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Tips For Music Students From Dewey Balfa Cajun Heritage Week


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I have had to move this over here from its former, inappropriate place once realizing my mistake.

 

The "Hayden Videos" thread resp. David Barnert's playing of the below-mentioned Playdford tune had given me the idea of 1. learning that great little tune and 2. playing one part of it in a different way. Thereby the emphasis is not on rhythm or dancing (albeit I intend to play it kind of pulsating of course) but on harmonies.

 

Since the process of rehearsing (which is evidently not completed as yet) paralleled my contributions to this actual discussion I'd like to submit yesterday's (rough) take on "Apley House" at this time for (if you'd find that usefull) further discussion. As the idea of playing and recording it originates from that other thread and a fellow concertinist has recently referred to just this tune, I submited the link there too.

 

Edit: I'd like to add the following: If my approach might not be considered as "traditional" in a way mentioned by David and Dan, it obviously won't have to be regarded as positioned within the contemporary ("modern") culture of session playing OTOH. Kind of a third way? Or, as I'd like to claim, simply personal/individual and thus legitimate in itself...

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

Gary

 

I couldn't agree more! Knowing a piece by heart before playing it in public is not a luxury, it's the minimum requirement!

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

Gary

 

I couldn't agree more! Knowing a piece by heart before playing it in public is not a luxury, it's the minimum requirement!

 

I second that as a result!

 

In terms of reasons I'm not sure nevertheless. Folk musicians will have utilized kind of lead sheets in former times as well (look at "The English Dancing Master" from 1651). But they won't hardly ever have limited themselves to predetermined notes like in the "classical" tradition of written music. Thus dots are for learning.

 

But for playing (in public)? Music stands on a stage may convey a certain strictness which doesn't fit folk music. Furthermore it gives a somehow mirthless impression, conflicting with the liveliness which we all would expect here. I personally like and appreciate the confidence of playing by heart both as a player and a listener...

 

And of course listening to fellow musicians of former and recent times is indispensable for acquiring the tradition. This is true for baroque, classical or romantic sheet music as well (even regarding the ornamentation). But regarding folk music it is all the more important.

 

We all know tunes that are not written out the way they have to be played (such as hornpipes for instance). And there is so much more...

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I think people are getting too hung up when objecting to the idea of music being inseparable from dancing.

 

Of course there are styles of music that are not intended for dance. But those styles of music were not the focus of the workshop in the orignal post.

 

On the other hand, this is not unique to Cajun music. It is absolutely true of the vast majority of folk music throughout the world, and certainly is true of most Irish, Scottish and English traditional music. Yes, the lilting melodies of the tunes seem more dominant here than the rhythms, but there is a reason that these tunes are referred to as jigs, reels, hornpipes etc. These are the names of dances!

 

I've encountered similar advice on rhythm in a piano workshop in New England. to paraphrase: When playing dance music, it is more important to get the rhythm right than the notes, to the point of bringing hands to bear on the keys when required even if over the wrong chords. A few "blues" chords will be forgiven more easily than a downbeat that is unintentionally late.

 

This matches my own experience from both sides of the stage. I've danced many nights away to Cajun music and many more to Celtic music and Appalachian music. I've also occasionally had the chance to participate as part of the band for a few dances, never yet on concertina though.

 

But that experience of rhythm trumping melody - or harmony - goes beyond dance music. I like to sing sea shanties, and here again traditiionally the point of the music was the rhythm. Not dancing, but definitely intended to coordinate motions, and inspire effort. Here too performers sometimes ignore the origins, and the music can suffer as a result.

 

But the idea that rhythm trumps the tune goes beyond even folk music. I played French horn in a concert orchestra way back when I was in school, and in high school I was in the marching band. I've also sung in a variety of amateur choirs over the years. Jazz, modern classical, you name it. Now I'm very far from professional, just a dabbler, but there is something that is common to all the groups I've played in. Poor tone and wrong notes are never welcome, but even an incorrect note is preferable to the correct note played at the wrong time. Nothing is more glaringly obvious than a note sounding early or late, particularlywhen there should have been a rest.

