native Éire sean nós,
winding melismatic tunes-
a fresh sound to most
Irish dance is world renowned, but it’s counterpart in song, sean nós, hasn’t quite reached the same global recognition. Translated from Gaelic to English, sean nós mean ‘old style or old way’ and rightfully so as it’s used to describe this purest form of Irish music.
Each song is unique to the singer and is made up of very technical aspects of performance such as intonation, ornamentation, and tempo. In many ways it reminds me of Indian/Hindi music. Seemingly, it’s sung while also breathing, as long verses are expressed with barely a break for air; difficult is an understatement, though when they are well practiced, it flows with apparent ease.
This excerpt from Wikipedia–
Decorative elements common in sean-nós singing include:
- Highly ornamented where the voice is placed near the top of the range
- A second form of nasalisation, used in the south, produces an “m”, “n” or “ng” sound at the end of a phrase
- One syllable in a word can be sung to several notes
- Brief pauses initiated by glottal stops, “slides” or glissandi (predominantly when sung by women)
- Very long extended phrases
- A tendency to draw breath after a conjunction or linking words rather than at the end of a phrase
- The ending of some songs by speaking the finishing line instead of singing it
- Varying the melody in each verse
A live experience is magically hypnotic. A whole room immediately shushes when someone starts singing– always from their seat, no standing and performing (unless it’s a competition), just wherever they are at the time. Though others may join in the song or offer encouraging words, the attention remains on the singer. And some songs can be six or seven minutes in length. That mightn’t sound like very long, but this can go on and on as a new singer starts just after one ends. I’m always touched by how so many people who are gathered but not together can remain so respectful and attentive and enthralled.
The songs are passed down from generation to generation and as I have difficulty understanding the content of the songs, I have another Wiki excerpt to describe the meanings of the song lyrics:
Many of the songs typically sung sean-nós could be seen as forms of love poetry, laments, or references to historical events such as political rebellions or times of famine, lullabies, nature poetry, devotional songs, or combinations of these. Comic songs are also part of the tradition.
Not everywhere in Ireland practices this tradition, but in the Gaeltachts (Irish speaking regions) the natives are raised with it. We’re fortunate enough here on The Aran Islands to have sean nós singing taught in the schools starting at the age of five years old at latest, but most children are exposed to it from the crib by family members. Two of my children have won awards for their participation in sean nós singing competitions–there is a video of my eldest daughter on my Youtube page.
The above video is an Aran native who frequents the hotel for some conversation, a bit of craic, and song. I videotaped him earlier this week. Other fine examples of sean-nós singing, sung by several phenomenal talents, may be heard here.
A snapshot from my video for my photo entry.
This post was inspired by the photo word of the week ‘native’ and Ronovan’s haiku words ‘fresh & wind’. I love sharing this bit of my world with you and hope you enjoyed it too.
Cheers, Melissa Xx