You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

Take the High Level Hornpipe for example. The tune was written by James Hill and belongs in Bb. Off it goes to Ireland and returns in G, or some other playable key (see The Session tunes directory). Quite likely, somebody records it in G, and anybody who hears such a recording regards G as its proper key and perhaps never knows that it originated in a flat key. The Hawk is another instance: written in E major, again by Hill, and now invariably played in D. My question is: can these transpositions be rightly regarded as the same tune? Or are they impostors?

Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

Maybe it takes a fiddler to tell.

Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

I’m sure Paddy Keenan agonizes over this very question as he tears through "The High Level" during a performance.

Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

I think you should ask yhaalhouse - he seems to have a firm grip on reality.

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Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

Well they are the same tune but it’s sad to see the sort of general dumbing down which means putting all tunes into easy keys. Of course some instruments have limitations as to what key they can play in, (I play DG box and fiddle myself, and obviously DG box has certain limitations as it is not fully chromatic, so certain tunes I don’t bother trying to play on it, but Bb and E major should really be no problem for a fiddle or any fully chromatic instrument, they are not especially difficult keys on the fiddle, and classical players doing violin exams would reach these keys at grades 2 and 3 respectively, (out of 8 grades) . I also dislike the kind of dumbing down where tunes are moved to a lower pitch in order to be playable in 1st position on the fiddle.

Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

‘course it’s the same tune you daft eedjits. A tune is the intervals not the notes. And as for transposing tunes into easier keys? Of course you bloody should, it’s about making music not showing off with bloody obstacle courses. Serves the arrogant show offs right for writing difficult tunes in the first place.

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Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

"The tune was written by James Hill and belongs in Bb."

Hrmph.

It was most likely written in Bb because that was a convenient and pretty key for it on the fiddle. If you were playing a viola, the same tune would sound sweeter in Eb than in Bb (where it would, frankly, sound foolish played by even the most accomplished musicians). Similarly, if the fiddler was tuned up to Eb (as is quite common), should she finger the tune in A (which would be actually playing in Bb), or should she finger in Bb (actually playing in B)?

It’s a common classical musicians’ perspective that a tune should only be played in the same key in which it was written, but I don’t think that’s really relevant in traditional music. People change keys around all the time, to wonderful effect. They use different instruments, and even tune them differently.

I suppose next you’ll tell Paddy Canny that he shouldn’t be playing all those tunes one step down, as he does so nicely. Or perhaps you’d like to shoot down Mick O’Brien, or Paddy Keenan, or Willie Clancy, or Seamus Ennis for playing sets of pipes in the "wrong" key (whatever the heck the "right" key is)? Or how about everybody that plays in Eb? What about sessions involving different kinds of instruments? It’s often rude to play G-minor tunes in a session with flute players, or an A-major tune in a session with concertinas. I guess we just don’t play that tune there, then?

I think the musician has the right and/or obligation to play tunes in the key that sounds best to them on their instrument. If a flute player thinks that a tune they play sounds nicer in D than Bb, then so be it. Let them play in D. I’d rather hear it sound nicer right now than be in the same key that some dude with a violin (or harpsichord!) back in the 1700s thought sounded good at the time.

Sometimes that means making the tune easier, but then would you rather hear a butchering of a tune in the right key, or a nice performance of a tune in the "wrong" key? There’s enough testosterone and one-upsmanship in Irish music to ensure that the difficult keys will still get their airtime. I’m not worried.

Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

It wasn’t just Irish musicians who changed the key of the High Level. Northumbrian pipers always play it in G (on most chanters this comes out in F). A lot of players of other instruments in the northeast also play it in G. I would say it’s pretty rare to hear it played in Bb these days. Anyway, it’s obviously still the same tune whichever key you choose to play it in.

Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

Back in the fifties, it was Kieran Kelly I first heard playing the High Level. All you had to do was to strap on a box and as sure as little apples someone would say ‘Give us the High Level’ and if you couldn’t play it…you were usless. I wrote away for the music and got it back in Bb. In the end I learnt the three parts in G from an old 78 record by George Ross. Will Starr the Scottish accordionst just played the two parts but used to build up the speed. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it played faster.

Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

Sure, it’s the same tune. The question remains, Why did James Hill pick the keys he did for some of his tunes, and not stick to D/G/A? Seriously? Is there a different texture to the sound of a fiddle played in E, F or the flat keys? I haven’t heard one for a long time so I wouldn’t know; but he must have composed in all these different keys for some reason.

Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

I think to a great extent Hill picked those keys because they were harder (he was supposed to be a bit of a prat like that). Also, the acoustic properties of the instrument change depending on the key, e.g tunes in A will sound brighter than those in Bb because of the way the violin resonates.

Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

Perhaps it was for certain notes he wanted on open strings, or something to do with accompaniment or other instruments he expected to play with, or even that he got a classically trained musician to transcribe it …?

Dow, as our resident JH enthusiast, can you elaborate?

I remember plodding away at President Garfield in Bb as Aly Bain plays it and as she is written until I met a very good Shetland mandolinist who told me not to be so daft and whipped it out in G.
If anyone was capable of playing it in Bb he was.

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Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

Interesting how the written word is interpreted. I would be mightily pleased to hear Paddy Keenan play the High Level in any key of his choosing. I do not mention "right", "wrong" nor even "should".

My question was driving at something a little more philosophical perhaps. Let me choose a different example, which will I hope generate fewer arguments regarding elitism and purism, and to which the answer may appear very obvious indeed.

Take any tune that gets played in G, then in A to give a "lift" to a set. (OK it may be a lazy old trick but it works). Say the Foxhunter’s Reel for example. Is it the same tune in both keys?

Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

Yes, but I know how they will sound different on fiddle or mandolin in different keys.
I don’t know enough about the other instruments to know what difference a key change would make.

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Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

Nick, I’ve just been reading a bunch about neurobiological research on music, so let me pass along what I learned. The research shows that our brains recognize a melody no matter what key it’s in, as long as the pitch intervals remain the same when transposed (which any proper transposition would do).

But it even goes beyond that. We seem to be wired to recognize a melody as the same melody even if we start tinkering with those intervals. Most humans will recognize a minor (aeolian) setting of "Happy Birthday" and say, "Oh, that’s Happy Birthday, just sad sounding."

We can also play around with the meter and rhythm and a melody still retains its unique identity. Go look at the reel and jig versions of the Green Hills of Tyrol (https://thesession.org/tunes/3590 and https://thesession.org/tunes/760) to see how the "same" tune can be played in different meters.

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Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

Having just learned President Garfield’s in G, after years (Decades?) of thinking that it could only sound right in Bb, I have to concur with Bren. It sounded different at first, but now my ears have adapted to it and it sounds fine.

Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

P.S. People with perfect (or even just decent) pitch can tell keys apart, so transposing a tune will give it different qualities for such listeners. But it’s still the same tune.

All of which begs the question—what makes one melody distinct from another? And how do our brains tell the difference? The men and women in lab coats are still looking into this.

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Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

they’ll be looking at you if you think about it too much

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Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

Heh, bring ‘em on! I laugh in the face of probes, needles, and barium enemas! Ha ha ha ha!

(ahem)

What is it, this "thinking too much"? Is that really possible? I mean, assuming you’re being logical and reasonable, and your premises are sound, and you pause now and then to consider where you might be after a red herring.

The alternative being to just not think and follow old dogma passed down by other nonthinkers?

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Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

"it’s about making music not showing off with bloody obstacle courses"…
I whole-heartedly concur with the good Mr Gill’s sentiments in this matter, no matter how he may choose to express them…
I’m all for the easy life when playing music, hence my screen name.

Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

Does it really matter what key a tune is played in as long as it’s the tune and it sounds like the tune and everyone goes along with it? Written in Bb but played in G?? Heaven forbid! Keeps most of those those pesky horn players away from the tradition though. Of course, if this thread is ALL tongue in cheek (rather than stifling academicizing [is academicizing a word?]) then I take it all back 😉

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Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

"The tune … belongs in Bb"
Seems like you already have a fixation about original keys.
- usually played in Bb
Not true, but meaningful
- first written in Bb
Presumably true
- sounds nice to me in Bb
May be true, though a matter of taste
- belongs in Bb
Under what scheme of relationships does "belong" come into the question at all?

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Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

All humans have the ability to recognise pitch. If well defined this ability extends to being able to state the pitch of a note on hearing it. But for everyone A-major is a particularly bright key, and Bb mellower. Changing the key can change these vague associations which are often barely recognisable. I also quite enjoy and challenge of playing tunes in unfamiliar keys, at home on my own. In sessions obviously one needs to defer to popularity. But tunes in unfamiliar keys are really good for opening up the instrument and moving from muscle-memory to brain-memory of tunes. Playing familiar standard-key tunes in other keys helps too.

kjay
Ps I don’t have perfect pitch, but I also don’t think it’s due to any physiological difference between me and a person who does. I can’t say that I know of any research to back this up however.

Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

Spot on Llig (i was going to say here here but wasn’t sure it if was spelt here here or hear hear? 🙂

Loved the extra scorn about serves them right for showing off!

Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

Nick, you’ll have to add a new "Old gits" rule.

"Nae transposition"

🙂

Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

You have to bear in mind that our beloved keys of G and D come from convention and necessity, to fit in with pipes and flutes etc. Dunno much about fiddles, but if you just go for one key for no other reason than that it’s "easier", then many of the tunes we play in G would go better in A on the fiddle. Take the Galway Rambler, for instance: G2dG eGdG is "easier" to play as A2eA fAeA on the fiddle. But that doesn’t mean you should necessarily play it in A on the fiddle. Of course it’s a G tune, and a great one to play along with the flutes. Why change it?

My point is that in James Hill’s time, lots of people were writing tunes in Bb and Eb, and had been for some years even before James Hill came along. It had nothing to do with his ego or personality. He wrote fantastic tunes, endov. To a large extent he was following conventions when he wrote in Bb, just like we would probably write something in G or D if asked to compose a trad reel/jig on the spot.

I don’t personally know much about the fiddle as I don’t play one, but I’ve spoken to people who play Bb tunes on fiddle, and they report that it’s not necessarily more difficult, given that the Bb fingering lies under the fingers quite well. The sound produced is different because the strings don’t resonate in the same way like you get in open A, for example.

Another reason I’m not against Bb tunes is that there’s been a couple of times when I’ve come across tunes in D that have gone way too high, and I’ve thought "maybe it was originally in G or A", but that’s sounded way too low. Several months later, I’ve come across the tune in an old manuscript transcribed in Bb, and I’ve played through it, and the whole pitch range and feel of the tune has "made sense".

I’m not going all pro-Bb here, really. I’m not bothered either way with this one; a key’s a key, and in the end it’s the tune that matters, and that stands or falls on its own merit. But as a person who loves Bb hornpipes, and who is definitely not a show-off (anyone who knows me knows that I *won’t* "perform" music and would rather die than be on stage), I have to admit that I have a bit of a soft spot for these tunes in their original key.

Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

The Sailor’s Return (Gm) is a great old tune - wouldn’t sound right transposed. Dowd’s Favourite is another. Real Beatrice also sounds best in Gm - though Natalie Macmaster transposes it up. That’s one I’m working on. There’s lots of Carolan tunes with two flats and they sound majestic that way. I was having a go at Seanamhac Tube Station recently - that’s written with 2 flats. Georgiana Moon is Bflat - love that tune, but you wouldn’t want to hear me try and play it yet - I like a challenge though. Also when you have hordes of people strumming along, you may get a short respite when you switch to these keys.

Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

"But it even goes beyond that. We seem to be wired to recognize a melody as the same melody even if we start tinkering with those intervals. Most humans will recognize a minor (aeolian) setting of "Happy Birthday" and say, "Oh, that’s Happy Birthday, just sad sounding."" says Cheshire

Well that makes sense if we consider music as akin to speech. We cope everyday with many modes and accents just in ordinary English. So, if the brain can handle all these variations and still make sense of what is being said, then it’s easypeasy to absorb variations in melody and still recognise the basic tune.

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Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

"What is it, this "thinking too much"?"
you are extrapolating from the specific to the general Will. There are plenty of thoughts to be thunk on how melodies affect the brain and the emotions but they are in the realm of science and dispassionate investigation, not music , good crack and visceral reaction. Feel it, but don’t drive yourself mad thinking about how you feel it . They are two separate subjects.

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Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

Here’s an anecdote from Scotland, going back well over 100 years, concerning a change of key:
"One evening at a dance, things had been going well when the second fiddler stopped playing, stuck his fiddle in his bag and stomped off stage. He went straight to the door of the hall without a backward look.
The fellow at the door had seen what happened and asked, ‘What’s wrong man? What for have ye stopped playin?’
The fiddler drew himself upto his full height, his whiskers bristling, and burst out, ‘I hae kept decent company aw my days and I’m in nae mind tae change now. That Jamie Duncan… is now playin "Monymusk" in four flats, an I say onie man that would dae that is capable o all sorts o rascality. Guid nicht.’
And with that the fiddler stomped off, never to play with Jamie Duncan again!
(taken from: Stuart McHardy , MacPherson’s Rant and other Tales of the Scottish Fiddle)

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Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

Yes, Bren, but we are talking in this thread about "how melodies affect the brain and the emotions," not about actually playing the music. Th original post isn’t a question about how to feel the music. So whyh suggest anyone here is thinking "too much" about it?

