The REAL tune?

The REAL tune?

Apropos of the discussion in the Comments section of https://thesession.org/tunes/1285, on whether a submitted version of Staten Island is traditional enough for The Session:

First, two disclaimers:

1) It’s nice being naive; it’s harder to get upset about things. I don’t know enough to be a purist, and ignorance seems like bliss. If you think I haven’t got the right end of the stick in anything I say, do, or post, by all means I welcome the correction or clarification or opinion.

2) I believe that the authenticity or traditionalness quotient of The Session is what we say it is, with Jeremy being the most important part of We. Ultimately, what goes on the site is what we put there and what he promotes, or approves, or tolerates. I applaud We and Jeremy for everything that We or Jeremy do to spread this stuff around in all of its forms. (Just in case that’s not perfectly clear, THANK YOU, JEREMY.)

Now, back to Staten Island.

I think the version that Will has provided is certainly more interesting and more complex. The version that Trevor provided is more spare and perhaps open to one’s own interpretation and ornamentation (and it’s a lot more like we-the-duffers play at a local house session, BTW).

What interests me is that, at the core, they’re both definitely the same tune. Will’s version sounds like the version played by a seasoned vet; Trevor’s gets the fundamental nature of the tune, sort of a like a canvas on which said seasoned vet could (re)interpret in whatever manner he or she chose. Those of you geeky enough to have read Douglas Hofstadter and to have considered what makes a mark on paper an A versus some other letter might share my baffled perspective: when is a traditional tune a traditional tune?

I think the answer is that neither version, and both versions, should be considered. In fact, the disagreement is more education than I would have got had either version been posted without the other. I would be quite happy if I could make more, similar comparisons between versions. Keep ‘em coming, and let a thousand flowers bloom, so far as I’m concerned.

I am lucky enough to have a copy of a book that records the settings of Chris Langan, a piper who was considered to have kept the tradition alive in Toronto until his death in 1993. I never met the man, but he clearly had a profound influence on the people here. His settings are extremely dense, with lots of quintuplets in reels and quadruplets in jigs and weird rolls and cranns and all. They’re interesting, but for a beginner, not easy to read and to learn. There’s also a fair bit of his philosophy in the book. There are a few passages that are relevant here, I think. Chris said…

"There’s a lot of people and if it’s in the book that’s the way it’s got to be and they think because the thing is once printed that it acquires a certain sacredness… that must not be tampered with, because "that’s the way it’s in the book"… and in many cases the feller that wrote the book and arranged the tune didn’t actually play it."

And on another occasion, he said

"everybody who’s a half-decent player will develop willy-nilly a style of their own and then they play a tune, maybe your tune or a tune out of a book their own individual way of playing and their own individual preferences for playing things in a certain way of putting a roll in in at a certain particular place or something like that, you know, is going to come through and you can’t stop them, they’ll play their own way, and I think, as you say, there’s absolutely no point in getting uptight about it"

So I would like to suggest that Trevor has done us a service by posting the skeleton of a tune and that Will has done us a service by providing us with one way (albeit not his way, but the nameless piper’s way) of playing it. Good on you both.

Comments?

Re: The REAL tune?

Well I’m sort of nervous jumping into this fray since I am WAY out of my league in terms of tune knowledge… but as a beginner, I can say what I would like to see, which in this case, yes, is both tunes. I do rely heavily on the comments which ppl post, but if I am looking to play a new reel, I feel a bit overwhelmed by the thousand or more that are available, like flipping through the white pages for a blind date. What would thrill me is a searchable rating system, rather like Amazon.com, where thesession regs can rate each submission according to its session playability, from ‘must-learn-warhorse’ to ‘session-worthy’ to ‘obscure-don’t-bother’ or something. Then perhaps another rating declaring the player’s opinion of the tune regardless of obscurity or setting, like ‘spectacular tune, you heard it here first’ to ‘somewhat naff’ to ‘will never make trad.’ Sample rating: Harvest Home — 5 star warhorse, 2 star for being insipid. That would steer beginners like me in a somewhat comprehensive direction in terms of what is considered trad or worth learning, at least by the participants on this website…. Well it’s 4am where I am, it sounds intimate & democratic, without preventing or discouraging submissions, but it’s probably way too complicated to be workable.

Searchable rating systems?

An afterthought— something like this could also be useful in the recordings section as well, having thesession members rate various recordings… like Helen was saying in another thread, I almost never check there, but if I was looking to buy something new, that kind of rating system would be ideal, unless everyone declares it to be excellent & one of their favorites, which could be a distinct possibility. In fact, I recently posted a discussion of that very nature, fishing for CD recommendations with some little success…..

Re: The REAL tune?

