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The origin and nature of tunes in sets??

The Shambles 12 Apr 00 - 04:53 AM
IanC 12 Apr 00 - 05:05 AM
Bob Bolton 12 Apr 00 - 05:49 AM
Bob Bolton 12 Apr 00 - 05:52 AM
M. Ted (inactive) 12 Apr 00 - 02:34 PM
Bert 12 Apr 00 - 02:46 PM
GUEST,Rich(stupidbodhranplayerwhodoesn'tknowanybet 12 Apr 00 - 05:32 PM
Bob Bolton 12 Apr 00 - 07:46 PM
The Shambles 13 Apr 00 - 05:58 PM
GUEST,BeauDangles 13 Apr 00 - 06:39 PM
Jim Krause 14 Apr 00 - 05:16 PM
Bob Bolton 15 Apr 00 - 03:20 AM
DADGBE 15 Apr 00 - 11:25 PM
AllisonA(Animaterra) 11 Nov 10 - 08:26 AM
Tootler 11 Nov 10 - 10:50 AM
Fred McCormick 11 Nov 10 - 10:51 AM
Jack Campin 11 Nov 10 - 11:42 AM
johnadams 11 Nov 10 - 11:52 AM
Steve Gardham 11 Nov 10 - 07:11 PM
Jack Campin 11 Nov 10 - 08:41 PM
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Subject: The origin and nature of tunes in sets??
From: The Shambles
Date: 12 Apr 00 - 04:53 AM

When playing tunes, jigs/reels etc, there is a generally accepted convention that a number of these tunes are played together, in a set. I assume that this practice has it's origins in the fact that these types of tune were originally played for dancing?

Would it be right to think that as the dancers would sometimes like a particular dance to go on longer than an individual tune would (usually an A and B part, played three times), that new tunes were introduced, in sets?

Was this introduction of sets to enable the dance to continue and to prevent the musicians from becoming bored, or was this to mark changes in the dance?

What were the conventions for this? Where all tunes in a set, the same dance or did they have to be all reels or jigs or all polkas?

Now that these tunes are not played exclusively for dancing, the practice continues but do the same conventions now apply? And if they don't, should they ?


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Subject: RE: The origin and nature of tunes in sets??
From: IanC
Date: 12 Apr 00 - 05:05 AM

Hi

I play music for ritual dancing (sword) on a regular basis. In general, one tune is required - whether it be AB or ABC in structure. However, this gets boring - partly for the listeners but particularly for the musicians who may have to play the same tune through 20 or 30 times.

To alleviate the boredom, the musician will choose another tune of the same type (jig, reel, polka etc.) which appears to fit and can be easily changed to from the first tune. After a while, the set becomes fairly fixed - especially if there is more than one musician because then the sequence can be memorised and only the word "change" used.

There are other reasons for putting tunes into sets, though. Hornpipes are often grouped into sets called "breakdowns" to allow a musical progression. Some tunes (e.g. the "bacca pipes jigs" were composed as a set in the first place.

Cheers!

IanC


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Subject: RE: The origin and nature of tunes in sets??
From: Bob Bolton
Date: 12 Apr 00 - 05:49 AM

G'day Shambles:

Here in Australia (I am in Sydney, which considers itself ALL that matters in Australia ... while the rest doesn't) the Bush Dance / Colonial Dancing /?? scenes are fairly active. I am currently organising music and musicians for our Heritage 2000 ball (with ~30 folk musicians from around sydney and surrounding districts).

The general feeling amongst the dancers is that the average dance should be around 256 bars (about 4 - 5 minutes). With the average schottische, reel, waltz or jig running to 32 bars, this means most organised sets have 4 tunes, usually in adjoining keys in the cycle of fifths and always of related form - unless the dance has different tempos for different parts, as in the Virginia Reel, which usually goes to successive reel, jig and march tunes.

When organising a set, I will consider the pool of appropriate tunes, arrange by keys to suit expected instruments and players (sometimes changing keys to suit specialised groups like my own Backblocks who work around G/C button accordions and Anglo concertinas).

If there is a "signature tune" (formal or customary) I would put it first - and maybe repeat it at the end, making a 3-tune set. If the signature tune represents the best tune for the dance, I look for similar character with interesting variation in the other tunes.

A good traditional player can bend ANY tune to ANY dance, given a chance (and many would, if only as a "party trick", but none of us grow up with that level of involvement and some arrangement become necessary.

The "session" scene can revolve around the same pool of music, but is free from the threat of being mobbed by irate dancers who object to the choice, speed, or appropriateness of the tunes. Down the Irish end of the session bar (I'm psyching myself up for Easter's National Folk Festival in Canberra) it can get pretty feral!

