Play With an Irish Accent


Happy day to you all! I hope you all had a good St. Paddy’s day and drank responsibly while you showed off how, um, amazing you all look in green. You really go look maahvelous in green. It’s definitely your color.

Right, so.

I was thinking the other day (as I often do) and one thought sort of stuck in my head a bit longer than thoughts usually do (5 or 6 seconds at least) which was enough to give birth to another thought (a truly once-a-year sort of occurrence.)

And the thought was–when I first started learning the Irish language (an Gaeilge) it was with a teacher by the name of Tom O’Rourke. He was quite a character, sort of half leprechaun, if you ask me, or maybe a bit more than half. Very lively middle aged man with a real twinkle in his eye. I know it sounds kind of stereotypical, but he really was like that! He had a real passion for the language and the culture, and it really came through in his teaching style. He had a way of going off on tangents to the actual teaching, telling us little anecdotes about this and that. One day we must have been talking about pronunciation or something of the sort when he said

When you speak Irish, speak it with an Irish accent.

Well now. That made so much sense to me it kinda took me by surprise. It struck me as one of those brilliant statements that points out the utterly obvious in a way that makes you wonder where you were looking, because you obviously weren’t looking “right under your nose,” which is where all that obvious stuff lives.

I mean, that’s kinda what you do when you learn a new language–you try to imitate the sounds, but quite often you know the sounds already–if you’ve ever tried to imitate an Irish accent speaking English, you know them to some degree. If you could tap into that knowledge you already have it should make it a lot easier, I think.

This brings to mind another technique in language learning that is popular these days too–Language Shadowing. You listen to a sample of the language being spoken, and say the words along with it, trying to imitate the pronunciation and sound exactly, using the recording as a guide. It’s been shown to greatly improve pronunciation and fluency.

So then I wondered if one could apply these same ideas to learning Irish music. If you’re learning to play the jigs-and-reels-type of dance music that the LVISS is all about, you most likely listen to a fair amount of the music already, so you have a sense of what it sounds like. Maybe it would be possible to play the music while really concentrating on what it is that makes it sound Irish–the accent, if you like. Writing this now I realize it’ll be easier said than done. Most things are I suppose. How would I go about this? well, let’s try to work this out:

Pick a tune you’re working on. I’m currently working on a lovely Kevin Burke tune called “Across the Black River.” (I posted a video of this in the last post.) I think it’s important to listen to the tune carefully first, paying attention to what the musician is doing to give it the rhythm and lift that makes it sound like Irish music. Find the pulse of the tune–is the emphasis on the upbeat or the downbeat? What sort of ornaments and embellishments is the musician using? Then, isolate a phrase or two from the tune–the music player on my Android phone has A-B repeat and slow-down features. (Jet Audio is the name of the app.) Once you isolate the phrase, play it on repeat, and play along, trying to imitate the accents, phrasing and ornaments until you think you have it exactly like the recording. This could take some time, but if you’re aiming for perfection, it’s going to sink in eventually. And, you’re training your brain to know what the right sound is. We learn to speak this way too–through repetition and imitation. Eventually you learn what sounds right and avoid what doesn’t.

I hope you’ll try this, and I hope it does you some good. If you do, please share your thoughts and experience in the comments below!



Paddy O’Rafferty’s

At my last workshop with Dan Foster, I learned a jig called Paddy O’Rafferty’s. Now, There are at least three versions of this jig that I have heard. One I hear and play alot at sessions around here, and there’s another that gets played too. The first is a three parter, and the other is a five part tune. The one I learned from Dan is the five part version, and I do prefer it, though they are both bangin’. Here’s an example or two of each-I’ll let you decide which one is better!

the three part version (first tune–can’t get better than Seamus Ennis):

The five part version (starting at 1:40):


Sporting Nell

I hear a tune title like this and I think–what do you mean by sporting? Who is Nell? Was she a field hockey player, or a roller derby chick? Maybe a hunter? Heck, for all I know Nell was somebody’s horse.

