Songs as tunes

Songs as tunes

Now …

Lately I’ve been toying around with "The Boys Of Fair Hill/Kelly, The Boy From Killane" as a tune set (when I’m feeling really inspired by the rhythm and my fingers seem to do what they should be doing, tacking on The Boys Of Wexford and The Mountains Of Pomeroy).

It set me off thinking.

Many song-tunes aren’t necessarily part of the dance music canon and yet they’re ripe for getting the oul’ session treatment. Tunes like "The Boys of Wexford" and "The Mountains Of Pomeroy" as mentioned above have found their way into many a sessioneer’s repertoire. However do any of you out there have any "songs" which you like to play as session-tunes (or tunes that you play in the house for your own enjoyment)?

(We can take as read, of course, slow airs - almost all of which exist as songs in their parallel universe.)

Just curious.

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A good set that everyone knows (at least one set of words to) is
Merry Ploughboy
Roddy McCauley
Star of County Down
Kelly from Kilane

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A couple of song-tunes goes down well as marches("Kelly, the Boy","The Irish Rover",etc). The problem I find, is that if you play a song-tune, someone (usually not a singer, but say, maybe a passing tourist off a cruise-ship or something (in Oslo anyway)) will feel inclined to sing. So they stumble through the first verse. Because they don’t know the next verse, they hum it. The third repetition is often interpreted by the "singer" as "We really don’t care if you don’t know the words, go on ahead……".

In Oslo we play "Love will you marry me" every now and then.

Years ago in McEleavy’s(Stan’s) in Keady I heard "Roddy McCorley" and "The Irish Rover" played regularly as a march-set. Luckily there are no cruiseships in Keady …….

Cruiseships in Keady …

I’m with you, snorre.

Geoff … although The Star Of The County Down is not a bad tune per se, those awful lyrics! I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to get them out of my head and would hear them sung in some cat-melodeon tenor by some shaky-jowled, red-faced … stop me now before I get carried away. (Such a coaxin’ elf, indeed! As one who lived near Banbridge till I moved away, I can tell you there’s none within a hound’s gowl of the place who would resort to such floral waffle!)

Mind you …

None of the above intended, of course, as a slight on Geoff.

In "The Star Of The County Down"’s defence, the signature tune of my own county is even worse - in both tune and lyrics! (My own Irish home, far across the foam, … foreign lands to roam and that dirgy tune!)

Still - as long we bring the All-Ireland home in a few days’ time, eh!?

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A couple of songs I like singing and now enjoy playing on the banjo would be Rocky Road to Dublin, Some Say the Devil Is Dead, I’ll tell Me Ma and Mursheen Durkin at a nice steady pace, not to sure if it’s accepted at sessions though.

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I have an etiquette question, while we’re on this subject.

A musician I know is always saying "I just learned a great song today" or "What’s the name of that song?" I used to correct her & say, tune! You mean tune! A song has words! But now I’ve just given up. It drives me crazy. Am I turning into a snob or are the semantics really necessary? I don’t think it’s worth me turning into a nag over, yet I feel when she plays in ‘real’ sessions, many folks will look down their noses at her. Would you?

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Eileen

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I remember when I first started taking lessons, I used to always call tunes, songs. The teacher used to have a good laugh and always enjoyed reminding that l’ll get a good slagging in a session if I keep calling them songs.
So I soon got the hang of it "TUNES", but I certainly wouldn’t look down on anybody in a session.

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Songs have words, tunes do not. It’s as simple as that. If someone says they learned a new song today, then ask them to sing it. Words should come out of their mouth. If they don’t, then it’s not a song they have learned, it’s a tune! (And if they lilt the tune, it’s still not a song, because they’re not lilting *words*.)

This is a pretty fundamental thing, and anyone who shows up at a session talking about "songs" when they should be talking about "tunes" is going to be looked upon as a rube (or an eejit, should they do it in Ireland). Unless of course the entire session is made up of rubes, which does happen. So I would say you should correct your friend when she mis-speaks. Sooner or later she’ll catch on, unless she really is a rube and is content with being one.

Now of course many tunes do have words that are sometimes sung to them. But the rule still holds. If you sing the words, then you’re singing the song. If you just play the notes, then you’re playing the tune.

I mean, is this really that complicated a concept to grasp? :->

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Bluegrass players in town play instrumental tunes that they call "songs". I used to find this peculiar until I thought of "songs" in the sense of bird songs or whale songs, and then I felt better. And some songs (e.g. The Song of Solomon) have words but no tunes.

It’s true that in Irish traditional music a song is a song and a tune is a tune, but… big deal. Some people learn slowly. They learn eventually.

—-Michael B.

It seems to be it’s maybe a transatlantic thing.

I have a few American friends (ex-bluegrassers on the whole, making the changeover to the music) who refer to tunes as "songs". (They also use the dreaded "Celtic" word!)

The use of the term bothers me a bit … but I’m very reluctant to criticise. Far better that they’re interested in playing the music than not and any criticism which may appear necessary to those of us already a fair way along the journey might seem nit-picking, hostile, etc. to the innocents starting out.

However … if an Irish person was to use such sloppy terminology, I’d let them know quare and soon!

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Our tune learning session is often the scene of this little interchange:

"What’s the name of that song?"
"Tune."
"What? Oh. I mean, what’s the name of that tune?"

It takes a while, but eventually people do learn the diff between a song and a tune. (Every now and again, though, I’ll call a song a tune!) I generally explain that in the Irish musical tradition, a piece might be an air, a song, a tune, a set dance, or any number of different kinds of piece of music, so it’s worth it to be specific. The Blackbird comes to mind, for instance, and of course there are at least four or five different sets of words to that as a song, I’ve heard two different airs called The Blackbird, I’ve heard it played even, and of course I’ve danced to it often as a traditional set and crooked.

Would I look down on your acquaintance? No. But I *would* know that it means she’s a relative beginner in this particular tradition.

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Hi Zina! Feeling any better?

The problem is, it’s often just the 2 of us playing together, & after a while, I start to sound like a real nag. "You mean tune, right?" If I start to feel like my ‘constructive criticism’ is getting in the way of the tunes, I knock it off, b/c our friendship & musical partnership is more important than nitpicking, but yes, it absolutely drives me CRAZY. Old habits die hard, I guess. grrrrr…..

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As long as we’re debating fine semantics, Em, are you a "real nag" (your words) or just obsessive-compulsive? :o)
Sorry.
If it were me, I’d correct her every time. But I’m as ob-comp as they come….

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Hmmm.

Will, I’ve met some OCD folks in my time, & I honestly don’t think you qualify. I’ve seen your fridge, cupboards & even your office, & they are healthily lived-in! :)

Let’s pretend the only other person you have to practice with is Mary Angela. I know, I know, but just pretend. Then let’s say every time you get together for some tunes, she repeatedly corrects you on something, say your ornamention is not Donegal-style enough for her Altan sets, which she plays almost exclusively. It would get to the point where you would stop looking forward to the playing b/c you dislike her ragging you for something you feel is not that important. I know my friend knows how much it bugs me that she says songs instead of tunes, but I don’t think she’ll change until she starts playing out more & can get a sense that it actually presents her in a poor light, that is to say, beginner, when she knows better. At this point, I don’t think my constantly correcting her does anything but stress our friendship.

Addendum

I do always correct her the first or second time, usually in a joking way, then I resort to the Look, after that I let it slide. I would be remiss if I at least didn’t do that.

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If anybody in our little crew could qualify for OCD, it’d probably be me. (Anyone who thinks I’m joking hasn’t been paying attention. Well, okay, I’m joking a *little*, but not a lot.)

If your friend knows it bugs you when she says songs instead of tunes, and she knows that in the tradition it really is tunes instead of songs, and she insists on using songs instead of tunes anyway, then you might want to re-think how much your friend values not bothering your sensibilities and whether her standards of getting things right is the same as yours.

In the long run, it would probably stress both of you (and your friendship) less if you come down hard once ("Whoa up, here. Listen, it really bugs me that you say ‘songs’ when you know they’re properly referred to as ‘tunes’, especially when you know it bugs me when you do it and you still continue to do it.") and then let it go after that, then try to joke her out of the bad habit and incorrect usage constantly. Of course, you’re leaving the area in a bit, so it may not be worth it to you.

And of course, that’s my style, not yours, which is perfectly valid, but it does mean that you both have to suffer through the irritants of incorrect usage and meaningful jokes. I usually don’t have to, but then people also think I’m a b*tch because of it, so you take your chances either way and have to decide which you’d rather deal with.