I agree with Will’s comments. What is the point of posting settings simply copied from the New England sourcebook or any other printed source or website? Anyone learning such settings will invariably be disappointed when they go to a session and find that everyone else is playing something different.
In my view postings should be restricted to tunes that you have learned from an aural source i.e from another musician or from a recording. The comments section should reflect this.

Re: The REAL tune?

Hi Emily! After reading your post, I guess I realize how lucky I am, because I never feel like I’m flipping through the white pages (I like that analogy, by the way). I just hear certain tunes at a session and after a few times, they stick with me, and I just have to learn them. Also, my harp/fiddle teacher is a session goer, and almost all of the tunes she shows me are played often at sessions—in this area, though. The same won’t be true necessarilly for the Mid-West, West-Coast or for Emily’s part of the US, let alone London, Dublin, or Galway, etc.

Also, if I hear it on a Cd, and really love it, I will want to learn it as well. It is interesting to me to hear what people may rate a tune as fas as insipid, etc. but that won’t change my mind one bit—if I like it—I learn it. (Love those polkas, Harvest Home, Atholl Highlander’s, and others that "session fashion police" have deemed naff.)

As far as what’s the *real* version, if a player has a different little bit here or there than me, it may not matter, or I might learn that bit as well, as a variation on the version I already know. I am only a moderately experienced session player and have not come across severely differing versions of tunes I already know as of yet.

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Re: The REAL tune?

Ah, we’re back on the other thread. πŸ™‚

I didn’t mean to suggest that "my" setting of Staten Island was somehow "more traditional" than Trevor’s—only that it was the more common setting at the sessions I’ve been to. And I also said something to the effect that had it been me posting Staten Island first to the archives, I would’ve simplified my setting—taking out the triplets, for instance, and probably favoring quarter notes for all those eighth notes in other places.

Miles, I basically agree with you, except I don’t mind a tune coming from a written source on two conditions: (1) the person posting it here has taken the time to learn and play the tune until it is no longer just regurgitating the written source (in effect, then, we’re getting that player’s aural interpretation, not just the dots), and (2) that the same person is somewhat familiar with the Irish session tradition and the music in general, and so understands, within the wide boundaries of individual and regional style, *how* to interpret a written setting to revive it on their instrument.

Incidentally, I agree 100 percent with the above quotes from Chris Langan. If anything, that attitude is what made me question the value of so many tunes being posted here that were just ghosts of tunes based on some obscure written source and not actual in-depth playing.

What it comes down to for me is that I strongly prefer to learn tunes from someone who actually *plays* them, with at least a modicum of care and personal connection to the tune. And in this aural tradition, I think that’s reasonable.

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Re: The REAL tune?

Andee, I suspect that most if not all of the tunes you hear at your Philly sessions are also pretty common across the U.S. and in Ireland, and no doubt in Oz, Japan, Tunisia, and wherever else people get together to play Irish trad music. Sure, every session has a few tunes that no one else plays, but the bulk of them are common stock. That’s part of the point of a session anyway, and in my travels I’ve always mostly heard tunes that I’ve heard before. It’s actually kinda fun when someone thinks they’re playing some obscure old piece no one else knows, and a visitor walks in the door and picks it right up—"Och, we play that every night over in Paducah," he’ll say.

As for different settings, alternate versions, variations, etc., these rarely interfere with actually playing the tunes because the differences tend to be fairly subtle. But there are famous exceptions. There’s the northern version of Dr. Gilbert’s (aka Dispute at the Crossroads), and the setting everyone else plays, and the B parts are basically identical, but the A parts are different enough to actually clash. Same with Pinch of Snuff, and deciding on a mode for I Buried My Wife and Danced on Her Grave, and Blackhaired Lass, etc. But the more you play this stuff, the more you learn, and most veteran session players either already know the different versions (e.g., we play both settings of Dr. Gilbert’s at my local session), or they can adjust on the fly.

Which all goes to show that it should be obvious that there is no one "correct" setting of any tune, and the real value of the tune archive here will come from all the different settings people post in the comment sections of tunes. And I have to chuckle, because we’ve ALL been at that place in our journeys through Irish trad music where we think, "so many tunes, so little time," and then you realize that you *also* have a bazillion variations and versions to learn, heh, heh.

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Re: The REAL tune?

Sorry Will,
I jumped in, not having read the other threads. I was just getting just a little peeved with the constant stream from the New England Fiddler’s Repertoire and was somewhat puzzled by its connection with ITM.
I agree wholeheartedly with your points 1 and 2, so eloquently expressed and hope that the sessioners will pay heed though I feel that tunes from a written source should be kept to a minimum.
By the way, I haven’t contributed much to thesession recently as I elt that it was losing its way. Lets hope that it will get back on track and a HAPPY NEW YEAR to everyone!

