Friday, March 13, 2009

A Bird in the Hand

Some months ago, I had an interesting conversation at the music store that has served as food for thought since. We were talking about piobaireachd and veered onto the tangent of the part time had played in developing the style to the point it is now. I expressed a wish to hear how piobaireachd must have sounded back in its golden age and my friend offered the caution, "But if you could go back and hear it, you wouldn't have what you have now." The remark, unfortunately, did very little to quench my enthusiasm for time-traveling to 17th-century Skye, but he was quite right.

I remembered the conversation when I came across a statement in an Irish fiddle book Mel Bay recently published. The author, Philip Berthoud, was discussing regional styles and pointing out how, due to the wide availability of recordings, regional differences are disappearing. That is, a good number of people are learning from a comparatively few recordings, and styles are becoming more universal; the idiom of regional fiddling is going the way of regional dialects. You can argue for the right or the wrong of it, but all that aside, I thought it was kind of ironic that the very tool that could be used to preserve music "in its day" could also decrease its vibrance.

Quite unrepentant, I should still very much like to hear piobaireachd as it was. All the same, I wonder, if we had been able to record, say Patrick Og MacCrimmon, preserving his technique indefinitely, isn't it likely we would have lost some of the other charms that have filtered into the Great Music since his time?

Thoughts on the amalgamation of fiddle styles sprang from Irish Fiddle Playing: A Guide for the Serious Player, Vol. 2 by Philip J. Berthoud, Mel Bay, 2008

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