My taste in music is eclectic (like so much about me), but one style I have always loved is traditional Irish music. Scottish music, too — bagpipes are awesome — but I grew up listening to Irish music with my dad, and so the songs are a lot more familiar to me. And one thing about traditional music is that while you might hear familiar songs from different artists, they’ll never be exactly the same.
It’s a bit like listening to a live version of a favorite rock song, but more so. With live recordings, there are usually changes in the delivery of the song — different emphasis on words here and there, maybe a change of speed, changes in the instrumentation or backing vocals, that kind of thing. Some artists change the lyrics slightly, but generally not by much.
I often don’t like live versions of songs I love, unless the live version was the first one I heard. I want to hear the familiar cadence that I’ve memorized, that I sing along to in the car. I don’t want to have to learn a new version or stumble along thinking I know it, only to find that it’s changed. Favorite songs shouldn’t change.
But with traditional music it’s different. I love discovering new renditions of my favorite songs, especially when someone manages to create something completely new out of the familiar. Traditional Irish songs can have multiple versions that are all just as traditional, with significant differences in both lyrics and melody. But it’s not just that there are multiple “acceptable” versions — instead, the very practice of changing the song is at the heart of traditional music. It comes out of an oral tradition, after all, with lots of regional variation.
It might seem a little contradictory to call something “traditional” when it incorporates constant change…but it works. I think that’s because there’s still always something familiar about the song that maintains continuity. It’s still that song.
And here’s why I started thinking about this last night. As an autistic person, I often have problems adjusting to change. Change feels threatening when I don’t know what to expect. But I think listening to Irish music has helped me learn how to appreciate change instead of resisting it. Maybe it’s just because I do know what to expect: I know ahead of time that this new rendition I’m listening to will not be the same as others I have heard. I know to expect change.
That may sound like I’m still resisting change, because I’m only accepting it when I know it’s coming — and there may be some truth to that. But looking at it this way does serve to remind me that change occurs everywhere, so maybe expecting an element of change in life will allow me to appreciate both the new and the familiar as simply variations on a theme.