Course Information

Course title:

Music, Folklore, and Traditional Culture in Irish History


Course number:



Course discipline:

Ethnomusicology, folklore, culture studies


Course description:

This seminar is an intensive, topics-oriented survey of the styles, practices, and cultures of music and oral tradition in Ireland since St. Patrick. Drawing on lectures, reading, listening, audio/visual sources, in-class performances, and individual research, this course provides students with an enhanced learning experience combining approaches from folklore, ethnomusicology, cultural and literary history, performance studies, anthropology, geography, and more.

Exploring the interaction between music and other aspects of cultural expression—talking, reading, listening, playing, and singing together—we will discover Irish influences from and to the other Celtic nations and to global communities; the interaction of orality, memory, texts, music, dance, and the sacred; and the impact of the Irish Diaspora on music and culture worldwide.

Tracing the Irish tradition’s histories, influences, and modern permutations, and examining them on recordings, video, and in live performance, we will expand our own artistic and intellectual insight and cross-cultural sophistication. Our theme will be the complex combinations of social, historical, political, colonial, economic, biographical, and artistic factors which have shaped Irish culture and identity over the last two millennia.

Intersession study abroad: A final component will be a spring intersession trip to the West of Ireland, May 14-28, during which Dr Smith will lead day trips, musical expeditions, and roaming seminars on music, folklore, and cultural history in the Irish countryside. Participation in this trip is a mandatory part of the course and Study Abroad scholarship assistance is available.


Computer access: Since this course relies heavily on web-based activities, it is essential that students gain access to a reliable computer with Internet capabilities. If you computer is slow, doesn’t support media applications, or if your Internet connection is prone to busy signals or disconnects, please schedule your day so that you can use a computer in the library. Technical problems do arise, but do yourself a favor and get acquainted with a good computer.

Please note: you the student are responsible for identifying, articulating, and seeking solutions for any computer problems you may encounter; most commonly, you can do this via the Academic Teaching and Learning Center, in the basement of the Main Library. “Computer problems” will not be considered an acceptable excuse for late or missed assignments.


Course date:

Thursday, January 12, 2006 through Tuesday, May 2, 2008



Administration Building 245


Meeting day(s):



Meeting time(s):




Permission of instructor


Instructor Information


Dr Christopher Smith



For MUHL5320 issues, the best means of contacting me is by employing WebCT Email (under "Course Menu"). However, I am only available via this email MTWRF 10AM-4:30PM.


Office location:

M203: Music Building (just north of the "band lot") at the corner of 18th and Boston


Office hours:

By appointment



806/742-2270 x249



Find a Chris Smith Biography. Find Chris Smith's commercial site and CD.


Course Goals

Course goals:

  • To develop, sharpen, and employ analytical tools that permit critical listening, reading, writing, and speaking about musical style and cultural function in Irish folkloric traditions;
  • To develop cultural insights and participatory skills that permit us to begin to function appropriately in Irish traditional contexts.


Outcomes and Assessments

Outcomes and Assessments:

What you will be expected to learn and to do



Upon completion of this course, students should have the following skills:

1. You should have a framework for looking at Irish music and folklore as a cultural expression across boundaries of geography and chronology, and recognizing both the unique style characteristics and shared functions which have shaped this oral tradition around the globe.

2. You will be able to summarize the major folkloric traditions addressed in class, distinguish them from other traditions, and show how specific artistic solutions to various social tasks reflect specific cultural and historical contexts.

3. You will be expected throughout the term to be able to identify the works we study, primarily by ear, up to a reasonable level of proficiency, and to discriminate between the styles of players, singers, dancers, and storytellers we concentrate on. You should also be able to identify genres, pieces, and other important names and terms we encounter, to summarize the careers of major musicians and ways in which those biographies reflect musical and cultural priorities, and to show a general knowledge of major events and trends in these musical traditions.

4. You will be expected to be able to synopsize and critique writings by musicians, ethnomusicologists, and journalists about Irish folklore.

5. You will be expected to be familiar with some basic tools for analyzing (i.e., taking apart and describing) performances from these traditions. To practice these tools, we will analyze some pieces in class and you will prepare some analyses for class discussion. However, because most of the world’s traditions (both art music and “folk music” varieties) are taught by sophisticated aural methods--using the “ear” more than the “eye”--much of our analysis will be according to terminology and ways of hearing indigenous to the various musical cultures. The use of Western notation and terminology, which are alien to most of these musics, will be de-emphasized.



Required reading:

The Pocket Book of Irish Traditional Music, Gearoid O hAllmhurain, (may be difficult to obtain)


Required reading:

Last Night's Fun: In and Out of Time with Irish Music, Ciaran Carson, North Point, 1998


Required reading:

Readings Packet, HONS3304, Chris Smith, ed, Available at CopyTech



Required reading:

Passing the Time in Ballymenone: Culture and History in an Ulster Community, Henry Glassie, Indiana University Press, Reprint/1995 (Paperback), 0253209870


Course Requirements


This course will include lecture, listening, discussion, readings, a mid-term and final examination, a personal journal (continued during the field trip), and a semester-length research project consisting of either a formal paper or a lecture-recital.



Reading and listening
For each class meeting, one or more readings and one or more recordings will be assigned. Readings will be found in the Course Readings packet or online; primary listening material will available as mp3 files via this WebCT site. It will be essential that students complete the reading and listening assignments prior to the meeting in which they will be discussed.

