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English trad and boxes - history?

The Shambles 06 May 03 - 02:32 AM
GUEST,Rich A 06 May 03 - 04:15 AM
Dead Horse 06 May 03 - 05:09 AM
Gurney 06 May 03 - 06:12 AM
GUEST,jonm 06 May 03 - 07:47 AM
treewind 06 May 03 - 08:06 AM
The Shambles 07 May 03 - 05:19 AM
GUEST,Rich A 07 May 03 - 05:51 AM
GUEST,Chippinder 07 May 03 - 08:26 AM
GUEST 07 May 03 - 04:42 PM
CraigS 07 May 03 - 06:59 PM
GUEST,Noble Savage (cookieless) 07 May 03 - 10:07 PM
treewind 08 May 03 - 03:43 AM
GUEST,Rich A 08 May 03 - 04:40 AM
stevethesqueeze 08 May 03 - 05:41 AM
Alexis 08 May 03 - 07:37 AM
GUEST,Jane Bird 08 May 03 - 07:37 AM
GUEST,jonm 08 May 03 - 07:59 AM
GUEST,T-boy 08 May 03 - 08:05 AM
GUEST,Rich A 08 May 03 - 09:08 AM
Alexis 08 May 03 - 10:20 AM
GUEST 08 May 03 - 07:52 PM
Bob Bolton 09 May 03 - 08:17 AM
GUEST 10 May 04 - 06:25 PM
TheBigPinkLad 10 May 04 - 06:40 PM
The Fooles Troupe 10 May 04 - 07:27 PM
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Subject: English trad and boxes - history?
From: The Shambles
Date: 06 May 03 - 02:32 AM

Hearing the morris side on Jools Holland's BBC TV show, accompanied by two fiddles, and very much liking the sound and feel of this, and not being a great fan of (the ranks of massed)boxes, I would like to know the following.

What is the history of English traditional dance music tunes and the various range of 'squeezy boxes'?

These instruments would now appear to be THE accepted instruments but how long has this been the case, why and is a good thing?


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Subject: RE: English trad and boxes - history?
From: GUEST,Rich A
Date: 06 May 03 - 04:15 AM

I may be wrong but for Morris melodeons are comparitively new. Fiddles, pipe & Tabor and concertina were more commonly used in the past.
I agree about massed ranks of melodeons being a bad thing (I play one myself), but I think massed anything playing for dance is bad. One or two musicians is the ideal.


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Subject: RE: English trad and boxes - history?
From: Dead Horse
Date: 06 May 03 - 05:09 AM

Melodeons are popular for a very simple reason - they are LOUD.
Even ancient & hearing impaired morris dancers can follow the music!
(the above was not written by me - and even if it was, it was under duress)


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Subject: RE: English trad and boxes - history?
From: Gurney
Date: 06 May 03 - 06:12 AM

I understand that the reed as used in concertinas etc. is a recent (Victorian) import from China. Don't know if this applies to clarinets, oboes and other woodwinds. If I've been given the right griff, then they can't be too traditional.


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Subject: RE: English trad and boxes - history?
From: GUEST,jonm
Date: 06 May 03 - 07:47 AM

The sketchy old records of the morris which predate the mid-19th century suggest that pipe and tabor and fiddle were the dominant instruments, with occasional use of bagpipes (yes, I know!); one account I read of the use of the morris as courtly entertainment includes mention of several instruments you would normally associate with orchestral music. The concertina caught on shortly after its invention in the early 19th Century and was used for the morris by those who could afford it.

In the early 20th century, Cecil Sharp collected the bulk of the current canon of morris dances and tunes and the pipe and tabor, fiddle and concertina were the only instruments be noted as being used for Cotswold morris. The melodeon was in use in areas such as Suffolk at that time, certainly playing for folk dancing and song and probably for molly dance too.

The notation of the morris tunes by Sharp show how a single tune altered in terms of phrasing and use of incidental notes in runs to suit the instrument in question. I can play pipe and tabor, fiddle and concertina (albeit not all to a high standard) and despair at those who regard the subtle differences between tunes from neighbouring villages as significant, yet ignore the fundamental playing characteristics of the instrument it was collected from. These people, presumably, play all Adderbury tunes in F or Bb, since they were collected from a man with a tabor pipe in F.

The advantage of the melodeon (a newcomer as a morris instrument; relatively rare until the 1970's) is that it imparts a naturally rhythmic character to the melody, which means that an inexperienced player can manage to play for dancing quite effectively. Pipe and tabor shares this characteristic, but to a lesser extent. This forced rhythm, however, is a disadvantage to the expert who recognises the subtle variations required in pace and phrasing to lift the dancers at appropriate moments and wait for them to land (!) and to lead them from the end of one figure into the next with the appropriate timing. Get a melodeon player to try Shepherds' Hey from Fieldtown (Signposts) - it can't be done without imposing a fixed rhythm onto what is almost a free-time air.

Instruments where the musician controls the rhythm are far superior for the morris in the hands of an expert - concertina, accordion, fiddle for example, but more prone to disaster in the hands of an inexperienced player. There is nothing worse than the dull droning of a piano accordion played like a church organ and the dancers will never get any lift from the music. Note that the maestro John Kirkpatrick plays melodeon for border morris but button accordeon for Cotswold.

The key to playing for the morris is to get the rhythm and phrasing right - I was disappointed with the twin fiddles on Jools - I felt the sound was rhythmic to the exclusion of melody, and some of the morris melodies are the prettiest tunes you'll hear. Eliza could learn a lot from her Dad - he has often proved that the guitar is an excellent instrument for the playing of morris tunes. It's not what you play, it's how you play it.

On the matter of massed morris music, of course there should only be one musician playing to the dancers, who must know the dance and be watching constantly. Any other musicians need to recognise that they are providing an accompaniment to the main musician and play accordingly. Watch Eliza on the Jolls Holland show - she was very definitely playing an accompaniment and not leading the tune. Obvious problems with too many musicians is the speed cannot be varied and any subtle variations between, say, figure and chorus are lost.


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Subject: RE: English trad and boxes - history?
From: treewind
Date: 06 May 03 - 08:06 AM

For morris music, pipe and tabor was traditional until late 19th century. The fiddle came into use around then and one of Cecil Sharp's informants said he couldn't dance to the fiddle when it was introduced to replace the pipe and tabor.

I have, rarely, danced morris to pipe and tabor and can assure you that it is magic, if played well.

The push-pull system was invented in Germany in the early 19th century and the concertina around 1830. The English concertina, made by Wheatstone and later Lachenal, was at first a "posh" parlour instrument. Later the "Anglo-German" system combined the construction of a concertina (buttons pointing out of the ends in roughly symmetrical numbers and pattern on right and left) with the push-pull sequence on the German system and many cheap Anglos were made, which it why the instrument was taken up by Irish traditional musicians and became a folk instrument. Other makers (of all systems) also lowered the prices and the instruments became popular with Salvation Army and similar bands, and in the music halls.

When Cecil sharp discovered morris dancing William Kimber was playing an Anglo concertina, but I don't know how long that instrument had been in use for morris by then, or how many other players used it. According to the concertina FAQ that time (about 1900) seems to have been the peak of the instrument's popularity.

Lots more on concertinas at The Concertina FAQ site.

A search on Google for [button box melodeon] comes up with lots of interesting and relevant links. There's lots of links HERE too.

There have certainly been lots of recordings of melodeon players in the 20th century. It's perhaps less easy to know how much it was used before then, but in any case there were no free reed instruments that we'd recognise before 1800 and very little before 1850.

Anahata


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Subject: RE: English trad and boxes - history?
From: The Shambles
Date: 07 May 03 - 05:19 AM

Thanks for those informed comments.

