The Beat has interviewed a number of Irish/Celtic musicians through the years, and one of the things we always ask is “What makes Irish music so immediately identifiable and what gives it its appeal across cultures?”
And as former Celtic Woman Orla Fallon has a college degree in music (and theology – we didn’t really get into that), and is a practiced professional Irish musician, well, we figured on an interesting answer. Which we got.
(Read the full interview here.)
We think she’s the first to offer music theory as part of her response, noting the Irish use of the flattened 7th “giving it that lonesome, haunting feel.”
Now, a brief primer for those for whom “flattened 7th” means nothing. There are 8 notes or steps in a scale (in Western music), if you include the octave duplication – in other words, the low “do” and the high “do”. In between are notes represented by (if you recall your Sound of Music) other syllables, with “ti” representing the seventh note of the scale. If you “flatten” that note, you move it further away from the octave, resulting most often in what is called a “minor” scale. “Minor” does not fully encompass the ways in which a “flattened 7th” can be used, but for the sake of this discussion… when using the lowered pitch in either a melody or chord, it does in fact help give that “lonesome, haunting” sound to which Fallon referred.
For those interested, here's some additional info courtesy Wikipedia.
She also quoted Van Morrison as calling Irish music “soul music,” adding that she feels Irish music “captures every human emotion, whether you’re in Japan, South Africa, Europe or wherever, and gets down into the soul.”