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Tuned Out: Traditional Music and Identity in Northern Ireland
Tuned Out: Traditional Music and Identity in Northern Ireland

Our Price:39.00
Authors: Fintan Vallely
Publication Year: Hardback 2008
Pages: 212
Size: 234 x 156mm

ISBN: 9781859184431


This book looks at the attitudes of Protestant performers to Traditional music in Northern Ireland. It reflects on broader Protestant community views of the music through their eyes, and considers too the impact of historical literature, political statements and other interventions which have affected and shaped Traditional music today.

Traditional music is taken to mean the dance music, forms of dance and style of songs which were the onetime entertainment of rural people prior to urbanisation and the development of mass forms of entertainment.

This is a thought provoking, considered and original contribution to a wide range of academic fields including Irish music studies, ethnomusicology, anthropology, history, political science, popular culture studies, conflict studies and folklore studies.

Tuned Out explores its territory largely through musicians. Most of these are conversant with the traditional and continued practice of Traditional music by people of Protestant-religion backgrounds and by Protestant people in predominantly Protestant areas. The observations which are made contradict some popularly held beliefs about Traditional music, proffering instead that the common ownership and identification myths are, in addition to political pragmatism, underpinned also by absence of information. The selected comments show that while the ascription 'Traditional music is Catholic music' may be popular political pragmatism, the notion is substantially superficial and uninformed.

Fintan Vallely lectures and writes on Irish traditional music and is the editor of Companion to Irish Traditional Music (1999, 2011)

Average Rating: Average Rating: 5 of 5 5 of 5 Total Reviews: 3 Write a review »

