Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Irish nights: Uplifting songs played simply

Session in Mulligans Irish Music Bar, Amsterda...(Photo credit: Wikipedia)There’s no band, and an audience isn’t necessary, but there are plenty of musicians, and the place is packed.

This format is the way Irish music works on Monday nights at Galloway Station. Musicians form a closed circle and play traditional tunes, usually in unison, flute player Lee Worman said.

The group is not a band; it’s an informal gathering that anyone can join, Worman said. Musicians take turns around the circle calling the next tune. It’s a “session,” as the Irish call it, not a performance, he said, though the players are pleased to have an audience.

“There’s not a lot of harmonies, no arrangements, no fancy stuff — just play the tunes,” said Worman, who hosts “The Gold Ring” program of Irish music on KSMU. Musicians learn songs by ear and pass them down in an aural tradition, he said.

That’s how fiddler John Ehlers learned Irish music. “When I started showing up 5-6 years ago, I knew no Irish music. Just by sitting in and listening, I taught myself to play it,” he said.

In addition to familiar string instruments, traditional Irish instruments make themselves heard. Jeanette Beeman plays bodhran, a drum. Linda Widders plays concertina and pennywhistle.

Irish dance tunes predominate — jigs, reels, hornpipes — along with ballads. Many of the tunes have a pleasant ascending-descending sway.

They’re not the sad Irish songs; they’re the uplifting ones, participants in a recent session explained.

The catalog of traditional tunes is ever-expanding, Worman said.

“There are thousands and thousands of tunes. All of us have maybe 100 in common here,” Worman said. “No one knows them all — there’s no way to know them all. Some are brand new; most are very ancient.” Most of the songs they play date from the mid-19th century through the early 20th, he said.

One Irish night contributor, Danny McMillen, frequently steps out of the closed circle and entertains the crowd with stories and participatory songs. During a recent session, he encouraged listeners to suggest tunes by writing them on $20 bills and handing them to the musicians.

On that evening, a little girl, dressed in a dance outfit of orange, yellow and green, wearing boots with flashing lights, took an interest in one of McMillen’s songs. She started dancing, and she progressed to spinning — and spinning — and spinning.

Irish nights: Uplifting songs played simply | Springfield News-Leader |

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