Regard(les)s,

Bob Bolton


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Subject: RE: The origin and nature of tunes in sets??
From: Bob Bolton
Date: 12 Apr 00 - 05:52 AM

G'day again Shambles,

Oh yes, I forgot to mention that the Virginia Reel, as danced here is one that goes much longer than average: 7 times through the set of reel, jig and march ... about 9½ minutes ... usually the last dance - and you hope they will all be exhausted and go home!

Regards,

Bob Boltom


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Subject: RE: The origin and nature of tunes in sets??
From: M. Ted (inactive)
Date: 12 Apr 00 - 02:34 PM

The custom of playing a set, or suite for dancing was common enough in Baroque times that it was a standard form for composition--in those times, it generally included several different dances--or at least dance figures--

Since set dances all sort evolved from middle ages court dance, it is likely that the custom came from that time, as well--

My experience has been (though I have played more Eastern and Central Erpean folk music than anything else) is that often the grouping of tunes and dances differs from one community to another--even when the dances and the tunes themselves are the same--


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Subject: RE: The origin and nature of tunes in sets??
From: Bert
Date: 12 Apr 00 - 02:46 PM

Bob Bolten pretty much said it all.
But this thread brings me to one of my pet peeves. There is NO WORSE TORTURE for a dancer than to listen to someone playing a dance and not being allowed to get up and dance.

So play your dance tunes for DANCES and when your in a pub or at a concert LEARN TO BLOODY SING!!!

Bert. (only slightly tongue in cheek)


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Subject: RE: The origin and nature of tunes in sets??
From: GUEST,Rich(stupidbodhranplayerwhodoesn'tknowanybet
Date: 12 Apr 00 - 05:32 PM

I think a lot may have to do with the early recordings in the '20s when a fiddler was expected to fill an entire side of a 78 rpm record without a stop. Also the duration of the different figures in set dancing, call for different numbers of bars.

My $.02

Rich


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Subject: RE: The origin and nature of tunes in sets??
From: Bob Bolton
Date: 12 Apr 00 - 07:46 PM

G'day Shambles and all'

Bert: Actually I reckon it can be a hard slog playing a real dance tune with no dancers (in fact I have several similes in mind ... but none exactly polite conversation - solitary offences ... ). I keep telling musos that if they are not watching dancing (not dots and scratches), they aren't playing dance music!

That Virginia Reel I mentioned above is a good example. I have just assembled a double CD of the Heritage Ensemble/i> that accompanies our Bush Dance book and I had to scrap the first Virginia Reel they did because 9½ minutes of dance music without the reference to real dancing got lost. Nowadays when the Ensemble practices for the Heritage Balls, we have dancers there - for advice and inspiration.

Of course the situation in "Irish" sessions is something different again. There are "session" versions of tunes that no one in their right mind would dance to, even though they are allegedly the same tune.

Regards,

Bob Bolton


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Subject: RE: The origin and nature of tunes in sets??
From: The Shambles
Date: 13 Apr 00 - 05:58 PM

Thank you all for that.

The obvious question that I am now asking myself is.... Why were the dances not shorter or the tunes longer?


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Subject: RE: The origin and nature of tunes in sets??
From: GUEST,BeauDangles
Date: 13 Apr 00 - 06:39 PM

Hi Y'all,

Regarding medleys and such. I am not sure how much this has to do with dance tradition. Just dealing with Irish/Scottish/English/Colonial type dances, it seems to me that each dance had a corresponding tune (i.e. The Chorus Jig was danced to the tune of the same name--not a jig by the way; Rufty Tufty could only be danced to Rufty Tufty; etc.) A lot of the Irish set dances like The Black Bird have not only have specific tunes that go with them, but the tunes themselves are bent, i.e. they don't fit into the standard 32 bar, 64 beat, AABB framework. These older dances have certain figures in them which require specific musical phrasing to fit them.

That said, I don't think that the making of medleys is a modern convention either. Just looking at the names of certain tunes backs this up. There are a lot of tunes that have the word "rakes" in them, The Rakes of Mallow for example. I used to think this referred to rakish young men. In fact, a rake is a medley of tunes. Similarly, the word "humours" as in the Humours of Ballyloughlin. To humour a tune is to play it thru several times with different variations. So I think there is evidence to show that the players of traditional music have been using medleys for quite a while. But I think it is more a way of showing individual virtuosity as a traditional player, than to accomodate longer dances.

