An Irish Dance

by Teresa Jennings

We admit we might have gotten a wee bit carried away when we created this piece of music. But boy, are we pleased with the outcome. To fully appreciate the song, we hope that you and your students will listen to both the full performance and instrumental tracks of the recording. There are many noteworthy things to hear: our talented vocal soloist (a fellow named Justin Carter), the large ethnic drums, the recorder, the oboe (once more), the strings, the authentic Irish hand drum (bodhrán), the euphonium countermelody, the brass, and of course, the dancers.

A simple song. No, really.

For its complex appearance, this song is not as difficult as you might think, especially if you've looked at the section at measure 28. In fact, if you have everyone sing the melody in unison at the beginning (in case you don't have a soloist) and at measure 36 both times, it will work perfectly! It is simply the same simple tune sung repeatedly. Frankly, once the song is sung through at the beginning, you've heard most of it. Everything that follows is just a variation on the theme.

The other parts of the song are either an optional second vocal part, which does not enter until the D.S., or the dance section at measure 28. (Also optional, though it is logical to include dancers in a song called "An Irish Dance.") If you are hesitant to assign the second vocal part to any of your singers, you can omit it. If you are using the recording, it is doubled in horns and recorder, so it will be present in either event.

Now, about that section at measure 28...

Once you examine this section, you will see that it is not really that intimidating. It will be particularly more evident if you look at it while listening to the recording. You will be able to see and hear what is happening more easily.

Up to this point, the song has been serene and sustained. Four measures before 28, it builds dynamically, increasing the percussive activity.

At 28, it breaks into a lively, somewhat "Celtic" or "medieval" dance. The melody and harmony are played in the oboe and recorder, which are indicated on their own line in the systems through much of the song. At the same point, you will hear a rhythmic guitar, woodblocks and tap dancers or cloggers. These are also indicated on the piano/vocal, as is the euphonium countermelody on the D.S.

There is no vocal part going on, so the "x" indicators above the vocal staff are referring to the dance steps. The "L" and "R" labels above them mean "left foot" and "right foot," respectively. "RH" means "right heel."

Though the combination of all of these things may seem a bit cluttered on paper, they complement each other quite well when performed.

Once the singing resumes at measure 36, the woodblock stops and the hand drum takes over with a dotted eighth, sixteenth note pattern. The dance steps continue to be indicated above the vocal parts.

The Dance

For the best effect, consider using a separate group of dancers than your singers. This way, your dancers can come into the foreground to perform and then step to the sides or back to re-focus on the singers when they come back in. It's also probably easier to produce a reasonable vocal tone when standing still than when tapping or stomping, which this song calls for.

The most important thing your dancers will need (besides a good sense of rhythm) is noisy shoes. We have suggested that tap shoes, clogs, and/or hard-heeled shoes be used. Obviously, the surface of the performance floor is important as well. A wooden floor will produce the best sound, though other hard surfaces may have to do, depending on your circumstances. If you have a carpeted performance area, you could bring in a sheet of plywood or other hard material for your dancers to step on. (Be sure to check with your school officials before letting dancers wear taps or hard shoes onto school floors. Some schools are very touchy about this sort of thing, especially when it involves a gym floor.)

While we have indicated specific rhythms on the music for the dance, there are no rules. You can change them to make them simpler or sparser. Or, if you have advanced dancers, you can make the steps more difficult.

Be sure to have your students listen for the tap dancers on the recording as they are learning the steps if they wish to use the ones on the music. This will be especially helpful the second time at measure 36. At the bottom of the music, we offer the option of imitating the tom/drum rhythm with dancers (which our dancers did). This pattern is indicated in between the right and left hand piano lines, opposite the hand drum rhythm. It is a simple pattern and is completely optional.

The demeanor of your dancers should be similar to Irish dancers or cloggers - that is, the legs do all the work. For the most part, your dancers' arms should hang at their sides while they stomp or clog out the rhythms of the dance. (There is a historic connection between Irish or Celtic dancing and contemporary clogging. Many settlers in the Appalachian region of the United States, where clogging is quite popular, are of Celtic descent. The Celts were a group of Western European peoples which included pre-Roman inhabitants of Britain and Gaul and their descendants, including Ireland, Scotland and Wales, among others.)

For a superb example of Irish dancing, we can recommend the video, "Riverdance - The Show," which includes performances by The Riverdance Irish Dance Company. In addition to being a good reference for style, it is an amazing display of coordination and symmetry. (See page 70 for more information about this incredible troupe.) Even if you don't perform "An Irish Dance," your students will enjoy watching this video. If you do perform "An Irish Dance," consider employing some of the "floating" movement into your dancers' routine. That is, instead of holding still while stepping, have your dancers move around with each step.

Text is taken from Music K-8 magazine.