Many compositions and arrangements here are rooted in Celtic folk music. Folk music speaks from the bottom of the heart. It grows out of daily experience and it expresses emotions and reflections of everyday life.
Some cultural traditions have evolved a particularly profuse set of melodies. That is true of the Celtic musical tradition. With exceptional richness, it combines delightful melodies with complex rhythmical patterns. This musical tradition has had a major impact on modern music written in the Celtic mould.
I have for a long time enjoyed modern forms of Celtic music. But recently, in my systematic study of music, I wished to reach back into the past to reconnoitre in detail where these rich patterns originated.
I have been absolutely astonished and frankly thrilled.
Patrick Weston Joyce (1827–1914)
Thanks to my music teacher, I have fallen upon an exceptional collection of Irish folk songs that was originally published in 1873 by P. W. Joyce1. Irish historians and specialized musicians will no doubt recognize the name. P. W. Joyce was not only an influential 19th century educator and school administrator in Ireland, but he was also the author of quite a variety of volumes: among others, a book of Irish place names, a schoolbook history of Ireland, an atlas of the counties of Ireland, a two-volume set on the social history of ancient Ireland and a handbook of school management.
Music did not come last, as the Irish Traditional Music Archive (ITMA) attests2. In their extended “microsite” on Joyce, one finds excellent further information. There are to be found his four published volumes on music, plus a great many manuscripts and unpublished collections. It is wonderful that these documents have now become available worldwide.
I have no idea where the collection of Celtic folk music on this web site will ultimately take us. P.W. Joyce's 1873 offering is clearly an excellent start, but there may be more leads to follow up later. I will follow the scent of true human experience which inspires memorable music.
Researching this music remains real work. In contrast to advanced musicians, I cannot yet “hear” the music that I read. So I must recopy the scores from the original printed versions into the MuseScore programme in order to hear the tunes. As a result, this entire section is based on manual score copying.
Sometimes, technology doesn't help. A technical incompatibility makes it impossible for me to access the online ITMA interactive score collection3, which would have made selecting interesting pieces of music much easier.
There are also constraints on the instruments currently available to me. Much of Celtic music is sung, but worthwhile computer synthesis of the human voice is still very much in the future. Singing remains simply impossible. We must limit ourselves to a few generally available instruments that work well in synthesis, such as the piano, the oboe, the clarinet and the accordion. Likewise, the fiddle is not found in the General Midi sound font set, and the violin can only occasionally be employed.
Where to go
Necessity is the mother of inspiration. I am content to work within the constraints that prevail. Contrary to the archivists above, I do not aim for a complete collection. I am a musician and a researcher at heart. My objective is to understand and share the culture and the human experience that produced this rich source of music, which was all created well before mass music markets began spreading. My questions are: What did the Irish of past generations sing, play and dance to? What inspired their tales and aspirations? What was the spark behind their exceptional musical creativity?
Studying their music lets us jump back a century or more. When we listen to their tunes and read their ballads and stories, we are suddenly “back there”, and we understand a bit more about Irish and Celtic cultural experience.
And there lies the basis of my fascination with folk music: far away from any mechanistic, market-driven and market-targeting machinery of modern music making, I am discovering real-life and profoundly human traces of musical creation. Theirs was not music to be "consumed", it was music that expresses human experience at levels where words leave us behind.
Thank you for the help
I am very grateful to my music teacher,Tracy Rose, for examining my arrangements and compositions. She is very exacting and full of excellent suggestions, which I appreciate highly. Thanks to her, I started this website. Tracy Rose is the principal of the online music school Music Lessons Anywhere which she founded in 2013 (https://musiclessonsanywhere.net/about_tracy_rose/).
Eric Keller, Spring 2017
1 P.W. Joyce. 1873. Ancient Irish Music: One Hundred Airs Hitherto Unpublished, Many of the Old Popular Songs, and Several New Songs. Edited and collected. Dublin. McGlashan and Gill. https://archive.org/details/ancientirishmusi00joyc
3 Specifically, the Sibelius Scorch plug-in no longer works under Windows 10.