The Paddy O’Brien Tune Collection—Volume One was a project initiated in 1993, and sponsored by two Minnesota nonprofit groups, the Minnesota Folklife Society and the Irish Music & Dance Association. With a $6,500 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and $2,000 from the local Metropolitan Regional Arts Council in Saint Paul, the two groups have collected a portion of Paddy O’Brien’s music for posterity, and made it available to lovers of Irish music everywhere. Original recordings for the collection were made with equipment on loan from the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. All 500 tunes in Volume One were recorded during December 1994 and January 1995, when a temporary field recording studio was set up in the O’Brien household. Each tune on the tapes was played through several times on solo accordion, in a catalog-style presentation. Master tapes were then duplicated onto cassettes, and compiled with a booklet of background notes.
The Paddy O’Brien Tune Collection—Volume Two was undertaken in 2004, supported by the Bush Foundation, the Minnesota State Arts Board, and the Irish Fair of Minnesota Legacy Grant program, and the Irish Music & Dance Association. Once again, a field recording studio was set up in the O’Brien home. The tunes were recorded over a period of years, then mixed and mastered, duplicated, and compiled into sets with a booklet of background information.
The Paddy O’Brien Tune Collection—Volume Three was released in 2013, supported by the Minnesota State Arts Board Folk and Traditional Arts program, the Center for Irish Music, and the Irish Music & Dance Association. Recordings were made in a field recording studio set up in the O’Brien home. The tunes were recorded over a period of years, then mixed and mastered, duplicated, and compiled into sets with a booklet of background information. Volume Three also included a major traditional arts apprenticeship component, where Paddy taught his versions of tunes to local musicians, and offered public performances throughout the apprenticeship year.
Making a Lasting Contribution to the Tradition
As staggering as 1,500 tunes may seem, the Paddy O’Brien Tune Collection only scratches the surface in the repertoire of this singular interpreter. Its contents are taken from a personal store of astonishing depth, encompassing more than 3,000 reels, jigs, hornpipes, set dances, clan marches, and harp tunes, and including a number of original compositions.
Not since Captain Francis O’Neill of the Chicago Police compiled The Music of Ireland in 1903 has a collection of this size and scope been made available to the general public. Previous collections, like O’Neill’s, are written transcriptions of Irish music. Transcriptions present two distinct problems: first, they are not accessible to many traditional musicians, who must learn by ear; secondly, they cannot truly capture the flavor of the music, or the blás, as it’s called in Irish, which is expressed in grace notes, the emphasis in rhythm, and other various and subtle ways. What really sets the Paddy O’Brien Tune Collection apart from previous efforts is the fact that it was created for traditional musicians (like Paddy O’Brien himself) who learn music by ear, and the subtle variations contained in many of the settings.
In addition to his remarkable memory, Paddy O’Brien’s special gift is also that of a great ear, not only for variations and interpretation, but for techniques and even notes peculiar to certain regional styles, instruments, and players. His store of lesser-known regional and personal versions of tunes includes three settings of “The Moving Cloud,” four of “Drowsy Maggie,” and three of “The Wild Irishman,” for example. Many of the versions included in this collection have never before been recorded or transcribed.
This collection is also set apart by the written materials which accompany the tunes. Paddy O’Brien’s phenomenal memory extends not only to notes and variations, but to titles, and to the history that accompanies the tunes—when he received them and from whom; when and by whom they were composed or first introduced into the popular tradition. Keeping the learner in mind, the written notes on the music also include suggested keys, information on techniques used, and some basic ideas on how the tunes are arranged into selections. These considerations are as much a part of the tradition as the tunes themselves, and gives the learner a depth of knowledge about Irish music and culture not available from commercial recordings.
In sponsoring this project, the Minnesota Folklife Society and the Twin Cities Irish Music & Dance Association hoped that the Paddy O’Brien Tune Collection would serve as an invaluable and very accessible resource to Irish traditional musicians and scholars all around the world.
Copies of the Paddy O’Brien Tune Collection have been placed for public use in the Archive of Folk Culture at the Library of Congress, the Archive of Traditional Music at Indiana University, and the Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin, Ireland. A complete set is also on file with the Folk Arts Program of the National Endowment for the Arts, whose support for this project is gratefully acknowledged.
For more information on the Paddy O’Brien Tune Collection Project, write or call:
Paddy O’Brien Tune Collection
1367 Highland Parkway
Saint Paul MN 55116 USA
About The Project Sponsors
At various stages, the Paddy O’Brien Tune Collection has been supported in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (through an appropriation from the Minnesota State Legislature), the Bush Foundation, the Minnesota State Arts Board, and the Irish Fair of Minnesota. Matching funding was provided by a group of investors through Kickstarter. Additional support was provided by the Irish Music & Dance Association, the Center for Irish Music, and the Minnesota Folklife Society.