 

Now, i wanted to object to some of the earlier points in the original post. I read music, and I prefer to learn that way. This is partly because it allows me to learn music that I've never heard. But I realise it is also partly because I'm not yet that skilled at learning a tune up to speed while listening. Perhaps because I've dabbled in many different types of instruments rather than become expert at one, I find it difficult to listen to a note and automatically translate it to the correct action on the instrument at hand. If I can see the written music, then I know what I need to play next and I can concentrate on making it sound good, rather than struggling to figure out if I'm in the right key. And I had one thriling evening playing for a ceili at our local folk club where the band of mostly amateurs was handed new sheet music before a few of the dances, and asked to sight read at tempo for the next dance!

 

But I will agree that before I will try to lead a tune, or a song, I need to know it well enough to perform confidently without the written music, so I can concentrate on the others around me instead of on the page, whether that is the other musicians, or the dancers, or even just listeners. And I also will agree that is is a very valuable skill to be able to listen to others, and pick up on the nuances, whether to play along, or to learn for the future, and this is a skill that has to be developed, it doesn't just happen, any more than learning to read music did.

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... the idea of music being inseparable from dancing.

 

...

 

It is absolutely true of the vast majority of folk music throughout the world...

 

It's certainly a strong musical sector throughout Europe and European-descended cultures, but...

Just a few days ago I was showing around a couple of tourists from Japan, one of whom is born and bred Japanese and the other originally Swedish. Talk got around to music, and the erstwhile Swede said he was having difficulty explaining to his friend the concept of tunes for folk dance, because traditional Japanese culture has no equivalent.

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...and, again, within the Anglo-Irish tradtition there are things of beauty like The Londonderry Air which won't have ever been meant to dance along (even if people might say you actually could)

 

...although we find the far-fetched label "reel" patched on it at "the session org" :blink:

Edited by blue eyed sailor
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But the idea that rhythm trumps the tune goes beyond even folk music. I played French horn in a concert orchestra way back when I was in school, and in high school I was in the marching band. I've also sung in a variety of amateur choirs over the years. Jazz, modern classical, you name it. Now I'm very far from professional, just a dabbler, but there is something that is common to all the groups I've played in. Poor tone and wrong notes are never welcome, but even an incorrect note is preferable to the correct note played at the wrong time. Nothing is more glaringly obvious than a note sounding early or late, particularlywhen there should have been a rest.

 

Ted,

I think what you're talking about here is "time" not "rhythm." In classical orchestras and choirs, it's important to keep time. Even, or especially, in legato passages, you can only keep together if you have a "metronome in your head"

 

Time has to do with the beats in a bar - 3/4, 4/4, 6/8, etc. - whereas rhythm has to do with the accentuation of the beats. Take a jig, which is in 6/8 time, and just shift the emphasis slightly, and it becomes a waltz! I've heard that done by two orchestra violinists who tried to play "The Irish Washerwoman" from the dots. They correctly emphasised the 1st and 4th beats, but they took it a shade too slow, and didn't differentiate enough between the strong and weak beats, and the rhythm just switched from the jig's "one-and-a-two-and-a" to the waltz's "one-two-three, one-two-three."

 

Just as an experiment, set one of those electronic or online metronomes to a specific time signature - say, 4/4 or 3/4 - and see how many different rhythms you can play to it. ;)

 

Cheers,

John

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...and, again, within the Anglo-Irish tradtition there are things of beauty like The Londonderry Air which won't have ever been meant to dance along (even if people might say you actually could)

Perhaps, but I think it has the feel of a tune that was created by a culture that is accustomed to dancing to its music.

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...and, again, within the Anglo-Irish tradtition there are things of beauty like The Londonderry Air which won't have ever been meant to dance along (even if people might say you actually could)

Perhaps, but I think it has the feel of a tune that was created by a culture that is accustomed to dancing to its music.

