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General, Specific or what?

PostPosted: Tue Oct 25, 2011 9:49 pm
by Barry Say
Can I suggest another possibility to add to the possible menu for a TOTM.

When I came back to Northumbrian music, after my exile in Norfolk, one of the characteristics that I noticed was the way that tunes were combined into sets for dancing or entertainment. One of the traditions in British folk/country/ceilidh/local dancing is to combine tunes in a creative way to give a lift to the dance as it progresses. This is a somewhat Northern tradition. I have been told that there is a Southern tradition which involves playing the same tune for the whole dance so that the musicians will eventually get so bored that they will start to invent variations. This approach does not appeal to me. -- Don't mention the Rakes of KIldare.

When I went to the Whitby Festival in the late '80s, Alistair Anderson was Field Marshal of the Northumbrian Forces provided by the organizers for the 2 or 3 immensely popular and vastly over subscribed Northumbrian events during the week. Appointed as compere/MC for the evening he would be provided with 10-20 artistes, individuals and groups. Some of these were familiar with one another and others ...

Somehow, he had to mould this disparate bunch of artistes into providing an evenings entertainment with no rehearsal time. At two or three points in the evening there would be points where all the musicians would play together in the manner of "What shall we play?" - the musicians made suggestions, there were rumblings, murmurings, and eventually (usually in less than a minute) they agreed a set. Occasionally they chose tunes which had fractionally (or larger) differences of emphasis in the rhythm, and this led to something I chose to describe as the Northumbrian wrench. The ability to play one tune and then switch to another (in a slightly different rhythm) so that the listener hardly notices the transition, but two bars later feel they are heading in a different direction.

So, my suggestion, for January - or later - is that we pick a simple tune from the core repertoire 'Because He was a Bonny Lad' or 'Herd on the Hill' and ask contributors to combine this with another tune of their choice, to complement or contrast with the specified tune.

In my opinion, the ability to combine tunes creatively is one of the core assets of a good 'traditional' musician and is something we would do well to explore.

Any thoughts?

Barry

Re: General, Specific or what?

PostPosted: Sun Nov 13, 2011 9:01 am
by Dally
That's a great idea, Barry. Unless there is a great desire to share seasonal music in December we could go ahead with your idea next month. I hope you'll join in and encourage others to do so too. Once you get used to recording it's not so bad :roll: . And putting tunes up for everyone to hear is a great reality check. It is not an ego boost. If anyone wants to accuse us of showing off, it takes a lot of courage to put it out there. When I listen to myself play it is never as good as I imagine myself playing. For me this monthly "assignment" has been an inspiration as well as a push to learn new tunes, polish old ones, keep at it. This practice has given me a whole new appreciation for those who have put out CDs. And it is great inspiration to hear Chris's and the others' tunes.
:ugeek:

Re: General, Specific or what?

PostPosted: Sun Nov 13, 2011 9:04 pm
by Richard York
"I have been told that there is a Southern tradition which involves playing the same tune for the whole dance so that the musicians will eventually get so bored that they will start to invent variations. " (Barry)
I'm not knocking the excellent suggestion of set creating, but would like to stand up for the "one tune throughout" style too - it's fun, and not at all boring!
I find that since playing Northumbrian music I'm finding more new things to do with southern tunes too.

And more relevantly here, isn't it related to the Northumbrian delight in playing variations?
Richard.

Re: General, Specific or what?

PostPosted: Sun Nov 13, 2011 9:50 pm
by Julia Say
I've been told that prior to the "Scottish country dance band" type dance sets most often found in the north , where every tune is played only twice before moving on, Northumberland dance musicians did indeed use one tune, and any variations they could muster. This is before recordings / collecting started.

However I've also been told that that fact is boloney and Northumbrian musicians have "always" played that way.

Take your pick of theories / experts.

Barry is however right in saying that practising the Northumbrian lurch/wrench is a good thing to do. It lifts a performance set, as well as a dance one.

And its worth remembering that "tradition" is very often what any given speaker using the word remembers getting excited about when they first dived into their favourite music. So it varies with age of speaker, location, activity at the time and so on.
I've heard several well respected "Northumbrians", and musicians fall into that trap - and I freely admit to having done it myself on occasion.

Julia

Re: General, Specific or what?

PostPosted: Thu Nov 17, 2011 10:31 am
by Richard York
It's probably not very helpful but I can't resist quoting from "Explore Folklore", Bob Trubshaw 2002, ( which is less cosy than the title suggests, )
where he looks at tradition and "always" with a jaundiced eye:

"There is almost a sense of 'it's been done like this once before so it's traditional'. By the time it's been done since your grandma was a baby, it certainly has 'always been done' and the reasons for doing it have been forgotten and reinvented many times."

Which is not to cast doubt on anything said here, but at least entertaining and probably true. He goes on to talk of various ancient and well-respected customs which were actually invented in the 19th or even 20th centuries.

Best wishes,
Richard.

Re: General, Specific or what?

PostPosted: Thu Nov 17, 2011 6:43 pm
by Dally
Barry Say wrote:So, my suggestion, for January - or later - is that we pick a simple tune from the core repertoire 'Because He was a Bonny Lad' or 'Herd on the Hill' and ask contributors to combine this with another tune of their choice, to complement or contrast with the specified tune.
Barry


A lot of good discussion above, but I thought I'd bring us back to the main point and point out that any piper is welcome to do this with any TOTM topic. In fact, if the topic for the month isn't a variation set I usually combine different tunes because it makes for a more enjoyable listening experience. Atleast that is the hope.

Re: General, Specific or what?

PostPosted: Tue Nov 22, 2011 11:08 am
by edric
Dally wrote:When I listen to myself play it is never as good as I imagine myself playing.


This was the biggest aspect for me - without hearing the recording, it's all too easy for me to think that I've played something OK. It really forces you to be utterly ruthless in listening to yourself playing, not something I've done much over many years of playing things sloppily on a variety of instruments. That's not to say I'm aiming for a mechanical performance - just one that's basically in time, in tune, and with minimal obvious mistakes.