BeauD


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Subject: RE: The origin and nature of tunes in sets??
From: Jim Krause
Date: 14 Apr 00 - 05:16 PM

A couple of buddies and I play for dances within a 100 mile radius of our home town. In years past, we used to string together tunes that were similar in sets. But sometimes the caller didn't particularly like that idea. I guess the shifts between tunes threw him off concentration, and thus momentarily lose his place. So we stopped that custom around my area. But once in a while, I'll ask a caller if it is permissable to combine a jig with a reel for the same dance. I particularly like to do that if I can find a jig and reel that are related to one another, like New Rigg'd Ship and Green Willis, or The Campbells Are Coming with The White Cocade or Miss McLeod's Reel. It sounds like you've shifted into overdrive, but you haven't changed the metronome setting. Changing from 6/8 to 2/4 really gives a lift to the dance. Only problem is, all the clawhammer banjo players hereabouts (all three of 'em) don't like playing jigs. *sigh*


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Subject: RE: The origin and nature of tunes in sets??
From: Bob Bolton
Date: 15 Apr 00 - 03:20 AM

G'day again,

Shambles: .... Why were the dances not shorter or the tunes longer? Dances have form and tunes have form - sometimes they fit together perfectly - but usually this is when there is a specified tune for a dance of distinctive form.

Most social dances have a fairly standard length - often 32 bars and the tunes most used are also of that lengths. The set is not to fit a number of tunes to the dance but to provide a variety of tunes (most to circumvent boredom among the musicians ... most of the dancers don't notice tune shifts and would dance to the beat of and old tin drum ... if it was spot on beat!).

Sometimes dances are split between different rytrhms - or work best played that way. The Virginia Reel (at least the way we do the Australian variant) works best to successive 32 bars of reel, 32 bars of jig and a 16 bar march (with options of squeezing in extra 4 bar segmants if the dancers are slow or inexperienced. That said, there are some musicians who play reels straight through ... but vary their playing to suit each section (and some who don't!).

There are quadrilles and other 19th century 'set' dances that may use as many as 5 different types of tunes during the 'set', but these can really be thought of a 5 different dances loosely associated by being in a 'set'.

There is also an old tradition of doing dances to song tunes, where the length of the dance was the length of the song ... and the singer had better develop the shanty singer's knack of dropping or adding in verses to make the length match the expectation.

In Australia, we have a composite dancing tradition that has, over a scant two centuries, blended traditions ranging from peasant dances of Britain and Europe, ballroom dances straight from the salons of Paris, National traditions of our many varied settlers and a body of new composed dances from the explosion of publishing in the Industrial Age. What comes out the other end is perhaps a new national tradition ... if we can tell the difference!

Regards,

Bob Bolton


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Subject: RE: The origin and nature of tunes in sets??
From: DADGBE
Date: 15 Apr 00 - 11:25 PM

Hi all,

I've played for contra dances here in the US for some 25 years and almost all the bands I've heard or played in strung tunes together during any particular dance.

How long a dance lasts depends on the length of the contra lines. Usually, callers continue a dance until every couple has a chance to travel the length of the line in both directions. So, if the line has 6 groups of 2 couples the tune would be played 12 times (or 2 tunes 6 times each or 3 tunes 4 times each or 4 tunes...you get the picture).

In recent years I've been playing guitar in a duo called 'Stump Tail Dog'. We like to play anywhere from 2 to 4 tunes per dance. While we often switch keys between tunes, we don't stick to an ordered progression of keys.

Since contras aren't set dances, callers may suggest jigs, reels, rags etc. but the band selects the tunes. They need to be "square". That is AABB, 8 bars (16 beats) per section. Sometimes switch from jigs to reels in the middle of a dance. It tends to give the dancers a kick into high gear.

US New England or midwestern style tunes, Irish tunes, Scottish tunes, French Canadian tunes, Mexican tunes...music from anywhere can work if it fits the beat structure.

Probably 25% of our tunes are written by the fiddler (not me) who is a fine and prolific writer. His stuff sounds like traditional US music so dancers usually don't know what the hell we're giving them.

Whatever works for the dancers is fine with us.

Best regards, Ray


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Subject: RE: The origin and nature of tunes in sets??
From: AllisonA(Animaterra)
Date: 11 Nov 10 - 08:26 AM

(i.e. The Chorus Jig was danced to the tune of the same name--not a jig by the way; Very true, although here in Nelson where it's been danced for over a century, they do make a set by adding Opera Reel, then going back to Chorus Jig for the last time thru.

I'm searching for the earliest info I can find on Chorus Jig, by the way! Anyone?


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Subject: RE: The origin and nature of tunes in sets??
From: Tootler
Date: 11 Nov 10 - 10:50 AM

Alistair Anderson and David Oliver had an explanation which was an extension of the one put forward by Guest BeauDangles.

Dances often had their own tune and the musicians would play it through as often as was necessary to complete the dance. Even if a dance could be danced to a wide variety of tunes (waltzes, polkas etc.), it was likely that at any time only one tune would be used for the duration of the dance. It was recording that changed that.