Re: The REAL tune?

Yep, Miles, it was wandering a bit there. A little of that can be healthy, but it still strikes me as odd (and offensive) when someone joins in at an established site like this (or sits in at a real-world Irish session) and immediately tries to steer it off in other musical directions. It’s like wearing ice hockey skates to your local bowling alley.

Well…hope to see more of you here now that we’re (hopefully) back to the task at hand. πŸ™‚

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Re: The REAL tune?

Will,
Keep up the good work!
P.s has your nose got bigger? :

Re: The REAL tune?

Guilty, guilty confession.

I recently posted 2 tunes (the only tunes I have ever posted) from Altan’s Island Angel from a printed source, not b/c I *can* play them, but b/c I wanted to learn them very much, but I can’t read ABC, so I pasted in the lifted text, & voila, I had sheetmusic which I subsequently printed out & played along with the CD. I suppose I trusted the source of the ABC too much, b/c it was stated the ABC code was derived from Altan’s version directly. But then I guess I violated the big rule of having played the tune myself personally before posting. I can now, but only after I posted here so I could see the black dots. Should I have tried to convert the ABC file I found on my own then? I just honestly don’t have the time right now to commit to something like that, esp trying to transcribe a lightning fast set like these 2 reels…. gosh I guess I’m feeling really guilty, like I’ve really cheated, but I’ve received a few emails from ppl telling me they’re glad I posted them b/c they couldn’t find the sheet music anywhere else. If playing a tune well or learning it from an aural source is a prerequisite to posting a tune, I’m afraid I’ll have to go back to my status as a non-tune-poster, which is sort of discouraging. But now I see the risk of posting a tune which maybe flawed, & in truth, I never questioned my source, I just hoped Jeremy would red flag me if I had really botched it.

signed, ABC Illiterate & Aural Failure with Miniscule Tunestock

Re: The REAL tune?

Heh — Emily, your post made me laugh. I was delighted to see the transcription of The Heathery Cruach, because I’d forgotten it was on my mental list of tunes to learn. You’ll note, though, that I transcribed (and posted to the comments) James Kelly’s setting, because in general I personally prefer it to the Altan setting. However, the Altan transcription was handy because I could see what they did when James Kelly’s setting dips below the D, and it was nice to see it for purposes of comparing overall style. That’s all as it should be.

Keep in mind that when you’re posting a direct transcription, 1) it’s polite to give the transcriber the credit (and/or blame) for the transcription, if it’s not your own transcription, 2) always give the provenance of the setting (in this case, Altan from Island Angel), which means you really should check it against the recording to make sure the transcriber got it right, and 3) Jeremy may or may not catch a mistake that you will later wish you hadn’t made (although I think in general he does it if he has the time to do it). If all you want is printed music from ABC files, just go to JC’s Tunefinder or Concertina.net and use their tools for getting printed music out of it (links in the Links section of this site). You don’t even have to have an ABC utility that way if you don’t want to go get one.

Heh. Not to worry, save your guilt for things like not practising enough or something. πŸ™‚

Zina

Re: The REAL tune?

Emily, I wondered, because years ago I transcribed the Glory Reel and Heathery Cruach from Altan and came up with slightly different notes than you posted. Which is why I almost always transcribe stuff myself rather than relying on other people’s ears. But your source was pretty close, so no harm done.

I think there is a difference in how we all show respect for the tradition in playing tunes (you don’t have to be an expert to play them, but it’s appreciated if you play with respect) and how we pass tunes along in writing. There have always been poorly done transcriptions of tunes, and there probably always will be, but I believe we shouldn’t add to that problem by posting tunes if we’re not ready to. It takes a fair amount of familiarity with the music and how it’s played, and music theory, and abc or music notation, to do a good job of transcribing a tune. I didn’t start sharing my transcriptions until I’d written out nearly 700 tunes, and this was after playing for close to 15 years. I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to wait so long, but neither should newcomers to the music expect to be able to immediately be good at writing the tunes down. Jeremy can vouch for how many times he had to correct my early transcriptions, so I’m guilty of ignoring my own advice. I blather on here in hopes others can learn from my mistakes πŸ™‚

Again, I don’t mean to discourage people from posting, and I empathize with the urge to participate, but please respect your session mates here—just like preparing to join in a real world session, practice up a bunch at home before you reveal your "talents" in public.

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Re: The REAL tune?

Since we’re back on this settings thread, I’d like to say something especially for the benefit of the less experienced members of the session.

We’re all getting hung up about which settings are cosher and which we got from a book (horror!), this is a continual debate and is true conserning every book that’s ever been printed. (remembering most of them are very old versions too, maybe before everyone had to be able to play the frilly bits).

