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Style Analysis



In this essay I have analysed the playing style of Peadar O’Loughlin from

Kilmaley, County Clare.

I wanted to discover whether there was or is a “Clare style” of playing the flute which existed prior to the espousal of regional style as a concept (Ó Riada, 1982); the impact of the institutions which went some way to consciously shaping the playing style of the subsequent generation of

players, such as Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann which was founded in Ireland in

1951; and the groundswell of media interest in Irish traditional music coupled with the rise of Irish super-groups since Irish music walked out of the kitchen and onto the world stage in the seventies.

I found that Peadar O’Loughlins playing style was informed by local and regional factors, and these in themselves were influenced by social and historical factors. I also found that musical influences outside the immediate locale in the form of repertoire, instrumental technique and aural engagement with other musicians bore an impact through the actions of a few outstanding individuals.


I came to the conclusion that Peadars playing style is bound by a personal aesthetic which is shared amongst other musicians in Clare, and audible in their playing.


I interviewed Peadar on two occasions. The first interview (referred to throughout the text as interview 1) focussed on the early influences on his playing style and his own thoughts about it. In this interview I followed Niall Keegans method of not leading my subject with prepared questions in order to avoid imposing my viewpoint as a practitioner on the interview itself (Keegan, 1992). During the second interview (referred to throughout the text as interview 2) I focussed on ornamentation with Peadar and recorded two tunes from him. These were the Pipe On The Hob, and The Shaskeen Reel.

I listened to recordings Peadar had made over the past fifty years and recorded two tunes during the interview one of which Peadar had first recorded fifty years previously. The Pipe on the Hob and The Shaskeen reel.


In the style analysis I used four of the style parameters set out by McCullough; ornamentation, phrasing, articulation, and variation (McCullough1997, p85); two further parameters as employed by Niall

Keegan, that of “tone” (Keegan 1992, p6) and dynamics (Keegan, 2009); and one from Ó Súilleabhaín which he describes as a dimension rather than a parameter, rhythm (Ó Súilleabhaín 1990). Lastly I use one of my own, which is possibly more of an abstract dimension and hardly classifiable as a parameter at all, but nevertheless as it is a feature of Clare style often mentioned by practitioners I find its usage justifiable. Feel.


1. The Value of Style Analysis ( i) Choosing a subject

When I began the process of choosing a subject for a style analysis within the realm of Irish music, I was interested in making a comparative analysis of an older player living in Clare or Galway with a younger player living in Britain. This was an unconscious approach reflecting the dichotomy of my own performing style as a player caught between worlds - the established and the innovative; the rural, relentless beat of the set dance and the energy of the urban- punk, contemporary, free improvisation; the musical worlds I have inhabited in England. It would even reflect my parentage - an Irish father


whose mother came from Scariff and an English mother who grew up in


It is relevant to mention this tension between the original and the innovative, or the original in one sense and the original in the other sense, as it is also clearly present within the tradition itself. (This word play which occurs to me as I write implies that both are also part of each, that there is a symbiosis at work) This polarity is identified by Aaron Copeland as being fundamental to European (Art) music:

“The pull of tradition as against the attraction of innovation are the two polar forces that constitute the basic drama of todays European music”

(Copeland 1952, p.61)

Is there a continuum between tradition and innovation, or are these forces really diametrically opposed? Should this be a functional part of a style analysis? I hope to consider this in the course of this analysis, and this would be part of the value of such an analysis to my own performance practice in that the balance between these forces is a major consideration in my own still forming playing style of Irish music.

This is consistent with the idea expressed by Niall Keegan that the value of a style analysis lies in way it informs a musicians own performance practise:


Most would argue that exceptional musicians engage in a constant process of analysis, even in performance, and the more conscious they are of of aspects of style and have developed their own structures for evaluating their own style and others the better performers they will be. I do think that this style of analysis can be very important to the development of the musician rather than just the style analysis of the student at University College, Cork or the University of Limerick and indeed this is the context where analysis has the most significance.”

(Keegan 2009)

I would not concur entirely with the idea that an exceptional musician would be fully conscious of what they were doing in performance, and I’m not clear who exactly “the most” are who would argue this. My professional performing experience has taught me the converse; that if for example one attempts to analytically re-create a particular moment or improvisation performed the night before, the result tends to be just that, a re-creation as opposed to a creation. It seems more productive to re-create the conditions that allowed such a moment to arise in the first place, to be inhabiting a state of readiness and spontaneity rather than attempting to analytically re-create the moment itself. But this is a personal conviction based on empirical experience, which is what I perceive Keegans statement to be also (as he is an exceptional performer and improvisor) and I fully expect performers to differ in this

respect. Nevertheless, the idea that a style analysis can be truly valuable in a direct practical way to a musician is in my mind borne out even by the initial reaction the idea of choosing a subject for that style analysis provoked.


The next stage of that reaction involved a reluctance to engage with my suggested replacement subject (when my original idea of a comparative style analysis was sensibly rejected as being too complex for the purpose ). This subject is a brilliant fluter undoubtedly, but I found myself leaning towards another choice - finding an older musician with which to meet, listen and spend time. I wanted to get back to the source of Irish traditional flute playing in as much as that would be achievable. I mean within the bounds of the twentieth century and without the aid of time-travel!

But then so much has happened in the twentieth century. Although there wasn’t an industrial revolution as such in Ireland compared to England, when the technological advances made in electricity, transport, communication and media are considered it is almost as if we are living in the future, and the social, historical and political context for music-making has altered considerably. Certainly this has a huge impact on music-making. As David Kearney succinctly puts it:

Musical change, which is shaped by both individuals and institutions, can both reflect and symbolize the changing social and political geography of the nation.

(Kearney 2007-8, p.139)

Perhaps the urge to “go back” is in itself reflective of the attitudes of the diaspora.


“Anyone pulled from a source longs to go back”

(“the song of the reed flute” Rumi C15 quoted in Larson 2003)

I consulted with my academic advisors and had almost settled on studying

an older Clare player who plays silver Boehm system flute. But then I thought I would learn even more from a wooden simple-system flute player, as the latter instrument is more commonly used by Irish traditional players and is a relatively new instrument to me. I will explore the significance of instrument choice to style further under the style parameter of instrumentation.

I contacted the singer and broadcaster Paula Carroll who recommended a couple of players including one Peadar O’Loughlin.

Before I introduce Peadar, it would be useful to acknowledge the potential pit- falls any language-based musical analysis might contain, and also

deconstruct a little the tools at my disposal.

The value of a style analysis (ii) potential pitfalls

The inherent danger in “languaging” about music has been identified by

Keegan, quoting Christgau:


“Robert Christgau expands the problems of writing about music in his article “Writing about music is writing first” ...all art is magic - and that as we’ve been told ad infinitum from Suassure on down, nothing can be reduced to words, not even words. Writing about writing is also like dancing about architecture”

(Christgau, 2005, 416, quoted in Keegan 2009)

Stockhausen goes further, suggesting that the urge to write things down inhibits our aural reactions to the thing itself:

Very few however posses such direct musicality that this acoustic environment signifies something to them without being visualised or transposed into musical forms. I have often said that is closely linked with so much of our development being spent writing everything down so things become what we can describe and we scarcely perceive anything else any longer

(Stockhausen 1989, p.68)

In this analysis I will strive not to let “things become what we describe” and to allow Peadar and his style to be himself and of him in this essay, in as much as it is possible to be objective about ones subject.

