Tom’s explanation of the emotional power of traditional music gestures to connections between perceptions of authenticity, memory, place, and performance. For him, when traditional songs are performed as he remembered them or “the way [they] should be played”, they have a strong emotional power that he identifies as particular to those with who grew up in Ireland.
Authors such as John O’Flynn (2009) have examined notions of authenticity and pointed to the problems of excluding certain genres or ways of performing from the categories of authentic Irish music. While Tom does associate authenticity with certain ways of playing traditional music, his description also points to ways music is connected to personal and collective memories of place and heritage. Ethnomusicologist Martin Stokes (1997) states, “Amongst the countless ways in which we ‘relocate’ ourselves, music undoubtedly has a vital role to play. The musical event, from collective dances to the act of putting a cassette or CD into a machine, evokes and organises collective memories and presents experiences of place with an intensity, power and simplicity unmatched by any other social activity.” (3) Traditional music perceived as authentic has the effect of connecting Tom to a particular place and past. Its connection with Ireland and its people throughout the ages motivates him to explore the intricacies of the tradition, educate himself through workshops on the history of the tunes, and pursue those moments where he and his fellow musicians get a song just right.
Photo: Spiddal, Co Galway. Courtesy of Tom Naughten.