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The origins of tune sets for dancing

Will Fly 12 Jun 11 - 05:06 AM
Lester 12 Jun 11 - 05:29 AM
Mo the caller 12 Jun 11 - 05:49 AM
Will Fly 12 Jun 11 - 06:05 AM
GUEST,Paul Burke 12 Jun 11 - 06:30 AM
Jack Campin 12 Jun 11 - 07:39 AM
Will Fly 12 Jun 11 - 07:40 AM
Will Fly 12 Jun 11 - 07:41 AM
SteveMansfield 12 Jun 11 - 08:02 AM
Will Fly 12 Jun 11 - 08:08 AM
GUEST,PeterC 12 Jun 11 - 10:33 AM
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Subject: The origins of tune sets for dancing
From: Will Fly
Date: 12 Jun 11 - 05:06 AM

A group of us had a great day yesterday with a tune workshop held by John Kirkpatrick - and an excellent day it was. As well as taking us through a clutch of his own tunes, John gave us some of his thoughts on playing tunes for dancing. One point that he made raised some question marks in my mind - and I wonder if 'Catters have comments on it.

John said that the playing of dance tunes in sets was a comparatively recent phenomenon and owed its origins to the start of recorded music In other words, as available recording times lengthened on 78rpm records, musicians would play more than one traditional tune to avoid monotony and add interest to the recording. Previous to that, one tune would suffice for one dance - and John also made the point that other dance cultures in Europe find the playing of tune sets for dancing ridiculous.

Now, who am I to argue with one of the best English traditional-style musicians on the scene - and yet, and yet, something in me wonders if this view is strictly correct. There wasn't time to debate this fully in the workshop, and I'm curious to hear what other people think.

Coincidentally, I've just downloaded a great album on the Smithsonian site called "The Heart Of Cape Breton" - which is 12 tracks of fiddle and piano music recorded live at a series of ceilidhs in Cape Breton in 2001. Here's the tune listing for a 9 minute track by fiddler Kinnon Beaton:

Michael Rankin's Reel/Pretty Marion/Wesley Gillis Reel/The Marquis Of Tullybardine/The Black Cock's Will/Colonel Thornton/Over The Isles To America/Johnny Muise's Reel/Tam Rae/The Weasel

How's that for a dance tune set!


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Subject: RE: The origins of tune sets for dancing
From: Lester
Date: 12 Jun 11 - 05:29 AM

The thoughts of JK are here


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Subject: RE: The origins of tune sets for dancing
From: Mo the caller
Date: 12 Jun 11 - 05:49 AM

If a dance for a set number of couples has its 'own tune' I feel cheated if when I'm in the leading couple the band have changed to a different tune. So much so that I've just bought a CD by the American band Childgrove, so that I can call Fandango to its own tune all 3 times (all the club recordings have a change of tune, and a band who sometimes plays at our club refuses to to play the same tune all through the 3x64 bars).
The music can give clues about what to do. Dancing Blaydon Races to a second tune instinct can take over and I'll start to Promenade after the swing, never with the right tune.
But some 'sets' sound good together. And going back to the first tune gives a hint that the dance may end soon.


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Subject: RE: The origins of tune sets for dancing
From: Will Fly
Date: 12 Jun 11 - 06:05 AM

Thanks Lester - those were exactly the thoughts that John was expressing yesterday. There's a tradition in some parts of America and Canada (for example) of individual dances lasting a very long time - circumstances where varying the melody is almost a must.

From personal experience (and most of the dances our band plays for have two tunes at most), it's often the case that a change of tune halfway through lifts the dance to a new level. For example, we pair "The Kentish Pilgrim" with "Morrisons", and you can visibly see the dancers spring with more gusto when "Morrisons" kicks in.

However, it's in the origins of "medley mania" (quite from JK) that I'm interested.