So is the main reason they now dominate the form is because they are fairly easy to play and loud?

I tend to think that even one box type instrument tend to anchor the music - perhaps to to its advantage for dance but to the detriment of the music when played without dancing being the main purpose.

Well fashions do move on and I for one hope that this particular fashion does move on - what next Yamaha keyboards complete with built in drum and chord accompaniment?


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Subject: RE: English trad and boxes - history?
From: GUEST,Rich A
Date: 07 May 03 - 05:51 AM

Well said Jonm
It is unfortunate that a lot of Morris box players don't play any other type of music or don't play in varied sessions environments.
Also a lot of Morris box players have learn't the Mally tutor book style and stuck with it rather than experimenting more and coming up with their own style. The oom-pah bass style is so rigid that it takes out any of the flair, interest and nicety that could be there. This also tends people not to be able to be flexible enough with the rhythme to follow the dancers correctly, Queens Delight from Bucknell bein a prime example.

eeekkk, the idea of keyboards for morris fills me with horror. Oh well, I'm heading towards thirty, maybe I'm getting old!

Rich


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Subject: RE: English trad and boxes - history?
From: GUEST,Chippinder
Date: 07 May 03 - 08:26 AM

And don't forget Northwest morris which in some instances has been traditionally accompanied by a brass or silver band.
Chips


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Subject: RE: English trad and boxes - history?
From: GUEST
Date: 07 May 03 - 04:42 PM

I have yet to see a keyboard although Bampton do sometimes dance jigs to a guitar. The photo linked here includes an ampified hammer dulcimer mounted on a baby buggy (partially out of shot) which is certainly origninal.


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Subject: RE: English trad and boxes - history?
From: CraigS
Date: 07 May 03 - 06:59 PM

During a particularly desperate period in the history of the now-defunct Skipton Morris, dances were performed to the accompaniment of a solo plectrum banjo (it was murderous).


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Subject: RE: English trad and boxes - history?
From: GUEST,Noble Savage (cookieless)
Date: 07 May 03 - 10:07 PM

Greetings from overcast N. California.

I hope I haven't wandered too far from the OP of this thread, but as a working button accordian/melodeon player who plays for two active morris sides, I must respectfuul and gently disagree with the folowing statement--

**Get a melodeon player to try Shepherds' Hey from Fieldtown (Signposts) - it can't be done without imposing a fixed rhythm onto what is almost a free-time air.**

Err--actually, it CAN be done. I play 1 and 2-row melodeons and have played that very tune many times for Morris and was easily able to support the dance to the satisfaction of both dancers and musicians. Yes, it is necessary to provide a consistant rhythmn for the rhythmic parts of that dance, also necessary to play it 'freely' for those parts which require it.

(BTW) I find that the 1-row suits Queen's Delight especially well.

If one treats the two sides of the instrument as 'separate instruments' and avoid the mechanical "oom-pah" strict tempo treatment of the left-hand side, it is possible to play anything that any other instrument can play. I pretend that my left hand is a really stupid 'cello that only knows seven notes and use them as necessary to support the tune. I have also cultivated as much independance between the two sides of the instrument as I can. Keeping that in mind, I have found it possible to play 'song tunes' as freely as any singer or 'melody-only' instrument--using both bases and/or chords as accompaniment (seasoning, you might say) and have the melody lead. It is also possible to exploit the push-pull characteristics of the instrument for music that needs a steady pulse--the ideal is to be able to do either as the situation requires.

The interested listener can hear similar effects on recordings by Tony Hall and Rod Stradling (diatonic boxen) and J. Kirkpatrick (chromatic button accordian)

That being said, I agree that too many boxes at once are not a good thing--as with any other instrument, unless people have rehearsed and/or worked out other methods so as not to get in each other's way, the results can be a few shades short of magnificent. I refer to such as 'extruded morris music product'--similar to processed cheese 'food'.

