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Ptarmigan

Session Snobbery!

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Guest Peter Laban
All a matter of taste and although great for discussion,there will never be agreement.

 

I don't know, if you hold the conviction that the proper speed is that the dancers will dance to, you will have to accept that the average speed of social dancing in Ireland is done at a fair speed, especially for the reels. Almost any session in Ireland I have been to generally moved at a pace slower than that required by set dancers.

 

A nice example here of

at the Kilrush Fleadh of 1963 or such (the 1967 in the title is not correct, the clip was taken from an earlier film). The band included Junior Crehan, Paddy Galvin, Michael Downes, JC Talty, Jimmy Ward, Michael Falsey and others. Hardly speedmerchants any of them. Edited by Peter Laban

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Interesting Peter,we had exactly the same thing happen to us at Cecil Sharp House.we played a Hop Step (step hop for those who prefer that dance) at strict tempo,you would think if anywhere, that would be the place to do it.The dancers kept trying to wind up the tune and complained it was too slow.

Very interesting choice of example. Being Cecil Sharp House what you would have been contending with would be what John Kirkpatrick named the Mid-Atlantic Stomp just 40 years ago, and what you describe show that his criticism of the EFDSS travesty of English country dance sadly remains as true now as it was then.

 

Chris

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Funny, I was going to use that clip (posted by Peter Laban) to show that the dancers don't dance at the speed people might imagine from the pace of the music. The tunes there are pretty much at the speed we'd play in our local session when a certain famous old flute player gets his Sligo head on. The rest of the time we play at a slightly slower pace than that. I enjoy both speeds. One way I get a blast out of the speed and the other out of the beauty of the tunes.

 

I dislike playing for dancers for any length of time (as many musicians do) because, as a couple of other people mentioned, the modern trend seems to be for incredible speed. You spend your whole time tearing through tunes and keeping a strong beat without being able to enjoy what you are doing. There is little time for ornamentation or beauty in the music, it's just hard work. Session music surely is for listening to as well as playing. Playing for a dance can be something else entirely. Most of the time the musicians turn into human metronomes set for high speed and the dancers don't care or know what tune is being played, as long as the rhythm is steady and fast. It's fun for a while but soul-destroying after a time.

Edited by Mayofiddler

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Guest Peter Laban

I was going to say most modern dancers would prefer things a bit faster but somehow I felt some of the complainers here would think the speed of the clip already fast enough. This is a pretty comfortable speed.

 

I enjoy playing for dancers, but then, we had good dancers and hardly ever more than two or three sets per night.

Edited by Peter Laban

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Yep, I enjoy it for a set or two as well. But after that the fun starts to go out of it for me. The guys who play for that dance fest that goes on (or used to, haven't been for a few years) at Spanish Point during Willy Week should get medals or sent to an asylum :-)

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Finally one of the other musicians kindly asked if they'd like to play a tune of their own. One of them started The Sally Gardens- painfully slowly. Within seconds the other musicians ramped up the tempo. They didn't do this to piss off the people who started the tune. They just were doing what they did - which is to play fast - and it wasn't insanely fast, either. It was their session, after all. Were they wrong, or rude?

Grossly. I'm sorry, but to me that is near the peak of session rudeness. To my mind the person who starts a tune (and in this case they were invited to start the tune) sets the speed and that's an end of it. Whether you reckon it's too slow or too fast it is ill-manered to take it over in that way. Selah.

 

Chris

 

I must admit I was middle ground on that one... but you're right, good "gentlemen" would have kept the slow speed, these guys were definitely rude. I remember many years ago in Miltown Malbay when I was still a beginner on whistle I sat with a few advanced players and they asked me to play a tune and they did follow me, even though my version of a tune was a bit weird. Anyhow, it's still always a risk you're taking, when sitting with unknown people of much higher skills than you.

