Saturday, September 26, 2009
Concert Report #1: Celtic Wedding
I’ve only been to traditional Indian weddings all my life, until recently. On September 5, 2009 I attended a Celtic wedding that took place late evening on a patio of my boyfriend’s grandmother’s house, which was a small, close-friends-and-family event. As I walked up the driveway I heard high pitched Irish and Celtic music; it sounded ‘happy’. The music echoed from the live instruments into and through the woods, giving it a very Irish feel. There were three men who sat against the corner on the deck playing their instruments. They were not an official band and had never played together before. An older man strung a harp, while a middle-aged man played the fiddle. Lastly, the youngest man, the son of the groom, played the Irish flute made by his father. Thus, not only was the Irish music related to the type of wedding, but there was a familial connection to the music as well.
I noticed another gentleman, who played the bellows-blown bagpipe and used his arms to ‘blow’ the instrument instead of his mouth pulling up a chair to join the band. After a break of silence, the fiddler began a tune, and then the Irish flutist joined. Next, the harpist chimed in just before the bagpiper. They had all heard the song before and played it separately, but in this setting they played together and harmonized their sounds for the first time. It was very beautiful and set the calm peaceful, and joyful tone for the wedding. Five minutes before the ceremony the groom, who designs and makes Irish flutes, sat next to his son and began to play the Irish flute with the men. I believe he did this to calm his nerves, but more importantly to bond with his son. Their music brought a tear to his eyes as they continued to play in unison. There was a strong relationship within all the players in the group.
I found an audience reaction to the music. There were many older people at the wedding, mainly friends and family. Most of them were of some sort of Irish decent and were all familiar with the music. One woman danced with her baby, swaying him from side to side, tapping her fingers to the beat on his back. Other people I noticed were foot tapping and humming to the beat. The audience loved the live music as it gave a cozier and homier feeling to the wedding. Additionally, the men who played were friends or husbands of the people there. Thus, everyone was familiar with who was playing the music and the musicians were appreciated and listened to more carefully because of that. Lastly, there were many people socializing on the deck, eating hors d’oeuvres, and drinking wine. The atmosphere was happy and joyful, reflecting the music and Irish culture in a way. There was a young couple, the daughter of the groom and her boyfriend, sitting next to the band. Their feet and fingers were tapping to the beat and their silence relayed a feeling to me that they were deep in thought, generated from the music. When they smiled, I got the feeling that they were content and that the daughter was happy for her father.
My experience relates to this class in a couple of ways. First, I was not only an ethnographer at this ceremony, I was also an ethnomusicologist. I studied the relationship between music and culture, and in this case, the ethnic background of the people. Irish music is known to bring people together; this is because the music allows them to all come together and share their commonalities and it gives them a safe space. Secondly, which goes hand-in-hand with the first point, I studied their ethnicity, from what I could see. As mentioned, many people at the wedding were Irish or had some sort of Irish decent. They identified themselves as Irish because of the music that they played, listened to, or in most cases, grew up with. Thus, the music at the ceremony brought about a ‘national’ culture, and even strangers were comfortable because the music brought them together with others around them. Thirdly, the genre of the music says a lot about the Irish culture.
The men learned their instrument by someone in their family, showing a common bond. Additionally, the simplicity of the harmony and no vocal or lyrical sound made the music much more peaceful, something that relates to Irish culture. This genre of folk music entails a lot of instrument unison, melody, and harmonization, and then men were extremely successful in doing so. Lastly, Shank states race can be defined through music, instruments, the meanings and messages of the songs, and the audience to whom they are relating. I believe this is true about ethnicity also in this case the Irish decent.
After the reception, the men began to play again for a night full of dancing. Their Irish music defined the Celtic wedding and set the tone for a simple, quiet, and peaceful evening. Many people tried new instruments and began experimenting with different sounds. After this event, I realized how important music, especially live music, was to the Irish culture and I have a greater appreciation for it today.