I also play other music than morris--if I like a tune or song, and it fits on the instrument and I can make it sound good, it's fair game. I have found that this enables me to introduce other elements effectively in performance that someone who only plays for morris might not think of.

Thanks for your kind attention


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Subject: RE: English trad and boxes - history?
From: treewind
Date: 08 May 03 - 03:43 AM

Roger: correct about instruments getting louder. The problem is background noise. In 1840 the only backgroud noise in the street was the singing of the birds punctuated by the occasional passing horse and cart. A fiddle should be perfectly audible- whereas a few years ago I was playing my Hohner pokerwork for Hmmersmith Morris in the traffic-heavy streets of Richmond and one of the dancers complained he couldn't hear me - "get an Oakwood" he said, which I did and it was the best advice I've ever taken.

Now I play for Gog Magog Molly who do have a fiddle but it's an electric one with portable amplifier. Of course it's not traditional but we don't have traditional levels of background noise.

Chippinder: NW morris mostly doesn't need the subtleties of timing that Cotswold does. It's a processional tradition, designed for street carnivals with lots of other noise going on and a band is entirely appropriate and traditional.

For Cotswold, one player is ideal, otherwise one strong leader and other musicians good at listening and following precisely can work.

Of course a melodeon can be played with all the musical finesse needed for morris, but the problem with an instrument that on the face of it is easy to play is that it's sometimes going to be used by a fairly unskilled musician. Piano accordions are usually far worse, though again in the right hands they needn't be.

Anahata


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Subject: RE: English trad and boxes - history?
From: GUEST,Rich A
Date: 08 May 03 - 04:40 AM

I play for Pecsaetan Morris, it's a recently set up Cotswold team. We decided to put in the teams constitution that no more than two people can play at once for the team.
This was a kind of a reaction from playing and dancing with another team who occasionally ended up with eight to twelve musicians, most of whom didn't play at practice!!!

Rich


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Subject: RE: English trad and boxes - history?
From: stevethesqueeze
Date: 08 May 03 - 05:41 AM

In the early days Morris teams had to use whatever musicians and instruments they could get their hands on. Rural and industrial areas of the country who had morris/country dance sides had to use what was available. There is no traditional instrument, so to speak, only what is available.

In earlier times ordinary folk could not aford instruments like we can, they played what was available. Over in Ireland there is a belief that a hundred years ago their ancestors were all playing in sessions every night. Yet speak to an old timer over there and you get a different story.I have a house in kerry and my old neighbour says that he did not even see a fiddle or squuezebox until the 1920's and even then several people owned the same squeezebox, they called it a joined box.

I'm sure it was the same with Morris sides, the musicians played what was available and affordable. Thats the tradition.


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Subject: RE: English trad and boxes - history?
From: Alexis
Date: 08 May 03 - 07:37 AM

It seems that the consensus seems to be that tradition has meved with the times, so to speak. Reminds me of the phrase "living tradition" which I have heard or seen somewhere.
There is reference to all sorts of instruments played in the Melstock (?) Thomas Hardy band, again dependant on what was available.
I just shudder at the thought (and sound) of a portable amplified hammered dulcimer.
Alex


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Subject: RE: English trad and boxes - history?
From: GUEST,Jane Bird
Date: 08 May 03 - 07:37 AM

I reckon that Stevethesqueze is spot on about choice of instruments for morris dance - ie what ever was to hand. There were one or two Cotswold sides (Abingdon at one time, I think) that danced to mouth organ from time to time.

CraigS mentioned dancing to banjo. I've occasionally danced Bleddington "Cuckoo's Nest" to solo banjo. It's rather groovey, actually, but you do need to be somewhere without heavy trafic noise and the like!

Jane


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Subject: RE: English trad and boxes - history?
From: GUEST,jonm
Date: 08 May 03 - 07:59 AM

Re. the "signposts" reference, Noble Savage - I hope there are musicians such as yourself out there who can provide appropriate accompaniment for the more difficult morris tunes; it would certainly require skills on a par with Rob Stradling or Tony Rose. Please feel free to come to the equally overcast English Midlands and show some of our musicians the way!