The level of experience and skill of the player influences how "fancy" and ornamented the setting he/she would be best playing, and completely unornamented versions may be mundane and uninteresting to the experts, but that should remain their problem.

There is **nothing** wrong with unornamented and plain settings, especially for less experienced players, and as players become more experienced, they become able to add their own embelishments by themselves, and hopefully without the need to be led by the hand on the printed page. In fact, one sign of a truly good player is the ability to make simple settings sing.

The important thing is to get a simple setting down, and when at a session, listen to the way others play it and maybe adjust a little if there are any obviously clashing notes going on, and maybe add an ornament if you like the sound.

Outside of pure Irish sessions, there are a huge range of settings and styles for many tunes, it is a great skill to be able to listen and change the way we play according to the way we hear it being played by others, it is in fact way more important to develop this skill than to worry about the cosherness of the particular setting that we first learn.

I’ll bet you that if we heard a session from a hundred years ago, if they even had them, the settings would be completely different.

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Re: The REAL tune?

This is something that happened many years ago, when I was in my teens and learning the cello. Make of it what you will.

I was working on a Bach cello suite and a Beethoven cello sonata for an exam. I vividly remember my cello teacher insisting that I musn’t listen to any recordings of those two works in the 6 months I was learning them. He said that the examiner didn’t want to hear a junior copy of performances by Casals, Fournier, Rostropovitch or whatever the flavor of the month was; he would want to hear a real individual’s interpretation, warts and all. That advice has had an influence on my playing ever since. I still think it’s sound advice.

trevor

Re: The REAL tune?

That may be fine for classical performance, Trevor, but Irish trad music is almost by definition an aural tradition. The intent is not to mimic every exact note and nuance of another player’s version, and over time, most trad players blend all the aural influences into their own style.

I can appreciate the wisdom of your teacher’s advice—yes, it’s all well and good to avoid imitation in favor of developing your own approach to the music. But relying heavily on written sources and *not* listening to other players while learning the jigs and reels would be the *last* way I’d recommend to learn Irish trad music, even—especially!—for a classically trained musician. Most of us have heard and winced at the results of such an approach, and I’ve even heard a couple of old masters chuckling to themselves about a player who was too obviously "book learned."

Kenn, there’s still a difference between simple, sessionable tune settings and simple, but inappropriate tune settings. It’s not so much about choosing which setting is "right" (because there are so many different "right" settings to any tune), as it is about not posting as the first choice those tunes or settings that are misleading, confusing, or likely to clash with what’s more broadly known at Irish sessions.

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Re: The REAL tune?

I would go even further than Will and say that anyone who thinks he can learn how to play Irish traditional music from a book is on a hiding to nothing. Until you have started to learn by ear, you haven’t started to learn

Re: The REAL tune?

here, here Miles - I agree!

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Re: The REAL tune?

Will, thanks for pointing out to me that the bulk of tunes are played at sessions everywhere—I actually didn’t realize that and am quite happy about it since I will be traveling to Chicago and Florida at some point soon! (I actually posted this earlier today, but for some reason when I got home from work I didn’t see it on the thread, maybe it didn’t register.)

Also, I agree with milesnagopaleen, too—unless you understand his remark about learning by ear, then you really *are* missing the whole point.

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Re: The REAL tune?

Hmmm, the plot seems to thicken…. and we seem to be back on the track of aural learning vs. learning from the dots. Learning by ear is a great and wonderful thing if you have both the time and the opportunity. I believe that I’ve said in other threads that I feel a degree of frustration learning from a CD, only to find that what I’ve learned is a concert, showy version of a tune thrown in to show off the versitility of the player as opposed to the beauty of the tune. I turn to the session for the bare bones. I wish I lived in a perfect world where I could spend hours and hours everyday learning tunes by ear but I can’t and I suspect that there’s more than one person on this site in a similar situation. It’s kind of a reality of this world we live in. When I’m at work, I work 14 hour days, I don’t get a lunch break that I can go play fiddle or flute (although I’ve tried) and sessions around here happen on the one night a week where I actually have something else to do. If I’m really busy, I get to pop in once or twice a year. My learning therefore has to take place quickly, efficiently and quite often in the middle of the night while just trying to chill after a stupid day. The only thing that I can do is noodle through tunes in a book, find something that catches my attention, then seek recorded sources and other sources to find the version and style that most appeals to me. I’m very particular and I want the sources of everything to be as true to the original intention of the tune. So, I take a wee bit of offense to the "must learn by ear theory". The last session that I was able to attend had a very interesting moment when someone showed up, fiddle in hand and joined right in with everyone but didn’t listen one little bit to what they were doing. She played fast, she was inaccuarate and when she decided to start a tune, she picked an Air and played the worst version I had heard in my life. The best part was that she had no idea. Everyone was very polite but the session came to a crashing halt until she packed up and left as quickly as she’d arrived. Point is that she was someone who had learned by ear…. really, really badly. As I’ve said before… the dots are a tool, how one uses them is the art.

