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hjcjones

Rules and Tradition

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And it isn't presumptuous to declare what traditions are and what are'n't 'real' (your words, although I did correct the spelling of the p word)?

 

Peter: Not a declaration, but simply a suggestion that when people declare something a "tradition" and start building little walls of rules around it, it tends to ossify.

 

And thanks for the spelling correction! To return the favor: you might want to drop that extra apostrophe in "aren't". :D

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Guest Peter Laban

 

 

And thanks for the spelling correction! To return the favor: you might want to drop that extra apostrophe in "aren't". :D

 

 

Hehe, there always something like that automatically slipping in, in order to deflate any pedantry.

 

Maybe I should have mentioned the concept of 'community of knowledge' which seems to fit the context.

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"Community of knowledge" - very good! :)

 

My own notion of "traditional music" was formed when I first learned to play my concertina many years ago, while living in an old croft house in the Scottish Gaidhealtachd. For three years, except for Scots Gaelic broadcasts from Radio nan Eilean in Stornoway, the only music in the house was live (we had no TV, no record or CD player). We had ceilidhs in the house almost every weekend after the pub closed, and most of the music was vocal/instrumental (there was no room in the lounge for dancing). Songs were more popular than instrumentals because everyone could join in. The music was mostly Highlands and Islands, Lowland, English and Irish. In summer, visitors and their instruments often brought new music to enjoy - in a remote village where entertainment variety was at a premium, all were welcome. In the long dark winter, when the community closed in on itself, you'd be more likely to hear some of the older locals doing their unaccompanied 'party pieces' in the Gaelic. Beginners like myself were always encouraged, and everyone participated (except for those who quietly passed out).

 

Concepts like "authenticity," "appropriate," "pure" and "in the tradition" were unknown in this isolated and rather traditional Gaelic-speaking crofting community. Hospitality, openness and mutual respect were the only "rules." As hjcjones said, "they just played music." :)

Edited by yankeeclipper

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That sounds a great situation at your ceili house! It was my experience going to remote areas on climbing and ski trips in England and Scotland. We'd just get involved by chance in some really warm sessions and our contributions were always welcome and well received..

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It seems to me that we could write about more than one community of knowledge.

 

For many it makes fun to join a tradition and respect certain rules. There are a lot of traditions - irish - french - breton - german - klezmer - balkan - even bolivian as we have seen lately. Others may like to improvise and play free jazz - and creativity often starts where the traditional paths are abandoned. But also jazz follows certain rules. Other players may use the concertina for classical music. There certainly are many more ways to play a concertina according to another bunch of rules.

 

Generally spoken it happened that some people write - in a way suggesting - that their own approach is "it". Maybe it is better to replace "it" by "my highly subjective personal preference".

 

There is no need to close down forums as long as people respect different views, approaches and styles for playing a concertina.

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For many it makes fun to join a tradition and respect certain rules.

 

Marien, I think you've got the crux here! "Joining" a tradition as opposed to "growing up in" a tradition. If you were born and grew up in, let's say, Outer Mongolia, your musical development would be based on what the older Outer Mongolians were playing, and you would find yourself playing an Outer Mongolian instrument the way one plays it in Outer Mongolia. But, as a young, creative Outer Mongolian, you'd want to try something new, and very probably the old folks would condone this, because, with your Outer Mongolian upbringing, you'd just be making a minor contribution to the vast body of Outer Mongolian music, which you have absorbed. This would be your tradition, and you would be spinning a continuous thread that was started by your forebears.

 

However, coming to Outer Mongolia as an adult European, African or American, and being fascinated by Outer Mongolian music, you would be well advised to find out what makes Outer Mongolian music what it is. You have missed the opportunity to soak up the essence of it as a child, so you must try to emulate the good players, without really knowing what elements of their playing are trad. O.M. and what is their personal style. You may do this very thoroughly, and there may already be foreigners there who will tell you "They do it this way," giving you a few rules on how to sound Outer Mongolian. But if you start being innovative, you'll be playing cross-over. Because you're not Outer Mongolian, and learned you basics elsewhere. That's it!