  0 of 0 people found the following review helpful:
5 of 5 Tuned Out is the story of Irish traditional music March 2, 2010
Reviewer: Steve Coleman Journal of Music from Republic of Ireland  
Tuned Out is the story of Irish traditional music in Northern Ireland and its transformation there into a cultural form associated mainly with Nationalist identity. Protestant performers of the music have become somewhat of an endangered species   the gemeinschaft canaries of cultural politics in the North  feeling increasingly out of place in a state where many Protestants have begun to reject the very term  Irish  as a label for any aspect of their identity. Tuned Out offers us their voices  stories and reminiscences about the music and its history in Northern Ireland. Along with presenting these voices  Fintan Valley very gently deconstructs the identification between culture  place and people  showing us how the music has emerged out of a history of continuity and exchange between performers in Ireland  Scotland  and further afield.    The cultural politics of identity present a challenging topic for investigation  because the very act of investigating  identities  calls them into being. We identify so and so as a Protestant  a traditional musician  a native of County Antrim  and so on  and that very act of identification suggests a relationship between these things. But these necessary  investigative acts pale into insignificance in comparison to the power of institutions to regiment the meanings of cultural forms. Tuned Out leads us through a fascinating and complex history of this process  from the early  and usually Protestant  antiquarians  the Gaelic revival movement  the Gaelic Athletic Association  and the Orange Order  to more recent interventions by the likes of Comhaltas Ceolt ir   ireann  CC  . Noteworthy are the explicit identifications made  in the context of the Troubles  by CC  between traditional music and the Nationalist political cause. Its director  Labhr s   Murch    dubbed  Chairman Lao  by Gary Hastings  is quoted as saying of Protestant musicians   Isn t it great to hear them playing our music?   p. 88 . In riposte  throughout Tuned Out Vallely emphasises the complexity of the musical traditions of Ireland  the centuries of travelling musicians and singers labouring in Scotland  and the fact that entire aspects of the tradition  such as balladry and uilleann piping  have at times been the preserve of Protestant or even non Irish musicians and singers.    The Protestant voices we hear in Tuned Out often speak of evasions of identity  of small everyday triumphs of confusion of categories   the trad session in the Orange Lodge  loyalist set dancers  and other wonders   as well as the successful confusion of categorisers    being called a Fenian bastard and a Protestant bastard in the one night   in the same pub  all for playin  traditional music   p. 34 .    Useful chapters describe the history of social and class relations in the North  illuminating the role of class differences and urbanisation in transforming the meanings of traditional music  song and dance. We see the growth of identity politics in Northern Ireland in a long process of politicisation of culture  the growth of a binary logic of identification  and plenty of what could be called  tit for tat  borrowing between what was rapidly being reconstructed as  two traditions . The leftist promotion of  folk music  and peasant nostalgia in the 1960s and 1970s  separating musical  identity  from  who you are  and linking it to  what you stand for  provided a major impetus to linking musical and political stances  while also enabling their commodification. Thus we see the transformation of a range of musical and dance forms which have utilitarian values and don t have to stand for social difference into tokens of  identity  in a society where cultural forms are merely  symbolic .    What happens to culture in such a society? Vallely gives a somewhat cynical description:   Culture  is a cocktail of talent and imagination ruled by political preferences  state subsidy and commerce   p. 40 . To his credit  he gives proper emphasis to talent  imagination  creativity and sheer enjoyment in the transformation in culture. There is a fascinating and less cynical view of culture lurking in Tuned Out  which is that which is heard by the musician  performer  enthusiast and audience  where  sound  is the thing that really matters. It is as if we all participate in a single complex musical culture  but give it our own local  accents . Thus we are shown a widespread and long term process of borrowing between societies  localities or  communities  of song airs  lyrics and instrumental tunes  sometimes with only minimal reworking to  localise  them. In this world   sound  is much more important than  origins   as very subtle musical transformations and complex judgements of taste are made by performers and fans of the music.    Tuned Out would have benefited from a bit more than the seven pages of discussion of the Northern Irish state that we are given in Chapter 9  in light of the state s institutionalisation of discrimination in schooling and place of residence  and its attempts to promote  cultural identities  as alternatives to conflict  which obviously works powerfully both to exaggerate social differences and to identify these with cultural differences. Considering that Vallely s fieldwork for Tuned Out was conducted primarily in 1992  it would be interesting to consider more recent Northern state interventions into identity and culture  such as the  Cultural Traditions  discourse which promotes the doctrine of the arbitrariness of the sign   the debatable assertion that Nationalist ballads and Orange sashes are merely  symbols  of identities which are fascinatingly different  and therefore to be treasured and exploited for their aesthetic and touristic values. The logical conclusion of these attempts would be the complete commodification of culture  with  identities  becoming various fashion accessories that one can don and doff at will. One of the fascinations of Northern Ireland for the outsider is what seems to be an extreme resistance on the part of its population to seeing culture as arbitrary and essentially meaningless in this way.    Tuned Out will be valued for its concise and lively presentation of musical history  illuminating both the continuity and the slippage of identifications between musical forms and social categories.

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  0 of 0 people found the following review helpful:
5 of 5 Thus the book is eclectic and diverse and on the February 9, 2010
Reviewer: Australian Journal of Irish Studies from Republic of Ireland  
Thus the book is eclectic and diverse  and on the whole manages to draw together a complex web of theoretical trajectories through which Vallely analyses his evidence oral testimony  musical practices  and archival research. The book centres on a discussion of the frictions between political and religious power and the meanings thus ascribed to  certain types of music  and the reality of the Protestant musicians who actually play music.Over all  this book works well  given the breadth of its coverage ranging from Vallely s rich interviews with musicians to his incorporation of relevant research findings from a broad range of specialisations. What is most appealing about this book is that it is a history  written from within the groups of music makers in Northern Ireland. As such it challenges the monolithic  stereotypical  political rants offered by extremists  offering instead a call to understand the diverse cultural history of music in Northern Ireland and the varied influences that have shaped the Protestant aspects of that vibrant soundscape.

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  0 of 0 people found the following review helpful:
5 of 5 Fintan Vallely brings a level headed approach to h July 27, 2009
Reviewer: Michael Quinn Songlines from Republic of Ireland  
Fintan Vallely brings a level headed approach to his welcome exploration of the standing and practice of Irish traditional music among the Protestant community in Northern Ireland. Tuned Out remains a stimulating provocation to further discussion and debate.

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