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Acoustic Country Dances

Les in Chorlton 26 Feb 09 - 10:47 AM
GUEST,Jack Campin 26 Feb 09 - 11:04 AM
GUEST,Jim Martin 26 Feb 09 - 11:12 AM
Harmonium Hero 26 Feb 09 - 11:40 AM
GUEST,leeneia 26 Feb 09 - 12:19 PM
Will Fly 26 Feb 09 - 01:29 PM
Les in Chorlton 26 Feb 09 - 02:40 PM
Marilyn 26 Feb 09 - 02:56 PM
greg stephens 26 Feb 09 - 03:57 PM
SteveMansfield 26 Feb 09 - 04:28 PM
SteveMansfield 26 Feb 09 - 04:30 PM
MickyMan 26 Feb 09 - 05:34 PM
Lady Nancy 27 Feb 09 - 07:39 AM
Jack Campin 27 Feb 09 - 07:55 AM
Harmonium Hero 27 Feb 09 - 08:09 AM
Bernard 27 Feb 09 - 08:52 AM
GUEST,leeneia 27 Feb 09 - 12:05 PM
Bernard 27 Feb 09 - 12:49 PM
CupOfTea 28 Feb 09 - 12:47 AM
GUEST,Jim Martin 28 Feb 09 - 04:59 AM
Howard Jones 28 Feb 09 - 06:00 AM
greg stephens 28 Feb 09 - 09:35 AM
GUEST,Edthefolkie 28 Feb 09 - 10:45 AM
Les in Chorlton 28 Feb 09 - 12:39 PM
Marilyn 01 Mar 09 - 04:31 AM
GUEST,Jim Martin 01 Mar 09 - 05:32 AM
Marilyn 01 Mar 09 - 05:51 AM
Leadfingers 01 Mar 09 - 06:45 AM
Les in Chorlton 01 Mar 09 - 08:25 AM
greg stephens 01 Mar 09 - 08:45 AM
treewind 01 Mar 09 - 08:56 AM
Leadfingers 01 Mar 09 - 09:02 AM
treewind 01 Mar 09 - 09:09 AM
GUEST,Merry Will 02 Mar 09 - 12:00 AM
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Subject: Acoustic Coutry Dances
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 26 Feb 09 - 10:47 AM

We now have a massive collection of country dance / social dance music from the last 3 or 4 hundred years.

For most of this time the music would have been played acoustically ie no amplification.

1. How big would bands need to be?
2. What instruments would they have?
3. What size rooms did they play in?
4. Is anybody playing without amplification nowadays?

Answers on a postcard please

L in C


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Coutry Dances
From: GUEST,Jack Campin
Date: 26 Feb 09 - 11:04 AM

Nathaniel Gow's band in the late 18th century for posh dances in the Edinburgh Assembly Rooms was three fiddles, cello, two oboes and harpsichord or piano. The room has been preserved almost unchanged, complete with the niche in the wall for the band.

It works like that, though virtually every band that uses it now has a full PA rig.


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Country Dances
From: GUEST,Jim Martin
Date: 26 Feb 09 - 11:12 AM

I believe that the gallery in the CSH dance hall was designed for specifically that purpose but the acoustics were not adequate so was hardly, if ever, used!


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Coutry Dances
From: Harmonium Hero
Date: 26 Feb 09 - 11:40 AM

They also sang without any amplification. Most people nowadays don't seem to think this is possible. Mind you, having grown up with increasingly noisier amlification, most of them are deaf anyway.
Myself and a couple of others once played/called for a dance at a wedding in a hall with no electricity. Single-row melodeon, small diatonic hurdy gurdy and snare drum. The hall was, I think, about 30'x20' - room for three longways sets, with a flagged floor.
Old illustrations show various sizes of ensemble, but they are never huge. One I've seen has just two fiddles and a bassoon.
John Kelly.


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Coutry Dances
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 26 Feb 09 - 12:19 PM

I have read that the 'long gallery' atop an Elizabethan home was used for dancing. Now a long gallery is apt to be used as an art gallery.


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Coutry Dances
From: Will Fly
Date: 26 Feb 09 - 01:29 PM

The Elizabethan long galleries were used as a place of general recreation - sports, dancing, etc. - at times when it was not possible to do those things outdoors. There are a couple of big houses near me in Sussex with such galleries and - as you say - they're now used as showplaces for works of art, family antiques, etc.


