Singing (8)

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  • Teideal (Title): Singing (8).
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 850101.
  • Uimhir Chnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann (National Folklore of Ireland Number): none.
  • Uimhir Roud (Roud Number): none.
  • Uimhir Laws (Laws Number): none.
  • Uimhir Child (Child Number): none.
  • Cnuasach (Collection): Joe Heaney Collection, University of Washington, Seattle.
  • Teanga na Croímhíre (Core-Item Language): English.
  • Catagóir (Category): singing style.
  • Ainm an té a thug (Name of Informant): Joe Heaney.
  • Ainm an té a thóg (Name of Collector): James Cowdery.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): between 1979 and 1981.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, United States of America.
  • Ocáid an taifeadta (Recording Occasion): lecture/demonstration.
  • Daoine eile a bhí i láthair (Others present): Mike Seeger.
  • Stádas chóipcheart an taifeadta (Recording copyright status): unavailable.

‘Nyaah’ and ‘drone’

Jim Cowdery observes that playing instrumental music sounds best to him when it imitates vocal style. Joe says about the pipes that it’s the ‘drone that’s in the human voice – nature’s accompaniment – some people have and some don’t.’ Describes how somebody gets ready to sing, taking a note, and how Joe describes the ‘nyaah’ – how to find the note before you start. He says that people who don’t do that, ‘they don’t class them as good sean-nós singers.’ It’s a note that Joe says is always there in the background as you’re singing the song – it’s the note you tune to, you can’t go wrong if that note is still there. This is what he means when he says the drone of the pipes is like the human voice. When he’s singing, he’s following that, accompanying that note in his head.

Ballad groups

You never sing a song the same way twice. Never gets tired of doing it – keeping it fresh, keeping it protected, don’t want it abused or insulted or destroyed. The present ballad-groups are taking good songs and taking guitars and knocking hell out of them. You’ve got to have feeling in a song – it depends on the song. If you don’t bring that out in the song, nobody can enjoy it.


The whole issue of ‘drone’ (and the associated term-of-art, ‘nyaah’) first arose during Joe’s long conversation with Ewan Mac Coll and Peggy Seeger in 1963-4.