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Tips For Music Students From Dewey Balfa Cajun Heritage Week


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#1 gcoover

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Posted 05 May 2013 - 05:53 PM

Although not concertina-specific, these most excellent tips were in the program of the 2013 Dewey Balfa Cajun and Creole Heritage Week:

 

 

Tips for Music Students - Why we teach the way we do

 

It’s only fitting that we think a little about the vital elements of Dewey Balfa’s teaching formula as guiding principles for the experience of our camp. While at first our camp may feel to you like other educational experiences you may have had (such as school or professional training), in fact there are subtle but very important differences.

 

It is no accident that this knowledge has successfully been passed down over many generations in extremely trying conditions… all without the luxury of written systems, or classrooms, or even audio recordings.  So we ask that you put aside your expectations and past experience, and allow us to share this knowledge in a way that is much more true to the culture and thus honors those who have passionately carried it through time to us.

 

Here are some key tenets of our methodology – why we teach the way we do – put together by our longtime friend, colleague and advisor Peter Schwarz.

 

  1. EN TOUS ENSEMBLE:  “All together”
    1. Playing together is more valuable than playing solo
    2. A good song is like a warm conversation between instruments
    3. Practice your mechanics alone (“woodshedding”), but the more important learning happens when playing AND fitting into the whole sound

 

  1. RYTHME:  “The groove”
    1. Rhythm is harder to teach than melody, but it is far more important
    2. If you don’t start with rhythm, you can end up in the trap of not sounding “wrong” but still not finding the feel of this music
    3. Think “essential ingredients” rather than “exact recipes”

 

  1. ECOUTER:  “To listen”
    1. Masters can’t pass along their wisdom if apprentices can’t listen
    2. Listen, Watch, Imitate, Emulate
    3. This is an oral tradition not a written tradition

 

  1. PAS PENSER:  “Don’t think”
    1. Intellectual learning will only get you so far
    2. Need time, repetition for things to soak in
    3. Hard to learn a song actively without knowing it subconsciously

 

  1. LA MÊME CHOSE:  “The same thing”
    1. Music and dance cannot be separated
    2. All music is for dancing, all dancing is to the music
    3. Participation, not performance

 

For more information: http://www.lafolkroots.org/

 

 



#2 Anglo-Irishman

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Posted 06 May 2013 - 03:51 AM


LA MÊME CHOSE:  “The same thing”

  1. Music and dance cannot be separated
  2. All music is for dancing, all dancing is to the music

Hmm!

 

This may be true for Cajun music, but it's certainly misleading in a wider context!

Dance may not be self-supporting when separated from music, but music separated from dance certainly is.

And certainly not all music is for dancing - if it were, we would be a lot poorer, lacking the wealth of edifying and entertaining vocal music, from the folk-song to the cantata. In the concertina (as opposed to the guitar, for instance) we have an instrument that is capable of playing cantabile, i.e.without the strait-jacket of a dance rhythm. This is a valuable asset that should not be glossed over!

 

Even if these tips are intended as a crutch to help instrumentalists play better music, song is a much stronger crutch. Dance-tune rhythms like jigs, reels and waltzes follow speech rhythms, which is why Irish dance musicians recommend thinking up words to a jig or reel tune to help you phrase the music, instead of just playing one note after the other. And we must bear in mind that, in the Celtic fringes (e.g. Hebrides, Irish west coast) lilting was the music that was used for dancing before the fiddle and flute (let alone the concertina) arrived! And lilting is just singing nonsense words that help shape the music.

 

So "music and song cannot be separated" is a much more plausible, more universally applicable - and more useful - statement.

 

End of rant.

 

Cheers,

John



#3 Wolf Molkentin

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Posted 06 May 2013 - 05:07 AM

LA MÊME CHOSE:  “The same thing”

 

        3. Participation, not performance

 

Kind of funny that I immediately felt like objecting just to the 3. item. Mainly as a singer in several choirs I have learned one particular lesson: Excitement of the performer(s) has to be reined in or bridled in order to generate excitement of the audience (which might fit for dancers as well).

 

That's not against being enthusiastic with your own playing or singing. But just like a teacher is not in any respect on a par with his disciples the performer has to fulfill a particular purpose. Having this in mind he may very well join his audience for that bigger unifying experience, but IMO there is and has to be a certain "hiatus" which we should better not lose sight of.

 

Besides, I second John's remarks as well as the emphasis on rhythm (if not necessarily over melody) in the quoted "tenets".


Edited by blue eyed sailor, 06 May 2013 - 05:25 AM.