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Re: The REAL tune?

Hi Anny, of course, I agree you can use the dots as a tool—I do it myself. It’s just the remark Trevor made about actually **avoiding** listening to the music, thinking it would interfere with his interpretation of a given tune. Why on earth would anyone do that? That’s just madness.

What a drag working such long days and no lunchbreak!! What do you do? I would go crazy and have a nervous breakdown—you are a strong woman.

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Whoa, now.

I think we’ve got something going here where everyone is quite right, but taking things to extremes would also make everyone also quite wrong. Everything everyone has said so far is actually quite correct when not taken to an extreme. Unless you listen enough to other players, you can’t possibly learn to play Irish traditional music well. Unless at some point you (after developing your own style within the given parameters of "traditional") start giving your own particular style and spin, you can’t play Irish traditional music well. Etc.

Trevor’s teacher gave him advice that would benefit the experienced student — my bet is that a beginning cellist would not have received the same advice. Likewise, an experienced student of Irish trad would need to, at some point, stop trying to copy what Paddy Glackin or Frankie Gavin does and put their own interpretation on Jenny’s Welcome to Charlie.

Anny, your anecdote doesn’t say to something to me about someone learning by ear badly. It’s about someone who is not aware that Irish traditional music is not just about notes and playing them, and that sessions are not just about simply playing the tunes. It’s about HOW you play those notes, and the crack, the social side, the getting along, an awareness of the tradition as more than just notes, that the music isn’t just a string of notes but also about what you bring to the group when playing them, blah blah blah.

To me that has almost nothing to do with the importance of learning by ear — I would agree with Will that aural learning is an extremely important part of learning Irish traditional music well. I think the dots are an extremely good tool — a quick glance at past threads will tell you I’m the local champion of that — but everything else must be kept in balance as well.

None of what anyone has said is *totally* wrong or mad or anything like that, but all of it is only one facet of what goes into making the music, into diving into the tradition. Insofar as I’m concerned, we all need some of *all* of what everyone’s talked about thus far. We’ve done so well at keeping everything on an even, good-humored keel so far. Please, can we keep it that way?

Zina

Re: The REAL tune?

Anny - nice theory - tool etc. But as I also suspect some people on this site find it far harder to learn by music (ie me, as in - cant read itπŸ™‚ I dont have a lot of time, I have a very stressful job - therefore I listen to music on the way to and from work, thats how the tunes get into my head - I listen to tapes of session mostly - which is how you get the non showy non mental version, but I have a theory that this is more than about learning dots verses learning by ear - I have a feeling it could be something to do with getting loads of certain tunes from certain genres of music that arent necessarily Irish - as Ive said before a few is fine. If I was at my local session and someone came in and started loads of tunes that werent Irish I would say something to them because its and Irish traditional music session ;)

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Re: The REAL tune?

I hate to be the bearer of "bad" news, but when it comes down to it, there is no "quick, efficient" way to learn to play this music. Yes, the dots can help—I use ‘em too, and I provide our local players with a two volume sheet music collection of tunes we play at our session. But I encourage people to learn to play by ear at every opportunity. I’m no fan of absolute statements, but there’s no other way I know of to get the timing, and the "logic" of this music.

Every so often, someone comes on this site and derides Irish musicians who put out cds for their flashy, showpiece playing. "It’s not pure drop," they say, "they’re just trying to sell cds in a competitive market." And I’ll agree to that, in some cases. Leahy, for examply πŸ™‚ Mighty players, but….

Sure, recording and selling cds is a marketing and money-earning venture. But most of the recordings I listen to are just good, clean, heartfelt playing. They mostly trust the music itself to win over listeners (and buyers). So the tunes and settings are playable, they’re not over ornamented, or hopped up to 6,000 rpm. They’re what I hear at sessions and in people’s kitchens, and what the pros play after the gig back at their hotel room. At worst, they might be "arranged"—instruments coming and going, cute changes from slip jig to reel, etc.—but the tunes themselves are straightforward.

I recommend giving Mike and Mary Rafferty a listen…cds available through www.cherishtheladies.com, or Cathy Custy, or the Glackin boys, or Altan, or Dervish for that matter.

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P.s.

Of course, once you’ve done it long enough, and develop a knack for it, picking up tunes by ear is amazingly quick and efficient—there’s no middle step of translating from the page. Sound comes in, sounds goes out. But in my experience, it’s a long, sometimes arduous apprenticeship to get there. Well worth the trip.

