Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Traditional Music and the Past

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of attending this year's staff concert at Algoma Trad.  Algoma Trad is a music camp for all ages dedicated to preserving, passing on, and teaching traditional music, dance and art that are part of traditional Canadian culture.  The camp runs for one week in August and is held on a rustic farm setting on St. Joseph's Island.  Last night's concert was held in a converted barn space that serves as a concert hall and dance floor.

What is "traditional music"?  At a first listen it sounds like a mixture of Celtic and folk music.  The best definition I've come across is "music passed mostly unchanged between generations of informal players, usually without notation, and played mostly by ear."   The most common instruments used in traditional music include the fiddle, the piano, the cello, the whistle, the wooden flute, and the guitar.  The majority of the songs are instrumental in nature and are at times accompanied by step dancing. 

 In addition to enjoying the music for the sake of music, I find the history behind For example, during the staff concert  almost every song was introduced with a story about the past - either the history of the artist or the origins of the particular reel or gig and there was not a piece of sheet music in sight.

I find it interesting that despite traditional music being a contextually and musically rich genre it is rarely taught in formal education settings or looked at from an academic research perspective.  Traditional music is often passed aurally and not recorded as sheet music or dance steps.  Songs and dances have been lost over the years when they aren't passed down to the next generation and are not recorded anywhere.  The informal nature of traditional music gatherings makes it challenging to document songs and stories, but I believe there is value in the documentation and discussion of the rich history surrounding traditional music. 

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