#4 David Barnert

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Posted 06 May 2013 - 07:40 AM

I have no objections to anything in Mr. Balfa's formula. It sheds light on what I find a little frustrating about the "Tune of the Month" project: evidence of too much woodshedding and not enough dancing.



#5 Wolf Molkentin

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Posted 06 May 2013 - 07:54 AM

I have no objections to anything in Mr. Balfa's formula. It sheds light on what I find a little frustrating about the "Tune of the Month" project: evidence of too much woodshedding and not enough dancing.

 

IMO it's just the same as with excitement: Dancing is very fine (and I don't think my contributions are lacking in that entirely), but there has to be some "woodshedding" prior to being capable of dancing.

 

Moreover I believe we shouldn't discourage those who put in their efforts in order to "deliver" a proper version of that given tune, presenting it in the way they feel it might be played...



#6 JimLucas

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Posted 06 May 2013 - 03:34 PM

 


LA MÊME CHOSE:  “The same thing”

  1. Music and dance cannot be separated
  2. All music is for dancing, all dancing is to the music

Hmm!

 

This may be true for Cajun music, but it's certainly misleading in a wider context!

 

Actually, I believe that it is true for a  "wider" context, though certainly not universally true of everything commonly called "music".

 

Maybe I'm picking a nit, but then I think you are, too.  Those who collected those principles did so in the context of a particular culture and tradition.  I doubt very much that they would claim all those same principles to be fundamental to symphonies, opera, Irish slow airs, rock & roll, gamelans, etc.  They claim "a way that is much more true to the culture" (emphasis mine), meaning their own culture.  They do not say "to all culture".


Edited by JimLucas, 07 May 2013 - 01:01 AM.


#7 Wolf Molkentin

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Posted 06 May 2013 - 04:31 PM

They claim "a way that is much more true to the culture" (emphasis mine), meaning their own culture.  They do not say "to all culture".

 

IMO any objection was not against "them" but just generalising "their" advice.

 

Nevertheless I find that advice quite interesting and useful. It's only that - myself being the questioning character I happen to be - contrary concepts come to my mind almost immediately in their own right...

 

Life is a contradiction in itself, and music as well (if not all the more)  :)



#8 JimLucas

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Posted 07 May 2013 - 01:20 AM

 

IMO any objection was not against "them" but just generalising "their" advice.

 

Something I tend to object to, as well.  But I try to wait until someone else has done the generalizing before I object to it.  My objection here was that it seemed that you and A-I John did the generalizing preemptively, just so that you could object.

 

But the both of you did present some alternative concepts.  Maybe that could be a springboard to a wider discussion of how (whether?) different principles and concepts are appropriate to learning different kinds of music and to performing them in different environments?

 

E.g., concertina-specific arrangements of operatic themes and arias -- once quite popular among players of the English -- come to mind as something quite different from Cajun dance music, Irish session music, or concertina-accompanied folk song.



#9 Wolf Molkentin

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Posted 07 May 2013 - 01:49 AM

 

IMO any objection was not against "them" but just generalising "their" advice.

 
Something I tend to object to, as well.  But I try to wait until someone else has done the generalizing before I object to it.  My objection here was that it seemed that you and A-I John did the generalizing preemptively, just so that you could object.

 


Point taken. I might tend to act like this once in a while...  :) 
 

But the both of you did present some alternative concepts.  Maybe that could be a springboard to a wider discussion of how (whether?) different principles and concepts are appropriate to learning different kinds of music and to performing them in different environments?

 

I agree that such a discussion would be quite useful. However I would like to include different advices regarding the same kind of music as well.

 

What may have been a releasing push forward to boldly join that Cajun community won't fit everyone, or even the same musicians later on. Liberation might have to be followed be reflection and strictness at some point, and vice versa.

 

Anyway, thank you for your positive reply to something that might have appeared as pointless.

Regards - Wolf



#10 JimLucas

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Posted 07 May 2013 - 03:35 AM


But the both of you did present some alternative concepts.  Maybe that could be a springboard to a wider discussion of how (whether?) different principles and concepts are appropriate to learning different kinds of music and to performing them in different environments?

 

I agree that such a discussion would be quite useful. However I would like to include different advices regarding the same kind of music as well.

 

Definitely!

(Isn't that what "discussion" is all about?)

 

But be careful, friend... I usually consider that to be my advice.  ;) :D  I.e., that different things "work" for different people and in different situations.  Yep, it sounds like we share some similar attitudes.  Some day we should share some tunes and maybe pints, as well. :)

Oh, and also sea songs, of course!  1031.gif



#11 Anglo-Irishman

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Posted 07 May 2013 - 04:46 AM

 

 


LA MÊME CHOSE:  “The same thing”

  1. Music and dance cannot be separated
  2. All music is for dancing, all dancing is to the music

Hmm!

