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Songs of the Irish Working Class: A Lecture by Dan Milner

May 4, 2013 @ 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm

A unique program presented by singer and cultural geographer Dan Milner will combine presentations of songs sung by the New York Irish 150 years ago with an analysis of their social contexts and artistic values of these songs. This is a rare opportunity to hear a widely recognized and talented expert sing and discuss the tunes and lyrics popular among Irish New Yorkers in the middle of the 1800s. “Songs of the Irish Working Class” will take place in the McCloskey Meeting Room, Parish House for Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, 263 Mulberry Street.  A reception will follow.
In the mid-nineteenth century, well before the age of recorded sound, the secular songs of New York’s Irish working-class circulated through the population by various means.  Little evidence remains of songs spread by word-of-mouth inside Irish enclaves. But many early popular songs were printed in inexpensive publications with short life expectancies.  Fortunately, some of these survive in city archives and elsewhere.
These survivors include text-only “broadsides,” or song sheets, once hawked by ballad singers at busy locations around town – just as they were in Ireland.  Broadsides generally carried the words of only one song. But also surviving are inexpensive booklets called “songsters,” which contained several songs often linked to the personae of popular performers.  Songsters were sold at concert saloons and musical theatres in New York’s entertainment districts.
Broadsides and songsters were the “singles” and “albums” of their day.  While they had similarities (like evolution from earlier Irish and British publications) and considerable overlap in content, they also had degrees of difference.  On balance, broadsides were frequently journalistic, while songsters were often escapist, seeking to remove hard-pressed listeners from daily drudgeries and difficult surroundings.

With a focus on historical significance and artistic content – illustrated with sound and images – this unique program will look at (and listen to) Irish working-class songs preserved in broadsides and songsters, and sung in the city a hundred and fifty years ago.

Dan Milner is a cultural geographer and an instructor in New York Studies at St. John’s University.  He is also a well-known singer of traditional Irish and other song who has recorded two compact discs for the Smithsonian Institution, guest lectured at Harvard, Berkeley and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, performed at Lincoln Center’s Roots of American Music Festival, and was featured prominently in the award-winning RTÉ Lyric FM documentary, “The Sea in Song.”   His article on the first Irishman in Manhattan appeared in volume 25 of New York Irish History.             

   A coffee/tea reception will follow.


May 4, 2013
2:00 pm - 3:30 pm
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The Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral
263 Mulberry Street
New York, NY United States
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