variation sets: 2 plus 3 equals 8?

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variation sets: 2 plus 3 equals 8?

Postby Dally » Mon Sep 12, 2011 10:27 pm

What am I not understanding here? If a tune has a first part and a second part, and then three more parts are added to it in order to qualify as variation set, then how does that add up to eight parts total? I assume that a "strain" is a part.

"Open class competitors please note: for all classes where variations are required (the
specification is 'at least three') consideration needs to be given to whether the tune (theme,
or ground) has one or two parts (strains). For two part tunes, the requirement for 3
variations means that a total of at least 8 strains (including the theme) should be played.
For tunes having only one theme, or indeterminate, a minimum of six strains in total are
required."
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Re: variation sets: 2 plus 3 equals 8?

Postby Julia Say » Tue Sep 13, 2011 9:05 am

When the tune is in two parts (or strains).

One variation consists of a further two parts / strains, making 4 in total.

So 3 variations consist of 6 strains . 6+2(the tune) = 8

When the tune has only one strain or is indeterminate (for example, which is the tune in "All the night I lay wi' Jockey"?) the requirement is that a total of 6 strains including the first one iare played.

Tank trap: "Fenwick o' Bywell" is a 3 strain tune with one (3 strain) variation as commonly printed. Competitors have been warned!

And if the tune you want to play doesn't have enough, why not write some!!


Does that help?

Julia
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Re: variation sets: 2 plus 3 equals 8?

Postby Dally » Tue Sep 13, 2011 6:49 pm

Thanks Julia. That does help a lot! It would also be helpful if the tunes considered to have one part themes and those with two part themes were listed somewhere. One person's two-part-themed tune might be another person's one-part-themed tune. I think I know the difference, but in my experience pipers are likely to have varying opinions on this sort of thing.
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Re: variation sets: 2 plus 3 equals 8?

Postby Julia Say » Tue Sep 13, 2011 8:29 pm

Common 2-parters are the tunes like Maggie Lauder, Corn Rigs, East Neuk of Fife, Lea Rigs, Canny Wille Forster / Bobby Shaftoe. Adam a Bell. And so on

The bit about the indeterminate tunes was put in to cover the "others" - All the night, etc. Which is the tune/ground in "I saw my love"?
Meggy's Foot - is that a variation set? Arguably only by custom (ie judges have considered it such). Shield's Keel Row - Matt S. has argued cogently that it is not technically a variation set, but that would be very hard to exclude!

On the other hand Madam Bonaparte is a set dance: some judges routinely seem to allow it as either a hornpipe, or a variation set (!). IMO its neither and the sound of grinding teeth is occasionally audible when I'm at venues where this happens. YMMV.

I wrote that text in the rules: in consultation with and based on my study of the great and the good, both past and present. And watching what our valued and helpful judges have done over near 20 years.

Its a fine balance between being too prescriptive, and competitors getting away with culpable ignorance of the tradition (at Open level: novices are allowed more leeway!)

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Re: variation sets: 2 plus 3 equals 8?

Postby Dally » Wed Sep 14, 2011 6:20 am

Thanks Julia.
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Re: variation sets: 2 plus 3 equals 8?

Postby Matt Seattle » Fri Sep 30, 2011 10:28 am

There’s a fine line to tread. I would beware of being too dogmatic because there may be legitimate disagreements over what constitutes a variation set. My own sense is that it has to do with an undefinable notion of ‘musical substance’ rather than number of strains or number of variations.

For example, while Fenwick O’ Bywell may not be a variation set in the literal sense as defined by the ‘rules’, I find it no less ‘substantial’ than All The Night I Lay With Jockey; I play a 9-strain set of FOB, and even this would be short by 3 strains!

While the Keel Row as attributed to Shield is not a variation set at all, but something else, it is one of the ‘big’ tunes in the NSP canon. Again, a literal interpretation is questionable and of dubious value.

I play a 4-strain set of Sour Plums Of Galashiels which the ‘rules’ would define as short by 4 strains, but to me the tune has the character of a ‘substantial’ piece, and I suggest that it is a weightier musical statement than the other tunes I have mentioned.

There is a confusion here between quantity - which can be measured - and quality - which may be experienced, and I have used the word ‘substantial’ in an attempt to indicate this. If I were asked, I would recommend that the ‘rules’, which are to be lauded as an honest attempt to encourage competitors to play something musically significant, be tempered by open discussion / negotiation between competitor and judge.

David Johnson is the best commentator I know of on the subject. He writes:
“At what point did a few variations tacked onto a tune turn into a long variation set? A possible rule-of-thumb is that long variation sets should have at least 6 strains. However, an examination of the actual pieces soon makes mincemeat of any such tidy definition. Allan Water, for instance, has only 4 strains, but it is such a huge piece — 64 slow bars, if played with all Young’s repeats — that it can hardly be denied long variation status.”
(Scottish Fiddle Music in the 18th Century, p. 65)
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Re: variation sets: 2 plus 3 equals 8?

Postby Dally » Sun Oct 09, 2011 8:45 pm

Julia Say wrote:Its a fine balance between being too prescriptive, and competitors getting away with culpable ignorance of the tradition (at Open level: novices are allowed more leeway!)


Matt has, once again, described my own thoughts and developed them better than I can myself. When I read the above initially the question came to mind, but what about traditional tunes that don't fit the rules. It would seem the charge of "culpable ignorance of the tradition" could work both ways. When I made my mistake and was disqualified, and rightly so, it wasn't clear what my culpable ignorance was. I played a traditional variation set, or so I thought--it's called a variation set in the books. If I added more strains to bring it up to snuff with the rules I would have felt in danger of playing fast and loose with the tradition, another mea culpa.

If an important aspect of the competition is to demonstrate playing a long peice, then make the number of parts (not strains, which is a confusing term) clear. If it is more important that the piper play within bounds of the tradition, then recommend certain settings, such as the Piobaireachd Society does for the big competitions. Then it is clear what is expected and what is not, it's clear what is the tradition, it's clear when a piper decides to go off on her or his own as distinquished from being ignorant. Perhaps the NPS rules are a reaction to the prescriptive practices in Highland piping. It is tough to be both open and definite, but I would error on the side of clarity.
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Re: variation sets: 2 plus 3 equals 8?

Postby Matt Seattle » Mon Oct 10, 2011 11:21 am

We are in agreement, John, but I would clarify this:
Dally wrote:make the number of parts (not strains, which is a confusing term) clear.


"Parts" is the word commonly used by pipers for "strains". I avoid - mostly - using "parts" because it has a separate musical meaning, i.e. "voices" in a multi-voice composition or arrangement. "Strains" is the word found in relevant manuscripts, as in "play ye 2nd strayne but once" and it does not have an ambiguous meaning.

"Variations" does not have an ambiguous meaning in theory, but it does in practice, as different people will have different perceptions of what is 'the tune' - is a specific 'tune' 1, 2 or 3 strains? This confusion is evident in the Purser commentary to Oswald, and in the NPS rules as they stand. We all know what we mean, we probably all agree on it most of the time, but we can't come up with a satisfying definition simply because we are trying to define what is indefinable - the perception of musical significance, weight, or substance, all of which words are suggestive but not precise.

Taking David Johnson's suggestion further, we might define what we mean as either
1/ A slow tune with 4 or more strains
or
2/ A fast tune with 8 or more strains
but we would find exceptions, which brings me back to my earlier suggestion, that any rules be tempered by open discussion with the judge.
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