 

This may be true for Cajun music, but it's certainly misleading in a wider context!

 

Actually, I believe that it is true for a  "wider" context, though certainly not universally true of everything commonly called "music".

 

Maybe I'm picking a nit, but then I think you are, too.  Those who collected those principles did so in the context of a particular culture and tradition.  I doubt very much that they would claim all those same principles to be fundamental to symphonies, opera, Irish slow airs, rock & roll, gamelans, etc.  They claim "a way that is much more true to the culture" (emphasis mine), meaning their own culture.  They do not say "to all culture".

 

Jim,

 

"They" were quoted in the OP as declaring "Music and dance cannot be separated."  Perhaps this could, in context, be construed as meaning "Cajun music and dance ..." but normally words like "music" and "dance" (and "song", "theatre," etc.) when used without a definite article are meant globally. And in the second principle they do say, "All music is for dancing ..." Even this may be OK in the context of a cajun workshop, but presenting it here in a forum catering for a completely different instrument used for many different musical styles was the generalisation that Wolf and I object to.

 

I also find some of the principles very useful - like listening to teachers and exponents, or the idea of “essential ingredients” rather than “exact recipes” in extemporised music, or needing repetition to let things soak in - it's just that not all the principles are transferable to music in general, and it's good to separate the wheat from the chaff.

 

A propos listening, they omitted a point that I find equally important: listening to your fellow-players while performing. Perhaps this is why they introduce the distinction between participation and performance. Performance is participation. Choir, orchestra, band or group members, or soloist and accompanist, participate in making the music, and the audience participates in making the music into a performance - and this all has to do with listening.

 

I still think the original posting was worthwhile. It's made us think about what is important to us, and what isn't.

And it's warned me off cajun music. Rhythm more important than melody? No music without dancing? No thanks! <_<

 

Cheers,

John



#12 Ransom

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Posted 07 May 2013 - 09:29 AM

"They" were quoted in the OP as declaring "Music and dance cannot be separated."  Perhaps this could, in context, be construed as meaning "Cajun music and dance ..." but normally words like "music" and "dance" (and "song", "theatre," etc.) when used without a definite article are meant globally. And in the second principle they do say, "All music is for dancing ..." Even this may be OK in the context of a cajun workshop, but presenting it here in a forum catering for a completely different instrument used for many different musical styles was the generalisation that Wolf and I object to.


Perhaps the problem is that you haven't adopted a sufficiently expansive definition of "dancing". =)

#13 Dan Worrall

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Posted 07 May 2013 - 10:13 AM

And it's warned me off cajun music. Rhythm more important than melody? No music without dancing? No thanks! <_<

 

John,

 

To each his own! But I kinda like what the Cajuns are saying - but of course keep in mind that they didn't intend this to be posted on an international concertina Forum! What they have to say mirrors what I have heard in my own travels in South Africa amongst the Boers, amongst certain British folks that play English country music, and amongst certain old-time Irish players. By old-time, I mean those who play in a style that predates the current fashion for session playing (listening only), concert-style CDs, and competition-style playing. Clearly most follow this fashion in present day Ireland, and don't wish for a solid link to dancing anymore....they are going to a different place, fair enough. But these Cajuns are speaking to a traditional-minded crowd about the fact that their music - waltzes, polkas, reels, what have you - was originally written for dancing, not for concerts, and they are trying to impress a younger crowd, prone to following music through CDs and I-phones - that the music is best played for dancers, IF you wish to play it in its original habitat. For these folks, rhythm is everything, and fanciness accounts for very little. In Ireland, Chris Droney once summed it up this way:

 

If you have a set of eight people out on the floor, if they're good dancers, it's twice as easy playing music, if you watch them dancing, as it is listening to the people playing beside you.  No problem, if they're good.  If they're bad, it's the very opposite.  You'll probably mess the whole thing up.  Because if you get someone who goes out of time...ten chances to one you'll go out of time too.  But if theyre good dancers, you would not miss one note. 

 

Now some of these new players - I don't know, maybe I'm wrong, but I don't like that style of playing.  If you put eight people dancing a Caledonian set, and put one of these lads playing the tunes, they won't dance.  I've seen it happen ...  These new players, they have a different style.  A different style altogether.  Great for concertinas, great for records, great for entertainment, but if you put eight good dancers up on the floor, they won't dance the set. (1995 C&S Magazine, interview article by Joseph Green)

 

Chris sees value in both styles, clearly, but in this quote prefers a traditional approach for himself. I think the Cajun who wrote that piece felt the same way, and if you approached him/her about that text, he wouldn't have been arguing for 'all' music, regardless of how it reads. It was written for traditionalists who went to that workshop, that's all.