There is a resonance here with the title of one of the CDs Peadar made with the fiddle player Maeve Donnelly: “The Thing Itself” - a title explained in the liner notes:


Theres nothing more like the thing than the thing itself!” said Thade Carthy hearing Peadar O’Loughlin play...Thade conferred the ultimate accolade of musicianship on Peadar.

(Connolly, 2004)

Which brings us to the man himself.


Peadar O’Loughlin was born in 1929 in Kilmaley, West Clare, in the house where he still lives today. He was the second youngest of thirteen children.

Both parents played, most of the children were musical and Peadar himself took up both the fiddle and the flute.

Peadar played with the Fiach Roe Céilí band until its demise in 1958, and subsequently joined the Tulla Céilí band, with whom he regularly made successful tours to England and the U.S.A. In addition Peadar recorded five seventy-eights with the Tulla.

Peadar won several competitions, in the 1954 All-Ireland he received second place in the duet category with Paddy Murphy, and in 1955 he took first place in the senior flute section at the Oreachtas. At the fleadhanna in Ennis and


Dungarvan in 1956 and 1957 respectively, he took two All-Ireland championships. (Hughes, McGivney 1993).

Towards the end of the 60s he was part of the Inis Cealtra Quartet alongside Paddy O’Brien, Séamus Connolly and George Byrt, and he was also a member of the famous Kilfenora Céilí band.

Peadar regularly tutored in the Willie Clancy summer school. During these times he was colleagues and friends with countless great musicians, including Willie Clancy, P.J. Hayes, Tommy Potts, and Roger Sherlock and Bobby Casey in England. Indeed he is colleagues and friends with many contemporary traditional musicians today, including Maeve Donnelly and Ronan Browne both of whom he has recorded with.

Peadar has made (and is continuing to make) recordings with a variety of musicians. His recording career has spanned fifty years so far.

He was a guest musician on what is considered to be the first ever recording of Irish traditional music which was entitled All Ireland Champions Violin Paddy Canny and P.J.Hayes accompanied by Peter O’Loughlin, concert flute, and Bridie Lafferty, piano. (There had been solo recordings prior to this of course, especially from flute players John McKenna, James Morrison in America and fiddler Michael Coleman) This was originally released in 1959


by Dublin Records, and later reissued on CD by Shanachie as An Historic Recording of Irish Traditional Music from County Clare and East Galway. He also made Spol a recording with the fiddle player Aggie White, which was produced by the music researcher and uilleann piper Brendán Breathnach in


In 2004 Peadar recorded “The Thing Itself” with the fiddle player Maeve Donnelly and uilleann piper and composer Ronan Browne. He has also made two other CDs with Ronan Browne - “The South West Wind” in 1988 and “Touch Me if You Dare” in 2002, both of which he plays fiddle on. Peadar mentioned another recording with Ronan waiting to be released. There is also talk of a further recording with Maeve Donnelly.

There are few recording artists whose career spans fifty years. This in itself distinguishes him and speaks to the enduring quality of his style, as

his playing obviously appeals enough to younger musicians such as Maeve Donnelly and innovative musicians such as Ronan Browne in order for them to wish to record with him.

However for the purposes of this style analysis I will concentrate on the early , formative influences on Peadar.



Kilmaley - “Thats where the music was in the country house kitchen”

(Peadar O’Loughlin, Interview 1, Old Ground hotel, Ennis, county Clare)

I asked Peadar about early influences on his music.

It was just very plain ordinary honest -to -God people that weren’t even moving out of their own parish


The simple fact that people didn’t tend to move out of their immediate locale is a major contributing factor to the notion of “regional style” as we shall see.

His family played -

There was music in the home, in the house to start with. My father was a very good concertina player and fiddler and flute player


Peadar mentioned three of his siblings who moved to England also played. Two brothers played the flute, one “a fine flute player and fiddler as well” (ibid) and a sister who died young of TB was reputed to have the makings of a great fiddle player” (ibid)

Peadar was keenly interested in music before transport was widely available, and as a result musical influences were inevitably localised.


there weren’t a way to travel even, everyone walked with a concertina or something under his arm to some other house which was maybe only a mile away


At this point in time, in the late thirties and early forties

People didn’t know each other the time I’m talking about, outside of the parish. To go to Gort that time from here - the auld lads would have thought you’d nearly gone to America you know!


Almost a decade after partition the Free State was still struggling to find her feet economically. According to a relative who like Peadar was born into a small-holding in rural Clare, things were difficult in the 30s and 40s there as elsewhere -

..the economic war as they called it...the Government refused to pay tithes to England. Twas.. twas pure hardship - farming especially -farming stock you could buy - well your stock were given away literally you couldn’t give them

away because there was no markets for them... And then of course in the forties the emergency as they called it when the war was on. So the people that lived that time they really earned it- like you’d be talking about recession now like

they had permanent recession... for a couple of decades ...Twas subsistence really. But if you have your health and a happy place you don’t feel deprived in any way

(Seán Dinan, recorded conversation 2009)

Not surprisingly people made their own entertainment at this time, mainly through cuaird, night visiting. If they were musically inclined and had access


to an instrument they learned tunes from each other and they played for each other, for dancing or for their own pleasure

playing at country kitchen dances was their thing -[or] they might play in the house for know, just because they felt like playing a tune

(interview 1)

Playing for money seems to have been unheard of in Peadars fathers time, and this is something that Peadar sees as significant.

whats happening now is another world altogether. There was no such thing as playing for money. There was no money for it..that only started off with bands, ah well it came in my time all right and a little before it


Another world altogether - well it certainly must have seemed so. In terms of the way music was played Peadar said “...there were a lovely lovely kind of a simple style you know.” (ibid)

The word simple has significance in this context as it is central to Peadars own thoughts on style.

A huge influence on Peadar getting nearer to my own time” as he says were his own local flute players:


There were two flute players in Kilmaley called Mickey Hanrahan and Jimmy Kennedy. And when I heard them first I never, never, nor never will forget it. They were great. And they were playing together.


Peadar mentioned that these flute players started a Céilí band in Kilmaley in about 1940 when he would have been around ten years of age, and too young to join in. This was the The Fiach Roe Céilí Band, which he eventually did join.

Flute playing and “playing together” certainly seems to be central to Peadars musicianship as we shall see. He was similarly struck by two flute players

who played together in the famous “Old” Ballinakill Band of 1927,

They had most brilliant flute players. Stephen Maloney and Tommy Whelan.There was only five in the group. Two fiddles, two flutes and a piano. And it was all on the old 78s, and it was something else

(ibid) When I asked him if two flute players playing together as he described would be musically tight, he said: “Fairly tight if they were local...and then some people who had the ability to cock an ear to know what the other fella was doing” (ibid)

I think this is revealing in terms of Peadars own playing style - by his own account his way of playing was formed under local influences, and in my own listening I have noticed an impressive sense of togetherness when he is playing with another person. It might be that the other person was local as


with Maeve Donnelly or local-ish in the case of Aggie White, and both obviously great players but also I suspect it is Peadar who is “cocking an ear” as his own versions of tunes seem to differ slightly in terms of ornamentation and variation when he plays them solo.

However we should question what is really meant by “local” in terms of musicianship, both in terms of musical style and also repertoire. We have seen that in Peadars fathers time music was largely a localised activity, but by the time Peadar was playing regularly, the music of the region was beginning to be infused by outside influences.


