music and focus
Focus is important in learning, playing, creating, and listening to music too, of course. One of the sorts where this is most evident is the style known as sean nos.
In Irish, those words can be taken to mean several things. The sort of music they have come to be associated with across the years and decades is a traditional style, often unaccompanied, and most often music sung in Irish. The emotional and character of the story is meant to be carried and conveyed primarily by the dynamics of the singer’s voice, and his or her choice of what exactly to do with that. In very traditional settings or in homes where songs are shared around the kitchen table, the singer may sing with eyes closed or turn away from those who listen and face the wall to increase the intensity of the song. In such surroundings, too, one or two of those sitting nearby may at times take the singer’s hand as the song unfolds.
Sean nos style finds its way into the work of contemporary Celtic musicians, although at times in ways that have changed from how things were not that long ago. Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, who grew up in the wets Kerry Gaeltacht, comments that such singers “wouldn’t so much teach you the song. They’d give you the verses, but you had to find your won way in to the story, to the emotion and the ornamentation of how you;d sing it.”
Cathie Ryan has heard these older tradition bearers too. “ Some of the the traditional sean nos singers, maybe they didn’t have the best voices, maybe they were not the most brilliant singers, but they could transport you, they could take you to another place, by the power of their singing.”
One of the things they had, indeed, was focus.
Bright Star of the West: Joe Heaney, Irish Song Man is a book that will introduce you to one of the tradition bearers. The writing is a touch dry but it is well worth the read to learn about the music and the life of this important musician. You can also hear Joe Heaney discuss and sing the song Roisin Dubh here
Roisin Elsafty writes about sean nos from a singer’s perspective
Iarla O’Lionaird adds to the sean nos conversation
Roisin Elsafty with Ronan Browne on pipes and Siobhan Armstrong on harp
with Roisin Dubh
you may also wish to see
Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh: Daybreak/Fainne an Lae
Cathie Ryan: teaching tradition