Saturday morning quote #43: a ghost story for St. Patrick’s Day
Today’s quote happens to fall on March 17th, which in the home town of one of us tends to be an excuse for an almost unimaginable bacchanal starting with the largest parade of the year, and rapidly descending into hours of green-beer fueled mayhem of all sorts. Although the city legitimately boasts a significant Irish-American community, on March 17th it seems all 400,000 inhabitants are likely to be sporting lurid green make-up, hair, costumes, pets, and foodstuffs, while the city’s main downtown thoroughfare closes down for hours for the parade. No work whatsoever is expected to occur in the skyscrapers lining the street, as the lucky inhabitants enjoy a birds-eye view of the fun from the warmth of their offices. And when the holiday falls on a weekend – well – the SWAT teams are standing by.
Safely 325 miles removed from such shenanigans, we find ourselves peacefully perusing the writings of Tomas Ó’Canainn, in his 1978 book Traditional Music in Ireland:
In the small rural communities in which it developed, the sean nós was very much more than mere entertainment. It contained among its large repertoire the religious songs of a people who were not allowed the luxury of public devotion, their work songs and songs of love, their humorous songs and the stories of local tragedies whose horror had imprinted itself on the minds of the small community….the singer would tell, too, of the simple local happenings, perhaps adding a new dimension of fantasy to the event to provide the heroic element so necessary for an oppressed people.
In this situation the sean nós singer was not performing, but giving expression to the shared experiences and hopes of the audience. He was not merely singing the story, but attempting, by the musical means we have already discussed, to do much more. If we regard song as an expression of something which goes beyond mere words, then sean nós singing is something that goes beyond mere singing.
Donna’s singing has often been compared with sean nós. Of course it is no such thing. However, we certainly feel a great kinship with this haunting music, in which words and music are of equal value, and which at its best envelops both singer and listener in a spellbinding otherworldliness. Not so far removed from what we do, we hope.
So on this St. Patrick’s day, we offer a five-year-old video of a favorite Irish ghost story: