Book Review:

Altan – The Tunes

Non-Fiction | Maine Books

Book Review: Altan-The Tunes. This book review is for my traditional Irish and Scottish music loving friends. Altan is one of my all-time favorite traditional Irish music bands. I have been listening to them for 25 years and had the pleasure of seeing them perform live recently here in Maine at the Boothbay Opera House in Boothbay, Maine. They published this superb tune book in 2017 and it includes all of the tunes (not songs) from 12 of their albums (from Altan: The First Album through The Widening Gyre). The book is compiled and edited by the band’s accordionist, Martin Tourish. Like all of the band members, his musical heritage and expertise in traditional music lends to the deep musical insight and personal notes about the bands emergence into the traditional music scene in County Donegal, Ireland, as well as their growth and expansion outside of Ireland.

Being a hobbyist fiddle player myself, I was excited to pick up this book at the show I attended. I had previously learned (from a cd sleeve) that the band had spent time in Maine composing music years ago. I was delighted to see that one of my favorite waltzes, The Ookpik Waltz, was first heard by the band on a visit to Maine (Little Deer Isle) back in 1985. Now that I have the written music to guide me, I have been practicing playing this tune for the past few weeks. Just in case I see the band live again and Mairéad needs a back up fiddler, I will be ready to join them!

One of my favorite features of this book is an explanation of the origin of each tune. Whether it where the band first heard the tune, who they learned it from, or who originally composed or recorded it, I appreciate the historical reference to these pieces that I have treasured for many years.

When I write, or work on any solitary project at home, Altan is my background music. The tunes are sometimes energizing, sorrowful, silly, and always a reminder of the heritage of Ireland.

When I visited Ireland back in the mid-2000s, I included a venture to County Donegal for several days. I stopped into a few pub “sessions” to hear any trad music that I could. While I didn’t run into any of the Altan band members there, I can say that the feel of Altan’s music was present throughout the beautiful countryside. County Donegal reminds me a lot of Maine – remote, proud, steeped in historical reference, and, of course beautiful and atmospheric.

I wholeheartedly recommend picking up this book, along with a cd or two and spend your time learning a new tune, or just enjoying learning about Irish history through its music.
I also want to thank Altan for what they do – create, curate, share, and celebrate the roots of traditional Irish music. They are each award-winning musicians in their own right(s), and as a band, they create magic. Having access to the sheet music in this book, as well as the history for each tune has been fun and informative for me to delve into this winter. I cannot wait to see them again!

Altan The Tunes (Walsh Colour Print; 2017; 207 pages; €50