Danú’s take on the ‘trad sesh’
You probably know what a “trad sesh” is, even if you aren’t familiar with the term itself.
Picture a dimly lit, stone-walled pub. A fire is crackling in the hearth. You sit at a corner table, sipping a dark, rich, foamy beer. Nearby, a group of musicians take out their instruments—a fiddle, a small drum, a recorder—and begin to play a reel.
Trad seshes (as in traditional sessions) are pub performances of Irish folk music. And while Macky Auditorium certainly isn’t a cozy little bar on the Emerald Isle, Danú—one of today’s leading traditional Irish ensembles—promises to bring the vibrant energy of a trad sesh to the hall on March 16.
Hailing from Counties Waterford, Cork, Dublin and Donegal in Ireland, Danú formed in 1995 as part of Ireland’s delegation to the Lorient Inter-Celtic Festival in Brittany, France (the biggest annual gathering of Celtic nations in the world). In the decades since, the players of Danú have performed jigs, reels and hornpipes to the delight of audiences worldwide, leading them to be called “impressive, immersive, and uniquely and unmistakably Irish” (Strings Magazine).
But what does “unmistakably Irish” mean? What makes trad music, well, traditional?
Live music performance is a cornerstone of Irish culture, particularly in rural areas where, historically, literacy rates were low and electricity was limited. Gathering around a fire to share stories, play native instruments and dance became an important part of a community’s social activity. For hundreds of years, traditional Irish music wasn’t written down and its knowledge was simply handed down from generation to generation through performance. Today, such performances have become a living oral tradition. Each performer offers their own unique spin on the art form, and as memories and habits change, the tradition slowly but surely evolves.
But as is often the case with cultural institutions, traditional Irish music can be difficult to define precisely. According to the Irish Traditional Music Archive, it’s “best understood as a very broad term that includes many different types of singing and instrumental music, music of many periods, as performed by Irish people in Ireland or outside it, and occasionally nowadays by people of other nationalities.” Admittedly, that’s not an overwhelmingly exact definition, though when it comes to Irish trad music: you know it when you hear it.
That’s because certain instruments are hallmarks of traditional Irish music. The fiddle, a simple handheld drum called a bodhrán (pronounced bow-rawn), tin whistles (small, slender recorder-like instruments), harps and Uilleann pipes are all common contributors. Other instruments—while not strictly Irish in origin, like the concertina and the bouzouki—have also made their way into Ireland’s unique and recognizable sound.
From lively, toe-tapping jigs to melancholy ballads sung in both Irish and English, a performance list might feature songs about love and lullabies, travel and the sea, history and war stories, or simply “drinking.” (Yes, it’s its own theme.) Indeed, while Danú will announce their specific repertoire from the stage, audiences can expect hornpipes, reels and other favorites like “The Foggy Dew,” “Ten Thousand Miles” and “Mo Ghile Mear.”
It promises to be an evening that’s a bit rustic, a bit traditional and every bit engaging. Our recommendation? Swing by a pub beforehand for warm shepherd’s pie or close out the night with your feet propped in front of a warm fire.
Join us for Danú’s “Traditional Music of Ireland” on March 16 as part of your St. Patrick’s Day celebration! Tickets start at $23.