Blind Musicians Thrive in Irish Folk MusicIn the 17th Century, being a musician was one of the only jobs an Irish person living with blindness could secure. Rather than relying on sheet music to learn how to play an instrument, music in Ireland is mostly an "oral music tradition."
Musicians hundreds of years ago engaged in one-to-one oral learning. In fact, sheet music was only used as a tool for maintaining an outline for Irish folk music; unlike Western classical music, Irish folk's complexity cannot be captured in notation. Learning the intricacies of Irish folk music can only be accomplished by ear, which opened the doors of opportunity for people living with blindness. The 1600s are long behind us, but the methods of learning have not changed.
The history of Irish folk music and the virtuosos that emerged over the centuries is rich and unique. In the 21st Century, the tradition is kept alive in The Irish Memory Orchestra and The Vision Symphony. Dr. Dave Flynn, composer and orchestra director, says:
"In 2012, I formed the Irish Memory Orchestra with the aim to create a uniquely Irish orchestra that would draw equally on Ireland's oral folk music tradition and the notated western classical tradition. Though I notate the music I compose for the orchestra, the musicians always play it by memory in concert. Some of the musicians are not classically trained, and as a result, they either cannot read music or have limited sight-reading skills. Therefore, I create audio learning files so they can learn the music by ear. I also give the musicians freedom to subtly improvise, within the traditions of Irish folk music, jazz, and popular music."
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