Father Roche Paddy Murphy Hughdie Doohan Sean Reid

There were three significant influences locally in the shape of musically- minded and community spirited individuals, who facilitated to some extent a broadening of musical horizons. In the first case the individual concerned supplied an instrument which was to have a transformative effect on the


playing of a fourth influence, a young concertina player who became a life- long friend and musical partner to Peadar.

This was the Kilmaley Parish Priest, Father Roche, who in 1940 drove down

to Cork to purchase “two Wheatstone concertinas...two concert flutes, one fiddle, and a set of drums...” in order to create a local band -as Peadar said, “he knew the talent was there” (ibid)

Geraldine Cotter (2009, lecture, Module MU5601) identifies this event as an instance of community involvement promoting local music.

Both Geraldine and Peadar note that the Wheatstones were bought for ten pounds each. One of Peadars musical influences at this time and for many years to come was one of the recipients of the Wheatstones - Paddy Murphy. They became duetting partners. “Paddy Murphy and myself played duets for years, and we were winnin’! [competitions] (laughs) But sure Paddy Murphy was the best in the country.” (Interview 1)

PADDY MURPHY “the best in the country”

Paddy Murphy was born in 1913, making him sixteen years senior to Peadar.


His musicianship had a profound effect on Peadar. He described it as “..a lot more simple but with great feeling in it.” (ibid).

It has stayed with him to the extent that recently together with Dr. Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin of the University of Missouri he spent two years collecting material to bring out a CD of Paddy Murphys playing after he died.

...the two of us listened to a tape one time and I said to him - you know I always thought there should be a CD - theres the makings of a CD there. And he said right we’ll do it. It took two years or more...his voice is recorded as well. He was a lovely gentleman


(Peadar later gave me a copy of this CD, released in 2007)

Paddy Murphy won the 1954 All-Ireland Fleadh Ceoil in Cavan on the same Wheatstone concertina. He was the only concertina player present that day and took the miscellaneous title, adjudicated by the renowned piper Leo Rowsome, who praised him for his performance of “The Ace and Deuce of Piping” (Cotter, 2009).

The gift of the Wheatstone was fundamental to the playing style developed and pioneered by Paddy Murphy. (The subtitle on the cover of In Good Hands is Field recordings from a pioneer of the Irish concertina )

Murphy managed to step out from the crowd and row against the musical tide of that time. Armed with a Wheatstone concertina bought in Cork for £10 in 1940,


he perfected the three-row ornamental style of concertina music that has now become a benchmark for the Irish concertina.

hAllmhuráin 2007)

It has been noted by Ó Súilleabháin that

Where that style is shared by others in a particular locality, we are dealing with a recognisable regional style. While such regional styles form an interactive base against which the individual creativity of the musician may be measured, the generative force which gives rise to regional styles in the first place is obviously that of the creative energy of the individual.

Súilleabháin p120)

And undoubtedly Paddy Murhys individual style (which he was able to develop due to the gift of the Wheatstone concertina) had a great influence on Peadar. (It was probably a mutual influence as they played together to such an extent).

Despite the innovative nature of Paddys concertina playing described above, Peadar feels that it retained an air of simplicity. From this I would logically deduce that Peadar thinks innovative technique (as employed by Paddy at

the time) could co-exist quite happily with simplicity of style. The caveat would always be that the technique served the tune.

HUGHDIE DOOHAN “Strange and new tunes


The second significant influence was the musician Hughdie Doohan, who also played in the Fiach Roe. Through Hughdies efforts, repertoire from outside the locale was actively introduced. Hughdie was able to read music and had a copy of O’Neills from which he would teach the local musicians unfamiliar tunes. Peadar and Paddy both benefitted from the efforts of Hughdie Doohan.

they had a musicmaster in their midst who could read music and possessed a copy of Francis 0' Neills 1001 Gems of Irish Dance Music. Hughdie Doohan from Connolly was a major influence on the young players of the thirties and forties

(Hughes, McGivney, 1993)

In the liner notes to In Good Hands there is a description given by Paddy of the musical nights spent at Hughdie Doohans:

Hughdie used to sit down like any good schoolmaster with the oil lamp in front of him on the table. The book would be taken down and Hughdies fiddle tuned to perfection. He would read the music then from the O’Neills book and ,

according as Hughdie read them, we learned them off. He was a mighty man for strange and new tunes...None of them tunes were ever heard of round here

until Hughdie started to read them off the book

hAllmhuráin 2007)

Paddy Murphys reference to “strange and new tunes” that were “never heard of round here”, demonstrates how significant the actions of Hughdie Doohan were in bringing outside influences in terms of repertoire into the local music.


In terms of actual playing style Hughdie also had an influence on the young


At an early stage I was influenced by Doohan's fiddle style, a good clean tone, little ornamentation, more straight forward.

(Peadar O’Loughlin, quoted in Hughes, McGivney 1993)

SEAN REID “somewhere else, to hear someone else” The third and hugely important local influence who literally, physically extended the horizons of the young local musicians was Sean Reid, of whom Peadar says: “That fella done more for music than any man that I ever

knew” (Interview 1).

Sean Reid was a civil engineer who had moved from Tyrone to Clare in 1937, became leader of the Tulla Ceilidh band in 1948 and influential in the creation of Na Píoibairí Uilleann. (Cotter 2009) Crucially, Sean had a car which he used to drive the musicians around so that they could hear other people play or join in with them.

According to Peadar

he would do anything, to take me when I was a young lad to somewhere else to hear someone else...he drove everywhere...And he obliged everyone



So this would be the way Peadars influences expanded outside of the

Parish. They would drive to Ballinakill, Galway to Aggie Whites (the fiddler)

We used to go as far as Ballinakill...for a tune...tis - I’ll tell you what tis thirty- eight miles from Kilmaley to Aggie Whites house in Ballinakill


The other Galway group Peadar mentioned as having an influence on him when he was young was the Aughrim Slopes Ceilidh Band. He says their playing style was discernibly different from the Ballinakill, although both were Galway-based.

Two little different angles of Galway and they were totally different. Not totally different but you’d knew straight away if it whether it was Aughrim Slopes or Ballinakill


When I questioned Peadar about the playing style of these groups he responded:

Well they played the music they liked, in the way they wanted to do it, and they didn’t play for the public. You know they weren’t playing for people who would want to know were they good or bad.


Which leads me to wonder if it wasn’t the style of the music played that was regional so much as a idea of how to play it.This chimes with Martin Hayes


idea of a regional sensibility in which he also notes the absorption of outside influences:

A regional style of music develops as a result of relative isolation and can often be defined more easily in terms of a shared aesthetic sense among the musicians of an area. This sensibility is reinforced by opinions, likes, dislikes and some common agreement on what they expect from music. No artificial boundaries or limits are imposed. Outside influences are absorbed, reshaped integrated and sometimes rejected, while the shared aesthetic sense remains.

(Hayes, p4. 2001)

Which brings us to the other way music from outside the local community could be absorbed, shared, discussed and learned - the gramophone record.

The Gramophone “the life of Irish music”

“Gramophone records, 78s, that was the life of Irish music to me”

(Interview 1)

Peadar told me how you could learn tunes quite easily from the old 78s as you could slow the turntable speed down by pressing a little button (much as some of us might use the electronic equivalent today for the same purpose) and that they were more useful than the later cassette tapes in this respect.

