When I told people I was moving to Ireland, more often than not they would respond with, “Enjoy those pub music sessions!” I would give a wise nod, knowing U2, Riverdance and Flogging Molly formed the bedrock of the Irish music tradition.
Okay, I’ll make a confession: I didn’t know much about Irish music.
Not that I hadn’t enjoyed listening to the co-worker who’d played in an Irish band or to the Irish CDs Mom used to play while we baked Christmas cookies, I just wouldn’t say “Traditional Irish” was a regular search in my iTunes library. What’s more, I have no aspiration to being a musical star, having happily dropped out of band in ninth grade after a four-year tumultuous relationship with the trumpet and the French horn.
Despite the apparent hopelessness of my case, Ireland has managed to make a music lover, and (dare I say it?) musician, out of me.
My musical journey started this summer at Irish language school, as my classmates and I followed the local fiddle player around the Donegal pubs and stayed up into the wee hours of the morning passing around a guitar and bodhrán. My adventures continued on Achill Island where I lived with a fiddle player from New Zealand who composed tunes in her head as we worked together in the garden. I told the New Zealander I wanted to learn a musical instrument and she suggested the egg shaker since percussion is always needed in sessions. But I quickly ruled that one out. During the last three months here in Cork (a.k.a. the Culture Capital of Ireland), I have stumbled on university society jam sessions (think “Call me Maybe” on the tin whistle), taken in blues singers and big band performances at the annual Cork Jazz Festival, and most recently, enjoyed a sold-out performance by the West Cork Ukulele Orchestra at the Cork Opera House.
I’ve also started taking guitar lessons every Thursday morning from a construction-worker-turned-music teacher who lives up the street and am enjoying them immensely. In truth, I am actually quite terrible (I’m not being modest — I have zero natural talent). But I know that’s not the point.
I find something really special about people’s relationship with music here – it’s simultaneously joyful, and unassuming. There is an ease with which people incorporate music into their lives. Individual expressions in a tune keep you present and introspective, while you share the experience of a lyric or a rhythm with everyone around you. I’ve found that embracing music is one of the best ways to stay attuned (pun intended) to the simple lessons that Irish culture has to teach about everyday life.