Friday, March 28, 2014

Is Our Definition of Traditional Music Shaped By Recordings?

I was reading through an old thread on the Mandolin Café when I came across a response by a Café user named “M. Marmot” that got me thinking.  His comment read:

I figure people back in the day made do with whatever instruments that were at hand or simply (sang) unaccompanied... and I imagine there was little in the way of grumbling by folks that any particular instrument was not 'indigenous'. I have read several accounts that lead me to believe that a lot of what we perceive to be traditional musics, say, Irish, Old-time, Klezmer, are in fact only fairly recent genres and have found their 'traditional' identities through recordings.  Quite often these recordings would have been fashioned through or influenced by an outsider’s bias or record company’s demands on what would sell.  I have in mind an account of a young Doc Watson playing electric guitar but being ushered towards the more 'authentic' acoustic guitar by the recording folks who wanted a more backwoods sound, or say the speed of Klezmer which may owe as much to the constraints of early recording technologies than any traditional virtuosity, or the similar phasing out of brass instruments, often found in early Ceilidh bands and the like from Irish music.

Now that I think about it, something like this could be happening with Irish music.  The popularity of stage-performing traditional bands like The Dubliners, The Chieftans, Planxty, De Dannan, Bothy Band, Dervish, Danu, Altan, Lunasa, Solas and more have helped shape our idea of what traditional Irish music is supposed to be.  On the other hand, expectations of what listeners might want from a traditional Irish band could have influenced the music these groups choose to play and the way they play it.
Is this traditional Irish music?
I’ll finish with one other remark by “M.Marmot” in that thread:  If playing "Liberty" on a banjo is traditional music, then playing "Liberty" on synthesizer is ........?

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