As Aidan points out, somebody who cares about this stuff and who should reasonably know better (because they’ve either grown up around the tradition or been corrected enough to know better) and still transgresses deserves to be chastised. :) People who *don’t* care about this stuff, of course, can do whatever they like, and we can look down our noses at them all *we* like. Heh.

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Emily, maybe you should just start calling your friend Mendelssohn, or maybe Mendy for short. After all, he wrote some classical instrumental pieces called "Songs Without Words" and got away with it. I guess he just didn’t know how to spell "tune"…

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Hi Emily! I know a someone who says "song" instead of "tune" once in a while. It kinda bugs me too since this person should know better……..

Joyce

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Thanks Em, at least you didn’t mention my bathrooms….
:o)
(But what about my cupboards?!)

I’m OCD only when it comes to language, and by my own rules of course….

Maybe you could bug her back. Every time she says "song," you say "violin." And smile that winsome little smile….

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hahaha - good one Will. Yeah Em, just come right out and say it. Repeat after me…violin, violin, violin! That would def drive me crazy, especially if she knows better!
Would I look down on someone who said ‘song’ instead of tunes? Depends how long it took them to get out of the habit. For example. If it was the same situation as Em is going through now then the answer is *yes* I would look down on them, because obviously you’ve told her a million times, plus it would annoy me that someone made me nag them all the time. If they were new to the tunes and didnt know any better then no - I wouldnt look down at all. Oh and Song -tunes??? No thanks - not at my session - one exception is def ‘Hey Jude’ DeDannan Style.

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Five’ll get you ten that she doesn’t know or care!

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Yeah emily, I think she’s being a little passive-aggressive with continuing when she knows it bothers you. The *real* problem would come if you guys ever perform in public together and she does it. "…this next song is called…" Oh boy—forget it then! My husband was doing it for a while and even did it at a performance—also I forget if it was my husband or someone else in the band called a hornpipe a reel, and I was fuming—let it be said either *I* do the talking or they get it right!! It’s not OCD, it’s respect and part of the craftmanship of your art.

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Ack sorry for my delay in checking in, but I’m gratified to see the responses, & great suggestions!

A. The violin suggestion is stellar!
B. Will, you can’t be selectively OCD, then you would have SCD.
C. Your cupboards? You mean how all the spice jar labels didn’t line up in neat little rows alphabetically?
D. This whole thing makes me wonder if there isn’t something else going on with my friend. Andee, you are truly empathic, if not outright psychic. I think her reluctance to do this thing, is passive-aggressive, but probably not consciously, & now I’m wondering, yes, what IS going on, b/c something is. See I’m the only one out here who really *cares* about the music (my friend has a baby & a husband & a high pressure job so even though she’s passionate about her fiddle playing, it definitely takes an overall backseat) & I don’t want folks to think I’m pushy or snobby, so I do let lots of things slide, just to keep folks interested in a casual way. Now that I’ve sort of put my foot down about this one thing, in light of other recent events…

Yes I shall book a session therapist post haste aka a bartender! Until then, I shall begin to ask her if she wants to bring her violin over to play some songs, hahaha… thanks everyone.

& finally, to anyone out there who thinks their session sucks, please just be grateful that you have a session at all. I’ve recently lost a singer & a bodhran player (no big loss says you, but they were both very talented, & great craic to boot) so we’re down to the 2 of us, plus a backer who is always out of town interviewing for other jobs anyway. *sigh*

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Andee, at one of the bigger, more serious gigs I’ve ever done, our guitarist suddenly took it upon himself to be emcee. After the applause died away from out first set of tunes, he says, "Thank you! That was a set of fine Sligo reels…" and proceeds to name them, except they were all *Donegal* tunes (which indeed they were). So I leaned into my mic and interrupted him, "Um, actually those were Donegal tunes…" I glance sideways at the guitarist and see the crushed look on his face, and add "but we play them in a Sligo style." Laughter from the audience, and the guitarist’s face brightens again.
Whew.
At leat he didn’t call them songs….