The mid-term and final examinations will be administered as qualifying-exam style essay tests. Prior to the mid-term, which will focus on reading, lecture, and listening materials, a list of 8-10 essay topics to be prepared will be distributed. On the test day, a sub-set of these topics will be distributed to students, who will then select 3-5 topics from that sub-set upon which to write essays. Essays will be expected to refer to readings, listening, and in-class discussion.
The Mid-Term examination is scheduled for Thursday March 2.
Prior to the final exam, which will focus on both lecture and listening materials, a list of pieces to be recognized will be distributed. On the test day, students will be expected to identify the excerpts played, and write short essays discussing each excerpt’s musical and cultural significance.
The Final Exam is scheduled for ???.

Course blog: Via the medium of an online blog ("weblog"), you will be provided guidelines and "seed questions" to prompt your own personal responses to the material, perspectives, and insights gleaned during the semester and the Ireland field trip. This journal may include expository or subjective writing, questions, poetry, quotations, sketches, photographs, musical compositions, stories, or all of the above. Ideas will be broached and may also be discussed using open for commenting only to class members. In both journal and online forms, points will be assigned on the basis of number of entries, quality of data and expression, and range of integrated ideas.

Performance project:
Over the course of the semester, each student will be asked to develop a small repertoire (6-15 minutes) in some performance idiom: song, dance, instrumental music, storytelling, oral poetry, etc. This course emphasizes the participatory nature of the tradition and all student will want to be able to contribute to ceilis (house parties) during the field trip. On past trips, we have had students sing, play, dance, or recite in pubs, fields, dance parties, on ferries, on sound tracks, in festivals--or just in the bus on the way from location to location.

Formal research paper: You will be asked to prepare a 20:00-minute (10-12 double-spaced pages) paper on a topic drawn from within the body of our course work, to deliver it to the class in the fashion of a conference paper or classroom lecture, and to field questions from the class on the paper or related topics. Afterwards, you will be asked to submit your reading text for comparison.

Alternative to research paper: As an alternative, students are also permitted to propose and develop an original creative project (visual art, poetry, song, fiction, etc) which draws upon themes and idioms from the tradition and the course materials. In past years, students have created collages, song cycles, narrative and lyric poetry, short stories, and so forth.

In Weeks 12-14 of the semester, the majority of our class time will be spent in sharing the results of the research or creative project. These presentations are the major "research" requirement of the semester.


  • Exams: 35%
  • Attendance, preparation, and participation: 30%
  • Research: 35%





The following policies are required for this class by the professor, by the Honors College, and/or by the University.


Additional information:

Attendance and participation: Because our time together in class is very limited, it is essential that we make the most efficient and constructive use of that time. Therefore, attendance is mandatory and any unexcused absence will be penalized, with direct adverse effect on final grades.

Course content issues: This course will observe the university’s guidelines for avoiding sexual harassment. However, because the arts often imitate and represent human living and because sexuality, politics, religion, and personal ethics are all part of life, some materials in this course may deal with sexual, political, religious, or ethical behaviors, situations, or language. People offended by such subjects may want to reconsider taking this course.

Conduct: Students participating in MUHL classes are expected to maintain a respectful and professional level of conduct. In the event of student misconduct, it is MUHL policy that teaching staff may exercise any or all of the following:

  • Ejection from class
  • Grade of F for class session
  • Report of student misconduct to upper-administration, faculty colleagues, or studio teacher
  • Grade of F for course

Computer and technology usage: Students are encouraged, when possible, to employ modern technology during class-time, including laptops, iPods, etc.

Students employing technology during lectures are required to sit in the front row of the classroom, nearest the instructor.

Technology usage is expected to be relevant to class work, and is strictly prohibited in any testing situation.

Playing video games, text-messaging, and so on are likewise strictly prohibited. Any such activities are grounds for ejection from class.

ADA Compliance: any student who because of a disability may require special arrangements in order to meet course requirements should contact the instructor as soon as possible to make any necessary accommodations. Student should present appropriate verification from AccessTECH. No requirement exists that accommodations be made prior to completion of this approved university procedure.

Class Attendance: Absence due to religious observance ­ The Texas Tech University Catalog states that a student who is absent from classes for the observance of a religious holy day will be allowed to take an examination or complete an assignment scheduled for that day within a reasonable time after the absence.

Absence due to officially approved trips: ­ The Texas Tech University Catalog states that the person responsible for a student missing class due to a trip should notify the instructors of the departure and return schedule in advance of the trip. The student may not be penalized and is responsible for the material missed.

CHANGE IN TTU OPERATING POLICIES The 45th day of class is the last day to drop a class. After that day, all students must complete the course and receive a grade. The grade of WF will no longer be given.

Please note: It is essential that any student missing a class, for an excused or unexcused absence, should promptly contact classmates and visit the course website to get class notes and catch up with missed work.

It is our experience that students who frequently miss class do poorly or fail. Any day you are late or absent, please get class notes from one or more classmates. You are responsible for knowing what is said in class, including announcements. Instructors cannot take responsibility for filling you in on what you missed.

Academic integrity: It is the student's responsibility to know and understand Texas Tech University's policies, procedures, and penalties regarding academic integrity, as discussed in the Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Conduct. Negligence or ignorance of the policy will rarely be accepted as an excuse for violation of the policy. Cheating on examinations or plagiarism or falsification on the research project is likely to result in an F for the course.