Lectures & Thesis

The abstract for my Thesis ‘Group Playing in Traditional Irish Music: Interaction and Heterophony in the Session’ is reproduced below.
The thesis can be found at the University of Cambridge and at University College Cork.

I enjoy email correspondence about any aspect of Irish Music and I have refined many of my ideas over the years so please do contact me if you are interested in using any of this work in your own thesis. Currently my research interest is in the area of informal music learning, particularly its role in instrumental teaching, but also the wider concern of music in the classroom and the community.

‘Group Playing in Traditional Irish Music: Interaction and Heterophony in the Session’

This thesis analyses group playing of traditional Irish dance tunes, with particular reference to the informal public session. Because Irish traditional instrumental music is generally considered to be essentially a solo art, the balance of individual expression with communal formulae is a main focus in examining the developments in group playing over the last forty years. The impact of various group situations on the individual variation making process is considered through the examination of heterophony.

Musicological enquiry is presented in the context of social organisation, and group situations are contrasted according to the degree of formality governing them. In each analysis, the thesis investigates the relationship between the social environment and the musical features of events analysed.

The solo heritage of the music has combined with a restoration of community for otherwise socially alienated musicians to create the group context of the session. Events are based on playing and extending a shared repertory of monodies. The absence of hierarchies in the musical structure of the group means that the session is governed by internal social relationships which are expressed through spacial organisation.
Participants preserve individual musical autonomy and with it a level of personal freedom and spontaneity associated with solo playing. In the final analysis, the flexibility of the group, allowing players to come and go as they choose was identified as a fundamental principle governing the performance practice of the session. This aspect appears to be under threat from the commercial institutionalisation of the session in the context of the tourist industry.