 

Have fun!


Edited by Dan Worrall, 07 May 2013 - 07:43 PM.


#14 Wolf Molkentin

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Posted 08 May 2013 - 12:53 AM

But be careful, friend... I usually consider that to be my advice.  ;) :D  I.e., that different things "work" for different people and in different situations.


I should have been aware of walking on thin ice... so I'll have to just continue on in order to find me a market niche to fill...  :ph34r: 
 

Yep, it sounds like we share some similar attitudes.


That's just what I was thinking now and then...  B) 
 

Some day we should share some tunes and maybe pints, as well. :)

 
I'd love to! Sadly I didn't make it to this years's Squeeze-In... Hopefully I will in the next year, or we'll manage to carry out our long-cherished plans to visit København whilst you are around as well...
 

 

Oh, and also sea songs, of course!  1031.gif

 

   Definitely!

 

 

   But for now duty calls...:

 

   The work is hard, and the wages low...



#15 Anglo-Irishman

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Posted 08 May 2013 - 04:52 AM

Chris sees value in both styles, clearly, but in this quote prefers a traditional approach for himself. I think the Cajun who wrote that piece felt the same way, and if you approached him/her about that text, he wouldn't have been arguing for 'all' music, regardless of how it reads. It was written for traditionalists who went to that workshop, that's all.

 

Have fun!

Dan,

 

Obviously, dance music is a special case. And even there, I would imagine there's a difference between playing for a social dance and playing for trained dancers.

And I may be biased, but I think there's a difference between dance musics from different cultures.

Irish and Scottish reels and jigs, hormpipes and Strathspeys are mostly eloquently melodic in nature. Even when played at dance tempo in strict time, they "speak" to you (or at least to me) as a listener, too. And with all the attention that traditional Irish and Scottish musicians pay to ornamentation, it is clear that rhythm, though essential, is not the sole objective, as it seems to be with cajun.

French folk-dance music, on the other hand (disregarding the very cultured "concertante" musette waltzes) seems melodically less rich. Perhaps you could say of it that it cannot be separated from dancing. And perhaps cajun is similar in this respect.

 

Obviously, one's cultural background influences one's views. I'm an Irishman who spent his childhood in the Scottish Highlands. So as far as tuneful, listenable dance music goes, I'm spoiled rotten!

 

Cheers,

John



#16 Łukasz Martynowicz

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Posted 08 May 2013 - 05:22 AM

I can understand why "rhytm is more important than melody" - well, maybe not important, but definately more fundamental in music. Easiest way of explainig why I think so will be by extremities: you can easily dance to solo djembe drum, but it's very hard to convience people, that completely arhytmic music is music at all. For common people ear it will be a bad played set of notes, whether forming melody or not. Or a very modern jazz :) And oldest found instruments used by cave people were rhytmic in nature. Melody is much younger invention. 

 

But I cannot agree, that "all music is for dancing" - that's probably true in folk music (but I would rather seek an answer to "strong version" of this question from an ethnologists than from musicians/dancers) but I can name a vast amount of genres (througout entire music history), which are "undancable", even with most avant garde contemporary dances. 

 

Łukasz



#17 gcoover

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Posted 08 May 2013 - 09:32 AM

Of course these tips are for a specific Cajun music weekend that specializes in Cajun dance music. 

 

However, I must say I really like the concepts of "The Groove", "Listen", and "Don't Think".  How many times have we heard some hotshot wannabe blazing through the notes with no sense of musicality or ensemble, or history or tradition.

 

I also like the idea of teaching the music as a shared learning that honors those who have kept the tradition alive.  

 

And, it's an "oral tradition not a written tradition" - so put away those darned music stands if you're out in public!!!

Gary


Edited by gcoover, 08 May 2013 - 09:33 AM.


#18 Wolf Molkentin

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Posted 08 May 2013 - 10:00 AM

 How many times have we heard some hotshot wannabe blazing through the notes with no sense of musicality or ensemble, or history or tradition.

 

I totally agree that such performances are awful.

 

But OTOH senses of musicality are a matter of individuality IMO. Therefore I would'nt like to have narrowed down acceptable music making to just playing for dancers. I would not claim to be able to lead dancers well. Perhaps I might make use of a rubato, which just works for listeners as for the player himself (even in terms of "dance"), but obviously not for dancers wanting the "strict" tempo John already mentioned.

 

Or I might like to cast some new light on well known tunes by modifying the chording, which might irritate dancers used to the "ordinary" chording. There's not just rhythm and melody, there's harmony as well which I personally would rate quite high!

 

In general my plea is just for tradition-conscious diversity!





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