Document Type

Theses, Ph.D


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Publication Details

Thesis submitted for the Award of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) to Technological University Dublin, Conservatory of Music and Drama, 2018.


Before c.1950, Irish traditional musicians were less than deferential to the position of the composer of dance tunes, with O’Neill claiming that these melodies ‘can hardly be said to have been composed at all’.1 This was likely due to the processes of improvisation, adaption and reworking inherent in orality that resulted in the propagation of what Petrie describes as ‘Tune Families’.2 However, from c.1950, a new generation of musicians emerged, fuelled by a revival of interest in Irish music following the establishment of Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann in 1951, identifying themselves as composers for the first time in the history of traditional Irish dance music. Partially inspired by the innovations of Ed Reavy (1898–1988) in Philadephia, as well as the advancements of ‘The Ballinakill Traditional Dance Players’ and ‘The Aughrim Slopes Céilí Band’, much of this compositional activity centred around a small region on the borders of East Galway, and was undertaken by Martin (Junior) Crehan (1908–1999), Seán Ryan (1919–1985), Vincent Broderick (1920–2008), Patrick (Paddy) O’Brien (1922–1991), Fr. P.J. Kelly (1925–2006), Patrick (Paddy) Fahey (b.1926), and John Brady (1934–2012), as well as less prolific contributors including Anne Conroy-Burke (b.1959), Dan Cleary (1918–2004), Eddie Kelly (b.1933), Imelda Roland (dates unknown), Joe Burke (b.1939), Lucy Farr (1911–2002), Martin Mulhaire (b.1937), Peter Broderick (1917–1986) and Tommy Coen (1910–1974). These composers, for the most part, diverged from the established ‘tune families’ to write music replete in original melodic content.

This thesis seeks to examine the contribution of the East Galway composers to the dance music repertoire, and the extent to which these tunes may be considered ‘traditional’. Having amassed a collection of their tunes, located in Appendix A, this thesis builds upon the work of theorists such as Bunting, Petrie, Lacy, Culwick, Patterson, Bewerunge, Henebry, Travis, Breathnach, Ó Canainn, O’Boyle, Ó Súilleabháin, Holohan, Fleischmann, McCullough, Jardine, Commins, Cowdery, Flynn and Tourish, among others, to propose an analytical methodology for the identification and evaluation of the parameters of composition in traditional dance music. These are motor rhythm, as indicative of tune-type; number and sequence of parts; phrase structure; mode, which comprises scales and tonal centre, inflection and issues of intonation; ambitus; set accented tones and motifs. An examination of these parameters as they appear in the collections of Levey, Goodman and O’Neill is provided to establish the characteristics of the traditional repertoire as they existed before c.1950, before considering the music composed by the East Galway composers to establish what developments, if any, may have occurred in the period from c.1950 in the composition of this repertoire in response to stimuli that include changing performance environments, the adoption of fixed pitch instruments, the emergence of ensemble playing, the institutionalisation of informal music practices and the effects of literacy on orality. Finally, this thesis examines the existence of individual compositional styles in traditional dance music.


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