Students in Róisín Dubh learn to play Irish traditional music with authentic style and technique, and they are taught through traditional methods. This is not simply a school band or orchestra reading arrangements. We are not even akin to a school fiddle club, which typically teaches tunes using the same conservatory methods as the orchestra.
What really sets this program apart isn't our type of music or our sound. It is the way we learn and function as musicians and performers.
Our meetings—long before they become rehearsals—begin with students being taught new skills through the aural tradition. They have techniques modeled for them, and they learn tunes in this same way. While this method is slower at first, students come away with a much deeper understanding of this music and all music. Everything that makes this music great has to come from listening.
This music is not about what can be written down on paper; it's about what can't.
Róisín Dubh is open to any interested student. We meet primarily as a large group, although on occasion I am able to also meet with individuals or small groups of students to work on technique. As soon as they are able, students begin working within the performing group and, in this setting, they function much more like a professional band than as students in an instructional class. I teach them tunes (again, by rote), and the older students will sometimes bring in tunes that they have picked up at a sessions, off of an album, or from another source. We begin playing these tunes, just as they would be played at a session. Just like in a session, we gradually develop our own common repertoire as favored tunes increase their rotation and others fade away. We begin improvising harmonies and, again, these evolve through a process of experimentation and elimination. The more we play a tune, the more fixed the arrangement seems to become.
Younger or less experienced students tend to play harmony parts, while the veterans take the lead melodic parts. All the while, however, these newer students are hearing the tunes. They are learning the melodies, the style, the chord progressions, and our group's culture, just as they would at a session. Eventually, their playing technique catches up with their knowledge, and they discover that they already have a large repertoire of tunes and a deep understanding of the music.
Because of the amount of student input, changing repertoire, and changing instrumentation, each “edition” of Róisín Dubh is different from the one before it