Now that the Arts Council has announced the allocation of f3 million to the traditional arts for 2006 – with increased funding to follow in the coming years – it seems as if a point has finally been reached from which traditional musicians, dancers, singers, festival organisers and cultural institutions alike can now advance under the legitimate auspices of munificent officialdom. A bite at the cherry that is the long awaited funding gives a genuine and realistic opportunity to many who could not have until now ‘realised the full potential of their ideas’ within the traditional arts.
How the funding will be put into practice remains to be seen; conceivably many ‘dreamed-about’ projects simmering on back burners for years may now see the light of day. There are those who work tirelessly within their organisations with only meagre funding who may now perhaps breath a little easier, and, in the absence of incongruous criteria formerly requested in order to fit a grant profile that was generally unsympathetic to the traditional arts, we can possibly also look forward to a creative stirring in many who previously demurred against an idea as being unrealisable.
All of this, it is anticipated, will mean a brighter future for the traditional arts in Ireland, and if one were to ponder on how adequate funding might be used within traditional music, then a good example can be found in a project that with much persistence and determination was realised in late 2004.
The Flute Players of Roscommon, Volume 1 brings together twelve flute players ranging in age from early twenties to late eighties. Some players are already well known in traditional music circles and have performed worldwide, others, though renowned and respected in their own locality, have rarely performed outside of the region and have never been recorded before. Roscommon flute style finds its home in the North Connaught region along with parts of Longford, North East Mayo and, famously, Sligo and Leirtrim, but this recording represents for the first time flute music in Co. Roscommon exclusively.
The project was conceived of and pursued by John Wynne (native of Co. Roscommon and one of the flute players featured on the CD). In facilitating the recording of just twelve musicians, a living and vibrant tradition is captured spanning a number of generations, yet in its summation it represents one valid snapshot of a time and place in music.
The ambitions of the project have admirably extended to include the assurance that all profits from sales of the CD will be used in the education and development of young musicians, to the purchase of instruments and the provision of bursaries and master classes for emerging musicians. Such an aspect further contributes to the worthiness of a project which, thanks to the enthusiasm of John Wynne and to their credit (and exceptionally so in the first case) was made possible ‘Thanks to The Arts Council, Roscommon County Council, Mid-South Roscommon Leader and Arigna Leader’.
Duets and solos
The recording opens with a flute duet from Patsy Hanley and Tommy Guihen. Hanly is one of the better known players outside of the region and has guested on a number of albums over the years. Guihen grew up surrounded by the music of the late Josie McDermott and Packie Duignan from whom he learned much of his repertoire. Hanly’s pulsating, bouncing breath dynamic is set side by side with the effortless, rolling rhythm of Guihan’s playing. It is only when we hear their solo performances on later tracks that we realise the depth of difference in their playing and yet we are left to ponder on how compatible their styles are.
We hear Patsy Hanly duet again on track nine, this time with 81 year old Frank Jordan who continues to play music around the region several nights a week. There is an aura of spontaneity and movement in their playing that can only signify a lifetime of involvement in music, but moreso the knowledge gained by years of hearing that music coming from the same source. When playing together, all of these flute players seem to easily find a common ground from which to begin, and as a result the duet does not become one player taking precedence over another. The way in which these musicians play solo does not always follow on to the way they will play a duet, the distinction noted mainly in how they reach out to meet the other player. We hear this again in John Wynne’s duet with Catherine McEvoy when they play ‘Bonnie Scotland & Joe Bane’s’.
Catherine McEvoy, a child of Roscommon parents who grew up in Birmingham, moved to Ireland in the late seventies. Her approach to playing encompasses the Sligo/Roscommon style; on her solo performance she plays ‘Crehan’s Kitchen/The Sand Mount/Mulvihill’s’. There is an assuredness here allowing flow to the tunes while also a remarkable tension as she sets a rhythmic magnet on the music which pulls at the phrasing before she delicately lets it go again.
Similarly, Patsy McNamara delivers a great performance of some of Roscommon’s most famous tunes, ‘McDermott’s & The Trip to Birmingham’, both attributed to the late Josie McDermott from County Roscommon. Casting a long shadow, McDermott has long since been revered as an important musical figure among traditional musicians, both as a musician and as a composer of several tunes which could be considered to be part of the standard repertoire (if there is such a thing). Naturally, McDermott’s influence has even further import for flautists and many of the flute players on this record cite him as one of their greatest inspirations.
Dissolution of regional styles?
One idea that could be provoked here, in what might be regarded as a specialised recording, is that the assembled tracks belie the notion of a dissolution of regional styles, especially in regard to flute playing.
To attempt some facile conjecture, one could procure a ‘musical calipers’ in an effort to measure regionally distinct attributes of phrasing or breath dynamic, to be marked precisely on a graph somewhere between Clare and Belfast. Rather, what might come across – and tune versions aside – are aspects of a stylistic legacy of say, the flute recordings of the 20s and 30s which have usually been associated with South Sligo and Leitrim.
Yet, for all the relative focus afforded by the record, i.e. unaccompanied, traditional flute playing from Roscommon, there is still a variety of style on display within perhaps the intuitively understood aspect of personality invested in any performance. And here there is much to enjoy in some great performances (as well as those already mentioned) turned in by John Kelly, John Carlos, Pat Finn, Brian Duke, Bernard Flaherty and John P. Carty.
So what place does Roscommon hold among the perceived heartlands of Irish traditional music? In Fintan Vallely’s reliably amusing written contribution to the CD notes, invoking Declan Coyne he writes that ‘Irish music was played everywhere in Ireland, and in the revival years it just happened that the seaside was a nicer place to go hear it’. Indeed, Paddy Ryan, in his contribution, offers a potted history of Roscommon music through a roll call of musicians with biographical information. Reading down through these names, concentrated into such a short text, is a startling reminder of a rich musical life associated with the region. It is a nice inclusion and lends perspective to a CD which can only help to redress the balance in viewing the integral role occupied by Roscommon within the flute playing tradition of North Connaught, itself a treasure among the musical traditions of the world.
For enquiries regarding this CD, email: feadogmor [at] roscommonarts [dot] com
Roscommon County Council Arts Office have also recently launched the Roscommon Traditional Arts Forum – a new community initiative which will pool knowledge and resources in order to feed the development of
traditional music, song and dance in the
area. For more information visit
www.roscommonarts.com/trad or email
artsoffice [at] roscommoncoco [dot] ie
Published on 1 September 2005