Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, Mid-Atlantic Region

Paddy O’Brien Tune Collection Vol 3 by midatlanticcce
November 11, 2013, 7:16 pm
Filed under: General Announcement

Kickstarting the Paddy O’Brien Tune Collection Vol 3

Paddy O’Brien of Saint Paul, “Walking Encyclopedia of Irish Traditional Music,” Launches Project to Help with Vol III. Kickstarter will support recording of 500 more tunes

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Irish traditional button accordion master Paddy O’Brien has just launched a Kickstarter project that will support his continuing effort to record some of the 3,000 tunes he holds in his head.

O’Brien, who doesn’t read music, remembers all these tunes using mnemonic devices like the person who taught it to him or where he learned it. He is now finishing up a year-long apprenticeship program in which he worked with 25 apprentices, to pass on his knowledge and techniques. A concert was held October 4 to honor that accomplishment.

O’Brien has also just celebrated the digital release of the landmark documentary recording project, the Paddy O’Brien Tune Collection, which features the first 1,000 recorded pieces in the vast repertoire of a legendary Irish traditional musician. Over the course of the last 20 years, O’Brien has set about recording a huge number of tunes from his own repertoire, stored entirely in his memory.  For the very first time, the tunes O’Brien has so far recorded are now available for download, either singly or by album. There are also printed books or downloadable texts containing background notes for each volume.

O’Brien currently has about half of the third volume recorded, which will include another 500 tunes. The Kickstarter campaign, which began October 1 and runs through November 30, will help to defray production costs and digitizing for Volume Three. Backers have the opportunity to become a part of history by supporting this extraordinary effort; many of the pledge awards include selections of O’Brien’s music. The Kickstarter project can be found at

Background on the Paddy O’Brien Tune Collection

The Paddy O’Brien Tune Collection is an unprecedented and unique project in the world of Irish traditional music, as the ONLY recorded collection from the repertoire of a single musician. Not since Captain Francis O’Neill of the Chicago Police Department compiled The Music of Ireland in 1903 has a collection of this size and scope been made available to Irish music learners and to the general public. But whereas O’Neill’s collection was written music, O’Brien’s goal in recording these tunes has been to help players who learn in the traditional way, as he has, completely by ear.

As staggering as the first 500 tunes seemed at the time, Volume One of the Paddy O’Brien Tune Collection, released in 1995—containing 400 reels and 100 jigs—only scratched the surface. Volume Two, released in 2011, contained another 500 tunes (150 double jigs, 120 hornpipes, 100 polkas, 100 reels, and 30 slip jigs).

In 2013, O’Brien received a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board to undertake recording ANOTHER 500 tunes from his repertoire, and to teach selections from the Tune Collection to two groups of apprentices. Recordings for the Paddy O’Brien Tune Collection, Volume Three are in progress, and will include unusual jigs and reels, and certain types of tunes O’Brien has yet to document: clan marches, slides, set dances, and harp tunes, among others.

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 versions of tunes includes three settings of “The Moving Cloud,” four of “Drowsy Maggie,” and three of “The Wild Irishman,” for example. Keeping the learner in mind, the written material also includes historical information, suggested keys, information on technique, and how tunes are arranged into selections. These things are as much a part of the tradition as the tunes themselves, and give the learner a depth of knowledge about Irish music and culture not available from commercial recordings.

Much of O’Brien’s own work as an artist is about finding and bringing greater recognition to some older (and perhaps somewhat obscure) but wonderful traditional tunes. With the Paddy O’Brien Tune Collection, he is helping to pass along the contributions of that older generation of musicians who were his teachers and mentors. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and

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Paddy O’Brien has also recently released his first book, The Road from Castlebarnagh: Growing Up in Irish Music, a memoir about growing up in Ireland surrounded by family and music. For more information on this concert and other events with Paddy O’Brien and his wife, mystery novelist Erin Hart, see their websites.  •

The Road from Castlebarnagh: Growing Up in Irish Music, a Memoir by Paddy O’Brien

Orpen Press, distributed in the U.S. by DuFour Editions, 300 pages, paper

The Book of Killowen by Erin Hart

Scribner, 352 pages, hardcover, ISBN 978-1-451-634-846, 2013, $26


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