What is in a name anyway?

What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” This famous line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet implies that the names of things do not affect what they really are. Maybe that’s true. After all, love is love, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Montague or Capulet you can’t help who you fall in love with.

But, when it comes to music, I beg to differ with good ole, Mr. Shakespeare.

In some sense, I do agree with Juliet’s words that no matter what you call a rose, it will still have that same sweet smell. You can’t change that by merely changing the name of it. After all, a reel in 4/4 time, is still just a reel no matter what the name of it is. But the implication that a name has no affect, is hard note to swallow.

Glen Road to Carrick, a rocky road.

Fence in IrelandIf you’ve been lucky enough to hear Ciarán Ó Maonaigh play Glen Road to Carrick and then drive on the Glen Road to Carrick in Ireland, you’ll see what I mean. (Road trip anyone?) This is a 4-part tune that literally took me 2 weeks of constant listening to learn. It’s a hard tune. There’s a rhythmic tension throughout most parts of the tune with lots of string crossings, double stops, and ornamentation. It’s a driving melody that is filled with all sorts of little variations and opportunities for more.

After actually being on the Glen Road to Carrick, I realized the tune totally represents the narrowly winding roads of county Donegal that go up and over mountains and switchbacks. Cars driving at lightening speed, dodging goats and sheep in the process. It gave me so much more appreciation for the tune and the time it took to learn it (not to mention the driving skills of the Irish and the climbing skills of the goats).

The Orphan, a touching story.

Recently, I found a YouTube video of Kevin Burke playing The Orphan and teaching it. In his teachings he gives examples of the ornamentation he puts in, a roll here and double stop there. He also mentioned in his teaching that he liked to play this tune on the slower side and this one particular double stop very softly because he envisioned an orphan as very vulnerable and he wanted that to come out in the tune. I love listening to Kevin Burke play this tune because it does remind me of how vulnerable an orphan must feel. It’s powerful and endearing.

What’s in a name?

Knowing tune names and/or the origin of where the tune came from, gives a musician an opportunity to tell a story rather than just play memorized notes from a musical staff. It creates the essence of the music and makes it a more powerful statement and forces you to play with emotion.

So what is in a name? The history of the tune, the essence of the music, and the lessons of the time.

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