Drone On!: The High History of Celtic Music


196 pages
Contains Index
ISBN 0-920151-39-6
DDC 781.62'916





Reviewed by Desmond Maley

Desmond Maley is the music librarian at the J.W. Tate Library,
Huntington College, Laurentian University, and editor of the CAML


The Toronto-based Czulinski, who bills herself as “Winnie, Lady of the
Dulcimer,” traverses 3,000 years of Celtic music in this humorous
whirlwind tour.

“Whirlwind” is the operative word, as rarely more than a paragraph
or two is devoted to any particular anecdote or topic. Despite
Czulinski’s narrative skill, the results are at times overwhelming:
the reader struggles to keep up with a multitude of musicians, places,
and events, as well as all the Gaelic terms. However, Czulinski does
provide translations and, while there is no bibliography, sources are
mentioned from time to time.

The chronicle runs the gamut from the origins of the Celtic peoples
around the Danube River in pre-Homeric Europe to such present-day
incarnations as the step-dancing of the Chicago-born Michael Flatley.
(Czulinski says her discovery of the genre began with seeing the
Riverdance and Lord of the Dance shows in the 1990s, as well as the
Canadian production Needfire.) Along the way, there are pit stops in
homelands like Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany, the Isle of
Man, and Galicia. Separate chapters are also devoted to the spread of
the music to the United States and Canada, including Cape Breton Island.
Throughout, Czulinski is careful to show how the music is steeped in
Celtic myth and legend, its importance to national identity, and its
multifarious influences on song, dance, instruments, other musical
styles, and the arts.

Czulinski’s impressive grasp of the subject matter made me wish that
she would write an encyclopedic book. It would also be an opportunity to
expand on the fascinating material in this chronicle, such as the debate
over the lyrics for “Danny Boy,” Elizabeth I’s predilection for
hanging “subversive” Irish bards, or the tradition of women singers
and storytellers.

Despite the absence of illustrations and some errors in editing, Drone
On is one of the better entries in Sound And Vision’s series of
tongue-in-cheek romps through music history.


Czulinski, Winnie., “Drone On!: The High History of Celtic Music,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 30, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/15198.