Siobhan Long, writing in the Irish Times, named her top choices for traditional music releases in 2006. It’s a good lot, and I’d agree with most of them. Her column got me to thinking again about the nature of tradition, and traditional Irish music, traditional folk music, about who plays it, who listens to it, what we learn from all this and why we do it.

In Ireland, and in America, and in many other parts of the globe, the varieties of irish music reach beyond language and knowledge of history to touch lives far removed from the lives of those spoken of on the songs, those who created them, and those who have handed them on. The stories of emotion and faith, loss and connection, and especially in the Irish tradition, longing for home, as well as the celebratory dances and joys of childhood and adulthood are the substance of stories told and retold, songs sung and shared the world over. There’s also the very vibrant and continually evolving tradition of tradition, of those who compose and write and play and sing drawing from the depths and roots of this music new songs and new tunes that connect the twenty first century with that which has gone before.

There are whole books of thought and libraries of music in those ideas, of course. In age of what sometimes seems to be increasing noise and fleeting attention and intention, it’s good to know that there are artists out there, musicians from Afro Celt Sound System to Donal Clancy to John Doyle to Cathie Ryan, who are making music of substance, who are turning old tools to new uses, and taking the tradition of Irish music into new spaces and places, forming new connections with each note and each gift of music.

Kerry Dexter writes about music, the arts, and creative practice at Music Road

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