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Thesis 1

Thesis Title: The role of the mandolin in Irish traditional music
Degree Type: MA
Degree Specialism: Musicology
Supervisor(s): Daithí Kearney
Thesis Status: In Progress
Institution Submitting / Submitted To: Dundalk Institute of Technology
Persons / Composers: Andy Irvine, Johnny Moynihan, Barney McKenna
Genres / Musical Instruments: Irish traditional music, Bluegrass, Mandolin
Abstract: Some of the mandolin players in Irish traditional music since the 1960s and 1970s are regarded amongst the most successful and creative musicians in Irish traditional music but the role and place of the mandolin within the tradition has not yet been explored. In this dissertation I will consider the introduction of the mandolin to Irish traditional music and the various styles and approaches used by various performers.

In addition to a focus on Irish traditional music, I will consider the development of the mandolin in a wider European context and, in particular, its role in other musical traditions. I will analyse the influence of other musical traditions on the development of mandolin playing styles in Irish traditional music, particularly those of the Balkan region. Such an understanding will be linked to other aspects of Irish traditional music, including the commercialisation of the genre exemplified by the popularity of the band Planxty and the show Riverdance, both of which draw on both Irish and Balkan rhythms and musical ideas.

I will specifically focus on the playing of Andy Irvine who is one of the most successful mandolin players within Irish traditional music over the past 50 years. I will focus in the role of the mandolin to accompany Irish traditional songs and also his development of a style suited to the dance music tradition.

While the mandolin, as an instrument, is largely unexplored, it is closely connected to the banjo in the context of Irish traditional music. The banjo has become a very significant instrument in Irish traditional music in recent years, particularly through the playing of Barney McKenna, Kieran Hanrahan and Gerry O’Connor. Each of these musicians also play the mandolin. I will explore the reasons for the imagination of the mandolin as a ‘second instrument’ and how these musicians have influenced the playing of the mandolin in the wider Irish traditional music world.

Thesis 2

Thesis Title: Innovation in Irish traditional music. A study of group playing and the impact of technology
Degree Type: BA
Degree Specialism: Other
Supervisor(s): Paul McGettrick
Thesis Status: Submitted
Date Submitted / Accepted: May 2012
Institution Submitting / Submitted To: Dundalk Institute of Technology
Approx. Word Count: 10,000
Abstract: The primary concern of this dissertation is the issue of innovation in Irish traditional music (ITM), with a specific focus on group playing. ‘Innovation versus Tradition’ has always been the subject of considerable debate within ITM; however, over the past 50 years, both the pace and degree of change and innovation have been particularly pronounced.
The dissertation begins by considering the nature of ITM to establish a context for the subsequent discussions. It then focuses on three principal areas: group playing in ITM, recent developments in ITM, and the impact of technology in ITM, and highlights aspects of innovation and change within ITM in all three. Case studies of two groups, Planxty and Lúnasa, further support the primary focus of the research on group playing. The research methodology used consisted of a review of the relevant literature (books, journals and web resources) and a survey questionnaire.
The research shows that ITM, as a living tradition, is continually developing, embracing outside influences and, in turn, influencing other genres and traditions. As a result of this on-going development a definition and description of ITM in the 21st century needs to be both comprehensive and nuanced to accurately convey the broad diversity of the tradition as it continues to evolve.

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