Maureen was raised by her maternal grandparents and spoke several times about the central role they played in her life. One example she talked about was her love of singing which she has attributed to her grandfather. This has been an important artistic pursuit throughout her life: she won the Comhaltas All Ireland competition in the sean-nós style in 1965 and has taught others this traditional style for many years. While she speaks a great deal about her grandfather in this clip, her grandmother was another central figure in her narrative. She worked very hard to support the family and continued to raise Maureen after her grandfather passed away.
Since her grandfather’s health was not strong and he could no longer continue his work as a stonemason, he spent most of his time tending to their land in County Tipperary and taking up occasional schemes (such as raising dogs for the races). He was very present in Maureen’s life before his passing and is strongly associated with fond memories of childhood.
Stories about grandparents were common in the interviews. These figures are typically associated with personal roots and, as such, they play a significant role in the formation of identity. I would suggest that the affection Maureen expressed for her grandfather and the way she attributed her love of singing and reading to him points to the ways these emotional memories become foundational in the process of self-understanding.
Photo: Knocknarea, Co. Sligo. Courtesy of Tom Naughten.
Joe and Mary told me on a few occasions that, although they were heavily involved in the traditional activities of the Manitoba Irish Association (or Irish Club), they would not describe its draw as “burning”. However, what did attract them to traditional performances, like Irish music, was their capacity to create community. They have many fond memories of family and friends coming together which are framed by singing and playing Irish tunes together.
Performance theorist Diana Taylor (2003) uses the concept of repertoire to talk about the ways in which certain kinds of knowledge is storied in the body and drawn upon to communicate meaning to others within a community. For example, certain kinds of gestures or performances indicate meaning to others who share a common understanding of what those actions mean. Building on this idea, she makes an argument for scenario which is “a portable framework” (28) for the performance that becomes significant as it repeated again and again. In this case, the gathering of friends and family becomes the scenario where the repertoire of traditional music is put into action. It reinforces the place of music as a communal activity that connects participants, such as Joe, Mary, and their family and friends, to a particular identity and a shared past. Whether these activities are formally structured (through regular sessions organized through the Irish Club) or spontaneously initiated at a gathering, the repeated nature of these musical activities and their pleasant, nostalgic associations – feeling “just like old times” – make them continually appealing and meaningful for Joe and Mary.
Photo: Prairie grass, Stuartburn, Manitoba.
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.