 

It all boils down to this, in music as elsewhere: if you grow up with it, you know what is "done" and what is "not done" - if you're an immigrant, you have to learn the rules, and follow them.

 

So I see a difference between "one's own tradition" and "a foreign tradition". Nothing reprehensible about liking either of them - but as a guest you behave differently from when you're at home.

 

Cheers,

John

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I think John makes an excellent point. Both here and in other discussion groups (online and in real life), I have frequently encountered people who are relatively new to ITM come in and say something to the effect of... "This is really great, but it would be better if..." or "This music is great but I don't play any of those instruments, so I will just bring in X that I already have".

 

The bazouki, for all its relative newness was brought in by people who were very familiar with the tradition. Noel Hill and most of the last generation or two of concertina players play very differently than the group that learned to play in the 1930s and 1940s, but they developed their new style inside the tradition.

 

Do traditions change? Yep, absolutely. I like the analogy to a river... but the change here is not a question of the water flowing through it (Which I believe represents the people who play the music, from beginner to the most masterful player of the music), but a question of the path that the water takes. Yes the path will change from time to time, and at some points there might even significant changes in the course of the river, but the changes are only natural when the river changes itself... and this is important.. it only remains the same river if the source stays the same.

 

--

Bill

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I'd bet those Outer Mongolians would be hospitable (as are almost all people living in remote areas). Almost certainly, they'd enjoy a visitor enriching their OMTM session by playing a bit of ragtime, klezmer, or Irish TDM. And I doubt you'd see any of them doing this <_< or this :rolleyes: when a visitor played something 'outside the tradition.'

Edited by yankeeclipper

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[Every really great traditional musician I ever met had a strong deeply felt sense of what did or didn't suit the music. This is not a rigid structure and boundaries are not well defined in all cases but there is always a sense of what's right or wrong in the treatment of music. Good musicians like good music, I said that before, they also more often than not have strong opinions too about what good music is, and they know it when they hear it.]

 

yeah, it's interesting how many times you hear certain aesthetic principles asserted over and over again across genres or traditions....i'm not saying that makes those principles the "only" way to see things, but it's just interesting that players' opinions about what makes music good recur....like, the keep-it-simple one, simple/uncluttered being elegant and sophisticated---i've heard that from jazzmen, i've heard that from irish maestros, i've heard that in asian traditions....or, the idea of, listening being as or more important than playing---i've heard jazz greats quoted on that one, as well as irish, and most memorably keith richards--it's not how will you play, it's how well you listen. or, the idea that too much academic/technical training is not always good for a musician. i've head that one phrased differently here and there, including thelonius monk's advice to a young wizard about to enter juillard, "don't let it ruin your music."

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I'd bet those Outer Mongolians would be hospitable (as are almost all people living in remote areas). Almost certainly, they'd enjoy a visitor enriching their OMTM session by playing a bit of ragtime, klezmer, or Irish TDM. And I doubt you'd see any of them doing this <_< or this :rolleyes: when a visitor played something 'outside the tradition.'

 

I think it very well depends on what context the vistor played the music in. If you are visiting the Mongolian's home, and they invite you to share your music with them, You may well be right. On the other hand, if you decide to play along with them as they play traditional Mongolian folk tunes and you pull out your 5 string banjo, clarinet and/or concertina and proceed to play along and expect them to appreciate what you are "introducing" to their music.. then the reaction you receive may not be so warm.

 

This is not a question here of people in one tradition not respecting the music within a different tradition. Very likely most players in pretty any tradition like music from other traditions. The basic problem, as I see it, is the person who comes in from outside a tradition who approaches the problem with an attitude that the tradition should be willing to accept whatever they bring to it.

 

--

Bill

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yeah, it's interesting how many times you hear certain aesthetic principles asserted over and over again across genres or traditions....i'm not saying that makes those principles the "only" way to see things, but it's just interesting that players' opinions about what makes music good recur....like, the keep-it-simple one, simple/uncluttered being elegant and sophisticated---i've heard that from jazzmen, i've heard that from irish maestros, i've heard that in asian traditions....or, the idea of, listening being as or more important than playing---i've heard jazz greats quoted on that one, as well as irish, and most memorably keith richards--it's not how will you play, it's how well you listen. or, the idea that too much academic/technical training is not always good for a musician. i've head that one phrased differently here and there, including thelonius monk's advice to a young wizard about to enter juillard, "don't let it ruin your music."

