Are sets unique to ITM

Are sets unique to ITM

Is the idea of playing two or three different tunes consecutively - i.e. a set - unique to ITM, or does it occur in other traditional musics - Balkan, English, whatever?

Just curious.

Re: Are sets unique to ITM

It occurs in English music. Here’s an anti-medley rant by the squeezebox guru John Kirkpatrick. You might not agree with him but he’s a formidable fellow who makes a formidable case for developing the art of variation and squeezing (pun!) tunes dry rather than copping out and just stringing ‘em together in sets.

http://www.johnkirkpatrick.co.uk/wr_MedleyMania.htm

Re: Are sets unique to ITM

OK, I suppose he’s not really talking about sessions…

Re: Are sets unique to ITM

It is an interesting question.
Here in the states the two main traditional styles, old time and bluegrass (Bluegrass isn’t really traditional, but it’s close enough for this discussion) don’t generally play tunes in sets. The old time player cant because when the Skillet Lickers were recorded in 1925 they didn’t play sets, and the bluegrass players cant because they are too busy improvising and singing about Jesus. The one exception to this rule is when old time or bluegrass players play for a contra dance or square dance. This is because the extended time of each dance requires playing different tunes or loosing your mind. So maybe the dance tradition of ITM has something to do with the playing of sets.

Re: Are sets unique to ITM

Regarding English trad, John Kirkpatrick is talking about players playing the same tune for maybe half an hour for a given dance, saying that this was what was done in the old days (and I assume he knows and is correct) and should be done now if we’re going to play English trad as it really was. The merits of doing this, according to JK, lie in the scope for variations that the players will have over this extended time, which will bring out so much more of the content of whatever tune they are playing, and also in the tranced or more exalted state of being the dancers might come into through the repeated tune and the sustained effort of doing a long dance.

Fair enough, but one doesn’t want to play or sit through half an hour of Soldiers Joy - or anything else - in a pub session, however good the variations are!

Re: Are sets unique to ITM

Well that’s what I thought too. I heard ‘em play Lark In The Morning six times in Hughes’ once (I think I joined in). Thank God it wasn’t a performance I thought to meself.

Re: Are sets unique to ITM

My contacts with English session trad are in the North-East where it and Northumbrian tunes get played in shortish medleys, just like Irish ones. Sure one or two people play certain tunes a greater number of times, possibly trying out this getting-in-a-groove thing with them, but not *that* many times: too many, and the session would fall asleep like King Arthur’s knights or else walk out for a very prolonged group smoke.

Though I don’t know what they do in other parts of the country.

Re: Are sets unique to ITM

Scotland does of course, including the Air-Strathspey-reel combo, or other variants that is more than just switching tunes and keys.

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Re: Are sets unique to ITM

Here in Cornwall we play Irish and Northumbrian tunes three times each in sets of three (-ish). Ever the innovators we are down ‘yer.

Re: Are sets unique to ITM

As mentioned above, the American contra dance tradition typically plays tunes in sets to spare the musicians’ sanity.

Various Canadian fiddle traditions also tend to play tunes in sets, with the leader yelling out the key changes for each new tune. I’ve found this is common when playing with fiddlers in the Maritime, French-Canadian, Metis, and contest fiddling traditions. But that’s just my anecdotal experience.

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Re: Are sets unique to ITM

It seemed in the old days we performed tunes 3 times and moved on to the next tune. Nowadays people are performing tunes 4, 5 or 6 times through before moving on… sometimes even more. I actually enjoy that because you get a good energy out of some tunes and it’s nice to play them more than just 3 times.

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I enjoy playing one tune for ten or more times, but it doesn’t happen at the session.

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my bellows are so tight a cant get through some tunes twice without breaking a sweat…

(select few)

Re: Are sets unique to ITM

About "Balkan" music, I only know about Bulgarian traditional music, and in that music not only does the idea of medleys not traditionally exist, but the entire notion of what the Irish call a "tune" doesn’t traditionally exist.

Instead, for the traditional Bulgarian dance music, there exists a vast number of phrases, perhaps the equivalent of two bars long or four bars long. These phrases are called "kolyano" (singular "kolena") and the traditional solo musician would string together whatever kolyano popped into his head at the moment and continue playing in the appropriate rythmn for the dance as long as the dance lasted, perhaps an hour or more at weddings.