 

I'm willing to agree on that. In generall I regard cross interferences as higly important...

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... the idea of music being inseparable from dancing.

 

...

 

It is absolutely true of the vast majority of folk music throughout the world...

 

It's certainly a strong musical sector throughout Europe and European-descended cultures, but...

Just a few days ago I was showing around a couple of tourists from Japan, one of whom is born and bred Japanese and the other originally Swedish. Talk got around to music, and the erstwhile Swede said he was having difficulty explaining to his friend the concept of tunes for folk dance, because traditional Japanese culture has no equivalent.

 

That is odd. I've participated in a Bon Odori celebration where traditional Japanese folk dances, centuries old, were taught and performed, all done to music. I wonder what part of the idea was different in the mind of your guest?

Edited by Tradewinds Ted
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...and, again, within the Anglo-Irish tradtition there are things of beauty like The Londonderry Air which won't have ever been meant to dance along (even if people might say you actually could)

 

...although we find the far-fetched label "reel" patched on it at "the session org" :blink:

No question there are airs and other tunes not intended for dance, but I only claimed that the majority were, not all. :D

 

As for session org it calling it a reel, that seems to be just a crude shorthand for saying the piece is in 4/4 time for those who don't read notation, and are just looking at the ABC.

Edited by Tradewinds Ted
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As for session org it calling it a reel, that seems to be just a crude shorthand for saying the pice is in 4/4 time for those who don't read notation, and are just looking at the ABC.

 

 

That's sort of funny IMO because "M 4/4" says it all... :ph34r:

 

However, I really appreciate session.org for the quick access it provides to all the essential tunes...

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...and, again, within the Anglo-Irish tradtition there are things of beauty like The Londonderry Air which won't have ever been meant to dance along (even if people might say you actually could)

Perhaps, but I think it has the feel of a tune that was created by a culture that is accustomed to dancing to its music.

 

My feeling, as an Irishman, is rather that The Londonderry Air was created by a culture that is accustomed to putting words to its music. Certainly if you look at the long list of Irish pieces that I entertain people with in public, you'll find Comeallyes, ballads, love songs, comic songs and art songs, but hardly any jigs or reels.

 

And I don't think I'm an untypical Irishman! Bear in mind that we've had 4 (four) Irish Nobel Literature Laureates (Yeats, Shaw, Beckett and Heany) - but can you think of an Irish composer of the stature of Bach, Beethoven or Brahms? ...

 

OK, Carolan comes close - but the pieces he is noted for are not dance music, but rather planxtys and fantasies. And yes, John Field (an Irish concert pianist who lived in St. Petersburg in the 18th century) invented the genre of the "nocturne," which later became popular with noted Russian composers. But you'll look in vain for an Irish dance-band leader and composer of the stature of Johann Strauss sen. or jun.

 

Plenty of Irish musicians in modern pop music, of course - but then, pop and rock are predominantly a song culture, not a dance culture.

 

It is perhaps understandable that people outside Ireland perceive Irish muisic as being predominantly jigs and reels. After all, a German, Frenchman or American who learns fiddle, flute or concertina from scratch at workshops in West Clare from Irish musicians can "get inside" the sound of the music just as well as an Irishman learning the instrument from scratch from the same teachers.

BUT songs have the disadvantage of requiring authentic pronunciation, which you do not learn from scratch at a workshop. Foreign pupils already have their own mother tongues or versions of English. Also, the identification with the history and geography of the song contents is something that builds up during childhood and youth, along with the words of the songs themselves. So if a non-Irish person wants to make Irish music, he or she is well advised to stick to instrumentals, and these are chiefly dance music.

 

As to labelling The Londonderry Air as a reel - I'd be intrigued to hear someone playing it as such while keeping it recognisable!