My own team has the problem of a couple of regular musicians who do not dance and a number of others who are dancing little due to advancing age and increasing injury. We are now in the position of having more players than dancers at times. Imposing a rule on the number of musicians is an excellent way of controlling the cacophony, but it would mean some of our guys never play.

I've given up playing for my own team and occasionally join others when welcomed. What will I do when I'm too old to dance??


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Subject: RE: English trad and boxes - history?
From: GUEST,T-boy
Date: 08 May 03 - 08:05 AM

Reading all this, I'm beginning to understand why most morris music sounds so dreadful. I guess the decent musicians are driven away by the cloth-eared melodeonists etc.

My particular bugbear is the use of the bass drum - it often seems to be handed to somebody who can't play anything else, usually for the very good reason that they're completely unmusical. The usual style seems to be to whack it as hard as possible, so you get a completely toneless thud which totally drowns out the rest of the music. If it's in time with the dance, it's a bonus.


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Subject: RE: English trad and boxes - history?
From: GUEST,Rich A
Date: 08 May 03 - 09:08 AM

I don't think driven away, more like drowned out. There are still a hell of a lot of good morris musicians out there, it's just that bad ones are so much more noticable.


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Subject: RE: English trad and boxes - history?
From: Alexis
Date: 08 May 03 - 10:20 AM

I went to a workshop by Simon Care, last Holmfirth FF. One of the many pearls of wisdom that I heard was "why is it that the person with the least musical ability gets the drum tp play". True words indeed.
Alex


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Subject: RE: English trad and boxes - history?
From: GUEST
Date: 08 May 03 - 07:52 PM

Tis so sadly true.


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Subject: RE: English trad and boxes - history?
From: Bob Bolton
Date: 09 May 03 - 08:17 AM

G'day Alexis,

I remember that one ... with the "garage rock bands" of my youth.

The one who was doing best with his 5/- per week, mail order guitar course slid into "Lead Guitar" position.

The next smartest, musically, managed to get the "Rhythm Guitar" slot.

The next one down the tree was held to be safe enough on "Bass Guitar" ... and ...

The bloke who couldn't tell a crotchet from a squashed tadpole (in music theory ... or practice!), by default, got to control the rhythm of the whole group! (Drummers unite: The Musicians' Labourers Union)

Regard(les)s,

Bob Bolton


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Subject: RE: English trad and boxes - history?
From: GUEST
Date: 10 May 04 - 06:25 PM

heyyy


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Subject: RE: English trad and boxes - history?
From: TheBigPinkLad
Date: 10 May 04 - 06:40 PM

We used to have a drummer that always got to the end of the sopng before anyone else ;o)

Comments about Thomas Hardy's Melstock band bring to mind the lament he had that the introduction of the organ heralded the end of the church band with its strange instruments. I can see also the need to have loud instruments given modern background noise we 'enjoy' today. Again, Thomas Hardy noted in Far from the Madding Crowd the loudness of silence when the sheep went AWOL (or do they just go baa).

I can't remember the TV episode, but Howard Goodall spent some time with Hungarian (?) gypsies who still played traditional instruments in whatever key they happened to be made in (or more accurately, whatever key came out of them). He said the concertina had largely killed off that keyless genre because it always came in a specific key and other musician than began tuning to it. Or something like that.


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Subject: RE: English trad and boxes - history?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 10 May 04 - 07:27 PM

What he said was that the Piano Accordion killed off folk tunings because they were in 'just' intonation, and the piano accordion was the first widely distributed instrument in the 'equally distributed 12 tone' tuning or 'equal temperament'. Further, he said that the gypsies basically ignored this, with the result being that they still play nonfretted isntruments like the violin in the original tunings, with the modern instruments, which is part of the reason for their sound.

Robin


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