Tomás O'Canainn,
Traditional Music in Ireland
(Routledge & Kegan Paul,
1973; Ossian, 1993)

I've been an Irish musician for many years and a fanatic of Irish music for even longer, so I deeply appreciate anyone with a passion for the subject and a means to express it. Unfortunately, Tomás O'Canainn's Traditional Music in Ireland left me yawning, not inspired.

Full marks to Canainn for his scholarship; as an academic treatise on Irish music, this is very complete, very informative, very insightful. However, he delves so deeply into the mechanics of the music that he seems to ignore its heart. Reading this book to learn about Irish music is rather like studying the chemical composition of pigments to appreciate the works of Monet and Seurat. There is much to be learned, true enough, but you miss the point of the art.

More interesting is a section near the end, where O'Canainn delves into the lives of three musicians: piper Paddy Keenan, fiddler Matt Cranitch and singer Diarmuid O'Suilleabhain -- but, although insightful, it's not a whole lot of fun to read biographies, even short ones, of people you've never heard of.

All in all, reading this book was educational but tedious. Perhaps this would serve someone preparing a scholarly work on the subject, but for anyone who's just interested in the music, leave this one on the shelf.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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