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The east Galway flute playing style

     
 
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    The music of south east Galway (and neighbouring east Clare, with which it shares many attributes) is possibly the most subtle Irish music there is to hear. Both flute and fiddle music here is generally more relaxed and the music is played with a less punchy rhythm. The high number of tunes in flat or minor keys also lends a melancholy feel to much of the music.

Stephen Moloney and Tommy Whelan were the original flute players in the Ballinakill Traditional Dance Players, one of the early ceili bands; both musicians can be heard on the cassette Flute Players of Old Erin (see the Discography).

Stephen Moloney's son Ambrose (also a flute player) has said of the east Galway style:

"Those old records of the band, that's very authentic now for this area, that style, slow and clear with a fair bit of expression. The Sligo flute players had a different style to the Galway players. I think the style here was a quieter way of playing."

The inheritance of the old Ballinakill musicians can be heard on Bridging the Gap by uncle and nephew Kevin Moloney (fiddle, also a son of Stephen Moloney ) and Sean Moloney (Boehm and simple system flute).

A characteristic of the tunes of this area is that many are in keys with no sharps and one or two flats (Dm, C, F, Gm, Bb), which are more difficult for Concert flute players to play, even with 8-keyed instruments. A number of local flute players have circumvented this problem by adopting Boehm or other system flutes, but maintaining the particularly desirable qualities of the wooden flute.

As a consequence, the normal range of traditional decorative techniques is unavailable to the flute player and it is noticeable that , for example, where a roll might normally take place, the musician chooses to play something else instead. Merely holding the note around which the roll should take place would sound out of place and would break up the rhythm. What tends to happen is that the flute player, as with the Sligo style, improvises or develops a sympathetic melodic phrase which, when combined with the slower pace and less punchy rhythm, creates a rolling, flowing feel with few emphatic held notes or pauses.

The replacement notes sometimes take the form of running triplets or more commonly arpeggios down to the end note of the phrase. The notes are short, but have a real time value and are therefore not conventional grace notes. What is important is that the steady momentum is maintained; there are very few rests from this as the replacement notes are played and this reinforces the flowing feel.

The greatest exponent of this very melodic style is generally held to be the late Paddy Carty of Loughrea who played a wooden Radcliffe system flute. Those who play in his manner are approvingly said to have 'The Carty Flow' or, more simply, 'The Flow'. Carty's playing does include some rolls, but these tend to be kept short and used sparingly, with cuts, 'pats' (also called 'tips', 'taps' or 'strikes') and accidentals as the only other form of decoration. This style would probably make a good model for Boehm flute players looking to play Irish music on their instruments.

Flute players from this area who play a more conventional Concert flute are less restricted in the range of options when it comes to decorating a tune. As a consequence, they tend to mix in more conventional decorative techniques a little while maintaining a faithful east Galway approach and feel to the rhythm of the tune.

Music sample

Miss McLeod's Reel (AIFF 272k | MP3 196k 24 seconds of music). This reel is played here by Mike Rafferty and is used with his kind permission. The music can be heard in full on his CD with Mary Rafferty, The Road From Ballinakill. For more information, see his entry in the discography or visit the Rafferty's website. Transcriptions of his repertoire have been compiled in two volumes by Lesl Harker and are recommended.

Flute players who play in this style include:

    Vincent Broderick
    Joe Burke
    Paddy Carty
    Jack Coen
    Eamonn Cotter
    Sean Moloney
    Mike Rafferty

flute players who play in a related style include:

    Billy Clifford
    Paddy Taylor

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Christine Dowling
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Christine Dowling (Belfast)


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