Through the gramophone record the previous generation of musicians in Ballinakill (Aggie Whites fathers generation) exerted a profound influence on the young Peadar.


The nearest and best I heard outside that [Kilmaley] was Ballinakill in County Galway...the old Ballinakill Band of 1927...I met two of them, I knew them when they were old people and they were lovely...Stephen Maloney which was father to Eddie Maloney you might have heard of... and Tommy White, Aggie Whites father. It was a tonic, just a tonic to listen to them...And it was all on the old 78s, and it was something else


The advent of the gramophone record had made it possible for Peadars generation to listen to the playing of Irish musicians who had emigrated to America and made a successful career out of music, such as John McKenna and Michael Coleman.

One of the tunes Peadar recorded for me is the Shashkeen Reel, which Brendan Mulkere told me originates from “Coleman country” referring to Sligo. It seems Sligo was sometimes referred to by musicians as “Coleman Country” - the “Coleman Country Ceilidh Band” which included Seamus Tansey and Peter Horan was set up in honour of Colemans playing and toured to America in 1972. (Tansey 1999).

Michael Coleman had emigrated to America in 1914 and made his first record of traditional music in 1921, becoming in the words of Seamus Tansey “to

Irish Traditional music what Elvis Presley became in later years to Rock and

Roll” (Tansey 1999, p.18).


This echoes McCulloughs observation that:

The aural media of the 20th century have had a profound influence on stylistic development, from the early 78 rpm recordings of Irish and Irish- American musicians to current recordings of contemporary performers.

(McCullough 1977, p.85)

A Clare style?

Peadars Thoughts

Peadar has deeply held convictions about style. He regrets the influence he feels money and celebrity have had on music, as he feels that something important has been lost or pushed aside - when I asked him if he thought there was a Clare style he responded:

There is, but with the popularity...and the money, as I say and the influence of moving, the Clare style is soul in it, no feeling about it, but great technically, mighty.

(interview 1)

I asked if he thought it was possible to have both in your playing- a showy technique and soul, and he replied that:

Of course it is, but when you get that technique built into you, you’re no longer prepared to show the other thing - you have to be better than the other lad



He seems to be saying here that competition destroys musicality to some extent. Its an interesting point because it does seem that there are different motivations sometimes nowadays for making music from those that Peadar described in the country house kitchen- competitions, career building. Sometimes even the desire to be heard in a noisy environment.

Of course playing with feeling and having a career aren’t mutually exclusive, and neither are virtuosic technique and musical sensitivity, yet possibly what hes driving at is the tendency to play too fast, too loud, too much. (This is certainly a tendency I noted in my own playing when I started spending more time in Clare from London, and I have often been at the excruciating receiving end of this in some sessions both in Ireland and England. Maybe

this is one style which knows no regional or even international boundaries... )

Peadar puts his case clearly:

...the simplicitys gone out of it, the souls gone out of it, its a real case of it getting at you, you know, the flute players are streets ahead of what we were you know in technique. Well, I remember a few years ago and John Kelly said it one time, and he put it very nice - I think it was John said, when he was queried like this - “Ah” he says, “They’re dingers on the instrument but the tune is sufferin’!”


I find this personification of the tune illuminating - it is a living thing to be

treated with reverence and respect. This idea of the intrinsic importance of


the tune crops up repeatedly - Peadar told me at the end of the interview when the recorder was switched off “You’d travel fifty miles for a tune if you thought enough of the tune” (informal conversation 2009). Although this wasn’t recorded I wrote it down verbatim at the time as it made such an impression on me.

Other Musicians thoughts on Clare Style

The value and respect accorded the tune is noted by Martin Hayes, and he seems to feel that this in itself is a regional tendency of the musicians:

In county Clare it was music with lyricism and feeling that was most cherished. There was common use of a wide range of dynamics, which enhanced expressiveness. They didn’t like to hear it played too fast, it had to be played from the heart, they wanted tunes that spoke to their feelings. The quality of feeling was the most important attribute. Though intangible, it was often spoken of, and when music did not have feeling it was criticized as lacking true essence.

(Hayes p.4/5, 2001)

Eamonn Cotter the flute player and maker, suggested that violin playing would be a major influence on the playing style of Clare musicians.

When you're surrounded by fiddle players, your style is influenced more by fiddle playing. That's where the melodic influence comes into it, the phrasing, the lack of punctuation, and more legato, because that's the music I grew up with.

(Cotter, quoted by Marsh, in Hurley,1998.)


Paradoxically, he suggests that it was the lack of flute players in the county apart from Peadar and Paddy O’Donanghue which gave rise to the style of flute playing -

Apart from Peter O'Loughlin and Paddy O'Donoghue down in Shannon, it wasn't a strong flute playing county. It was mostly concertina and fiddle and a few accordion players, you know.


This would tie in with Niall Keegans view that a Clare style is really perceived as cross-instrumental

Incidentally, this is seen to be, perhaps more than any other regional style we shall speak of, a general instrumental style

(Keegan 1992)

And indeed it is being influenced by instrumentalists apart from flute players which Cotter sees as contributing to his own playing style,

If I was in Sligo or Leitrim I would have been influenced by other flute players and that's where the tacking side would have come in. I wasn't familiar with that style. It's not in my character anyway, it wouldn't reflect my personality to play with that type of power. I mean I do have stamina but it's much more subdued.


Although Cotter identifies this “subdued” quality as an endemic part of his personality it seems to be the approach also favoured by Peadar and

described by Hayes, and referred to by Seán Ó Riada.


Ó Riada described what he perceived as the distinguishing features of a

“Clare style” of flute playing thus:

The main difference with the Clare style is probably in the phrasing. Clare flute- players use longer phrases which occur a little more regularly. Furthermore, their rhythm is not as emphatic as that of the Sligo layers, and they are more

inclined to accentuate an offbeat or unstressed beat for variation purposes, thus lending a suggestion of rhythmic subtlety. It is very much a rolling ornamented style, and this, combined with the regular phrasing and discreet rhythm gives it

a level, even character.

Riada 1982 p.62)

He stresses the rhythmic subtlety of the playing and also talks about

Peadars playing directly:

Peter O’Loughlin, in another pair of reels, gives a fine display of the rolling, level Clare style, well ornamented, with an easy rhythmic flow and well-sustained phrases” (ibid)

Of course it is not advisable to generalise. as Ó’Riada himself pointed out

it is hard to generalise; Séamus Tansey, another Sligo player, sounds almost like a Clare flute player at time


But despite the difficulties of generalisation there does seem to be a consensus amongst flute players and other musicians that there are at least tendencies in terms of a Clare style - the subtle rhythmic underpinning of the


tune, the well-executed ornamentation, the largely legato phrasing. (Although Peadar uses alternate phrase lengths as a rhythmic variation which I will discuss later).

Presiding over these characteristic tendencies for Peadar is the respect he accords the tune. At one point during the interview referring to modern players he remarked: they’re more interested in what they can do with the flute than what they do with the tune”. (Interview 1).

Respecting the tune by maintaining its melodic integrity is I think what he is getting at here, as against using the tune to display ones own prowess and technique. A year or two ago I might not have found much of interest in this statement. But now I find I can literally hear what he means. We might disagree on what constitutes “overdoing it” but I understand the notion of serving the tune rather than using it as a platform for virtuosity, although that has its place too.

