The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #109312   Message #2284527
Posted By: Grab
10-Mar-08 - 02:44 PM
Thread Name: Complex arrangments of traditional music
Subject: RE: Complex arrangments of traditional music
Trad folk tunes are simple - many (perhaps the majority) could even be called simplistic. Certainly there's vanishing few folk tunes whose dots couldn't be played by a competent grade-2 violinist. So I can't see a folk tune as "something sweet". Every thread on Mudcat about trad folk has made the point that pure-classical players can't play folk well because there *isn't* anything inherently strong in the tunes. A folk tune is more like a slice of bread - it might be moderately tasty for bread, but it's nothing compared to what you spread on top of it.

So that leaves us in starting from a position where the *point* of a trad tune is variation from the tune as written. Many favourite folk tunes are favourites precisely *because* they're such good jumping-off points for melodic variation. This variation may be individual spontaneous variation, but anyone who improvises will tell you that the trick is to practise and have a repertoire of stuff you can use, and generally if you know a tune, you'll use the same (or at least similar) moves each time you play that tune. So we've now moved from spontaneous individual variation to pre-arranged individual variation. Then if we're performing, we might decide who takes lead at which point. Now we have pre-arranged individual variations in a pre-arranged group structure. And then we start putting harmonies in every which way, and suddenly we're in Vaughan Williams territory. So it's not a step-change, but rather a progression of complexity.

I think more important is remembering what the original tune was for. In my mind there are two major classes of tune: tunes for dancing to, and tunes for listening to. Vaughan Williams took the former and generally turned them into the latter. This is fair game, but as a listener you do then need to realise that you're not going to be able to unleash your feet (or rather, the arranger doesn't intend you to). If the result is good to listen to, then it's worked. If the result is neither flesh nor fowl, then it hasn't. (The other direction is also possible, incidentally: rock arrangements of Bach's "Toccata in D minor" are generally great for dancing to, for example.)

My problem is with *performers* who take dancey tunes and *unintentionally* turn them into listening tunes. This particularly annoys me with Bach, Handel and other older composers. Some of this stuff really rocks if you put a bit of lift into it, because it was written for dancing. But it's rare to find it done that way, because the environment for that music now is all based around "sit down and listen". In a similar vein are the tune session players who insist on burning through tunes at such speed that all the lift (and life) vanishes.