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LOL Will

Do you remember that CRAY-ZEE emcee in Butte announcing Lunasa? It sounded like a Monster Truck Ralley! ‘Are you readyyyyy to rumbllllleeeee…’

& FWIW I"m very sorry to have hijacked this thread completely. For the student recital at Gaelic Roots, Michael Tubridy had us play the Frost is All Over (a different setting than the one posted here) followed by If I Had a Wife, both tunes with words available. I’m probably too much of a beginner to have an opinion on this, but it seems a lot of good tunes originally did come with lyrics. *shrug*

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"Put YOOOOOOR HAAAANDS together for LOOOOOOOOOOOOOnasa!"
:-D

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hahahahahahaha

hahahahahahahahahahaha

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Sorry guys, come to the Isle of Man and ask the name of a tune or song. It doesn’t really matter over here seeing all our tunes were originally songs. If it weren’t for people bringing us instruments once upon a time, we’d probably still be singing! Ask now if anyone knows the original words for the ‘tunes’ and no-one would have a clue. Pretty much all the words are in Manx gaelic, and the odd few tunes which are still sung have the original words. ‘The water kelpie’ or ‘Song of water Kelpie’ or whatever you call it, was actually a Manx song, original title Arrane Ghelby or ‘Song of Dalby’ in English, now I find it in Irish Tunebooks?!

Funny how things work out. I suspect many of the trad tunes played in sessions were once upon a time songs - and not necessarily Irish!!!

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The more I hear this discussed, the less I care too much one way or t’other, to be frank (does that disqualify me from posting on this thread, under the rules of "just a minute …" sorry, "sessioneer"?). I tend to sing tunes to myself to remember them, and sometimes remember them better if I put my own words to them, just as it’s always easier to remember words that have a tune attached. So the edges blur. I suspect j kneale’s right, in that most of the tunes probably started out as songs in the first place. But I guess only after I’ve picked up an instrument with intent will I be entitled to a full vote, so by all means just ignore my ramblings …..

Now if I can only remember what in he

I just re read the thread; look how long ago we all forgot the original question, sidetracked towards everybody’s favourite topic of conversation: session etiquette! in the guise of nomenclature.

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Hmm. I’ve always held that a song had words and a tune didn’t. But I am also of the opinion that I may "sing a tune" for you. If I’m using my voice, I’m singing.

Also, I can play a song on a guitar. Unless…

If you are playing the melody on an instrument, but no one is singing, is it still a song?

If a tree falls in the forrest and no one hears it…

If a man expresses his opinion and his wife isn’t around to hear it, is he still wrong?

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Many of the favorite Northumbrian tunes have words but many are that fast tongue-twisters that very few ever attempt to sing them -
Elsie Marley is one of the attemptable jigs but Peacock followed the hen and Show us the way to Wallington are of Rocky Road difficulty.

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I’ve just got a new software toy, Anvil Studio (it comes free with intelliScore Polyphonic), and I see it insists on referring to tunes as "songs". Perhaps this (mis)use of terminology is common in some sectors of the music industry, especially those involved with IT.
Trevor

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Well, I think it’s only misuse in terms of this stuff, Trev. I think it’s normally acceptable in other kinds of music.

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There are some lovely songs that make great tunes. If your session doesn’t do songs then your missing out on some great melodies. Here are some songs as tunes I like to play or learn-
Fare thee well Enniskillen
The Parting Glass
Paddy’s green shamrock shore
Damn my mind has gone blank. I have others in my collection that I enjoy playing as tunes. I’ll add more as I remember them! Any suggestions?

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How about the Galway shawl, a very pretty tune. I’d like to find a score for it!

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Wow, 15-year-old thread re-surfaces!

How come Apple has iTUNES, but then calls all tracks SONGS?

Many of our Scottish songs, and maybe some of your Irish ones, started life as poems, but then someone thought, "That would make a really good song" and either borrowed an existing tune, or composed a new one to do just that, e.g. Burns, Lady Nairne, and in more recent times, Jim Reid and others who have set Violet Jacob’s poetry to music. No thanks to my current hearing problems, I have had to cut back on singing, but can still enjoy playing favourite song tunes, e.g.
Down by the Sally Gardens
Rowan Tree
The Lea Rig
I also play the tunes of songs written by a recently passed friend, who had both a great way with words, and wrote some great tunes for her songs.

And further up the thread, the relationship to dance tunes was mentioned: we have a good few sets in our ceilidh band repertoire which are in fact song tunes: fun to see the dancers singing along as they dance!

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I didn’t want to start a new thread if one existed already.

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Real Old Mountain Dew makes a great tune. It has an A and B part.