A word about variations - I don’t believe Peadar is against improvisation per se, and this is evidenced by his great affection and admiration for Tommy Potts, both as a friend and a musician. He told me during conversation that he would travel to Dublin just to hear Tommy play, and had done so many times. He thought there was no-one like him and mentioned that Tommy if


playing in the house might play five times round an A part and make up all sorts of odd variations that weren’t pre-planned. (Improvising, in other words) I thought this was interesting as Micheál Ó Súillebheánn mentioned a tune in which Tommy Potts played five variations of the A part (Ó Súillebheánn 2009)


I’ve chosen to analyse two tunes, one Peadar recorded fifty years ago with Aggie White and also recorded live during the interview in the West County Hotel, a jig “The Pipe On the Hob”; and a reel he played for me in the West County Hotel “The Shaskeen” .

The first two rounds of The Pipe on The Hob transcribe a duet Peadar recorded with Aggie White on Spol. The third round I recorded in the West County hotel in 2009. Regarding the third round, Peadar prefaced this with “I’ll keep form while I’m able!” (Interview 2) as he has been troubled with breathing difficulties. This might have impacted on some of the phrasing, but the alternation of short and long phrases does seem to be a musical choice.



The wooden simple system flute as played by Peadar is the type generally favoured amongst Irish traditional musicians, although there are some notable exceptions, including Joanie Madden and Paddy O’Donahue.

Of what is now considered to be the Irish traditional flute as opposed to the metal one Ó Riada says, in fact, the the old wooden flute which was the predecessor of the metal flute nowadays used by European musicians...The lower octave is the one which comes in for most use, unlike the European concert flute, where it is the 2nd and 3rd

octaves which are most used. Its tone is warm, rich, and somewhat hoarse, whereas the European concert flute tends towards the impersonal. The personal, subjective tone of the traditional Irish flute makes it an ideal instrument for its purpose, capable of describing the complex arabesques of the most sophisticated orally-transmitted music on earth.

Riada p.60,1982)

I would have to disagree with part of his last sentence having been required to play Arabic and Indian music sometimes by ear, and even allowing for unfamiliarity I feel they are equally sophisticated oral traditions. (Of course these other traditions also use the wooden flute, the bansurai and the ney.)


However, Ó Riada seems to speak for a nation of flute players with his evocative description of the “subjective, personal” tone of the wooden flute suiting it to the purpose of playing traditional music. There are huge differences between these instruments, in terms of range, tone colour and the technique required to produce the sound. Conal Ó Grada described the wooden flute to me as a different instrument to the silver flute.

Niall Keegan suggests that although the Irish traditional musician adopted the orchestral instrument of the nineteenth century, in so doing they

fundamentally altered the technique associated with it.

The Irish tradition, in adopting an alien instrument has changed its method of performance radically

(Keegan 1992)

Peadars flute is a nineteenth century eight keyed model and has the C foot keys associated with orchestral playing. It was made in England - it is marked St. James Street. (Piccadilly) and was given him by his brother. When Peadar played my flute (made within the last decade by Patrick Olwell) his tone was very consistent, strong and bright. ( I apologised for the fact I have no keys

on this flute, that it is basic in this respect - “Nothing wrong with basic” he replied, characteristically, and pronounced it a good flute.)



The tone is strong and bright, but also rich - to my ears there is a lot of “middle” in it (i.e.. a lot of mid-frequencies, giving a strong core to the sound, a solidity in fact) and I can hear less of the harmonics and overtones that I have noted in the playing of Conal O’Grada for example. It is a less “dirty” sound (I mean dirty not in a pejorative sense) possibly a less complex sound in terms of lack of overtones, yet it does retain the air in the sound which I would associate with Irish flute players -the “hoarseness” referred to by Ó Riada.

It is certainly far removed from what is currently perceived as a classical sound in that it is generally devoid of vibrato and the differences between octaves are pointed rather than masked . I think this has much to do with the nature of the differences between the nineteenth century two octave wooden instruments which became by default the instrument of choice for Irish flute players after they were superceded by the three octave Boehm model. The octave range is smaller with the wooden flute which suggests there are less harmonics available to the higher notes possibly giving them a thinner, reedier quality.


Sometimes the tone sounds darker - for instance there is a discernible change of tone going into “Sporting Nell” from “Miss Thorntons” on Spol (the recording made with Aggie White) There is a slight variation of tone between rounds, evident in The Pipe On the Hob. I could best describe it as a sense of restraint in the B section of the tune, an impression that something is being held back - the tone sounds slightly darker and fractionally more distant . I think it is related to what Keegan describes as the tendency of the more

senior Traditional players to alter the dynamics of different rounds of the tune. (Keegan 2009)

However, I don’t find its use restricted to the older generation of players as it is a feature I have also heard in the playing of Martin Hayes, albeit in a more exploded form- a sense of forces gathering before launching into the next round of the tune. This leads me to associate it with the idea of a regional

style pertaining to Clare. I will talk about this in more detail under the category of dynamics.


There is a fairly strong “attack” on the beginning of the note in Peadars playing, but the note is never split. I think this shows a fine control of the instrument. I asked Peadar how he articulates the note - whether by tonguing


or throating. He replied: “I just sort of can kind of make stops with your throat.” (Interview 2) and then he demonstrated as I’ve detailed in the

score diagram below (fig.1)


I think the use of throating rather than tonguing might well help with the clarity of the articulation as there is nothing obstructing the air flow at the point of the embouchure, the air has already been “stopped” at the epiglottis.

Occasionally Peadar will use a sort of marcato or slightly exaggerated staccato in order to emphasise or create a rhythmic variation (e.g. bars 3 and

10 in the Shashkeen.) This form of articulation is created by throating as he describes and is used sparingly and therefore to great effect, as his playing is strongly legato otherwise.



I discussed ornamentation during the second interview with Peadar as the first time I interviewed him he was feeling too unwell to play (he is suffering from emphysema). We met again at the West County Hotel in Ennis and I asked him about ornamentation. He said it was mainly about rolls, and taught me how he plays a long roll, firstly a G roll which he cut and tapped with adjacent fingers (A and F), an F roll (for which he also used adjacent fingers and an E roll. I remarked that sometimes the E roll is cut with the G finger:

It could be that one you do as well it doesn’t matter (cuts with the G) JH: Oh Ok

PO’L: Its only to make a bit of a grace note to polish it off

JH: Right

(he plays)

P’OL: but you have to get the D though

JH: Right

PO’L: ...have to just flick off the D, you don’t get a plain D as such, the note never appears.

(interview 2)

There is something quite elegant and immaculate about Peadars rolls, the

“flick” off the D he mentions is very concise and smart. I think he does favour


adjacent fingering (although he is open-minded about which fingering to use)

which would give a closer sounding ornament to the parent note. Here is the fingering he uses for rolling on G, Fsharp , E and D. (Fig. 2)

Fig. 2

The circled note names show the fingers used to cut and tap, and I have represented the cut with a short vertical line and the tap with a diagonal line. For short rolls the same fingering would apply but the roll would begin with the cut.

The notational symbols I use for long and short rolls in the transcriptions are detailed below in figures 3 and 4.


Notation For Rolls




There is another kind of roll that Peadar uses frequently. Initially this puzzled me and I couldn’t work out quite what it was - it sounded somewhere between a triplet, a cut and a roll (without the tap) and was so subtle and fleeting

(more subtle than a roll and far faster than a triplet) it could almost be missed. But not quite, there was definitely something there.

