To add to this, here is a quote from a book that I received today via internet used bookstore, "Mary O'Hara A Song For Ireland".
"Until the middle of the last century, Gaelic was the spoken language of the majority of Irish and there was a remarkable variety of popular poetry and music in the country. I've always thought it interesting that the old Gaelic musicians and scholars regarded all music as falling naturally into three categories: suantrai, music to make one sleep; geantrai, music to make one laugh, and gultrai, music to make one weep..."
She goes on to describe the background of the song My Lagan Love, which one Mudcatter described as always seeming to him to be a song that should be sung in the parlor with hands folded. I thought that was a particulary amusing statement, because the song does come across that way, if sung in the classical style of the Hamilton Harty arrangement recorded by Mary O'Hara and Charlotte Church. O'Hara notes that the words to My Lagan Love were written by the same author as The Gartan Mother's Lullaby, Joseph Campbell, who used the name Seósamh Mac Cathmhaoil, since it became fashionable to change Anglo names to Irish at the time.
"...The Lagan is that well known river on which Belfast is built and so people are apt to assume that 'My Lagan Love' comes from County Antrim in the north-east corner of Ireland. However, some argue that the Lagan in the song refers to a stream that empties into Lough Swilly in County Donegal, not far from Letterkenny, where Herbert Hughes collected the song in 1903. Hughes first heard the tune played on a fiddle and traced it back to a sapper of the royal Engineers working in Donegal in 1870 with the Ordnance Survey of Ireland... As a combination of exquisite lyric and noble air, the song, though not technically a 'folk song', must be admitted to that genre which some people cal the 'high songs' of Ireland, or amhrán mór, in Gaelic."
So, every community and era has its attempt at categorizing genre of songs and music. Our English being less poetic than Gaelic, we did not come up with labels like sleeping, laughing, weeping, and high songs. Other languages describe music in different ways. We borrow 'folk' from the German people. We shorten popular to pop and tend to measure it on charts of how much money it made this week.
I smile when I think of the irony of our session last night here in Montana, a gathering of people playing our interpretation of Irish and Scottish music. None of us having been to Ireland, we are in the US Rockies, trying to express ourselves with music that we all love in some way. We love it whether our ancestors came from Ireland or not, and we learn it from a distance through recordings and notation and the chance meeting with people who can trade songs. Last night we were joined by a Breton who plays the wooden flute. Being the one among us who has travelled all over the world playing traditional music with many musicians, he was the 'expert'. People were asking him, how do we play this tune, do we play it faster or slower? He could tell us what type of dance it went with, how the dance was done, where it came from. Here we are, teachers, hospital workers, travel agents, artists, retailers, not professional musicians who get together in little groups to play this music, far from the countries of origin. He, the one who was the recording artist and professional, kindly provided a link to the original communities. When a friend of mine mentioned at an academic conference to a professional colleague from Ireland that back in Montana, there are people who meet to play Irish folk music, he laughed and said that was good. "Tell them to keep it up. It helps to increase the tourism to Ireland." OK, so I am rambling now, I'd better stop.