 

About academic training: It riles me up a bit when I hear people brush off academic and technical training in this way. I will agree that this type of training is not for every type of musician. However, it in itself represents a different tradition, rather than (as some claim, not necessarily ceemonster) a sort of hyper-intellectualized factory that robs musicians of their individuality. Generally, any player in a major symphony orchestra has at least a master's degree in their instrument of choice, at least in the US, and it would show utter ignorance of the classical tradition to make the claim that they would be better off without that training. At the time of Thelonius Monk, jazz wasn't particularly established in the academy, and he probably had good reason to be skeptical. That is simply not the case now, with schools like Berklee and Oberlin (and yes, even Julliard) producing some fantastic jazz musicians. One must be wary of the time that statements were made (as well as the conditions surrounding them) before trotting them out as though they have the same significance for all time.

 

Do all traditions benefit from academic training? Probably not, though I can't really make any claim one way or another. I'm not familiar with other musical traditions, but opinions seem to vary. However, just as I am largely unfamiliar with these traditions, and so don't comment on them, I caution others unfamiliar with the academic/classical tradition to not simply discount or misunderstand it.

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Any fool can make a rule, and every fool will mind it.

 

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American naturalist, poet and philosopher.

 

Who said something like 'Rules are for the guidance of wise men and the instruction of fools'?

 

With reference to people entering or even seeking to appropriate other traditions

I do find it irritating when folk are constantly shifting from genre to genre. I have been in sessions where it shifts from English to Irish to French etc etc. Interesting but hard to get a nice groove going.

 

It reminds me of when the folk song clubs kicked off in the 50s people would have no qualms about an individual singing a song with a 'Scottish' accent, then one with an 'Irish' accent etc. One guy even followed The Sash my Father Wore (Protestant) with Kevin Barry (Republican) and when challenged said,'It's only a bit of history.'

 

Eventually some clubs laid down rules to limit folk to songs from their own region, even that could lead to phoney accents!

 

I think that the magpie , eclectic approach was a symptom of people grabbing at anything new and different. In time it settles down and can generate an approach to local style.

 

Frangloceltonavian tune anyone?

Edited by michael sam wild

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[quote name='michael sam wild' date='16 December 2009 - 07:10 AM'

.........

Who said something like 'Rules are for the guidance of wise men and the instruction of fools'?

.........

Hi Michael

 

Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader WWII: "...for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men.", and attributed to Harry Day, RFC, WWI figher ace. Both childhood heroes of mine.

 

Thanks

Leo B)

Edited by Leo

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In the "What we are missing from the debate" thread, Michael asked this question, which I think is interesting enough to deserve a topic of its own.

 

I would be very interested to hear what others think about the 'rules' that keep music acceptably within a tradition, whilst at the same time allowing the freedom for individual creativity.

 

An interesting question. Firstly, I should say that by "tradition" I mean any musical tradition, and not specifically the Irish tradition.

 

I suspect the idea of "rules" is a modern one, and derives from the conscious notion of a "tradition". When "tradition" just meant whatever people happened to be playing, then there must have been freedom for individual creativity (although this would nevertheless be fighting against people's innate conservatism). Otherwise the new-fangled concertina would never have been allowed a place in Irish music, the fiddle would never have taken over from pipe-and-tabor for morris, and Peerie Willie would have been sent packing when he turned up at the Lerwick Lounge with his guitar.

 

Today we think of "the tradition" as something special which needs to be protected, and so we invent rules about what should and what shouldn't be allowed. This seems particularly strong in Irish music, with the influence of Comhaltas on the one hand and the idea of the "pure drop" on the other. This doesn't prevent a huge amount of good music being played which doesn't conform to these "rules". So is the "pure drop" preserving the "real" music, or is it inward-looking conservatism which prevents, or at least tries to ignore, developments in the music as it evolves? The answer is probably both.