The effect was like a cut, but I thought I was hearing three notes, which would make it more like a sort of contracted triplet. I think a lot of older players

would just call it a “grace” or even a roll. However, I now think this is a variant of what I have heard Brendan Mulkere and Mary Bergin call a “half-roll”, I say variant as when this type of ornament came up with Bergin and Mulkere the tune context was the air, so the ornament itself was naturally more spun out

to fit with the slower tempo of an air. To make matters more confusing the terms short roll and half roll seem interchangeable in Irish traditional music parlance, Majella Bartley and Niall Keegan both call the short roll the half roll if memory serves me correctly.

I also came to the conclusion that this ornament is in fact what Geraldine

Cotter terms a “Casadh” (which Grey Larson says doesn’t exist!)

It actually sounds very like a cut, and in fact Cotter would concur with this:

“The casadh is similar to the cut except that the parent note is also part of the ornament”


(Cotter 1983, p.24).

And she notates it thus:


(Cotter 1983, p.24).

Whereas Grey Larson describes the same phenomenon as: TINY DELAYS OF THE CUT” (Larson 2003, p.136).

His description is meticulous and accurate enough, if rather more long- winded than Cotters - I will quote it in its entirety here:

“On occasion a player will place a cut just a very tiny bit after the attack of a note, but not nearly late enough to suggest any rhythmic sub-division of the note. The cut still sounds as


if it belongs to the beginning of the note, but there is something just a little “different” about it, something more “ornate” or rhythmically active. This kind of delay can of course arise as the result of sloppy playing. But you can hear it sparingly and effectively used in the music of such great players as Matt Molloy and Seamus Egan. When you listen very slowly to

this (especially if you are able to play a recording at slower than normal speed) you can hear the arrival of the parent note just an instant before the cut”

(Larson 2003 p.136)

I slightly disagree with the last part of this - I now find it easier to hear both the cut and the casadh at speed on the recordings as slowing them down stretches the attack on the note to the extent that it becomes blurred. I only arrived at this conclusion after much time spent playing the recordings at varying speeds to isolate this ornament. Some of the recordings I have been working with are mp3 renderings of original cassette recordings, so possibly there was some “stretch” on the tape to begin with which clouded my judgment in this respect. This ornament is clearer but still quite subtle in the live recordings.

Larson identifies this ornament as what some players would term a grace, as

I’ve also noted, and dismissively rejects Cotters description:

I think that these two special applications of delaying the cut are actually what some authors are referring to when they vaguely describe ”double graces” or “double grace


notes” . I also think this is what Geraldine Cotter calls the Casadh (Irish for twist or turn) in her book ‘Geraldine Cotters Traditional Irish tin Whistle Tutor.’ Her description and notation of the ‘Casadh’ are sketchy and vague. I have not been able to find any other mention of the term ‘Casadh” in the literature.”

(Larson, 2003 p.136)

Well, that might be, but there isn’t really a substantial body of literature to refer to in terms of ornamentation in Irish traditional music (compared to say ornamentation in Baroque and Early musics) as of course it has been for most of its evolution an oral and aural tradition. This is evidenced by the fact that many young players are still taught by ear or rote and many players like Peadar himself have never learned to read musical notation.

Even a player as progressive and musically adventurous as Michael McGoldrick has told me he doesn’t read music, once being asked to go from a particular page in an orchestral rehearsal in which he was the soloist and having to admit to the conductor he was playing by ear. Kevin Crawford of Lunasa also told me he doesn’t read music. The aural memory required in these cases is clearly considerable. Peadar incidentally, seems to slightly regret not learning to read music, as he told me in the course of conversation that he felt it would be useful in order To go home with a tune rolled up in your pocket, you know” (private conversation, 2009)


This leads me to wonder if the lack of notation has actually contributed to the flexibility of the ornaments in Irish traditional music. Although Grey Larsons book “The Essential Guide to the Irish Flute and Tin Whistle” is impressive in its taxonomical method of isolating and notating various ornaments and their variants I think it perhaps starts sliding (no pun intended) into slightly murky waters when he begins notating ornaments played by particular musicians. There is a natural variation at work to my mind within the Irish traditional music “sound community” (Keegan, 2009) and one mans double grace may well be another womans casadh but then again it may not be - it may be what they felt at the time suited the music they were playing. Fractional variations of rhythm within the ornament itself may result.

Notation has its limitations in this respect -for instance Cotter has used semi- quavers in her notation of the casadh, and while this might serve well in an

air, in a jig or a reel the notes sound more fleeting and bunched together than this would indicate. So in some instances it is misleading to notate the rhythm of the ornament precisely, as this doesn’t allow for the suggestion of almost infinitesimal rhythmical variants. This is a subject worthy of far more in depth analysis than is possible for me to pursue here, and this is necessarily a subjective viewpoint. Here is the process of the casadh explained diagrammatically (Fig. 6)



This represents the sound of the casadh. The parent note is clearly sounded before being cut by the finger represented by the hollow circle containing the note name of the cutting finger. The parent note then automatically resumes. The symbolic representation I am using to describe this is below (Fig. 7)



I have preferred using symbols to notate ornaments in the transcriptions. In transcribing a player like Peadar it seems a clearer way to describe the energy and feel of the ornament without confining it within a semi-classical notational context - what I mean by this is that if I see a grace note (and here we return to the inherent subjective difficulties involved in using language to describe music) I perceive it as a grace note as used in a classical or contemporary music context- that is as the note itself preceding the parent note. This is a further difficulty in the notation of ornaments in traditional music.

When a grace note is notated in order to describe a cut it seems to me inappropriate as it isn’t actually the note itself that precedes the parent note; the parent note is cut by the cutting finger. This is what Peadar does. For instance he would lift and replace the g or f sharp finger to cut on e, as does every other Irish traditional flute player I have heard. It is not a whole note that precedes the parent note, and this is vital for the character of the sound, it has a strange harmonic or whistling quality. Also there is an energy and attack in the cut that isn’t transmitted by the notation of a grace note. These are some of the qualities that distinguish the Irish traditional flute players


techniques from Early or Baroque ornamentation techniques. Therefore I have only used a grace note in the transcriptions in the rare instance when that is what I have actually heard.

To return to the question of the casadh - it is for these reasons that I actually prefer Cotters term and find it more useful (certainly than Larsons “Tiny delays in the cut” although that is useful as a starting point) And it is the simplicity of Cotters description that is attractive - it communicates the musical nature of the ornament, a twist, a turn. However again I have chosen to notate it symbolically in order to avoid imposing a rational sub-division of the beat on the ornament.

This really is the summary of the ornamentation used by Peadar. As he said, its mainly about rolling - the long roll, the short roll and the half-roll or casadh. There was one instance when I noted a bounce, which I have represented with this symbol . And there was one instance, right at the end of The Shaskeen where he finished with what sounded exactly like an inverted mordant, that is, the parent note, the note below and a return to the note, so

in this instance I saw no reason to use any other notation than that of the mordant.

The actual sound of the rolls and the casadhs is subtle and flowing - this is facilitated by the choice of adjacent fingering for the cuts and the fact that the


nature of the breathing is smooth and even, this is so ingrained in his style that it is present even when he is suffering breathing difficulties. He seems to favour the casadh when duetting with Aggie White and I suspect this is because it sounds closer to her preferred ornamentation.