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Coutry Dances
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 26 Feb 09 - 02:40 PM

I've been to lots of 'Barn Dances' in smallish village and church halls some old enough to have hosted acoustic dances.

Does this ever happen now?

L in C


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Coutry Dances
From: Marilyn
Date: 26 Feb 09 - 02:56 PM

I don't know whether anyone regularly plays for dancing without amplification these days but, when I was younger, my brother-in-law's dance band was entirely acoustic. The line-up was piano, clarinet / saxophone, double bass, acoustic guitar and piano accordion.

The thing was that the audience was quiet during the dancing; not yelling at one another like they do these days. It was understood that you could only talk during the intervals between dances and during the supper break. Mouths were kept SHUT when the music was playing – it was just understood and obeyed.

I believe that amplification has led to people being noisier. That means that the sound man turns up the volume, so the talkers shout louder, so the sound man turns up the volume, so the talkers … No wonder I come home from a dance with a splitting headache!

I doubt though whether we can educate people to keep quiet when the music is playing – we can't go back, more's the pity, but I really wish we could!


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Coutry Dances
From: greg stephens
Date: 26 Feb 09 - 03:57 PM

Yes, I have played many dances acoustically, and frequently call the odd dance likwise. Generally on for social occasions, for ticketed advertised dos people seem to expect amplification these days. I love doing acoustic gigs, whether for listening or for dancing. That's how the music was made, and obviously it is entirely fit for the purpose, evolution ensured that it would be. A box and a fiddle, or a couple of fiddles, or a box and a snare drum, are fine for a few sets of dancers in a small hall.
In the old days dancing masters ran a dance calling and playing the fiddle themselves.
But nowadays, a lot of folkies(as you can see from Mudcat threads on the subject of acoustic music) are actually actively hostile to playing without amplification. I have no idea why. People have been dancing to fiddles playing Soldiers Joy unamplified for generations, no reason why we can't do the same now.
Obviously, if you are on a massive marquee at Sidmouth Folk Festival, thinbgs are different. But a little village hall really doesnt need a lot of volume. One thing you have to do, though, is to play very rhythmically, with assurance and attack. Play to the back of the hall, not an inch in front of your face. If you want people to stomp, them stomp yourself!


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Coutry Dances
From: SteveMansfield
Date: 26 Feb 09 - 04:28 PM

We, Flash In The Pan, regularly play for ceilidhs acoustically. In our other incarnation we're the band for The Powderkegs border morris, so we're very used to creating a fair bit of volume and attack, and we carry the same attitude over into the ceilidh side of things.

Many village, church and school halls are perfect for playing acoustically: it also helps that there are 8 of us when we're all out on a gig of course!

We always carry a 30W practise amp and a radio mic for our callers to give them a bit of a volume lift, and Michelle is starting to take the bass out which obviously need an amp, and then we just take it from there. Over a certain size of venue and/or audience we take a PA along of course, but I love the whole 'vibe' of an acoustic dance: it definately adds a whole different feel to the whole event.

Greg is right that some/many people seem to expect a megawatt PA in the tiniest of venues these days, but I like to think that we tend to win people round to our way of thinking ...


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Coutry Dances
From: SteveMansfield
Date: 26 Feb 09 - 04:30 PM

Oh, and one other thing - entirely selfishly, it's absolutely lovely to get home from playing a ceilidh without feeling like your eardrums have met in the middle of your head about halfway through the second half of the dance!


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Coutry Dances
From: MickyMan
Date: 26 Feb 09 - 05:34 PM

I'm a middle school orchestra director here in Connecticut/USA(ages 10-14), and twice a year my orchestra does a fiddling unit for about a month ... then puts on a country dance night. We hire a caller and the community comes and dances in the school cafeteria. When I started doing this about twenty years ago I had smaller groups of about 10-18 students ... and so I felt a need for a PA to bolster the sound. I have still been running the PA as the groups have gotten larger, even though there is now never less than thirty on the risers for any tune being played.
   This thread has really got me thinking. Things have been getting extremely boomy in the room during the last few years. This coming dance on March 10th I'm debating whether I should cut back to a little 40watt amp just to power up the caller a bit and give my lonesome guitar a little support. A more conservative option would be to set up the whole system as usual but just keep everything lower. When the kids are spread out on the shallow but wide risers I might still need the two PA speakers to keep the tempo from flying away on the fringes of the group.
   I'm really thinking, though. As it was said earlier, the booming PA really encourages a rambunctious reaction in the crowd, and God knows the kids have enough energy without that.
   I'll let everybody know what I end up doing.


