Irish traditional music followers worldwide can now access hundreds of music tracks in The Séamus Connolly Collection of Irish Music, a digital collection produced and published by the Boston College Libraries. This collection of tunes and songs was compiled over fifteen years by ten-time All-Ireland fiddle champion Séamus Connolly, a 2013 National Heritage Fellow and the Sullivan Family Artist-in-Residence in Irish Music from 2004 to 2015. Featuring audio recordings of some of the best-known performers of Irish traditional instrumental music and song, the collection’s audio, sheet music, stories, and essays display and play seamlessly on mobile phones, tablets, and desktop and laptop computers. The audio is freely available on both the fully-responsive website and via SoundCloud.
Connolly’s stories on the full site, together with the audio, sheet music, and song lyrics, offer a window into traditional music through his long experience as a performer and teacher. In “A Message from Séamus Connolly,” he explains that many of the new performances in the collection were inspired by older source recordings he had compiled over several decades. Connolly listened to his source recordings with an artistic ear, choosing tunes that were particularly meaningful to him and that are perhaps not often heard today. He invited specific musicians to listen to these early recordings and record their own interpretations of the same tunes.
The new performances of older tunes contain many subtle and exciting changes, as illustrated by selected audio clips featured in this blog post. The sheet music is often based on the earlier source recording, rather than on the new performance. In an essay titled “Merging the Past with the Present,” music scholar Sally K. Sommers Smith Wells observes that the musical transcriptions provided in the collection are “bridges between the source recordings of original musicians and the contemporary interpretations.” Reading Connolly’s stories helps make these connections with the earlier recordings, as he pays tribute to musicians of the past whose music inspired the new performances.
One source musician who influenced Connolly greatly was the renowned Sliabh Luachra fiddle player Julia Clifford (1914-1997) from Lisheen, County Kerry. He writes, “When I was just sixteen years old, Mrs. Clifford offered to play tunes for me to record, learn, and add to my repertoire. This generous lady, along with her son Billy on flute, played some lovely music for me.” This musical encounter proved to be a milestone in Connolly’s life, as detailed by music critic Earle Hitchner in his biographical essay, “Seamus Connolly: A Living Legend in Irish Traditional Music.” Hitchner notes that part of this collection’s genesis came from Clifford’s question, “You don’t have it, do you?”, a remark she made occasionally to make sure she was adding new tunes to the teenage Connolly’s repertoire, and not repeating what he already knew.
Sharing of time and talent is highly valued across the Irish music community, as witnessed by the generosity of over 130 international musicians and others who contributed to Connolly collection. Over 330 tunes and songs in ten playlists are freely accessible worldwide under a Creative Commons License (CC-BY-NC 4.0). Connolly and the Boston College Libraries are grateful to all of the performers, composers, editors, writers, artists, and other collaborators and rights holders who generously contributed content and made this collection possible. Continue reading