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Tapping tradition


Wayne Cantwell
Photo: Mark Hancock

An Irish jam session, known as a seisiún in Irish Gaelic, includes an array of musical instruments. Most often, one would find a combination of fiddle; button accordion; flute; tin whistle; guitar; tenor banjo; piano; uilleann (elbow) pipes; and a bodhrán, a goatskin Irish drum. The bouzouki, a Greek stringed instrument, was introduced to traditional Irish music in the late 1960s and quickly became a popular session instrument.

Within Ireland, regional styles abound.

It is said that the northern County Donegal style has a Scottish “snap” to the notes’ ornamentation and the repertoire includes more barn dances and strathspeys. Polkas are king in the southern Sliabh Luachra area near the County Kerry/Cork/Limerick border. The east County Clare style has an almost lonesome, plaintive style in its traditional dance music. County Galway has a lively, gutsy imprint, and the regional list goes on.

Hear the real thing, with a sprinkling of old-time Appalachian, at the Second Sundays Irish session at Full Circle Bookstore in 50 Penn Place, 1900 Northwest Expressway.

“We play traditional Irish music but occasionally overlap a bit into American old-timey music,” said fiddler Ruth Coates of the Full Circle event.

If a singer shows up, you also might hear an Irish song sean-nós old style, unaccompanied. Enjoy a glass of beer or wine in the cozy cafe while you listen.

The Hill Irish Dance School, with four locations around the metro, offers traditional Irish stepdance classes for children and teenagers. Alternating between Irish percussive hard shoes and soft, balletlike ghillies, dance students learn reels, hornpipes, jigs, slip-jigs and set dances for feiseanna, Irish dance competitions.

Jean Hill, director of the Hill School, is no stranger to the music that goes behind the dance. An accomplished musician on the piano, accordion and penny whistle, she has performed widely in both traditional music and dance and knows what it takes for the fingers as well as the feet.

“Enjoyment should be a part of dance. It’s a physical challenge, but essentially, it’s a rhythmic type of dance, and the students love the challenge and the music,” she said. “There is also a camaraderie and mutual respect with their fellow students.”

Third Friday Celtic Night at Sonder Music, Dance & Art, 225 E. Gray St. in Norman, is open to the public, and the traditional sessions host Irish musicians from around the area for a lively gathering. It’s not uncommon to see a stepdancer spontaneously take to the dance floor.

Area fiddler Wayne Cantwell, who calls himself The Flyin’ Fiddler, came to Irish traditional fiddle music by way of a few countries. When he began playing Appalachian music, he discovered the roots of Ireland, Scotland and Wales in the tunes.

“American old-timey music is everything that came off the boat here,” he said.

What is it that he loves about Irish traditional fiddle music in particular?

“It’s the pure feel of it,” he said. “Playing certain tunes, you just get a feel. A slow air can be pensive, a jig could be happy or a reel could be melancholy.”

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