 

I think we need to keep in mind that none of us know the full story here. Just because the tune got fast, it doesn't mean it was pushed there by the heavy hitters... Sometimes its the intermediate players who push it there without ever realizing it. I know there is a box player at the session I know, and if she knows a tune, she will, without intending too, push it faster each time through and then complain at the end because the tempo speed up so much. The only time she doesn't do it is when there is a dominant instrument in the session (usually our Banjo player, but sometimes another box player).

 

==

Bill

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It's a well-known disease with intermediate box players. Mind you some of them are very clever, they can play in several time signatures all at once :-)

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Chris will remember only too well the incredible Old Spot Morris Men who danced to tunes half the vspeed of others,but thet used to leap up to incredible heights,one of the most energetic Morris teams I have had the pleasure to watch

I watch the dancers when playing for dancing,if you play a tune fast they compensate by using smaller steps .This is similar to watching the American's marching to Jazz music they have to March with tiny paces to fit in with the timing.

Al

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To answer the main question posed in this thread: I have never been to an Irish session, only English ones, and I have experienced it.

 

Ian

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Without changing the pitch of the music?

 

--

Bill

 

I believe they ended up as Eb, which may help to encourage those Eb crazes we get over here, every now & then.

 

Cheers

Dick

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Without changing the pitch of the music?

 

--

Bill

 

I believe they ended up as Eb, which may help to encourage those Eb crazes we get over here, every now & then.

 

Cheers

Dick

 

That is only a half step up... that shouldn't increase the speed all that much. Certainly not enough to take something from a sedate pace of 80 BPM and move it up to 140 BPM or more.

 

--

Bill

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(you can find old recordings where it is played fast) and it always will be played fast.

 

Bill

 

Bill, I know what your saying, but you have to be careful because I also understand that some of those old 78s were actually speeded up deliberately, after they were recorded, to make them more exciting to listen to, for purely commercial reasons!

 

Cheers

Dick

 

Without changing the pitch of the music?

 

 

 

 

I find that on some old records D becomes Eb. I thought that's why there's so much in Eb in modern Irish music!

 

 

 

Maybe that's where playing along in Eb came from!

 

--

Bill

Edited by michael sam wild

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I don't know what it is about the concern for 'undanceable speeds' that is usually brought up by those outside the Irish tradition (a similar argument is raging on Mudcat at the moment with pretty much the same arguments).

 

I can tell you this, from a position of having played for sets for hundreds of nights, the highest speeds I have ever played were invariably demanded by the dancers. When playing at our regular session speed dancers would invariably complain the music was too slow to the extend it was undanceable for them. I remember Jackie Daly coming back from a weekend in Knocknagree, complaining dancers wanted such speeds there he had to play reels instead of polkas for some figures of the sets they danced there.

Interesting Peter,we had exactly the same thing happen to us at Cecil Sharp House.we played a Hop Step (step hop for those who prefer that dance) at strict tempo,you would think if anywhere, that would be the place to do it.The dancers kept trying to wind up the tune and complained it was too slow.

I understand your point of view Chris,many hold it. I prefer musicians to play a tune how they wish to play it.It can also be the likes and dislikes of a conductor some will love a certain interpretation ,some will not.All a matter of taste and although great for discussion,there will never be agreement.

Al

 

 

interesting

 

On another thread I talked about dancing at traditional village hops in the 1950s and 60s when we went away climbing and playing. We just accepted what the musicians played , as we did at rock and roll and jive nights. We made up the dance to fit the music they played, whatever they were on.

 

I used to drive my Morris mates to exhaustion with the speed of my melodeon playing when on long Real Ale tour! but they say now ' We went for it didn't we. ' John Jones of the Oyster Band appraently once said it was 'His kind of Morris'

 

 

On the other hand dancers can rule. I remember once at an InterUniversity Ceilidh in Sheffield in the 90s when 'Pyewacket' the band, stopped suddenly, expecting 'Strip The Willow' to stop dead. the students shouted bxxxxcks and just started clapping and went on and on. The band eventually crept back and started to play to regain the initiative but they had lost it! The dancers did their own thing from then on.

 

Vive la Dance!

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