The Journal Of Music In Ireland: Ireland's Bi-Monthly Music Magazine
JMI Cover Image, September/October 2007
Irish Traditional Music Archive
The Arts Council / An Chomhairle Eala&iacuteon
Editorial: Music Out There
Toner Quinn
<< September/October 2007 : Volume 7, Number 5 >>

The interview with fiddle player Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh in this issue raises the issue of experimentation in traditional music, and it is coincidental that the Contemporary Music Centre has just commissioned a study ‘on the feasibility of setting up an Irish recording label and/or download platform… to draw together a range of specialist/non-commercial musics’. While an emphasis on contemporary/classical music and jazz is natural, that ‘folk/traditional’ is one of the options for inclusion on CMC’s online survey is progressive and welcome. Traditional musicians have been very successful in getting their work out on CD, but this should not negate their chances of being involved in an initiative that would encourage experimentation in the genre and provide opportunities for innovative artists. Jazz musicians and those working electronically or in small, new-music ensembles also succeed in making their music accessible in recordings, but what is harder to access is music composed by Irish composers for the traditional classical-music ensembles – orchestras, choirs and so on. These are often commissioned, rehearsed and performed by state-funded ensembles at great expense, but if you miss the premiere it may mean you will rarely get a chance to hear the work again.

The situation is not as grim as it was in 1996 when FORTE, a state report on classical music in Ireland, described the situation with Irish composers and recordings as being equivalent to there being no books by Irish writers. In the CMC online shop there are now 139 CDs including the music of 91 composers. While this may sound respectable, to give some context there are over 5,000 scores in the CMC library, and, for comparison, over 100 traditional-music CDs are produced annually. While Irish radio also provides opportunities to catch up, in our convenience culture there is much more that could be done to ensure that we have access to more of the composed music in this country. There was concentrated activity undertaken by Black Box in the 1990s which produced 11 CDs with Arts Council support but was then sold by its owner, and Marco Polo on the Naxos label released 13 CDs under the ‘Irish Composers Series’, while CMC have also released six compilations of works by Irish composers. Still, in these MySpace/iTunes times, it’s likely to be a much-debated question – whether there is the need, the market space and the potential for a label dedicated to specialist music in the country. But if there isn’t, and we continue to rely on the disparate channels, will the situation become any more satisfactory? To complete the online survey that will feed into the report, visit

Toner Quinn is a traditional fiddle-player and editor of JMI.

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