The heart beat of Irish music is revived in the 19th century
Irish music has been around since before St. Patrick, and it is evidenced by the countless tunes still played and recorded today. Whether it's the ancient hymn Slane (a.k.a. Be Thou My Vision) or gaelic tunes like Buchaill On Eirne, celtic music remains a popular music genre around the world. It's arguably the top selling "world" music in the market.
Celtic music involves popular acts like the Oysterband, Enter the Haggis, the Chieftains, Great Big Sea, Spirit of the West, or the Dubliners. All these bands at some time utilize the instrument named the "Bodhran."
The bodhran is a frame drum, simple in structure and intended to accentuate rhythm. It isn't in and of itself something that keeps rhythm apart from other instruments, instead its purpose is to bring to the forefront the beat. This varies in folk music from a reel to a jig to a ballad.
This hub is designed to familiarise those who have never heard of this instrument with its multi-faceted ability and cultural influence. Considering America is predominantly irish-descended, it's no wonder that this instrument is a popular hobby among those who either cannot afford other drums or haven't the time to sit down to a full drum set. It also allows each of us irish descendents to return to a place we romanticise about.
The following portions are going to demonstrate different styles, both modern and traditional, and popular musicians who play the Bodhran.
What is the Bodhran?
The Bodhran is a small frame drum that sits upright on your thigh as you play. You usually hit the drum with a stick called the 'tipper.' The tipper is a weighted stick on most occasions, although a completely even, straight stick can be used. Often it's 9" in length, though some tippers are less than 6" or more than 11" (on rare occasions). The frame itself can be as large at 26" and as small as 10" (I have yet to see smaller played by anyone other than children),
The standard drum size is between 16-18" and about 6" deep, although depth can easily be as much as 14". The wood is often rosewood or maple, occasionally softer woods are used but are not really sutiable for the bodhran's purpose.
The drum has been used as an instrument since ancient times, possibly hit with bones instead of a wooden beater, but the history remains true to the fact that it has always been made of sheep or goatskin. It was revived in the late 1800s for popular play and has since made impact on the folk music world of all genre. It's made appearances in middle eastern and african music in the last century as well, although the drum is often hit with the player's hand instead of a tipper.
Traditional Irish Bodhran
Kevin Connef: This drummer is a member of the Chieftains and is regarded as one of the premier bodhran players. His style is traditional, mastered, and toned to where he is not only a pleasant addition to the band, but also a standout on his own.
Sean McCann: Couple efficient playing with good vocal ability and innovative pop-style drumming, and you have one of the more believable acts in celtic music. Sean is someone I'd love to meet one day and play alongside of. His playing is classified as traditional although he leans towards modern drumming at times. His breakthrough was with Great Big Sea, though he finished his two decade tenure with them in January, 2014.
Steafan Hannigan: I believe this gent is more known for his tutorial videos than anything else, which is a shame. According to the limited resources available on the internet, he's largely a session musician that appears to be specializing in bagpipes of late, though his page lists a wide array of instrumentation.
Jon Joe Kelly
Top end style
This is the modernized version. Many newer bodhran players are adopting this style. It ignores both ends of the tipper and instead relies solely on the one end. This is why it's called "top end" or also the "bo style."
While I admit its place and application are impressive, I abstain from its use almost entirely.
Musicians like Jon Joe Kelly or Abe Doron play this way, and while it's highly impressive, it's less versatile in a setting like a band. This style tends to use drums with thinner skin and thus allowing a "pop" noise at times. Lots of hand/skin manipulation as well, though the top end style does not solely focus on this aspect.
It's simply a matter of preference what style is chosen to be played with, but in the end it depends on what you're trying to accomplish that often determines your style. Many people find it difficult to play with both ends and often adopt the top end style to play along with other musicians [in most cases]. It would appear that this "general consensus" that was once held is largely being ignored these days.
I figured I was needed on here too!
The Bodhran in the 21st Century
As music moves forward and evolves with the human consciousness, we see the simplified instrument becoming more and more complex. Styles are being innovated, differing sizes, materials, and shapes are being experimented with and sold to premier musicians globally.
It has made its way into middle eastern music, rock music, pop music, and of course folk music. I've witnessed bass players learn the instrument in order to help master their slap-bass technique. Rock drummers, who for years have sat behind a wide array of drum kits, have begun to adopt this into their repertoire [along with a lot of other world percussion].
Commercialized music seems, for now, to be favoring the folkier antics. I intend to enjoy this little venture as long as it lasts, because surely it won't be long before we see another regurgitation of the eighties again, and with it, we'll lose the fascinating two decades that preceded it.
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