What I do know is that the tune called Sporting Nell is a good one, and everyone should learn it to honor the sporting woman (or horse) that she was. Here are a few examples for you:

Thanks to Ted for this link–nice flute version by one of my new favorite musicians, Josh Dukes:

This is just great–we’ll call this lovely kimono wo kiiteiru ojousan “Nell,” shall we? Sporting Nell starts at 1:40:

And finally:

You can find Ted’s downloadable recordings in 2 speeds on the tunes page! HUP!


Vincent Broderick — The Whistler at the Wake

Recently at the LVISS we learned two tunes written by the late Vincent Broderick (1920-2008) I’ve already posted about The Old Flail. This week at the session Ted taught us The Whistler at the Wake, which you hear played before the old flail quite often both in recordings and at sessions.

A bit about Vincent Broderick (from the Irish Tune Composers website)

Vincent was born in Carramore, Bullaun, Loughrea, Co. Galway in 1920. One of seven children, both himself and his brother Peter were to become interested in traditional Irish music at an early age, mainly under the influence of their mother Ann. By their early twenties Vincent and Peter were to become accomplished traditional musicians (the flute, mainly, and the pipes) and were to follow the example set for them by the musicians of ‘The Ballinakill and Aughrim Slopes Ceili Band.'” ~ they also played regularly together for events and dances in their community… Vincent Broderick passed away in 2008.

And a story about the origin of the tune:

He tells the story of coming home from a session with his friend and humming his new composition , they spotted a house in the distance with a light on, it had to be a party or a wake, so they went to investigate and it was the latter. After paying their respects they were offered a drink and sat down but the tune was in Vincent’s head and for fear of loosing it he kept humming quietly, or so he thought. He was overheard and was asked to stop as it was not the right thing to do in the circumstances. After leaving his friend said to Vincent I have a great name for your tune. “The whistler at the wake”. (posted by “murcu” on

One of my favorite versions:

and a flute version:

Brendan Tonra

This week we learned a jig from Kira called “Tonra’s Jig,” sometimes called “Tone Row’s” or “Tony Rowe’s” or various things like that. It was composed by Brendan Tonra, who emigrated to the states from Gowland, County Mayo in Ireland and spent over 4 decades as a resident of Boston, Massachusetts. Many of his tunes are collected in a book called “A Musical Voyage with Brendan Tonra.” He passed away in 2014.

Tonra’s Jig is a real jem of a tune. It has, to my ear, an easy, casual feel, and if you’re a fiddler you get to go down into the area below low D, which is always a treat!

A couple examples from YouTube:

For further reading, please see:

Brendan on the Irish Tune Composers Pages

Brendan’s obituary.


Johnny O’Leary’s jig

Recently I’ve started a series of workshops with a Connecticut based fiddle/violin instructor named Dan Foster. In addition to being a nice guy, he’s a really great fiddler, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to work with him. The whole thing comes out of a grant obtained through the Southern New England Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program. We have had our first workshop–the second being prevented by the recent snowstorm–and I’m really optimistic about what the outcome of the whole thing will be. Dan taught me a tune called Johnny O’Leary’s, a dark and urgent jig in the key of E, dorian mode. I thought I’d share a couple examples of the tune with you here, just because it’s a great tune.

Here’s ShaneMcAleer at Custy’s in Ennis playing the tune, with a reel following.

Here’s a buncha crazy musicos, handling the tune very well indeed:


Apples in Winter

It hardly feels like winter here, or well, I should say it hardly looks like winter–there’s little snow, but the temperature is low enough. This morning as part of my second breakfast (yes, I am a giant Hobbit) I had an apple. And just two days ago I was playing the concertina and this tune, Apples in Winter, spontaneously popped out of it. So of course, I took that all as a sign that I should share this tune with the world. It’s a wonderful and not difficult jig in E dorian.

I first heard a two part version of this tune played by Edel Fox and Neill Byrne at a house concert a few years back. I have a recording so I was able to learn it. There’s also a four part version. Here are a few examples–not Edel and Neill, but good ones nonetheless. Note how there are a couple variants of the ending of both the A and B parts.

A four part:

Our pal Gilles Poutoux:

Paddy Cronin: