For this sixth episode of Irish Music Stories (a shorter summer special!), I talked to some of trad music’s most inspired accompanists. It was great to hear about the inner game of backing from Matt Heaton, Neil Pearlman, Keith Murphy, and John Doyle.
Now, singers and accordion players can also certainly ride a rhythmic wave in a session, or sculpt a song with color, texture, and deep care for the storyline. But there’s a particular experience that chordal players have with Irish music. I wanted to understand that feeling a bit more.
John Doyle talks about the meditative quality of backing:
“When you play in a good session, when it’s super rhythmic, you get into this flow state, especially when you’re rhythmic. It’s a very Zen-like, momentary space.. I think it’s a place where very few people get to in life. And then it’s broken when the tune ends… and of course, there’s an enjoyment, the love of music.”
Pianist Neil Pearlman (who also hosts a great podcast called TradCafe) shared his thoughts on how a broader perspective shapes players and playing: “Traditional music is cultural music… knowing other people who play, dance, or speak with an Irish accent all go into some subtle sense of feel in the music.”
And guitarist Matt Heaton says, “There are such cool things you can do with harmony. You can add tension, you can build suspense, you can make something sound bright and happy.. you can shine a light on certain aspects of the melody, sort of illuminate it.”
I hope you’ll join me as I talk with Matt, Neil, Keith and John about how they think about backing traditional music.
Whether you already play guitar, sing ballads, or dance steps.. or if you don’t know anything about Irish culture… these conversations concern deep listening, community, and flow state.