 

In English music, whilst the tradition remains at its core, the music itself has been allowed more freedom to evolve - perhaps too much, since modern English music has moved some distance from the original tradition, to the extent that some find the original source music quite challenging to listen to. Interestingly, some of the musicians who were most active in discovering the pure source music have also been most active in modernising it - I'm thinking in particular of players like Rod Stradling, who has been tireless in bringing traditional musicians to wider notice and whose own playing is both influenced by it but has also gone in other directions. In terms of concertina playing, the styles of most contemporary anglo players bears little resemblance to the older players, although influences can be heard.

 

The fact is, we need both. We need to allow the music to evolve, so that it can be a vibrant part of contemporary music and not merely a historical curiosity, but at the same time we need to remember where it came from, what is special about it, and to rein in some of the wilder excesses.

 

PS this somehow got posted before I was ready, which is why the sub-title is incomplete - it should have said, "do we need rules to keep music within a tradition?"

 

Is it appropriate that anything as creative as music should ever be bound by any specific 'rules' and 'tradition' ? 'Rules' is a particularly nasty word.

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Is it appropriate that anything as creative as music should ever be bound by any specific 'rules' and 'tradition' ? 'Rules' is a particularly nasty word.

I agree that music, per se, should not be bound by rules and traditions. But certainly music-making groups (i.e., tribes, clans, societies, clubs, ensembles) have a right to set their own rules, and even define their own traditions, as narrowly as they wish. The problems seem to come when persons try to apply their rules beyond the limits of their group.

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Is it appropriate that anything as creative as music should ever be bound by any specific 'rules' and 'tradition' ? 'Rules' is a particularly nasty word.

 

Of course it is. Everything creative has certain rules, though these rules may be implicit in the process. These rules are what allows the sharing of creative ideas between individuals and collaboration. So certainly some rules are necessary. Indeed most musical instruments are built around some of these basic rules.

 

Further more we are not talking "music" as a whole, but traditional musics of various cultures. Every musical tradition and genre has its own rules, spoken and unspoken, that makes it distinct from other genres and tradition. Get rid of those rules, and you loose that distinctiveness. Sure a musician is free to break the rules of a tradition, but they should recognize that they are going beyond the tradition.

 

To give a clear example... lets say we threw out all the rules for Irish Traditional Music... then how are we to know whether U2 (certainly an Irish Group) fits in the Tradition or not?

 

Finally, I personally don't consider rules to be a nasty word when it comes to art. Rule are a framework or foundation for creativity. Maybe great artists can move beyond that framework, but lets be honest, the vast majority of us (even some who are fantastic musicians in their own right) are not great artists. Further when a few of us sit down to create music together, we need to know what the other people in the group are going to do. I know that if I play a tune this way it will fit in with whatever other people in the group do. Why? Because I am following rules and they are too.

 

--

Bill

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Is it appropriate that anything as creative as music should ever be bound by any specific 'rules' and 'tradition' ? 'Rules' is a particularly nasty word.

 

Of course it is. Everything creative has certain rules, though these rules may be implicit in the process. These rules are what allows the sharing of creative ideas between individuals and collaboration. So certainly some rules are necessary. Indeed most musical instruments are built around some of these basic rules.

 

Further more we are not talking "music" as a whole, but traditional musics of various cultures. Every musical tradition and genre has its own rules, spoken and unspoken, that makes it distinct from other genres and tradition. Get rid of those rules, and you loose that distinctiveness. Sure a musician is free to break the rules of a tradition, but they should recognize that they are going beyond the tradition.

 

To give a clear example... lets say we threw out all the rules for Irish Traditional Music... then how are we to know whether U2 (certainly an Irish Group) fits in the Tradition or not?

 

Finally, I personally don't consider rules to be a nasty word when it comes to art. Rule are a framework or foundation for creativity. Maybe great artists can move beyond that framework, but lets be honest, the vast majority of us (even some who are fantastic musicians in their own right) are not great artists. Further when a few of us sit down to create music together, we need to know what the other people in the group are going to do. I know that if I play a tune this way it will fit in with whatever other people in the group do. Why? Because I am following rules and they are too.

 

--

Bill

 

Fair enough Bill. I was referring to 'rules' in the context of 'tradition'. I suppose I need someone to define to me exactly what they mean by 'tradition'. Rod

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