The New Rough Deal

The New Rough Deal

How old music becomes new


Bill Whelan (banjo), Dermy Diamond (fiddle) and friends at the Cobblestone bar, Dublin

So much of our understanding of music is based on memory. At a basic level, listening to a piece of music, we become aware of repeating patterns, tropes and motifs: when they recur, they jog our memory of having heard them before, and how they might have changed slightly this time round. The simple eight-bar structure of most traditional music is a mnemonic anchor for both learner and listener, each bar a division in a mental filing cabinet. We get the shape of the tune, comparing and contrasting it with other tunes. We find our bearings in the musical landscape. Then again, music can act as a powerful acoustic perfume to evoke other occasions on which we heard that tune, that song.

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Published on 1 June 2009

Ciaran Carson is a poet, prose writer, translator and flute-player, and the author of Last Night’s Fun, a book about Irish traditional music. He is is Professor of Poetry at Queen’s University Belfast.

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