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Country Dances
From: Lady Nancy
Date: 27 Feb 09 - 07:39 AM

We (Sandrigg) play accoustically if we can, though sometimes the caller uses a mic to get over the sound of the feet and progressively heavier breathing. Whatever, though, we are never so loud that people can't comfortably chat around the edge of the dance-floor (if we are lucky enough to HAVE a dance floor....!). Often, the amount of soft furnishings/carpets in the venue mean that accoustic playing is not practical so we turn up equipped for most situations.

Unless the room is VERY large (or a marquee where the sound has no natural barrier), we always sing our harmony songs without amplification - 3 confident voices carry very well in most venues.

LN


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Country Dances
From: Jack Campin
Date: 27 Feb 09 - 07:55 AM

A long time ago I read that the proportion of women going to classical music concerts wearing bare-shouldered low-cut dresses was high enough to make an audible improvement to the acoustic in a typical concert hall, compared to the same area being covered with fabric rather than bare skin.

Time for a dress code. Flash those boobs and save your hearing.

Might not help with the sounds of heavy breathing, though.


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Country Dances
From: Harmonium Hero
Date: 27 Feb 09 - 08:09 AM

Have to side with Jack here! JK


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Country Dances
From: Bernard
Date: 27 Feb 09 - 08:52 AM

I am a 'Sound Engineer' for my 'day job', and also a musican/singer.

My own preference is to perform without any electronic assistance, and I have sufficient audience skills to carry it off most of the time.

One factor that plays a part is the mental attitude of the audience. If you are playing a gig where people are paying specifically for the gig because they are interested, it is usually easier because they want to listen.

However, where the actual performance is secondary to making a collection for charity, you will often find there is a nucleus of people who have no interest in the gig and will talk quite loudly through it, oblivious of the fact that they are spoiling it for the majority. In cases like this I would use a sound system rather than risk ill-feeling... trying to shame people into behaving is rarely worth the effort!

Voice projection is an art that many people do not take the trouble to learn nowadays, but I learned the hard way in the late 1960s when sound systems were not the norm for stage productions. I was chosen to play a principal part in the college operetta (G&S Princess Ida), and the theatre was a 400 seater with plush furnishings - and there was a 16 piece orchestra, too.

Fortunately I'd been in the school choir from age 11, and had been taught the basics, but singing solo is far different from singing as a soloist.

As most people have already commented in one way or another, the problem is mostly down to people having lost the art of listening, and claim they 'cannot hear' unless you turn up the volume so their ears bleed...!!

But there is another issue...

Modern buildings are often 'dead' acoustically, so sound doesn't carry too well.

On the other hand, if you play in an older building you may well find that setting up a PA sytem is more difficult because of the natural reverb in the room...

It's a funny old world!


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Country Dances
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 27 Feb 09 - 12:05 PM

A friend and I once did a gig in a former movie theatre in a small town in Nebraska. She played harp and I played guitar or recorder. The owner said we would not need amplification, and she was right. How many people do you suppose such a place would seat? 300?

Anyhow, a big space, delicate instruments, a polite audience and no needs for amps.

Several people came up to tell us how much they liked our music. One woman had tears in her eyes. She said, " All my husband will listen to is..." and she pounded her foot on the floor to make a brutal thumping.

For a lot of unlucky people, that's all there is available to them.


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Country Dances
From: Bernard
Date: 27 Feb 09 - 12:49 PM

Eggcisely!!

;o)


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Country Dances
From: CupOfTea
Date: 28 Feb 09 - 12:47 AM

Most of the Cleveland dances; Contra, English Country and Waltz dances are done with no amplification of the band. For the first two, the caller/prompter usually has sound reinforcement of some sort.