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Re: The REAL tune?

Hear, hear, Will! I learn tunes SO much faster now than I used to when I couldn’t learn by ear. So, let’s see…that’s… two years now since I started that? And I still haven’t quite got it down at session speed, either, but I’m still learning tunes (and being able to play them at sessions) literally months sooner.

zls

Also another point - Will I disagree with the bulk of sessions playing the same tunes, I lived in Ireland for 2 and a half years all up - some sessions I knew almost every tune and other session I coudlve known one. That is in the same town - in Galway. I knew most tunes at the Crane and hardly any at Tig Coilis - obviously I eventually learnt a couple just through osmosis, but sometimes I would be sitting there for hours not playing and saying to myself ‘I swear, I know loads of tunes…arrghhh" It’d feel so weird because some sessions I cant even get a sip of my pint and then I rocked up there and it was like the first session I ever went to when I knew one tune. Same as dublin - totally different tunes to the ones we play in sydney and galway. You wouldnt really hear that many common tunes at the sessions wiht padraig rynne and mirella murray and verena commins etc.

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Re: The REAL tune?

I can imagine that, Bridie, but most of the sessions here in the state’s don’t have any or many "name" players, and the tunes are pretty much the same 600 to 700 usual suspects. In my experience, sessions where only a handful of people are playing tunes that their neighbors across town don’t know fit more into the category of performance. They can feel like a session, but the circle is self limiting through the repertoire. That’s fine, and makes for great listening for the rest of us.

And of course, no matter how many tunes you know, there are always sessionfuls more to learn πŸ™‚

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Re: The REAL tune?

Zina—I’m sorry, as soon as I posted it I felt maybe me saying "that’s madness" may have been a bit harsh. So—Trevor, I’m sorry! Forgive me. I guess we all just have different ideas of what floats our boat.

Right now, I am in the stage where listening as much as possible to different musicians with different styles, etc. is top prioority and top fun as well. I imagine I’ll be at this stage of learning for a long time. My teacher’s husband once said, "Some of my best learning I’ ve done just by listening."

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Re: The REAL tune?

Andee,
You have made a very important point and are on the right track IMHO. It’s vital to do a lot of listening. I have been playing for 30 odd years now and am still in that "stage" of learning.. it’s an ongoing process. I was fortunate enough to be in a couple of sessions with James Kelly last summer and I noticed that he keeps a tape recorder on the table running throughout the session so he obviously feels he still has things to learn. As he once said himself, "It’s an ongoing struggle"
But this thread was supposed to be about settings of tunes. As Will has pointed out, there is no "correct setting". If you have a look through O’Neill’s for example you will find many settings of tunes very close to what is commonly played in sessions today, whilst other settings are markedly different. I have my own theories as to why this is but the question is how to decide which setting contains the essence of the tune and which bits are variants. A lot of listening is required. Obviously you can’t listen to every recording of a given tune before you start. You have to start somewhere! Some recordings may be show pieces with only a passing nod to the bones of the tune or played in an unusual key. In others the tune is obscured by over elaborate arrangement. Perhaps we should have a poll of our favourite recordings from which to learn tunes?

Re: On Listening Well

That is exactly it: "Some of my best learning I’ ve done just by listening."

Y’know, I’m reluctant to claim that I’m anything more than a middling fiddler, despite having tried to be spectacular for more than 20 years now. But I *am* a really good listener. In fact, it’s frustrating because I can hear so much more than I can play.

I’m not being tongue-in-cheek here…really listening, and hearing all the elements that go into a bit of music is a skill that can be developed and honed just like any other. And I think it’s one of the more important things to do if you’re also trying to play this music yourself.

So I have a confession to make. I rarely listen to Irish trad music just as "background" sound. I can’t do it. Whenever there’s a cd or tape in the machine, my attention zeroes in on it, and I can’t work, or eat, or hold down a conversation. I used to feel kinda sheepish about this because most players I know have trad music going all the time, and they seem to be able to almost ignore it, but I thought maybe it was seeping into their bones anyway. And then I realized that listening the way I do is no different than *playing* the music—I would never try to fiddle and work at the same time, or fiddle through dinner. It demands my full attention. So does listening. Sometimes I’ll listen while I’m driving, but I can do that only because Montana’s roads are "high, wide, and lonesome" so I rarely run anyone else off the road as I go, enraptured by the tunes.

I listen to a fair amount of music, but it’s always with both ears, and every gram of what little brain power I have left. My point here is that I’ve learned a lot by playing fiddle. But I think I’ve actually learned *more* through years of attentive, critical (in the good sense) listening.

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Re: The REAL tune?

