University of Limerick
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Sound tracts, songlines and soft repertoires: Irish music performance and the city of Chicago

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posted on 2021-08-31, 08:19 authored by Aileen Dillane
In this study, I view Irish (traditional) music as, first and foremost, a local (and ethnic/post ethnic) music in and of the City of Chicago. By placing the ‘City’ at the center of my exploration, and by acknowledging Irish music’s relationship to it (as opposed to casting Irish music as an emigrant/immigrant music in a foreign site), this dissertation performs initially two tasks. First, it critiques conventional historiographies of Irish music which tether Irish traditional music to nation-building projects shaped by discourses of authenticity. Second, it offers a productive alternative to explicitly (or implicitly) generated ‘Irish music in the Diaspora’ models of understanding that treat Irish music as somehow isolatable from its site of production in a perceived Diasporic ‘periphery’. While acknowledging the ‘Diaspora’ concept influences a local understanding Irish music in Chicago, I shift the emphasis from emigrant to ethnic/post ethnic, civic, and cosmopolitan concerns in Chicago. The real task of this dissertation is, therefore, the generation of a different set of questions about the place of Irish music in Chicago and the place (structurally and historically) of Chicago in Irish music, which in turn consolidates this alternative historiography of Irish music. In invoking the ‘City’ in an analysis of Irish music performance, Chicago is revealed as a particular expression of the modern, topographic moment, as an organizing principle and civilizing force, as a site of production and medium of exchange, as a nexus of real and imagined relations between a citizen and his/her city, as home to ethnic groups with locally informed understandings of the structures of identification, as a place of possibility and creative (as well as economic) opportunity, and as a musical form. The relationship between Irish music and the city is articulated in a variety of performances or ‘texts’ that both reflect current trends and reach back into the history of the city and Irish music’s role in its configuration over time. Each chapter centers on a commercially available or publically encountered text – a printed music collection, a festival site, a music composition by a local artist, a song heard in a Chicago Irish pub, and a track from a CD recorded in the city. In each case, I perform synchronic and diachronic reading in order to illustrate how structures of meaning in Irish music have been generated, and continue to be (re)performed or contested, in Chicago. In performing such readings, it is not my intention to make claims for any kind of privileged space for Irish music in Chicago’s modernity (or Chicago’s place in Irish music’s modernity, for that matter) but rather to explore how the city and Irish music have been mutually constituted. In other words, I explore how Irish music performs Chicago (or rather one setting of Chicago) and how Chicago performs in Irish music. Sound Tracts speaks to the spatial dimension of music and how music represents place materially and metaphorically. Songlines alludes to structural and historical, local and regional connections performed in and through music. Manifesting as both structure and history, Soft Repertoire becomes a site and practice for the negotiation of canonical representations and of structures of feeling.



  • Doctoral





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