The Parameters of Style in Irish Traditional Music

Niall Keegan

Style is an important but elusive concept in the world of traditional Irish music.  As a young traditional flute player growing up in St. Albans, England, I heard the words of flute style bandied about at fleadhs, concerts and sessions but didn’t really understand them despite being exposed to a rare generation of musicians in and around London.  In 1990 I took the opportunity to undertake a research degree at University College, Cork with the stated, naive and far too ambitious idea of producing an account of the different regional styles of flute playing within traditional Irish music.  My initial period of research was by far the most fun and I travelled the country and received the seemingly limitless generosity and hospitality of many flute players.  However, my initial goal of establishing a categorical structure where certain regional styles could be defined in much the way musicologists would define historical styles of classical composition by the use of certain of techniques very quickly proved to be unattainable.  One man’s east Galway style, was another’s Clare style was another woman’s Sligo style.

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