 

Cheers,

John

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OK, Carolan comes close - but the pieces he is noted for are not dance music, but rather planxtys and fantasies.

 

Since we seem to agree on this topic at large I nevertheless tend to object to your statement regarding O'Carolan. The three tunes I use to play most frequently seem to be either waltzes (Fanny Power and Si Bheag Si Mhor) or in one case (Planxty Irwin) a jig which however works quite well as a waltz.

 

This music (including the "Concerto") almost never fails in putting me in a dancing mood... :)

Edited by blue eyed sailor
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Since we seem to agree on this topic at large I nevertheless tend to object to your statement regarding O'Carolan. The three tunes I use to play most frequently seem to be either waltzes (Fanny Power and Si Bheag Si Mhor) or in one case (Planxty Irwin) a jig which however works quite well as a waltz.

This music (including the "Concerto") almost never fails in putting me in a dancing mood... :)

Yes, his music is very danceable. But the waltz hadn't been invented yet in O'Carolan's lifetime. That we play them now for (and as) waltzes is another matter.

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Londonderry Air shows up on the session as a reel because there is no way to put airs in the collection, so folks tend to put them into whatever category the fit according to their meter. You'll find all sorts of airs out there in almost every category. Usually the comments will indicate why the person put it where they did. The point is, don't assume anyone thought it is a reel.

 

As to Carolan: Most, but not all, of his music has vocal underpinnings. He wrote songs in most cases, though not always. Tempo though, as well as original key, we just don't know about. It was a long time until Carolan's music was transcribed. He was long gone, and most of the players were quite elderly and may or may not have played as they might have once. And, the style associated with his music was largely gone by the time the transcriptions of playing were made. So, we'll never really know some things about that music. There's just no historical evidence to draw upon. The result is lovely but idiosyncratic recordings like the one by The Harp Consort. No one could argue rationally against the solutions advanced there, but neither could one argue against some of the versions by traditional players. Incidentally, Fanny Poer is notated in 6/8 in most of the early transcriptions I have seen as is Planxty John Irwin. Si Bheag Si Mhor is notated in 6/4 in the O'Sullivan book. All of these compound duple meter tunes imply a primary stress on 1 and a lesser stress on 4. One could argue that the tempo of 6/8 tunes would be faster than that implied by a 6/4 tune, but I think you'd be on thin ice. Incidentally all three of these tunes have words for them. But they are in Irish, and I've not yet found complete translations (I don't think :) ) so I can't provide them.

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Ah!

 

Here's Fanny Poer. Now to bed...

 

 

Planxty Fanny Power (Mrs. Trench)
I wish to speak of a gracious young lady,
A loveable lady of beauty and reputation,
Who lives in the town near the bay of Loch Riabhach.
I'm thankful that I had the chance to meet her.
She's lively, airy, - a cultured fine maiden,
The love of all Ireland and a nice cultured pearl.
O drink up now and don't be slack!
To Fanny, the daughter of David.
She is the swan at the edge of the bay,
Crowds of men are dying for her love.
She's nice gentle Fanny of locks and braids,
Who often gets the prize for beauty.
May I not leave this world, if I may be so bold,
Unless I can first cheerfully dance at your wedding feast.
I challenge the one who would ever ask a dowry for you,
O Pearl-Child of white hands.
Check out
Edited by cboody
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Perhaps the problem is that you haven't adopted a sufficiently expansive definition of "dancing". =)

 

 

Some pretty narrow definitions of dance going on here. Try something like "rhythmic body movement" where the particular rhythm may well be undetectable to anyone but the particular dancer.

 

Nearly every musician (who was any good) I've seen dances to their music and in any genre I can think of. It may be pretty twitchy (heavy metal guitar solo or modern jazz or something) but it's always there. Most of the time, there is movement going on in the audience as well. If a musician isn't dancing to their music, it's usually strikingly odd and often the sound gets described as "wooden" or "stiff" or something similar. Body movement is an important part of playing expressively. And that's dance.

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