Battle of the Traditional Blackberries

Blackberry Blossoms, as many know, is a very popular traditional tune.  But from which tradition?  It can be found in the repertoires of both Irish and Bluegrass musicians and from there, the versions are drastically different but it is very much the same skeletal frame of the tune.  Both traditions find the tune played in the key of G major for the first part and in E minor (the relative minor of G major) for the second part.  One might assume that a traditional tune with two parts may not sound that different from one another.  In this case, they do.

Below, is a link for the Irish version of the tune.  This version, would be similar to how traditional Irish musicians would play the tune.

The Blackberry Blossom (reel) on The Session

A similar version to this sheet music, can be heard by the Irish musician Eileen Ivers on her album “Fresh Takers” as she plays the tune with John Whelan, as heard below.  Even though the tune is a reel in the Irish tradition, listeners will notice how much slower it is played on this recording when compared to how Bluegrass musicians play their traditional version.  This recording was taken in 2006, and can be considered “contemporary” for the purpose of this assignment.  However, the version heard in this recording, is played and kept close to the tradition.

Blackberry Blossoms, in the Bluegrass tradition, is a hoedown.  Texas Style Fiddle Contest stages can also hold fiddlers who use this tune but played in a different ornamented arrangement that seems anything but “traditional”.  For the purpose of this assignment, I found a recording from a movie soundtrack of Blackberry Blossoms.  The movie is a Belgian drama entitled “The Broken Circle” and the soundtrack is performed by “The Broken Circle Bluegrass Band”.  This, in my opinion,  opens room for discussion on how this could be considered “contemporary” in a variety of ways.  After listening to this recording, one can hear how the basic skeletal tune that we heard in the Irish version and saw in the Irish music, has been transformed into something improvised.  While the Irish tradition calls for improvisation, it has a definition far from that of the Bluegrass tradition.

While these are two “contemporary” recordings of a traditional tune, they sound nothing alike.  There is so much variety between the original and traditional tunes.  The tunes, comparatively, are similar.  Same basic structure in the melodies, key, and parts.  But when the musicians from the two different traditions bring the tunes to life, a battle of the traditional blackberries is destined to begin from both opinionated sides.

By: Tiffany Boucher

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