Peadar has strong opinions about what he sees as the over-use of rolling:

a lot of people they play a lot, and do a lot of rolling, thats unnecessary you know and then you meet a simple flute player that sounds just as good without any of it

(Interview 2)

[he mentioned Miko Russell, a player he admired, and went on to talk about other flute players he thought well of]

“...over in Galway in Ballinakill, in Aggie Whites country, were the finest of flute players - to me they were the real thing they did very little of that, [repetitive use of rolling] they did something else - they did the rolls as well, scarce enough, God did they replace it there with something, some art of their was easy doing as well, what they were doing,

but they just didn’t bother.”


At the same time he accepts that the use of ornamentation is a question of personal taste:


Yeah the only time that you have to do these things fairly right is if you’re two people are playing together for some reason like a recording or something”


I think this touches on the slightly different playing styles I have heard from

Peadar - as I mentioned previously when he is playing solo he uses

variations and ornamentation more freely and with more variety than he does on the recordings I have heard, which perhaps reflects Tomás Ó Canainns notion concerning ornamentation:

The importance that irish Traditional musicians attach to ornamentation and variation means that the music can only be fully satisfying in the context of a solo performance.

Canainn 1978, p.45)

Although I don’t think this would neccesarily be Peadars view - I reckon he takes a “fit for purpose” approach musically in order to keep the tune uncluttered and the playing tight. My impression is certainly that the players are enjoying themselves on the recordings I have been listening to.



Looking at the phrasing in The Pipe On The Hob what is immediately striking about the first two rounds is the phrasing length. As Conal O Grada remarked when he advised me to listen to older recordings the quality of the recordings might not be great but the musicianship comes through and I certainly found that to be the case here.

What is most impressive in terms of phrasing is the unity between fiddle and flute. There are only two moments when the two are not perfectly synchronised - once in bar 16 where Peadar takes a breath and once in bar

20 which I will discuss under variations.

The phrasing itself is extremely smooth, and in tandem with the recording quality this makes it is hard to tell whether Peadar takes a breath at all in the first eight bars. However there is a sense of shaping within the longer initial phrase that I have marked with smaller phrase marks.

There are a couple of obvious breaths in bars 22 and 30 which I have marked with a rest as the note is cut short in both cases, but this is rare for Peadar and he certainly does not use breathing in the marked way some traditional players would - the so-called “huffy puffy” style which uses breathing to accentuate the rhythm. The breathing is subtle.


Apart from these long smooth phrases another characteristic is the varying of phrase length. Peadar never takes a breath at the beginning of a four or eight bar section as would be common in Classical music, he almost always plays over the phrase break creating his own irregular phrases. This has the effect of maintaining interest in the melody as it leads the ear on through the tune and avoids predictability.

In the Shaskeen Peadar exploits the alternation of long with very short phrases. This likewise has the effect of maintaining the listeners interest despite the lack of melodic variation and this is a signature feature of his style and approach. On the odd occasion where he does conform to the idea of a two bar phrase pattern (bars 5,6, 9 and 10 in the first rounds and 13 and 14 in the second of The Shaskeen) he will either follow this with a longer phrase or a much briefer one. This makes for a lot of contrast in the phrasing.

There are no two phrases exactly the same between rounds one and two in The Pipe On The Hob. Curiously there is a phrase beginning on the last half beat of bar 16 and continuing to bar 20 which is identical between rounds three and four - but rounds three and four are separated by some fifty years. What is interesting about this is the suggestion that Peadar has his own way of phrasing this tune, and perhaps the tightness of the playing is due to him “cocking an ear to the other fella”. This might seem slight evidence to build such a case on but I think it is corroborated by the one bar that varies


melodically and rhythmically from the fiddle yet perfectly matches with the round played 50 years later, bar 20.



In terms of variations what is remarkable about the duet with Aggie White is the lack of melodic or rhythmic variation. Only the first three quavers of the second round differ from the first.

However, there are differences between the first two and final third round as transcribed here which I believe shed some light on Peadars playing style. It is significant that during the first two rounds Peadar was duetting whilst in the third round he is playing solo, and I believe this has more impact on his stylistic choices than the passage of half a century in between.

Every third bar of the third transcription in part A Peadar plays C-B-C rather than the C-G-E he plays with Aggie. The B is the seventh of the C chord which is implied in both cases, and is melodically a more interesting choice as it exerts a harmonic pull against the tonic. In addition in the fourth bar in


the A part of the tune Peadar lands on an F sharp when playing in duet with Aggie and on E when playing solo. This has the effect of implying a more minor modality, even if it is regarded as a passing note rather than a harmonic progression (a minor rapidly resolving to d major) it has a more minor flavour as the second note of the scale, (and therefore the root of e

minor). Peadar also uses slight variations in bars 23,24 and 25, and alters the rhythm very slightly in bar 29. These factors added together again lead me to the conclusion that his playing style in rounds one and two was determined at least partially by the importance he places on playing tightly together with his fellow musician - something which so impressed him about the pairs of flute players he saw and heard when he was very young.

“I never, never, nor never will forget it. They were great. And they were playing together” (Interview 1, quoted earlier)


There are few rhythmic variations in The Pipe on the Hob, in bar 20 on the second round Peadar plays three quavers instead of (rolled) dotted crotchet- quaver, but I believe here he is reverting to a personal version of the tune as the fiddle does not follow him in this, and this bar is exactly equivalent melodically and rhythmically with the same bar played in round three half a century later.


The variations in Peadars playing of The Shaskeen are more pronounced, and the chief variation used here is rhythmic. This first occurs during the anacrusis where Peadar plays a sort of elongated triplet to open with (I notated this with the added use of a pause symbol as there was definitely a feel of an opening statement creating suspense before launching into the tune the way Peadar played it) This is completely different in the second round where the triplet has been replaced with a rest. This allows the tune to breathe and also maximises the impact of the opening statement as the drawn out triplet is only used once.

There is a rhythmic variation in bar three which is enhanced by the use of ornamentation. In the first round the phrase starts on the second beat of the bar which is divided into two quavers. In the second round the phrasing starts on the first beat of the bar with a dotted crotchet. In fact the bar in round two

is composed of dotted-crotchet - quaver repeated, and emphasised by a clear break after each dotted crotchet.

There is a melodic variation in bar 5 of the Shaskeen where different inversions of the G chord are used, and a grace note emphasises the first beat of the bar in the first round.


I think Peadar tends to avoids much melodic variation as it opposes his philosophy of fidelity to the tune, and he concentrates on rhythmic and ornamental variation. As he is also aesthetically opposed to what he sees as the over-use of ornamentation he will often substitute a plain long note where he previously played a roll as mentioned during the section on ornamentation. The effect of all of this is to allow space for the tune to breathe.


The rhythm is steady and there is a regular emphasis on the back-beat (the fourth quaver beat in the bar in Pipe on The Hob and the second and fourth crotchet beats in The Shaskeen) which gives a bounce to the playing. This would seem a general tendency as it is always present in the recordings I have listened to of Peadars. This emphasis is lighter and less pronounced than I have heard in other players yet it underpins the entire structure of the music. There is also a subtler emphasis on the last quaver beat in the Pipe on the Hob, and there are rhythmic variations as described above in the Shaskeen.


Along with Keegan (Keegan 2009) I feel that the classically notated system

of crescendo and diminuendo is inappropriate when dealing with subtle


dynamics in Irish traditional music so I have chosen not to mark the dynamics on the score with one exception.

