Irish traditional music has been handed down across the generations during face-to-face interactions, whether it was at a pub session or a kitchen table or gathered together to enjoy an atypical unrainy day.
In more modern times, conservatories and online videos have augmented the traditional ways, but long-time fiddle master Kevin Burke (of the seminal Bothy Band) has created Music from an Irish Cottage, a hybrid for the digital age – a series of videos with small knots of old hands playing their beloved instruments and swapping stories in front of a wood stove in a small, rustic cabin in the Irish countryside. Each 50-minute video features Burke and two guests sitting in wooden chairs participating in the lively chat, or “craic” in Gaelic, that typically punctuates a spirited playing of old Irish tunes. Along the way, viewers can not only see masters playing the instruments, but learn about the stories and development of Irish traditional music.
The videos—somewhere between a master class and an “evening with” performance—seem targeted for aficionados and true devotees of Irish music. While newbees may enjoy the tunes and learn some context for the genre, Burke and company allow easedroppers but don’t slow down to explain musicians’ slang or who a particular musician they are referencing is. Also, some viewers may not understand every single bit of the conversation since some of the guests have heavier accents, but they should be able to get the gist of it, and certainly the lovely tunes speak for themselves.
Burke’s paired partners in the six videos include: Mick McAuley and Leonard Barry; Nuala Kennedy and A.J. Roach; Josephine Marsh and Mick Kinsella; John Carty and Rosaleen Stenson Ward; Seamie O’Dowd and Rick Epping; and Sharon Shannon and Seán Smyth.
The series provides a peripatetic look back at the history of Irish traditional music, which was principally cultivated by dedicated musicians who passed along tunes and techniques to peers and up-and-comers. The videos give viewers the rare if not impossible experience of being front row of intimate pub sessions of top musicians, with the huge bonus being that the players are all at the top of their game and have palpable, contagious good feelings about each other and the music.
The individual videos can be rented on Vimeo.