You can get two or three standard 32 bar dance tunes on to one side of a 78 rpm record each played twice through. Record buyers wanted variety (and still do) so this format meant that a listener would hear each tune enough to pick up on it, but not often enough that they would get fed up of it. That way sales increased.

If someone was using recordings for a dance club or such, then the dancers would get used to the idea of there being two or more tunes for a dance and dance bands would pick up on the idea and use it. As has been said earlier, this would provide a way of increasing interest for the musicians, though, in the past, they had ways of dealing with the tedium of playing the same tune through many times, in particular by use of decoration of variation.

I'm sure this isn't the only explanation and other factors would have been at play. After all, if there were two tunes suitable for a particular dance it's easy enough to respond the question "which one?" with the answer "Let's play both." I do think there may be a grain of truth in it, though.


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Subject: RE: The origin and nature of tunes in sets??
From: Fred McCormick
Date: 11 Nov 10 - 10:51 AM

Sorry that this is about ten years out of date, but there's a number of points raised here, which I'll try and answer as they pertain to Irish music.

1. The custom, pre-recording era, was for one tune per dance; that tune to be repeated until the dance was ended.

2. The practice of playing medleys came in with the recording era, when record companies realised that people were buying 78s to listen to as well as to dance to. It was felt that medleys would hold people's attention for the duration of the record and thus sell more copies.

3. Some medleys have become enshrined because that's the way they were played on 78s. EG McLeod's Reel and the Steam Packet.

4. Some tunes have become coupled together simply because musicians like playing the change from one particular tune to the next.

Finally, I'd guess that the changeover of Irish music from a dance music to a session music makes set medleys more transmittable. IE., if a musician is used to playing say The Bunch of Keys, followed by The Heather Breeze in one session, he or she is less likely to be thrown if they are played in that combination at other sessions.


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Subject: RE: The origin and nature of tunes in sets??
From: Jack Campin
Date: 11 Nov 10 - 11:42 AM

You start to find tune medleys in books in the 18th century. By the time Kerr published his "Merry Melodies" (4 volumes, 1870s-1880s) the majority of the tunes are medlified. So the idea predates recording.

There are some hybrid cases. There are many variation sets from the 18th century where the variation is rather circumscribed. This was particularly common for 9/8 jigs; they would often be composed of 4-bar phrases where the second and fourth bars were invariant throughout the set:

AxBy:|
CxDy:|
ExFy:|
GxHy:|
.
.
.

This looks to me like the result of people writing out improvisations.

Incidentally "Chorus Jig" did start out as a jig. It was printed that way until at least the early 19th century. Dunno when it was first made into a reel.

Most cultures outside the British Isles and North America still prefer to use one tune for a dance. I liike it that way - Moldavian Csango dances can go on with the same oscillating circle pattern for 20 minutes with only one tune, typically a 16-bar reel played over and over again with no discernible variation. It sends you into a trance in a way no British Isles folk dance can.


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Subject: RE: The origin and nature of tunes in sets??
From: johnadams
Date: 11 Nov 10 - 11:52 AM

Which of the six Chorus Jigs do you want to know about? :-)

See: The Fiddler's Companion


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Subject: RE: The origin and nature of tunes in sets??
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 11 Nov 10 - 07:11 PM

As a dance musician and caller of some 40 years the answer is pretty obvious and Tootler hit on it when he/she used the word variety.
Variety is the spice of life. When I used to go out 2-3 dances a week playing the same tune over and over again could get pretty boring, so one solution was medleys of tunes. We could sometimes get through 6-7 tunes in one dance. In the days before recording when village musicians needed the income they would be travelling round the area trying to get as much work as possible and the same conditions would apply. You only have to look at the wealth of tunes in those old 18th and 19thc ms tune books to realise this.


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Subject: RE: The origin and nature of tunes in sets??
From: Jack Campin
Date: 11 Nov 10 - 08:41 PM

People don't instinctively have that need for variety, or tune sets for dancing wouldn't be such a rare phenomenon in human cultures.

For virtually all British 18th century dances that survive as written instructions, only one tune is indicated. The instructions synchronized the movements to the tune in the same way as in the present-day Hungarian dances I was describing. Probably the medley style went along with dances that didn't need instructions, but both types seem to have coexisted for a long time. The British didn't see variety as so all-important any more than anybody else did.

The RSCDS created an almighty muddle by reprinting dances intended for one specific tune and fitting entirely different tunes to them (the new tunes were either picked at random from old collections or else they were typically by Muriel Johnstone and typically forgettable). Often they used two tunes when the sources they drew on only had one. Someday somebody needs to go through their repertoire and re-edit it to reverse these weird decisions.


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