Some of us here have read and studied extensively on neurobiology and how our brains process information, including music. Don’t extrapolate from that that we fret over any of it while we’re actually playing the music, particularly at a session, with good craic, and a visceral reaction. They are indeed two separate things. And we’re doing one of them here on this thread.

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Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

i have just, for the second time, lost a tediously long and ponderously argued post into the ether. (Cheers all round). How does that happen? Am I doing something wrong?

Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

Doing something wrong? Yes, you are writing tediously long and ponderously argued posts.

Stop it.

🙂

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Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

I think it would be fair to say that Hill’s style is typical of that period (mid-late 19th Century). Then again, he wan’t playing for simplicity by writing tunes with lots of triplets, arpeggios etc. It’s the competition tune style of writing that, I suspect, was propagated by many of the fiddlers meeting at fiddle contests and bidding to outdo each other. Mme Neruda always springs to mind as the pinnacle of such one-upmanship.

Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

Scott-Skinner described the different keys as follows:
C - bold and piercing
A - the fiddle key
A min - sad and plaintive
F min - exquisitely harrowing
G - plenty of body
E - brilliant but lacking in body
E min - sterile, thin
B flat - velvet, very rich and fine
D - splendid body
E flat and C min - weird, fascinating and beautifully sad
B min - rather sad
Capoing up and down wasn’t an option!

Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

I thought it was "B - flat, DD - splendid body"

*gets coat and climbs into rubber inflatable*

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Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

Nigel Tufnell (Spinal Tap):
"D minor, the saddest key of all".

Music written in a specific key should be played in that key.
Composers don’t just choose keys arbitrarily, each key has its own character.
Apart from the actual tones reaching your ears that make a difference, the technique for the various tonalities are distinct. Think of playing on a keyboard in D and then Eb or on a non-capo’ed six string devil.
Because the fingering are different the music has a different character.

To change the key of a piece for convenience is rather churlish.
Unless, I suppose, you are a novice a tune could be played in an “easier” key but the student’s teacher should emphasize that this is the case and that the piece is now a bastardized, nasty cheap debased “Stars on 45” facsimile of the original.
Changing keys so that vocalists can comfortably sing is also a tenacious subject.

But, if anyone at a session is gonna suddenly knock out a tune the should be in F#, C minor or K blunt Mixolydian, a little hint to everyone else would be pleasant, otherwise the tune will be over by the time everyone’s eliminated the usuals (in this order: D, G, Em, Am, A major, C, Gm, F) and sussed what the bloody key is!!

Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

I’ve never tried to play in F Minor on the melodeon but I like to think the results would be "exquisitely harrowing", especially if I played the standard basses.

Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

There is no doubt the fiddle sounds different in the flat keys. I suspect that, in Bb, the open D can resonate with the Bb on the A string in the interval of an augmented 5th, or, if you like, a Bb on the G string resonates with the open D in the interval of a major 3rd. (I am not up on music theory, so expect to be shot down here.) But something gives Bb its distinctive sound. If you are playing in G, the open D can resonate against the scale played on the A string in intervals of 5th, 6th, flat7th and octave, none of which is an augmented 5th: hence the different tone.

Also, if the High Level for example is played in G, there is a tricky bit of fingering where the Cnat on the A string and the Fsharp on the D string need to be played immediately after one another, and the problem reoccurs later with Gnat on the E and Csharp on the A string; these are all normally fingered with the second finger, but in this key fall half a position apart on different strings: damned awkward; also there is some double stopping with the third finger across the D and A strings, always a slightly dodgy prospect unless you have big fingers.

So in contradiction to all those who say Hill was being deliberately difficult, engaging in one-upmanship, being a show-off or an awkward prat and so on, the technical difficulties described above mean that, for fiddle players at least, Hill’s pitching of the High Level into Bb made it easier, I repeat easier, to play.

Besides which, it sounds great in Bb, and that is where it belongs.

Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

but President Garfield is still a bit of a bastard in Bb

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Re: You are not Louis XIV…..you are the imposteur!

But James Hill is generally presumed to be all of those things (although all together a decent non-pretentious bloke)! That said, there’s precious little known about him, so what is known is probably conjunctre. I fear, Nick, you interpreted my comments as derogatory as opposed to a bit of gentle fun poking.

I’m actually quite fond of James Hill’s tunes; Random and The Cliff are a pair my favourite tunes. I’m also quite agin taking them out of their original key - therein lies part of the fun of playing them.


Fmin is more "exquisitly harrowing" when played in unison by double bassists (the intervals created are, frankly, harrowing). Anything with more than five flats will probably verge towards "rather distressing" 😏

…."conjecture"…. What is it with me and making up words today?