I would also concur with Keegans statement that

“Many older generation musicians would play the repeats of entire parts at different intensities of volume and use crescendos over one or two bars to “lift” the music into a phrase or part change.”

(Keegan, 2009)

There is exactly such a crescendo in bars 29 and 30 of The Pipe On the Hob which does indeed create a sense of “lift”. I have marked this crescendo on the score as it is a more obvious dynamic consistent with the notation. This dynamic is consistent between all rounds.

The varying intensity described by Keegan (above) as characteristic of the older generation of Traditional players, which I hear as a cyclical dynamic, is audible in The Pipe In the Hob and I will attempt to describe it below and with the use of a diagram..

In the first rendition of the A section the dynamic is reasonably robust, and during the repeat it is a little more restrained. I think this creates a sense of anticipation as something is being withheld, and when the B section arrives it sounds fresher as a result. There is the crescendo mentioned above on bars

29 and 30 climaxing in a bright, ringing high G, followed by a slight dynamic


drop which leads back into the A section and matches the dynamic of its return. This whole cycle repeats in the second round.

In the third, solo, recently recorded round the dynamic cycle differs . The A section is initially slightly louder relative to the whole tune than previously, and in fact the B section is also fairly loud and clear, increasing marginally in volume from the A section although it has a different character to it - a sense

of being more present. Although this is a different dynamic to that described between the A and B sections in rounds one and two, the increased intensity of the B section is what creates the sense of expectation here. There is an impression of swell throughout the A and B section leading up to the crescendo in bar 29 and climaxing on the G in bar 30.

Diagram for cyclical dynamic in Pipe on The Hob.

Fig. 8

Another dynamic nuance would be tapering of an individual note in the opposite direction to a classical sound - the note is often “pushed”, there is a is a slight weight in the sound that is reminiscent of the sound of a fiddle bow


being drawn across a string - there is a pressure in it. This frequently occurs at the ends of all phrases in The Shaskeen.

In the recording with Aggie White Peadar almost sounds like he is bowing the flute at some points - for example on the ends of notes the dynamic is a diminuendo which exactly matches that of the fiddle- the dynamics of tone fit in exactly with the violin, it is not merely a question of timing - there is a real musical empathy there.

The dynamics are so subtle in these instances that they could be regarded as a “feel” thing rather than something that can be adequately described.

As Tómas Ó Canainn says:

Nuances of style are so subtle and personal as to make any assessment of them well-nigh impossible.

Canainn 1978, p.5)

This brings us to the final, most subtle and personal of all style parameters -

Final parameter - Feel

Feel is what the individual factors analysed above contribute to the creation

of - arguably it is the purpose and presiding aesthetic of them.


The reason it is rarely discussed I imagine is precisely because it is so difficult to define, and attempts to do so risk sinking into vagueness.

Yet an attempt must be made here as it is a quality that is often mentioned with particular reference to Clare players and it central to my conclusion. Peadar has a passionate aesthetic sense about how music should be played, and that is essentially simply, and with sensitivity. This is partly what I mean

by feel.

Peadar himself talks about the “great feeling” (interview1) in Paddy O’Briens playing and his complaint about some playing now is that it lacks feeling “there is no soul or feeling in it” (ibid)

Martin Hayes says for the “Clare Champions “The quality of feeling was the most important attribute”. (Hayes 2001, p.4).

The most important attribute. What is it, this “feeling” that is being transmitted? It is to do with the the lack of melodic or rhythmic variation, the relative sparseness of ornamentation, the nuances of dynamics. Everything is cleared away in Peadars playing to allow the tune to be itself - the thing itself, not a parody or a representation of itself.

As a musical colleague Matthew Ord said to me one evening in London- the best traditional musicians sound like they’re doing something different each


time round the tune even when they’re not. I would make the analogy with acting and speaking a line - it might have the same cadences and emotional intention as the night before but it will sound different, and it will carry a fractionally different meaning.


Peadars early life informed his approach to music. As we walked out of the hotel after the first interview he said something else that though not recorded on my machine, is recorded indelibly in my mind.

“Its like food. There didn’t use to be enough hardly, so we appreciated what we had. Its like that with the music”

(private conversation post interview 1)

I found that Peadar always prioritises the tune, he would travel fifty miles for it, and in a duet situation he will prioritise the unity of rhythym, melodic line and ornamentation with the other player in order to preserve the simplicity and beauty of it, as with Aggie White. What seems to speak to him in the playing of others is a sincerity of style and purpose. I think this is why he admires Paddy Murphy so much and Tommy Potts. He has a strong aversion to anything he sees as showing off for the sake of it.


These priorities do seem shared to a greater or lesser extent with other Clare musicians as we’ve seen, and this leads me to the conclusion that there is a “Clare style” which is yet evolving. Peadar is part of this evolution, as in his time as we have seen, outside influences were coming into play and being readily taken on board.

I found so much subtlety and shaping in Peadars playing to appreciate, and I did not hear it immediately, it grew on me with repeated playing of the recordings of “Spol” until I was no longer aware of the cackle and hiss of the recording with Aggie White, just the musicality of it.

You can hear this evolution continue in Martin Hayes style - subtle dynamic variation, that sense of the cyclical dynamic, the primacy accorded the tune. Obviously there are great differences in playing style too - but as Tomás Ó Canainn describes the place of the contemporary performer of traditional music we can begin to see the line stretching out -

His place is amongst the past generations of musicians as well as among his contemporaries. His performance only has itʼs full meaning when measured against theirs,

not necessarily in a spirit of competition: their contribution, though past, is to some extent affected by his. With every performance he is, as it were, shifting the centre of gravity of the tradition towards himself, however minutely, and is re-establishing the hierarchy of performers past and present.

The very idea of a traditional style depends on such a view of the traditional performerʼs

role, for in measuring himself against his predecessors he is, of course, being affected by

them and in the process ensuring that his performance is in some general way compatible with theirs. This is the basis of traditional style...the musician most certainly can [inherit

traditional style] even though great labour is involved in itʼs development.

Canainn 1978, p.41).


This returns us to the question I asked in my introduction. Is there a continuum between tradition and innovation, and my answer within this small sphere would certainly be yes (although I accept that Peadars may be “no”)

Returning to Keegans notion of the value of style analysis (Keegan 2009) I now understand the urge not to improvise as much as I understand the urge to improvise. Yet as Keegan has also noted, a style analysis has its limitations (ibid) although it is undoubtedly valuable.

There is a nuanced substrata dynamically and rhythmically to this music as played by Peadar and other practitioners which is commented on by Ó Riada (1982) Hayes (2001) and Ó Canainn (1978) It difficult to produce evidence for these things precisely because they are so subtle (Ó Canainn 1978, p.5) and our analytical tools are too blunt to dissect the nature of them. Even if I notate every ornament, every breath, each dynamic and rhythmical choice and

every idiosyncrasy that Peadar uses in the tunes he plays and then I play it back myself, I will not sound like Peadar.

There will always be “a secret hidden within the notes.” (Rumi, Song of the

Reed Flute, quoted by Larson)


As another artist in another genre using a musical metaphor put it:

Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me. You would play me; you would seem to know my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my mystery; you would sound me from my lowest note to the top of my compass; and there is much music, excellent voice, in this little organ, yet cannot you make it speak.

(Shakespeare 3/2. 327-12).