The news that the Arts Council has allocated 3 million euro to the traditional arts for 2006, with that figure set to increase in 2007 and 2008, is both welcome and significant. Setting aside for a moment the practical impact it could have on traditional music, song and dance, it is also an important moment for the country. The undervaluing of traditional music by the state has always been particularly painful because it seemed to reflect some great misalignment between the body and soul of the nation.
In one respect, it seems such an obvious and normal thing to do, for the Irish state to properly support Irish traditional music. But one can’t help thinking that the reason it took so long for it to happen was because Ireland itself had to undertake a very long journey – from learned self-hatred and an inferiority complex that told us that traditional music could not be taken seriously, to finally saying an affirmative ‘yes’ to traditional music and, by doing so, ourselves.
Is that reading too much into it? I don’t think so. Anyone who has followed or been involved in the long process towards putting funding for the traditional arts on a sure footing will know that there was much more being played out than the matter of a quarrel over arts policy – there was something about the whole debate that seemed to delve much deeper. But now the traditional arts have, in a sense, ‘arrived’, and it will be interesting to see just what kind of potential is released with this money.
Normalising the country’s relationship with traditional music is one thing, but what about classical music? Is it normal, necessary even, for a country to have a Bartók-like figure? Raymond Deane decribed the question of the ‘Irish Bartók’ as ‘doleful’ in his essay ‘The Honour of Non-Existence’ in 1995, and I for one had presumed that we would never hear the phrase again, but here we have a young composer finding value in the concept again – so where does that leave us?