What is Traditional Irish Music?
The traditional music of Ireland has been handed down over several centuries, though new tunes have been continually added along the way as each generation of musicians makes their contribution to the repertoire. Traditional Irish music includes both vocal and instrumental music. At our school we are currently focusing on the instrumental ensemble music, which was primarily written to accompany solo or social dancing. The tunes are given names like reels, hornpipes, jigs, waltzes, polkas, and mazurkas based on the type of dance steps they were written to accompany.
Traditional Irish music is played on a variety of acoustic instruments including violin/fiddle, flute, tin whistle, guitar, mandolin, tenor banjo, piano, accordion, concertina, bodhrán (Irish frame drum), harp, and uilleann pipes (the Irish form of bagpipes). It is performed sometimes for listening, sometimes to accompany dancing, and sometimes just for the fun of it!
Who can join the Irish Youth Band?
The North Texas School of Irish Music accepts students between the ages of 6 and 21. Students should have at least 1 year playing one or more of the traditional instruments listed above and instruction with a private instrument teacher (with the exception of tin whistle, which is easy enough that a committed beginner may participate in the ensemble). Although what we do at NTSIM is often particularly interesting to families with Celtic heritage, the NTSIM is open to all students of any ethnic background. All that is required is an interest in Irish music!
Many of our students are in middle school band or orchestra and are looking for something fun to augment their music studies, and also a chance to play in a smaller ensemble where they can be more easily heard.
What are the Youth Band Classes like?
Each class starts with learning a new tune. The music is taught by ear in the class, but audio or video recordings and sheet music will be available to the students after the class for follow-up and review at home. During the class, the tune will be broken down into sections, and each section repeated until most of the students have it. Teaching by ear is part of the Irish music tradition, and it’s a skill that improves with practice. So if a student has had no experience with this learning method, no worries– even if he or she can only pick up part of the tune in the class, they can work on it more at home using the recordings provided.
After we work on the new tune for each class, we will spend the rest of the class time reviewing and polishing the tunes learned in previous classes. By the end of the year, our intermediate/advanced class will have learned 12 tunes, and our beginner class will have learned 7 or 8.
Ensemble playing is very different than playing solo. Things like timing, rhythm, and tempo all become very important. When you play as a group in this type of performance you don’t have a conductor leading you, so students must all learn how to work together and stay at the same tempo. Also, Irish music is played with a variety of rhythmic subtleties that don’t translate well to written music. Each type of tune has distinctive rhythmic and stylistic features. We will be talking about this in the classes as we polish the tunes, and students can work on imitating these style elements using the recordings at home.
What is the Gaelic Youth Chorus like?
Our Youth Chorus is open to those aged 8-21 who have at least 1-2 years singing experience either through private lessons, or in a choir/chorus. Knowledge of the Irish language, or Gaelic, not required.
What are the Public Performances Like?
We will start out each year with new music, so our first few performances are fairly short as our students only know a few tunes and songs. The first performances are typically home or small venue performances for friends and family only. As an added bonus, some of the professional Irish musicians around town will come out and play to finish out the concert, and give the students a chance to hear what they can aspire to, with practice!
Our first big concert will be our St. Patrick’s Day concert, which will be held in one or more public venues. We are working with some retirement homes and also some amusement park venues, so the kids will get a great opportunity to celebrate the best Irish music day of the year!
Our last concert is our spring recital, held typically in a local hall or music venue. We also have some optional concerts where students may play at festivals.
Performances are great because they give the kids some incentive to practice, as well as experience playing for a live audience and the thrill of the appreciation of the crowd.