Irish music is one of the best and most popular parts of St. Patrick’s Day, and if you’ve been enjoying the reels and the ballads lately, you might be wondering if you have some undeveloped Irish gifts for music and dance. In pubs and parties throughout urban and rural Ireland, the custom of impromptu musical sessions is still going strong. You won’t see people start in the early part of the evening. Usually you’ll have to stay up and wait for the more boisterous part of the night to settle down. At house parties, wedding receptions, and even the gatherings after a funeral, at certain point, someone will start to sing. It isn’t planned or rehearsed, but others will join in and instruments will appear and before you know it, the night has a second wind.
Do you have a flair for Irish music? Does its beat pound in your veins? You’ve got a whole year to find out and get ready to show off next Paddy’s Day, but where to start?
All music needs a beat, and for traditional Irish music, that beat is kept with a bodhran. This round, goat-skin drum comes in a couple of different sizes and is played with a short, thick stick called a beater. It’s harder to play that it seems at first, but the good news is that even if it turns out that drumming is not your gift, bodhrans are usually painted with gorgeous Celtic designs or family crests so if you can’t beat it, you can still enjoy it hanging on your wall. Because they are so beautiful, these traditional drums make popular Irish gifts even for people with zero interest in ever playing them.
If you want to start with something simpler, less expensive and equally essential to a good Irish trad session, a tin whistle might be just the thing. If you learned how to play a recorder when you were growing up, you’ll probably pick up the tin whistle in no time. Most come with some basic instructions, and the internet is full of good tutorials. Once you have mastered some basic trad tunes, you can pop your whistle in your pocket or purse when you’re going out and you’ll be ready for a proper session wherever you go.
The fiddle and guitar are also essential to a good Irish trad group, but obviously require a much larger investment of time and money. If you already play, however, you just need to learn some new songs. The accordion is another trad music staple, but we’ll just say proceed with caution there! It’s much easier to end up looking like a Weird Al parody than it is to play like Sharon Shannon.
The harp is the symbol of Ireland and its image appears on countless Irish gifts, but you aren’t likely to see one in an Irish pub. It’s graceful notes are an entirely different Irish musical tradition!