were honest with myself and my readers here, I’d have to admit that in general the discussions and exchanges that take place among the online Irish music community are of little to interest me, and the reason I have no interest is that they largely deal with situations, topics, and areas of interest that have no relevance to me as a practising musician and instrument maker living in Ireland.
What worries me, is that very many of the participants appear to be involved for just that very reason...that in some way they’re now, even if vicariously part of the Irish traditional community that those of us living in Ireland (the heartland of it, I think you’d have to admit) are part of.
A board that perhaps many of you are probably familiar with, and one which I’ve been a member of for some years is the Chiff and Fipple forum.
This forum currently has over 10,000 members so to the uninitiated it can appear that they’re reading the distilled wisdom of a group of this size. Like almost every other online forum without exception though, the regular posters are a tiny percentage of the overall membership...not the fault of this or any other forum, of course.
What’s more worrying, and what has encouraged me into almost complete lurker mode on this and other forums, is that the opinions expressed, taken in total, reflect something completely different to those that I know are held by the traditional flute community in Ireland, on just about every thread discussed.
I’d argue that as a group, flute enthusiasts based in Ireland hold radically different views on all the common issues that are discussed from day to day on such forums, such as favourite recordings, players, styles, makers etc. This is not to say of course that such opinions are invalid in any way...except as being representative of Irish opinion, which is presumably what the majority of the forum members are keen to find out.
Of course such forums cannot and should not be restricted as to membership, something that would quickly lead to elitism.
But perhaps more people should be aware that many traditional Irish music forums are dominated by opinion from outside what might be considered the core group.