Mary MacNamara's view of East Clare Music
Much has been written and said about the music of East Clare in recent times and yet it would be impossible to define in words alone. Nevertheless I will try, based on my experience, to put in words some of my thoughts and opinions of what makes East Clare music special.
To start with East Clare music is far more than the mere performance of an East Clare tune. There are a large number of tunes which are associated with the playing of East Clare musicians. In truth most of these tunes are versions of tunes played in other parts of the country. What makes them identifiably 'East Clare' is the style in which they are played.
But what makes up this style? It is an interpretation of music played by the people moulded by the environment of East Clare; does the music reflect the landscape - the mountains, bogs and meadows? I think that it does through the inheritance and experience of the musician.
The style is marked by the sparse use of commonly used ornamentation such as crans, rolls and triplets. A less technical type of ornamentation has developed, for example double octave playing and transmission of rhythm to the bellows through the foot tap in the case of concertina and melodeon players.
The style is also marked by the emphasis on rhythm and swing which captures the listener and dancer alike. To some extent the East Clare style may have been affected in the last 100 years or so through the popularity of the concertina in particular and the melodeon to a lesser degree. Up to the 1950's the concertinas used were mostly two row instruments (as opposed to three row) and one row melodeons (as opposed to two row) which forced musicians to play in keys such as C and F rather than the conventional keys. Many of East Clare versions of tunes are played in theses keys to this day. Musicians were also forced to compensate for the lack of options, where ornamentation is concerned, by use of the bellows to accentuate rhythm and by the use of long notes or repetition of short notes to effect a subtle melody variation.