Listen to any recording of Irish music and
you'll hear the unmistakable racing rolling rhythm of the bodhrán Ireland's traditional
drum. With the world-wide success of the Riverdance show and the growing popularity of
Irish music, this simple yet remarkable instrument is getting ever greater exposure.
The bodhrán pronounced
bow-rawn, from an Irish word that means "deaf" or "hurling" -
is a one - sided drum that usually measures 18' in diameter and 4" in depth, and is
one of a family of frame-style (as opposed to barrel- or cone-shaped) drums whose branches
can be found in cultures all, over the world, from Native Americans and peoples in China,,
Russia, Lapland, the Basque country, Mongolia, and all the Islamic countries to the kid
flailing a tambourine in your local rock band. Art from long before the Roman empire
depicts musicians playing this type of drum, and its playing style has developed according
to the needs of different cultures, in Ireland, it's played with a single short stick
(known as a "beater" or "tipper") One hand presses behind the skin to
alter the timbre and pitch while the tipper hand hits the skin in a circular style that
requires great wrist flexibility and gives the playing power and subtlety.
Quite possibly, the
Irish bodhran originated as a skin tray used to carry freshly Cut turf from the bog
to be used as fuel. From here, it evolved into a farm implement used for winnowing
(seperating chaff from grain) through the simple mechanism of punching holes in the skin,
Keep the skin intact, though, and instrument whose sound a hauntingly dry yet resonant,
nimble yet deep and grounding sound - is deeply rooted in the hearts of Irish people and
connects at gut level to the life center within us all.
On St. Stephen's Day
(December 26), groups of people with blackened faces and wearing outlandish costumes enact
the "Wren Hunt" parading a captured wren from house to house while playing music
especially the bodhran - and sin' ging a ceremonial song. The bodhrán is also featured in
Mummers plays and harvest festivals and nowadays Irish football supporters take their
bodhrans to international matches-the secret weapon of the ancient Gael!
beautiful bodhrán playing include Christy Moore's "Live at the Point,"
Johnny " Ringo" McDonagh and Arcady's "Mány
Happy Returns," Tommy Haye's "An Ras,"
and The Chieftains' "Chieftains Live"
for buying a good bodhran: There are many cheap imported split calf skin bodhrans of very
poor quality floating around out there. A good quality, tough, 3 - year - old goatskin is
the most important feature. Goat skin has unique stretch properties and holds its tension
well for a lifetime if not abused. Quality goatskin has a deep, haunting sound that
is very freeing to play, creating a "Bounceback" effect. It's best if the
skin is glued as well as tacked on the frame, especially for bodhrans going to hot
Malachy Kearns (also known as "Malachy
Bodhran is the world's premier bodhran maker and has crafted
instruments for the Chieftains, Christy Moore, Moore, and the
Riverdance ensemble, among others He can be seen Hard
at work every day at Roundstone Musical Instruments in Connemara.