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Tips For Music Students From Dewey Balfa Cajun Heritage Week


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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.

 

I doubt that. I seem to recall "classical" (or even Jazz) pianists who have set themselves the goal of lesser body movement (or at least have looked upon such an ensued developement as welcome) in order to more play the music more accurately, to restraint themselves from overexaggerated enthusiasm and thus somewhat blurred musical "vision" a.s.f.

 

Of course the aspect of rhythm and timing (both strict and freed) is of high importance. You may call that "dancing", but not wihout loosing any significance of a proposition like the one that started this thread.

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

 

 

Body movement is an important part of playing expressively. And that's dance.

 

Ransom,

I don't think I'd agree with you if I were a dancer! I used to do ballroom dancing long ago, and what I would consider dance is not some incidental body movement that I have to carry out to make me do something else well. In dance, the movement is the end product.

The body movements made by a musician, or a sailor coiling a rope, or an African village woman carrying a can of water on her head, can be very beautiful, but they are not an end in themselves, as dancing should be.

 

Cheers,

John

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LA MÊME CHOSE: “The same thing”

 

I imagine some here would think me rather silly if I said the same thing about music:

 

"I used to play the violin a long time ago, and what I would consider music is not some incidental sound produced in the course of another activity. The tapping feet of a step dancer, or the holler of a field hand chopping wood, or the shanty of a gang of sailors hauling on a rope can be very expressive sounds, but they're not music."

 

You've proposed a definition of dancing that requires "intent to dance" on the part of the dancer. Even if I concede that, you haven't particularly convinced me that the cultural processes of music and dance can be meaningfully separated.

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I hope Jim (you) won't mind me quoting a statement which I came across this morning:

Over my years of Morris playing I've been struck by how wonderful some of these tunes sound when NOT played for dancers. As Morris musicians, we focus on supporting the dance - which often means stripping down the tunes to the basics, putting a strong emphasis on phrases because of what the dancers are doing and not because it sounds good, beating out the subtlety of the tunes in pursuit of very strong, danceable rhythm. When you play some of these tunes in non-dance situations and focus on the music itself and not the dance, sometimes wonderful things emerge.

 

It's from just another thread regarding the beautiful playing under the name of "Dapper's Delight".

 

Precisely because this is dance music I regard it as all the more important to widen the perspective. Music may be induced by the concept of dancing to a large extent, but there is more in it that we might discover on another occasion...

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LA MÊME CHOSE: “The same thing”

 

I imagine some here would think me rather silly if I said the same thing about music:

 

"I used to play the violin a long time ago, and what I would consider music is not some incidental sound produced in the course of another activity. The tapping feet of a step dancer, or the holler of a field hand chopping wood, or the shanty of a gang of sailors hauling on a rope can be very expressive sounds, but they're not music."

 

You've proposed a definition of dancing that requires "intent to dance" on the part of the dancer. Even if I concede that, you haven't particularly convinced me that the cultural processes of music and dance can be meaningfully separated.

 

Ransom,

I certainly wouldn't think you rather silly! In fact I was thinking of adding a similar corollary to my posting - but I would have chosen my examples differently. The "holler of the field hand chopping wood" is OK. But I'd exchange the hauling shanty for the "In - Out!" of a rowing cox, and the "tapping feet of a step dancer" for the "slap-slap-crunch" of a squad of soldiers presenting arms. These are sounds made specifically and solely to coordinate or emphasise body movements, just as the body movements of a musician are made specifically and solely to coordinate and emphasise the sounds produced.

 

For me, shanties, like dance music, are in a different dimension. Here, there is an intention to make music that will assist movement, not just to assist movement with noises.

As to tapping feet: the sounds produced by hard shoes in American tap dancing, Irish step dancing and Flamenco are not incidental to the movements of the dancers. The dancers deliberately move their feet in such a way that a certain, intentional acousic effect is achieved, comparable to the movements of a drummer's sticks. This is a merging of music and dance.

 

The separability I am talking about is, I admit, one-sided; dance apparently cannot exist without music, but music certainly can exist without dance, as the millions of songs, sonatas, pibrochs, fantasias, symphonies, operas, oratorios, etc. etc. played by academic or folk musicians from time immemorial bear witness!

 

And yes, I still maintain that art implies intention. Beauty may, and often does, result from chance, or as a by-product of the attempt to do something practical - but this is not art, IMO, so it is neither music nor dance.

 

Cheers,

John

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The "holler of the field hand chopping wood" is OK.

 

Allow me to refer you to Clyde Maxwell's wood-chopping holler #2.

 

The separability I am talking about is, I admit, one-sided; dance apparently cannot exist without music, but music certainly can exist without dance, as the millions of songs, sonatas, pibrochs, fantasias, symphonies, operas, oratorios, etc. etc. played by academic or folk musicians from time immemorial bear witness!

 

And yes, I still maintain that art implies intention. Beauty may, and often does, result from chance, or as a by-product of the attempt to do something practical - but this is not art, IMO, so it is neither music nor dance.

Beauty requires perception, and art requires intention. Music and dance are the same thing, and the intention necessary for one is sufficient for the other. When you dance, what you hear is music. When you play music, you play dance. This is what we mean when we say "all dancing is to the music". This is very close to what we mean when we say "participation, not performance".

 

Which is not to imply that Hide and Seek wasn't a tiresome thing to hear at the dance on Thursday, because it was. ...

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