Just to clarify, I actually agree with everyone. Everyone has a different way of reaching their goals, some of which are more efficient for the individual. I listen to music as often as I can but when it comes to really learning something, I use every tool at my disposal to reach that goal. That includes referring to the dots and seeking out different recorded sources and trying to make sure that I’ve picked sources that are clean. Everyone here at the session and in the recording section has been most helpful in that regard. Will… yes it takes a long time, that’s why I’m on the 21 year program πŸ™‚. I don’t learn a tune a day, more like a tune a month. I could sit through a session and maybe be able to play only a small handful up to speed but it’s more than I could do last year or two years ago and the trip is ever pleasurable. It is indeed a trip and the community is a big part of it. When I think about it, 10 years ago I couldn’t tell the difference between a jig and a reel or a strathspey but I do now. I’m starting to be able to differentiate styles of Irish playing. I figure, that’s all good.

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Re: The REAL tune?

The point I was trying to make about what my cello teacher said, and possibly I didn’t put it across clearly, is that you shouldn’t try to slavishly copy a particular individual performance. It’s basically unintelligent and unmusicianly. I don’t think Martin Hayes, for example, would be overjoyed at everyone going round playing with note-for-note precision his version of Port na bPucai (a recording of a live performance, BTW). This was what my cello teacher was getting at - he wanted me to think about and develop my own interpretation of the printed music and not to unthinkingly copy the interpretative nuances on a particular recording (don’t forget this was also with an exam in mind). It still means you should listen to as much of a wide range of music as you can, both live and recorded, and read the dots as well if that is necessary; because only then can you find the way to your own style.

bb, I can mirror your Dublin session experiences in Bristol and Somerset. I only have to go to a session in a village about 25 miles south of Bristol to find that virtually all the tunes are quite unfamiliar!

And Will, I second you in that I too find it impossible to have music (of any kind) as background when I’m doing something else. One of the most fraught academic experiences of my life was when I was sitting some finals in the upper hall of a large building in London, the London Symphony Orchestra started their daily rehearsal in the lower hall immediately beneath. I remember mentally cursing those d*mned horns for not playing in tune!

trevor

Re: The REAL tune?

Trevor and I were just discussing this via email, and I’ll add a bit of what I just sent him, not to contradict Trevor’s point (because I basically agree with him on this), but perhaps to clarify.

There is a tradition, especially it seems among Irish trad fiddlers, of slavishly copying note for note off the recordings of better players. It’s an accepted part of the learning curve. Martin Hayes said he used to pore over every note on Kevin Burke recordings, and we’ve all heard the stories of fiddlers across the land hunched over the gramophones getting every tasty morself off the latest Michael Coleman platter.

Of course, Martin Hayes typically doesn’t sound anything like Kevin Burke, and damn few people sound like Coleman (heh), but internalizing note for note the setting of another player is a useful way to understand how that person approaches a tune in terms of overall structure, timing, and phrasing, in particular. And that’s a good—and within the culture of this music, an *accepted* and even honored—way to learn.

Of course, the next step on the learning curve is to develop your own approach to the music, and for most people this comes naturally enough. Most of us play because we love it, and so we play a lot, and so our playing and the music evolves fairly rapidly (even if it doesn’t always feel like it).

I acutally highly recommend copying note for note from better players, especially in your formative years as a musician. Just be sure to change role models every so often, and listen to and incorporate your own tastes and ideas about the music as well.

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Re: The REAL tune?

I think trevor hit the nail on the head, we should seek inspiration from the masters but not exact playing scripts.
This makes the whole settings dilemma less important, as Jeremy maintains, it should be just kept simple for us to build on. There are recordings to listen to which show the more complex settings anyway.
I would personally find it boring if every player from low to high ability tried to play the same setting, the information superhighway is inclined to encourage this maybe. A few decades ago, there would have been way more variety of settings, mostly probably more simple, I’d hate to see us cull all of those out in the pursuit of the "ideal" or the fashionable one of the moment.
Isn’t life about the variety of spice?

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Re: The REAL tune?

There’s really two types of learning by ear;
instantaneous and delayed.

There’s the workshop setting where you might be learning a specific tune in a large group, working through the phrases. Until you get the hang of it, this can be hard.There’s an instant demand on you to get it right (despite kindly tutors). I found that this can put people off the idea a lot.

The other way is, for example, where you’ve sat in a regular session, probably long enough to know people, be known and have mastered the etiquette. You hear a tune and start to play before realising "hang on, I never learnt this". That’s great, really great.

~Cait

Re: The REAL tune?

I should add to the above that theres always a tendency to copy the way the greats play, even by the greats if you like, and thats fine, but encouragement might be best aimed at developing our own style of the tune, its hard to avoid replicating stuff that we hear that sounds great at the best of times.

