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Thesis 1

THESIS DETAILS
Thesis Title: Journey into tradition: A social history of the Irish button accordion
Degree Type: PhD
Degree Specialism: Ethnomusicology
Supervisor(s): Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin
Thesis Status: Accepted
Date Submitted / Accepted: 2010
Institution Submitting / Submitted To: University of Limerick
No. of Volumes (no. of pages): 1 (328pp.)
Thesis Location / Link: http://hdl.handle.net/10344/1616
THESIS CONTENT
Abstract: This thesis examines how the button accordion, first patented in 1829 and available for sale in Ireland by 1831, became a member of the family of instruments on which Irish traditional music is played. It traces the accordion’s journey into tradition and the varied pathways taken along the way. The introduction of a new instrument into any tradition, its adoption and its journey to acceptance as an instrument on which that music can be performed, involves major change, both in the music and the instrument. Source materials ranging from extensive personal field work to social history texts and contemporary newspapers are employed to establish the paths travelled by the accordion into tradition. The processes involved in the adoption of any instrument new to a tradition and the conditions necessary for its acceptance are considered. The thesis begins with a discussion of the methodologies used and this continues with an exploration of the historical and social contexts in pre-accordion Ireland – an era of dramatic social change. The introduction of the free-reed principle to Europe and its use in the invention of new instruments during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries is examined and the arrival in Ireland of many of these innovative instruments, among them the accordion and concertina,is discussed. Musical contexts in Ireland, both before and after the accordion’s arrival, are outlined and demonstrate that a number of subcultures existed, with music and dancing being of immense importance to all the people of Ireland. The works of the great Irish collectors are drawn upon to establish the repertoire and instrumentation in use among traditional musicians before the Great Famine while that event’s devastating consequences for Irish traditional music is also considered. By the closing decades of the nineteenth century the accordion had become a new voice in Irish traditional music and began to take on the accent of that music. This allowed for the evolution of an identifiable Irish style of accordion playing. The popularity of dancing continued into the twentieth century, although contexts and locations changed considerably. This study proposes that the strength and resilience of the existing tradition – and the resultant openness to new instruments – allied to the accordion’s ability to adapt to changing performance locations and its suitability as an instrument to provide music for dancing, were major factors in the successful assimilation of the instrument into Irish traditional music. Other significant factors included the arrival of new technology such as sound recording processes and radio. The varied musical contexts provided within families and the wider community were also crucial to the development of the accordion in Irish music. The power of the individual as an instigator of musical change is recognized in this study and is analysed through a detailed investigation of the pivotal accordion players in the twentieth century. It is argued that these players, by their musical activities, moulded and shaped this product of the industrial revolution into an instrument on which Irish traditional music could validly be played and are central to the accordion’s journey into tradition.

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