Editorial: MacMahon from Clare

In 1996, for a speech given at the Crossroads Conference in Dublin, Tony MacMahon wrote the following: ‘Underlying the affection of a large section of the public for [traditional music and song] is a preconception – that apart from its entertainment...

In 1996, for a speech given at the Crossroads Conference in Dublin, Tony MacMahon wrote the following: ‘Underlying the affection of a large section of the public for [traditional music and song] is a preconception – that apart from its entertainment value, traditional music has little of artistic importance to offer. More importantly, its value in terms of addressing the spiritual desert that covers much of the Western world today, including Ireland, remains unexplored.’

In many ways, this encapsulates what has been at the core of Tony MacMahon’s endeavours in traditional music over several decades. As a musician, a thinker and speaker, a television and radio producer and presenter, he has sought to challenge the trivialisation of traditional music in Irish society, to challenge musicians to engage with the art form at a profound level, and to spark cultural change. Musically, his influence can be heard throughout traditional music performance today, including among the very youngest of artists. In terms of broadcasting, his tenure in RTÉ marked a highpoint in terms of the contemporary presentation of the art form. As an individual, he has provided opportunity, encouragement and inspiration to generations.

There have been several articles in JMI over the years which have engaged with the music and ideas of Tony MacMahon. I’m very pleased, therefore, that we have the opportunity in this issue to publish an article by him. ‘Player on the Black Keys’ is an exclusive extract from his memoir-in-progress in which he ventures to address the question that all musicians are compelled to ask: why do I play?

Published on 1 January 2009

Toner Quinn is founder and publisher of The Journal of Music. www.tonerquinn.com

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