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Subject: RE: The origins of tune sets for dancing
From: GUEST,Paul Burke
Date: 12 Jun 11 - 06:30 AM

It seems a touch, what shall we say, fundamentalist, doesn't it? If JK wants to return to some (hypothesised) traditional way of dancing, the first thing he needs to eliminate is the caller. people just knew the dances- and it could well be that "the" tune as noted in old tune collections acted as a reminder to the dancers of what they were supposed to be doing- in other words, the basket always happens on the third part of Green Gangrene, or whatever. Or that they started with that tune, and once everybody was into the swing of things, started on the variations (of the tune, or brought in a new one). In the absence of contemporary recordings, it's difficult to tell.

It's also notable that many tunes in old collections are not explicitly associated with any particular dance, so we have to hypothesise that everyone knew which dance they belonged to, or that they weren't played for dancing- or that they floated.

Much as we all respect JK, I have to agree with him- it's cosmic claptrap.


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Subject: RE: The origins of tune sets for dancing
From: Jack Campin
Date: 12 Jun 11 - 07:39 AM

You find pre-arranged sets of tunes in Scottish published collections from the middle of the 19th century onwards. It was less common before that but I've seen references to the same practice from the 18th century. So the origins of the practice aren't because of recording, though I think JK is right that the marketing of recordings may have encouraged it.

The longest and most complicated medley I can think is the Maltese dance "il-Maltija", which is far too long for a 78. Some Victorian quadrilles are nearly as long. You also get medleying in Viennese waltzes - "The Blue Danube" is six tunes put together.

A very long dance with no change of tune does have a trance-like effect that a medley can't achieve. The electronic dance music scene is simply reflecting a tradition older than most documented British folkdance when they do the same thing.


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Subject: RE: The origins of tune sets for dancing
From: Will Fly
Date: 12 Jun 11 - 07:40 AM

John's article (from 1981) does indeed talk about achieving a trance-like state after dancing for half an hour to one tune, as in past times. I suppose the nearest we'd get to that state in our society today is on the club scene, where - with or without the aid of some stimulant or other - people can dance continuously and work themselves up into such a frame of mind.

But perhaps not at a modern ceilidh.

John also talked yesterday (as he does in the 1981 article) about needing to play a tune hundreds of times so as to enable variations to be played. Only after a complete familiarity with a traditional tune - being steeped in it, as it were, can one develop variations. Interesting to note, in threads on very traditional sessions on this and other boards, how such playing of variations might be frowned on!

I still hold to my own personal view, which is that you should play how and what you feel in a style which is personal to you. Along the way you'll encounter people who disapprove and disagree with you, and you'll also meet congenial souls who share your perspective.


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Subject: RE: The origins of tune sets for dancing
From: Will Fly
Date: 12 Jun 11 - 07:41 AM

Jack - my post overlapped with yours - agreement on the modern dance scene.


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Subject: RE: The origins of tune sets for dancing
From: SteveMansfield
Date: 12 Jun 11 - 08:02 AM

I'd be sorry to lose the positive effect a good, well-planned and well-timed change of tune can have in a dance; it's just another tool in the dance band's toolbox, like changes of instrumentation or choice of tune.

A well-thought-out change of tune in the right place is a joy to behold and, of course more importantly, to dance to. Changing tune just to make life more interesting for the band is another matter entirely ...


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Subject: RE: The origins of tune sets for dancing
From: Will Fly
Date: 12 Jun 11 - 08:08 AM

Steve - with you all the way there. And, as you imply, the music at a dance is primarily for the dancers.


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Subject: RE: The origins of tune sets for dancing
From: GUEST,PeterC
Date: 12 Jun 11 - 10:33 AM

I tend to agree with JK about one tune per dance for a different reason. When we started our band, we did not know many tunes, so to put them in sets was to us a waste! We know more tunes now, but still mostly do one tune per dance.
However, one caller we work with tends to do each dance many many times through, until the dancers get to know it, and can dance it without calls being necessary. A change of tune becomes very useful then.
Other callers we work with do much shorter dances.


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