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Irish Music Crosses Into US Mainstream - 2004-03-10


On Saint Patrick's Day, March 17, it is often said here in the United States that everyone is Irish. One part of Irish culture that has certainly crossed over into the mainstream is music. Irish music, and Celtic music in general, have become very popular among people of all ethnic groups in the United States.

John Daly came from his birthplace in County Cork, Ireland to live in Chicago in 1997. Since that time he has become a key player in the Irish music scene in a city that has well established Irish traditions dating back to the immigrant influx from the Emerald Isle in the mid-19th century.

Irish music in the United States today is a combination of many elements including influences from rock, jazz and the music of other ethnic groups. John Daly plays more traditional tunes with a style that is deeply rooted in the homeland culture, yet expressive of his own style as well.

"I was mainly influenced by people who followed a specific style of Irish fiddle playing and I like to stay within that. It is pretty conservative in nature. The recent CD that I have done is a collection of old traditional Irish tunes done, I suppose, with my stamp on them in some ways," says Mr. Daly. "Then, I have come up with some new tunes that are right in the tradition. I would like to think they are anyway and I would like to think that contributing them does not damage the tradition in any way."

John Daly says Chicago is a great place for an Irish musician to play because there are so many venues available and so many other people interested in the music. He mainly plays at sessions in pubs, restaurants and other locations where Irish musicians come together on a regular basis.

"There are at least ten sessions a week and you can go to any one of them. You also have a lot of people teaching music here. There are a lot of schools happening here," he says. "The Academy of Irish Music, by Noel Rice, is one that comes to mind where there are hundreds of young kids learning Irish music. Then you have a lot of private tuition going on as well."

In the 1920's, when some of the first recordings of Irish traditional music were made, influences from across the Atlantic were slow and steady. Musicians from Ireland who came to the United States then usually remained and rarely went back home. Today, however, there is a lively exchange of influences and styles made easy by air travel, radio and television broadcasts and the internet. John Daly says this has added to the variety of styles that can be found within the category of Irish music.

"The speed of the pace and level of availability has increased many, many times for people of my generation and younger. With that will definitely come changes and different influences and different popular influences," says Mr. Daly. "Then, you really have to decided if you want to stick with the older treatment of the music, what people back home would call the real traditional aspects of it. You will consciously have to decided to do that and you will consciously have to decide what it is."

Irish fiddler John Daly is one of many musicians keeping alive the spirit and culture of Ireland in one of America's most Irish cities.

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