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Re: The REAL tune?

Hmmm. Actually, I personally find those to be facets of the same thing, Cait, rather than two different things. The second way is basically having learned the tune by hearing it over and over, you get it out through the instrument. The first way is learning the tune in one sitting. The second way is a more natural way to learn, but takes a bit longer if you want to get a specific tune. (When I first started, I once listened to one track of Bobby Casey’s over and over and over all the way down to Colorado Springs. I had the tune by the time I got back to Denver.)

Zina

Re: The REAL tune?

Kenn, I’m not sure I understand why you think anyone here might have suggested that we’re looking for an "ideal" setting and culling the rest. I know *my* intent all along has been to encourage people to post a sessionable setting as the initial post (because by default it gets the link, sheet music, and sound file), and then to add all possible different settings in the comments section. I would never say that the initial post is somehow *the* correct or ideal setting, but it should be fairly simple and based on how the submitter actually plays the tune, preferrably as it’s played at his or her session. This gives some measure of assurance that the setting is indeed playable, sessionable, and more likely to show up in similar enough form at other sessions.

And lots of people have chimed in that we all want to see more versions posted in the comments.

Does that clarify what we’ve been getting at?

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P.s.

I certainly intend to mend my ways and post more basic settings, saving the versions stolen off of recordings for the comments section. I think it helps to see how different players interpret a tune and to be able to compare those settings to the basic melody. And that’s where we all seem to be headed. I have high hopes that the comments sections will blossom into more settings than we know what to do with.

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Re: The REAL tune?

Maybe we found three ways Zina =) I agree, they’re not seperate ways, but variations on a main method.

I wasn’t thinking of where you set out to learn a tune, but where when you start to play you think you have learnt it. I think it’s due to the unconscious hearing of the tune; you get so used to it, you know how it goes and so you know where your fingers will go next.
That might be what you meant by listening to Bobby Casey’s.

Could well be blathering. =)

~Cait

Re: The REAL tune?

There is a problem with fiddle workshops, especially for the beginners and the next stage or two up. And it is this. You’re all trying to play the first two bars as per the tutor’s instructions, and can you hear yourself? Not on your life! All you can hear is a dreadful mash of sound in a room which apparently has the acoustics of a carefully designed echo chamber, no two notes in tune, and any that may fortuitously be in tune are a beat early or late anyway. I expect many of us have experienced this. I know I have, and only recently a beginner mentioned to me her almost identical experience at a workshop.

Under such circumstances it is indeed a wonder that anyone comes away knowing even half the tune. All I can say is, be grateful for the tape recorder and kind tutors who play through the tune at learning pace so that everyone can record it!

trevor

Aural and Kinesthetic learning

Cait, I help people almost every Sunday to learn aurally. It’s a bugger for a lot of people, that’s for sure. And most people learn kinesthetically before they learn truly aurally. But there’s two stages (more or less) to the process you’re talking about. One is learning the tune. The other is learning your instrument well enough to know what gets you the note you’re hearing in your head.

For more (longwinded) info: http://www.slowplayers.org/SCTLS/learn.html

Re: The REAL tune?

One of the major difficulties in learning by ear is when you are unfamiliar with the tune—either never heard it before or only heard it a few times. It’s a *snap* for me to learn a tune I’ve been either consciously listening to all week, knowing I’m going to learn it at my next lesson, or on my own—or if it’s a tune I’ve heard loads of times before at sessions and/or on recordings.

It’s like the tune is playing on the CD player in your brain—and then the rest is easy (pretty much).

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Re: The REAL tune?

I liked the story about the classical player being told to learn a tune for six months without hearing anyone else playing it. The comments made that "you can’t learn irish traditional music just from the dots" miss the point. Of course you can’t, just as you couldn’t learn classical just from the dots (although the results from trying might be pretty).But you can learn a TUNE, if you are already conversant in the Irish music idiom, entirely without listening to someone else play it.

Traditionally there was, if you think about it, probably quite a lot less listening to music than there is now. Before music could be recorded and replayed you only got to listen when there was people there to play. A lot of tunes would be learned, I presume by people remembering them from a couple of hearings and working from memory, not the way that learning by ear is often done today with your favourite player permanently on hand to play their version for you a hundred times over (courtesy of your CD player) while you pick up every ornament. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s dead handy! But I do think the idea of learning a tune without listening to other people playing it, say from memory of a hearing or from some unornamented dots to get the initial idea is a good one.

Re: The REAL tune?

Zina -

Yes. That’s it.

Once I work through my longwindedness that’s pretty much what it come down to.

Note to self - write concisely..

Thanks.
~Cait

Re: The REAL tune?

Cait — heh…then don’t go looking at me as an example. I’m famously long-winded!

zls