In the usual venue for Mud in Yer Eye, the Contra dance band, there are anywhere from one to three dozen (occasionally more) players, usually piano, upright bass, hammer dulcimer(s), guitar(s) fiddle(s) banjo(s) and a smattering of other things (from accordian, autoharp, bodhran, mandolin, recorder-to the quirky- wood xylophone. bassoon or sleigh bells). When playing "out" in other venues like school gyms, the nonfriendly acoustics bring the sound system out. Other contra dance bands in the are seem to operate on the same basis: only the caller has electronic sound reinforcement unless it's an unusually large unfamiliar hall.

For English Country, Toad in the Hole, has been mainly acoustic, though in our current venue the "piano" is an electronic one, which alternates between sounding like a piano or harpsichord. Other instruments are fiddle, recorders, autoharp and an occasional button box of some sort, all acoustic. It was an adventure the ONE time we played a "Christmas Ball" for about 150 home schoolers and their familes in a huge hall and the band was amplified. The fuss and bother was as more than anticipated, but we'd calculated renumeration for our sound guy into the price we charged.

Here, it seems to depend on the size of the hall, with the preference for no amplification.


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Country Dances
From: GUEST,Jim Martin
Date: 28 Feb 09 - 04:59 AM

I've stopped going to a lot of Irish ceilis because I find the NOISE just too stressful, if I can't have a reasonable conversation while I'm dancing, then it's too NOISY and not sociable!


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Country Dances
From: Howard Jones
Date: 28 Feb 09 - 06:00 AM

So much depends on the building. Concert halls, theatres and assembly rooms were built specifically to hold unamplified performances. Nowadays the acoustic design of modern concert halls is highly specialised and scientific, but even in the old days they knew how to build a room to get a good sound.

Most modern halls are built with little thought to the acoustics, or even perhaps on the assumption that a performance will be amplified.

I regularly play for dances in a former school hall, with a very high unceiled roof. It's not especially large, but even with PA the sound drops off considerably towards the back of the hall. Without PA half the room wouldn't hear anything.

In the old days, for a dance in the proverbial barn PA wasn't an option and I guess they just had to make the best of it. Perhaps the music wasn't very audible, but I don't suppose it prevented people from having a good time. Nowadays the audience's expectations are higher and PA is almost always necessary.


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Country Dances
From: greg stephens
Date: 28 Feb 09 - 09:35 AM

That depends what you mean by "necessary". Many people on this thread are expressing the opinion that at a large number of events amplification is not only not necessary, but it is actually a nuisance.
I was immensely gratified to get an email the other day asking the band I play with to perform at the East Anglian Traditional Music Association annual shindig; and the letter pointed out that all venues at this festival( I think) are acoustic(in the old sense of the word). Great, I thought. Someone's bucking the trend.


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Country Dances
From: GUEST,Edthefolkie
Date: 28 Feb 09 - 10:45 AM

Interesting that the dance hall at Cecil Sharp House was mentioned...

I can remember going to CSH for folk gigs in the seventies - from memory most were held in a small room next to the big one. This was the era when EFDSS was still the English Folk Dance and More Dance and even more Dance Society, and you could hardly hear anything for the great galumphing Playfords next door. Something to do with the floor of the dance hall I believe.


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Country Dances
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 28 Feb 09 - 12:39 PM

Could this be the start of a movement? No, that was Brownsea Island 1907 I think

Cheers

L in C


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Country Dances
From: Marilyn
Date: 01 Mar 09 - 04:31 AM

I am one of the 'no amplification in smaller venues' people (very much so) so it seems funny to tell you what happened last night.

I was playing for a birthday party ceilidh with Mo the Caller, just the two of us with me on the melodeon and Mo calling. The party was in a private house with the dancing in the sitting room. The room was big but not huge and there were about 18/20 people. Both Mo and I thought there would probably be no need for amplification but Mo took her amps and mics anyway, just in case. It was a good job she did!

Now my melodeon is not quiet (the words melodeon and quiet don't normally go together), I can make a lot of noise but, with out the amplification, I simply wouldn't have been audible to the dancers. The whoops and shouts of the dancers and the very poor acoustics in the room meant that, without the PA, I couldn't be heard even a couple of feet away.

