Welsh vs Celtic

I quick email with a long response

So, do you have that person in your life that you turn to for information when you have one of those really serious questions? I do.  It is my brother (depending on the topic).  When it comes to all things Celtic and music and the such he is my go to person.  Of course, when said person has the term ethnomusicology involved in their degree, and the focus of their course of study is many on music from the British Isles… well you get the point.

During writing about Moch Pryderi yesterday, I go to thinking:  “What is the difference between Welsh-Celtic music and regular Celtic music?”  I emailed him that question, here is what I got back.


Language, mostly.

There’s not a whole lot of mainstream “Welsh Celtic” music–tends to be Welsh-language, (American) country-and-western, believe it or not, or really hyper-nationalist stuff. Wales as a region was subsumed and shat on so early on and so thoroughly that all they largely thought they had left was the language. (Long time before the Union of the crowns when England dragged in Scotland, and Ireland came later still and has now gone.) No coincidence that when most people think of music in Wales they think of male choirs. Make no mistake: that stuff is almost entirely in English and is a product of the movement to form civic groups in mines during the industrial revolution, but the Welsh were even poorer than the folks that got brass bands in Yorkshire and pipe bands in Scotland…essentially, you’re back to something that can’t be taken away–a voice.
But I digress. The music, such that it is, moves in a slightly different way because (I’ve posited elsewhere) of the way p-Celtic languages differ from q-Celtic languages. Basically, the p-Celtic ones include both the strongest and weakest survivors: Welsh (strongest), Breton, and Cornish (died out and was “reconstituted” in the 70s or so), Cumbric (dead if it ever even existed in practice), and Pictish (also dead). Q-Celtic ones are the other biggies: Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Manx, and Gallician (Celtic parts of Spain). The word stresses are different, and the pronunciation of that archaic letter (the p- or q-) has a big effect on word endings and number of pronounced syllables. So the pipe music, fiddle music, and harp music all take on the syntactical sound of the language, even if they don’t use words.
Remember: Welsh and the others are much more closely related than they look… All the ll-s and dd-s and such are just the British academy’s effort to regularize the language. None of these Celtic languages has a really extensive surviving written trove. So the use of weird grave and acute accents in Scottish Gaelic– è and é or à or ò — all transliterations forced on the speakers. the “grave” accents (point left) are incredibly rare in any other language that uses Roman letters; they’re just used here because Englishman in the 19th century would come up to a “thrakljbnsdkjhbvbd” sound and not know how to write it down. “dd…that’ll do.” Also remember that the whole center-to-northeast Scotland spoke an entirely different language/dialect of English, Doric, which is yet still more archaic.
I love it!  You ask a simple question and you get a much more involved and thorough answer.  If you guys like this kinfd of stuff let me know and I will pry more nuggets of wisdom from his head.  Drop me a line, post it on facebook or comment below if you like this type of info.