Traditional Music in Leaving Certificate

By Mary T Ryan

Most young traditional players and their parents are unaware of how they can now use their musical skill to acquire a high grade and therefore high points in the Leaving Certificate. In the new music course, which is being examined for the first time this year, 50%, i.e. half the marks for the subject are being awarded for practical music.

This means that a student who can play traditional music reasonably well can present his/her own choice of programme e.g. a set of reels, a set of jigs, a set of hompipes, some polkas or even some slides, a slow air, a piece by Carolan or any programme of six different pieces with some variety. These pieces can be played on any instrument either solo or as part of a group. The student also has the option of presenting 4 pieces solo and 4 pieces as a member of a group in place of the 6 already mentioned.

If a student likes to sing traditional songs, then the same applies either six songs or 4 songs and 4 traditional instrumental pieces, or 4 solo songs and 4 as a member of a group.

All this is a great boon to traditional musicians and anyone who plays or sings reasonably well should take music as a subject either within school, if it is on the curriculum there or, as an extra outside school. They would be certain of almost half marks for the practical, which is examined around Easter of the examination year. The remainder of the new course, i.e. the other 50% consists of the study of four orchestral works - a Bach Cantata, Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture' by Tchaikovsky, A Piano Quartet by Gerald Barry and Freddy Mercury/Queen'sBohemian Rhapsody’.

All questions on these are based on listening and are examined on a separate paper which also contains a question on traditional music based on listening - i.e. recognising the dance rhythms, the instruments etc. This traditional music question is awarded 25% of this paper.

The third element of the course consists of the student learning how to compose a 16 bar melody and how to fit chords/harmony to a piece of music which may be folk, pop or classical.

From the above, it must be obvious that a traditional musician has a great advantage when it comes to this new course, and, as already stated, should seriously consider taking the subject for the Leaving Certificate. It is such a pity not to use a skill one already has to contribute to one’s points in this important examination.

The Department of Education has come a long way from the old days when only classical music was accepted for examinations and Irish traditional music and song completely neglected.

(From Fleadh LuimnĂ­ ‘99 Programme)