I'm now eating my slice of humble pie.


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Country Dances
From: GUEST,Jim Martin
Date: 01 Mar 09 - 05:32 AM

That's probably because most people are deaf these days due to the over-use of PA and think they have to shout because they are at a ceili!


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Country Dances
From: Marilyn
Date: 01 Mar 09 - 05:51 AM

I've probably given the wrong impression Jim. They weren't yelling at one another to hold a conversation, they were laughing and shouting because they were enjoying themselves, giggling when they got the steps wrong, that sort of thing.

It was a lovely atmosphere and I enjoyed playing for them, but the acoustics in the room meant that I couldn't be heard without amplification. It was a sitting room not a dance hall so I suppose people are supposed to, um, sit - not prance around doing a Strip the Willow in Barley Reel!

Great fun, enjoyed it, glad Mo had the foresight to take the PA kit.


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Country Dances
From: Leadfingers
Date: 01 Mar 09 - 06:45 AM

The problem is more often with the Venue = For FAR too long the assumption had been that ANY entertainment would be Amplified , so no one things about exactly what effect Carpets , Wallpaper , and curtaims can have on acoutics , especially deadening the upper frequencies !
This , coupled with your average punter only being used to LOUD music , means that if you work Un Amplified , the Vocalist cant even TALK the following day !


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Country Dances
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 01 Mar 09 - 08:25 AM

Maybe someone could run a workshop at a festival?

Cheers

L in C


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Country Dances
From: greg stephens
Date: 01 Mar 09 - 08:45 AM

Les: spot on. Things that were totally normal a very short while ago can so rapidly become unusual, radical, unknown...even scary. Actual education may well be needed to show people something that was plain bloody obvious a generation or two back. Like Delia Smith writing a book to tell people how to boil eggs and potatoes.
Or slow tune sessions (oops, sorry).


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Country Dances
From: treewind
Date: 01 Mar 09 - 08:56 AM

I remember Flowers And Frolics Playing a Late Night extra at Sidmouth Festival (and other gigs) unamplified in the mid-1970s, but they succumbed to electronics eventually, allegedly because the melodeon players got fed up with breaking reeds!

Marilyn is quite right that it all depends on how quiet people are prepared to be. I sometime encounter discussions about requirements for PA vs. seating capacity - but it's meaningless. The Royal Albert Hall has a capacity of over 5000 but you can hear a solo singer or violin unamplified - the reason is that whole audience shuts up and listens - and yet in a pub you might need amplification for an audience of 20, or at a festival venue where there's a bar or other source or noise nearby or even in the room.

"feeling like your eardrums have met in the middle of your head"
Well, we use a PA with our band, but the criterion for setting it up is making sure we're audible at the back of the room, not turning it up as loud as possible. It can be hard if you have a drum kit on stage - we don't, and as a result the sound levels on stage can be quite moderate and my ears never hurt.

We did take extra speakers to a gig in the main hall at Cecil Sharp house because it's a big room, but it was a "social dance" type event and we found they wanted it really quiet, even lower levels than we usually play, and the speakers were quite unnecessary.

Anahata


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Country Dances
From: Leadfingers
Date: 01 Mar 09 - 09:02 AM

Anahata has hit on a useful point there ! it is a LOT easier to 'fill' a room COMFORTABLY with more than just the two speakers either side of the stage , so that people near the stage are not deafened so that those at the rear can hear !
But that is NOT Acoustic ! Sorry for drift .


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Country Dances
From: treewind
Date: 01 Mar 09 - 09:09 AM

It's also much better to put the speakers be well over the audience's heads, towards the same end of audibility at the back without deafening at the front.

A.


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Subject: RE: Acoustic Country Dances
From: GUEST,Merry Will
Date: 02 Mar 09 - 12:00 AM

Well, the consensus seems to be that's it's nice to play acoustic when the variables--room, people, caller, etc.--allow. I'll drink to that. My band Across the Pond plays for the ceilidh (English-style) dances put on by the Bay Area (as in San Francisco)Country Dance Soc.--and plays acoustic. Of course sometimes a subtler instrument, e.g. flute, gets a better shot for some numbers with some amplification. Silly band pic and a few bars of our music on my website www.piperhq.com


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