sean nos, days of awe, and tradition
“The text is the same every year, but we are different.”
That’s Rabbi Sharon Brous speaking, She was talking with Krista Tippett of the American Public Media radio program Speaking of Faith about how and why the observance of the Days of Awe, a time of reflection, repentance, and renewal in the Jewish calendar, are connected to daily life today. Rosh Hashanah, the first day of this observance, begins on Monday.
Her comment sent me off thinking about sean nos. The words mean old style in Irish, and the term refers to a largely unaccompanied style of singing where the story is told, and the emotion is conveyed, only through the singer’s voice. It’s an oral tradition, and one which, while being a tradition, allows and encourages the singer to express his or her own understanding of the stories told through the way of using the voice. Stories they are, too, some sad, some funny, some tales of history. some tales of family. Traditional sean nos takes a bit of getting onto, sometimes, to listen, and it’s a style of music sung mostly in Irish too. The expressive qualities and connection of singer to song have influenced many singers in the Celtic world. Liam Ó Maonlaí, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, Cathie Ryan, Sean Keane, Mairéad Ni Mhaonaigh, and Dolores Keane are among those who continue to make ideas from this tradition live in their work today.
Speaking of Faith is an interesting show altogether, and it’s broadcast over the internet as well the air, and there are pod casts you can download and transcripts to read as well. Several years back host Krista Tippett participated in an online chat and I asked her about the music used on the show. “It’s not just background,” she said at the time, “it’s part of the context.” There’s no sean nos on this show about the Days of Awe, of course, but there is some fine and thought provoking music to go along with the ideas. Here’s another of those ideas from Brous: “The tradition isn’t perfect, “ and of her struggle to understand and accept that “My tears are part of the conversation.” Powerful thoughts, and ones that could apply equally to aspects of the musical traditions we explore here along the music road.
TG4, the Irish language television station, has put together a page of videos of sean nos which you can see here
Speaking of Faith website
Music Road: join her for a song: muireann nic amhlaoibh
Music Road: Cathie Ryan: Irish and American