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There Is More To Ireland Than Riverdance

Are you ready for this? I’m about to lay some serious knowledge on you about some of the most traditional music that still exists today — Irish music. No, this post will not be about Riverdance, so you can go ahead and refocus now. I’m talking about the Irish music that’s been around for centuries. Music that is so much more than lyrics and a melody. It’s stories about the people, the culture and its history. Songs that talk about the fight for freedom in Kilmainham Gaol, the strength of the people during the famine, and the characters who walk the streets of Dublin and Galway day in and day out.

Most of the time, the music in the set will either be a jig or a reel. Let me teach you a neat little trick about how to tell the difference between the two. A jig is normally in 6/8 time, while a reel is in 2/2 or 4/4. If you’re like me, that might as well be in another language, so here is an easier way to tell the difference. If you can repeat “gin and tonic” to the beat then it’s a reel, and if you can repeat “rashers and sausages” to the beat then it’s a jig. Try it out.

Hint: That was a reel.

Irish musicians are extremely in tune with others who are playing with them. There is normally a session leader, but when someone yells “hup” in the middle of the song it means they are taking the lead and most likely switching keys.

There are two types of sessions that really stand out in my opinion: a house session and a public jam session. A house session is when a group of musicians get locked in a house for days and do nothing but eat, drink and play music. When I say days I’m not kidding. This is something that can go on for an entire weekend and has been deemed illegal in certain parts of Ireland. It is a space where friends and family can spend time together playing only for themselves. They can start and stop a tune whenever they’d like, and anyone who knows the songs can join in on the fun.

A public jam session comes about when a pub owner hires one or two musicians to play for an evening. They play well-known songs until all of the tourists finally trickle off back to their hotel rooms. This is when the real public session begins. The music that is learned in house sessions is brought to life during the later hours, and at some point they have the “Noble Call.” The Irish believe everyone can sing and should be able to bring something to the table. During the “Noble Call,” anyone who has a song to sing that others will not know is invited to share it. People are encouraged to share their own experience, culture and history with the Irish. It’s a beautiful thing.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy listening to a 16-year-old kid using Auto-Tune belt it out about how many broken hearts he’s had at this point in life. (OMG, I’m totally kidding, Justin — I love your Christmas album. Bieber forever!) But if you’re looking for something with a little more substance, might I suggest some traditional Irish music. If listening to songs about life that have been passed down for centuries doesn’t rattle your old patriotic bones, then I don’t know what will.