Sunday, October 21, 2007

Irish Music Culture

An Irish musician named Christopher Smith recently gave an illustrated lecture at UNF entitled "Come West Along the Road: Constructing Ireland's Electronic Identity," in which he discussed and gave examples of authentic Irish music, ranging from the 1930s to the 1980s. The first video clip we watched, however, was of the quintessential but inaccurate 'Irish music' played by the low-class passengers in Titanic. The scene is attractive, the participants all having a wonderful time together, hands gripping stout beer glasses, hearty smiles and laughter, freely dancing. The problem is that it provides an inaccurate view of what authentic Irish music has been. Waking Ned Devine on the other hand, also produced in the 90's, provides an accurate portrayal of pub music in Ireland. Two examples shown during the lecture stick out in my memory, one of a young man with Cerebral Palsy sitting in his wheelchair, playing a flute solo that hushed the room when finished. The other example was of an old man singing, eyes closed, hand gripping and softly shaking another man's hand, surrounded by an audience of men in a pub.

In questioning and considering the accuracy of a portrayal of a given culture it seems important to keep in mind the incredible complexity of what a culture consists of: the people, the places, the things and how these all interact. Think of our individual understandings of a given culture as pictures consisting of 1,000 pixels each. One of us may have 700 pixels clearly and accurately shining, another may have 100, another may have only 10. And as soon as these pictures are taken, the reality behind the picture has already changed in one way or another. This is not to say that the task of cultural studies is to examine and record every experience and every rock of a given place. All I mean to say is that when reading books or hearing lectures concerning cultural studies it is important to keep in mind that the authors and lecturers are far from omniscient and can only provide a limited but sufficient (for their purpose) understanding of what, say Ireland, is really like. What authentic Jacksonville is is determined, in one very small way, by what I do tonight.

On the following evening Christopher came back to UNF with his wife to play a concert: