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Artistic license to change old tune?

GUEST,Kristine 15 Apr 03 - 05:47 PM
Deckman 15 Apr 03 - 05:54 PM
Blackcatter 15 Apr 03 - 05:56 PM
greg stephens 15 Apr 03 - 05:56 PM
Blackcatter 15 Apr 03 - 05:57 PM
Noreen 15 Apr 03 - 05:59 PM
greg stephens 15 Apr 03 - 06:08 PM
GUEST,Kristine 15 Apr 03 - 06:41 PM
CraigS 15 Apr 03 - 06:44 PM
greg stephens 15 Apr 03 - 07:25 PM
Uncle_DaveO 15 Apr 03 - 09:20 PM
GUEST,leeneia 15 Apr 03 - 10:49 PM
dick greenhaus 15 Apr 03 - 11:10 PM
JedMarum 16 Apr 03 - 08:37 AM
McGrath of Harlow 16 Apr 03 - 09:03 AM
Don Firth 16 Apr 03 - 01:11 PM
CraigS 16 Apr 03 - 05:39 PM
greg stephens 16 Apr 03 - 06:09 PM
McGrath of Harlow 16 Apr 03 - 06:22 PM
Malcolm Douglas 16 Apr 03 - 07:37 PM
DonMeixner 16 Apr 03 - 07:42 PM
Deckman 16 Apr 03 - 07:54 PM
BK 16 Apr 03 - 08:04 PM
GUEST,Kristine 16 Apr 03 - 08:59 PM
JedMarum 17 Apr 03 - 09:33 AM
Wilfried Schaum 17 Apr 03 - 10:00 AM
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Subject: Artistic license to change old tune?
From: GUEST,Kristine
Date: 15 Apr 03 - 05:47 PM

What do you think of changing (just slightly) the tune of an old Gaelic ballad? Is this complete taboo, or do we have some artistic license?


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Subject: RE: Artistic license to change old tune?
From: Deckman
Date: 15 Apr 03 - 05:54 PM

Hello Kristine ... very good question. My answer: Of course you can. Last I heard, you can do anything you want! But I do believe that some things have to be considered when you do change a traditional melody. For example, if you are going to record, or publish your 'new' version, you might consider noting the change. You might also explain why you chose to make the change. Other thoughts: there really is no "RIGHT WAY." This is a big wonderful world. I suspect that for every change you have made, many other singers have done just the same, many times, over the years. We just don't know about them. I expect that my good friend Don Firth will post soon and echo my thoughts. And, I also suspect he will mention that what you are doing is legimatly referred to as "the folk process." CHEERS and best wishes. Bob(deckman)Nelson


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Subject: RE: Artistic license to change old tune?
From: Blackcatter
Date: 15 Apr 03 - 05:56 PM

This has been happening regularly for hundreds of years Kristine. If you get 5 musicians around a table, you'll probably find 5 variations to any number of traditional songs. Slightly different words as well.

Go for it and have fun.


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Subject: RE: Artistic license to change old tune?
From: greg stephens
Date: 15 Apr 03 - 05:56 PM

Artistic license is like a driving license. You can do what you want, but do it too fast and you might get arrested.


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Subject: RE: Artistic license to change old tune?
From: Blackcatter
Date: 15 Apr 03 - 05:57 PM

And let us know what you're doing - we'd love to know!


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Subject: RE: Artistic license to change old tune?
From: Noreen
Date: 15 Apr 03 - 05:59 PM

Why would you want to?


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Subject: RE: Artistic license to change old tune?
From: greg stephens
Date: 15 Apr 03 - 06:08 PM

noreen's question is the one you need to answer so we can understand. What do have against the note you want to change? If you just want to knock off a high one or a low one to bring it into your easy range...fine, that's what people have always done. But of course, you may damage it. And also, nowadays, you are up against the problem of people wandering around with song-books and CDs of "famous" singers who believe there is a "right" version of folk songs. You may annoy them. Whether that causes you to lose your beauty sleep is up to you.


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Subject: RE: Artistic license to change old tune?
From: GUEST,Kristine
Date: 15 Apr 03 - 06:41 PM

The song I'm referring to is rather old and somewhat obscure. I learned it years ago, and have sung it while doing the dishes over the years. Then I decided to record the song. When I went back to the original version I discovered that quite by accident I had changed the tune a wee bit. The man I was working with said that he preferred the new version (mine). It has some minor chords where there used to be major chords, creating a bit more of a haunting sound. Also, the tune is now a little more simple which lends itself to a certain rhythm. I love the original version as well, but it doesn't seem to work with the chords I've arranged. I'm recording a cd which should be coming out in August sometime. I will definately make a note of the change on the cd. Thank you for all your comments and licensing.


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Subject: RE: Artistic license to change old tune?
From: CraigS
Date: 15 Apr 03 - 06:44 PM

Two things come to mind - one is that a lot of traditional Scottish tunes are often played with one note "off" when using bagpipes (aka the celic wind banjo), because there notes on the fiddle which do not exist on the pipes. The other is those arty types who try to muck about with folk tunes, taking them out of the mode and into a standard classical scale to suit their tender ears and tastes. It upsets them, for example, to find that a song apparently written in Em should have two sharps in the key signaure ( because it's second mode of D) rather than the one sharp of Em. This is not so bad until they change the key signature to Em and leave out the accidentals. The number of bad versions of Greensleeves is inestimable - and that's just one example. Changes are acceptable - do it if you can't reach a note, or if you have something new to offer (I changed the timing on the chorus of Mad Tom of Bedlam 20 years ago and everyone I hear sings it that way now). If you aren't sure, try out both versions on people that should know - get 'em in a corner and ask! I've got some good advice that way, and even people that are famous for not suffering fools gladly can be very free with their advice if you ask them nicely and don't take all day to do it.


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Subject: RE: Artistic license to change old tune?
From: greg stephens
Date: 15 Apr 03 - 07:25 PM

"Bad versions of Greensleeves". Mmmmmmm. Discuss! Personally, I can't see anything fundamentally immoral in the the odd C natural I've heard in some versions of Greensleeves in Eminor. And where do you stand on the very common G# notes that tend to creep in to the endings, driven by the lamentable intrusion of the dreaded HARMONY?


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Subject: RE: Artistic license to change old tune?
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 15 Apr 03 - 09:20 PM

GUEST Kristine:

Your explanation of your history with the piece, and your reasons for staying with the variations you made, is perfectly understandable, and not only forgivable but laudable. You are not just playing or singing an old song the way everybody always did it, but you are MAKING music! You are keeping the tradition alive, rather than just laying out the cold corpse of a dead song.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Artistic license to change old tune?
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 15 Apr 03 - 10:49 PM

I have a version of Greensleeves from 1595. It has two parts (they harmonize). It has no sharps or flats in the key signature, but F# and G# each put in an appearance. I don't think it's modal, I think it's unique.

As for the original matter of changing an old song, it is perfectly all right. People may change songs because they are unplayable on their instruments or uncomfortable to sing. Sometimes, the "right" way just refuses to stick in your memory.

We had a famous traditional musician on stage once (I forget who) and he said, "You leave the pub at night playing a new tune in your head. The way you remember it in the morning is how it now goes."


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Subject: RE: Artistic license to change old tune?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 15 Apr 03 - 11:10 PM

Whatever works


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Subject: RE: Artistic license to change old tune?
From: JedMarum
Date: 16 Apr 03 - 08:37 AM

... an old musician I know from Boston told me, "ya change 'em as you need to and swear it was the way your old grandad taught it to you!"


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Subject: RE: Artistic license to change old tune?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 16 Apr 03 - 09:03 AM

The thing is songs from the unaccompanied Gaelic tradition don't really fit with the standard chord system. Even the distinction between major and minor doesn't really apply.

As you said - "the tune is now a little more simple which lends itself to a certain rhythm... the original version...doesn't seem to work with the chords I've arranged."


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Subject: RE: Artistic license to change old tune?
From: Don Firth
Date: 16 Apr 03 - 01:11 PM

Be of good cheer, Kristine. "When I went back to the original version I discovered that quite by accident I had changed the tune a wee bit." This sort of thing happens all the time, and it's an integral part of the "folk process." One could go so far as to say this is the folk process. I think it was Pete Seeger (or was it Alan Lomax? No, I'm pretty sure it was Seeger) once said that much of the folk process, whereby songs gradually changes as they go from singer to singer and generation to generation, is fueled, not by people's memories, but by their "forgetteries." A note or two gets changed, a word or two gets changed, and over a period of time, a song evolves. Sometimes this is good, sometimes not so good.

I've been learning and singing folk songs since the early Fifties, and when I pull out an old record I learned songs from—or even a tape I made myself—I often notice that with many songs, perhaps most, I'm not singing them quite the way I learned them. Close, but not exactly. It's not that I'm making conscious changes. I think I'm singing it the same way, but inadvertent changes just happen.

On the other hand, although it's a hanging offense in some circles, I am not above making intentional changes in a song from time to time. Occasionally a word or two may sound awkward or confusing, or altering a note or two in the melody line can convert it from sort of "blah" to downright catchy. But whenever you do make deliberate changes, I think you should be darned sure of what you are doing. Often this involves knowing something about the history and background of the song. For example, a word or two in a sea chantey or fo'c's'le chantey may make no sense, or seem out of place, but it could be a nautical term or expression you're not familiar with, and changing it to something more understandable to a landlubber could alter the whole meaning of the song. Or "updating" archaic language in a very old ballad can do the same thing. Better to explain to the audience what these words mean.

I give myself license to make changes like this occasionally when I feel they are warranted because I don't try to make any claim that I'm a "folk singer." I'm urban born, I grew up in cities, and I wasn't raised in what might be called the "folk tradition." I learned the songs I sing from songbooks, records, and other singers—who have learned the songs they sing the same way I did. On occasion I've taken two or three versions of a song or ballad and melded them, taking what I consider to be the best bits from each, and honing them to fit.

I once had an English professor who was also an avid ballad scholar. He said that folklorists, ethnomusicologists, and in-the-field song collectors have a scholarly obligated to take a song down and present it exactly as they heard it. But a performer of those songs, who is primarily an interpreter or entertainer, is under no such obligation. Changes should not be made indiscriminately or frivolously, but if, in the singer's informed opinion, a minor alteration or two improves the song, then this is acceptable. He called this "Minstrel's Prerogative." But carefully. Carefully.

Inadvertent changes? Well, they can't really be avoided. If you feel it improves the song, stick with it.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Artistic license to change old tune?
From: CraigS
Date: 16 Apr 03 - 05:39 PM

I agree with Don (but not with the banjo).


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Subject: RE: Artistic license to change old tune?
From: greg stephens
Date: 16 Apr 03 - 06:09 PM

i have collected and researched tunes for many many years. I get them down in my notebook as accurately as I can. And anybodys who's interested is welcome to look. But when it comes to playing them, I often change them (in fact I very nearly always change them: sometimes deliberately, sometimes inadvertently).


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Subject: RE: Artistic license to change old tune?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 16 Apr 03 - 06:22 PM

When I write a song, I put it down on paper, with chords that fit, to remind me of the tune - even if it's a song I wouldn't sing with an acconpaniment..

But typically, if I'm trying to remind myself how it goes, and I look at the written version, the words will have changed, and the tune I want to sing it to won't quite fit with the chords I've got down. And more times than not it's been a change for the better.
Songs and tunes exist in multiple versions. Traditionally, more times than not, the singers wouldn't actually sing quite the same tune for the different verses. This used to drive the collectors mad, but they'd make a point of correcting the mistakes made by the poor old singers, who didn't know any better...


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Subject: RE: Artistic license to change old tune?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 16 Apr 03 - 07:37 PM

Some did, some didn't. Most knew fine well that nobody sings the same song the same twice in a row; and it's usual for people to take a couple of verses to settle down into the tune they intended, which is why so many tunes noted from tradition (often from folk who hadn't sung the song in years) are the third verse or so. Of course, it's even now still fashionable to put down the collectors of the early 20th century because they didn't have the luxury of what we have since learned, based on their efforts; but how many of us could do better now, far less then?

As for changing tunes in general; well, as has been pointed out, everybody does that; knowingly or not. Kristine has already said that she intends to make it clear that she's simplified the tune. No problem, then. It's only a problem when someone pretends that what they are doing is the song; as opposed to their interpretation of it.

As for "the Folk Process"; well, there's a can of worms if you want one. It can be invoked by people who know what they are talking about, or, equally, by people who are too lazy to learn a song properly and have picked up the strange idea that they are in some way a "traditional singer", and that as a consequence anything they do must be ok. That, however, is a topic for another discussion.

Out of interest, what is the "old Gaelic ballad"?


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Subject: RE: Artistic license to change old tune?
From: DonMeixner
Date: 16 Apr 03 - 07:42 PM

Kristeine,

One of the best quasi trad bands around is Old Blind Dogs. Their style is unique to them and most of their rep is traditional. But the melodies and the instruments they use is anything but.

Singing for the sake of the song or for scholarship? I choose the song everytime, someone else can be a scholar. :-)

Don


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Subject: RE: Artistic license to change old tune?
From: Deckman
Date: 16 Apr 03 - 07:54 PM

Don ... I'll bet that that "English Professor" was Dr. David Fowler, University of Washington! Eh? CHEERS, Bob


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Subject: RE: Artistic license to change old tune?
From: BK
Date: 16 Apr 03 - 08:04 PM

Kristine:

Sometimes the "new" way just is more catchy; doing "Cowboy's Lament" (aka Streets of Laredo) for "traditional" performances of cowboy song just got more tricky; Cowboy Celtic (& others) now put in a quasi-chorus that sorta used to be just one of the verses, but the tune is different - sounds like a little like a harmony part to Molly Malone (supposedly C.L. is a celtic tune w/words modified from a British military "unfortunate rake" series of ballads - see the DT)

I initially resisted the change 'cuz some o' the boys said gotta be traditional: their wives often say otherwise & anyway now the "new" version is assumed by some to be old - anyway it's pretty well accepted, tho it makes the song require a wider vocal range, so I'll probably do it that way - in an entirely new key..

I usually do that sort of thing deliberately - "folk process."

Do what you want!

Cheers, BK (a mudcat relic)


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Subject: RE: Artistic license to change old tune?
From: GUEST,Kristine
Date: 16 Apr 03 - 08:59 PM

Wow! when I made this post I really thought that I would be hearing from those ready to pass out the "hanging offense". The song is Seacht nDolas na Maighdine Muirre (The seven sorrows of Mary). I only have four of the sorrows...maybe she isn't so sorrowful anymore. I have only changed a few notes of the tune, not the words, and have been to a Gaelic teacher to make sure that my pronunciation is correct. Thank you again for all the encouragment...not that I plan to go out changing tunes as a practice!


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Subject: RE: Artistic license to change old tune?
From: JedMarum
Date: 17 Apr 03 - 09:33 AM

... it may be a hanging offense but there's a lot of us willing to hang with you!


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Subject: RE: Artistic license to change old tune?
From: Wilfried Schaum
Date: 17 Apr 03 - 10:00 AM

Good problem, Kristine.
I'm doing research about some folk songs of soldiers' everyday life in field and barracks. It is astonishing how many versions I found for mostly every song I wanted to refer to in my work, in lyrics and in tunes over the centuries.
So I have my experience: A real living song varies in time, dependent of who heard it, remembered it incorrectly, or changed the words fitting a new time: I think you will never find an authentic version, only a version written down at a certain place in a certain time, with different versions elsewhere, only unrecorded.
One of my favourite songs came in three slightly variated tunes; I harmonized them to my private gusto. But as we continentals are lisping: De gushtibush non esht dishputandum.
So change what you want; the audience will decide with applause or foul eggs and tomatoes.

Wilfried


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