In the 1940’s and 1950’s when the Bulgarian government formed a large radio orchestra consisting of folk musicians, the musicians had to create fixed compositions by linking together a number of kolyano to create the equivalent of a "tune" so that all the musicians could play in unison.

Many years ago I attended an Appalachian session and they would play one tune for around ten minutes. All would play together a time or two, then each musician would take turns playing a solo, then at the end all playing again. It reminded me of what can happen in jazz where everyone plays the "head", then everyone solos in turn, then at the end the group returns to the "head". (The leader sometimes signals this return to the "head" by pointing at his head.)

It would be nice, maybe, to do this at an Irish session.

Re: Are sets unique to ITM

(off-topic but it’s interesting to watch a jazz band and see the signals the leader gives the group, for example a fist means to modulate into the key of C, one finger up the key of G, one finger down the key of F, etc.)

Re: Are sets unique to ITM

BTW in the Scottish pipe band world medleys are the norm… almost never would a band play a single tune by itself.

The standard medley for many years has been March-Strathspey-Reel. Another standard is a Hornpipe-Jig.

Also standard are groups of marches in the same time signature such as a set of three 6/8 marches, a set of three 4/4 marches, etc.

The larger medleys are often structured Hornpipe-Jig-Air-Strathspey-Reel or March-Strathspey-Reel-Air-Jig-Hornpipe etc. Oftentimes there’s more than one so a set might go Hornpipe-Jig-Jig-Air-Strathspey-Strathspey-Reel-Reel etc.

Re: Are sets unique to ITM

The finger signals were always used in bands that I played in especially where singers from the floor came up on stage to give a blast and had no idea of the key. Indeed I’ve often used it to the accompanist during a trad session as well. Of course you have to be careful which way you hold your fingers up to a guitarist on the other side of room when denoting the key of D. Nothing drives me bananas as much as having to sit and listen to a musician play the same tune over and over again. Did you ever notice that when a musician does change the tune you get a whoop from the audience….a sigh of relief more like !
It’s on a par with having to listen to a séan nós singer singing in Irish, the complete works of Shakespeare. After all you can only count the nails in the floorboards so many times before the urge to scratch becomes unbearable……!

Re: Are sets unique to ITM

On the Greek mainland the clarinet-dominated folk / trad combos play at least some of their material - notably the faster, skirling stuff - in medleys. Generally the tunes are really songs with instrumental breaks between verses or snatches, and each song has, as far as I’m aware, its own particular, consistent tune, as in Ir / UK.

Re: Are sets unique to ITM

The March/Strathspey/Reel set is very common in Cape Breton music as well (which of course is closely related to Scottish trad music). The set might start with a slow air leading into a march, then two or three strathspeys with the tempo increasing with each tune, followed by a blast of reels. I have yet to hear a hornpipe/jig combination… jigs are usually played in sets by themselves around these parts and hornpipes (or clogs as we call them) are usually played in combination with reels.

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Re: Are sets unique to ITM

I’m surprised no one mentioned baroque dance suites like Bach’s Eminor Lute Suite. Those are multi movement dance suites played as a set.

I promise I’m not trying to be the mustard board smarty pants this morning, it really was the only other musical form I’ve played that that was anything like a set

Re: Are sets unique to ITM

Canon/Gigue, anyone?

Maybe it’s a Baroque thing. They say Irish music is descended from it…

Re: Are sets unique to ITM

I’ve no trouble at all with individual English or Irish (or whatever) tunes being played up to half-a-dozen times, say, in a session - it can be great. But I would not go out of my way to subject myself to a set-up where the same tune is played over and over for a considerable length of time. I have never seen hypnosis as the highest gift of music. I prefer the ones of freedom, exhilaration, discovery and restful well-being.

Re: Are sets unique to ITM

We prefer to play sets for sessions as well as for dances in our neck of the woods.
But a fiddler friend of ours - also an esteemed contra dance caller (he can fiddle and call simultaneously) - keeps telling our little group that ‘one-tune medleys’ should be the way to go for dances. He’s observed that the dancers do better when the musicians are improvising on a single tune for the length of any contra line. Apparently they get the tune in their heads and that drives the dance forward.
Of course, English country dances in the USA have single tunes to match the dances.

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I have heard it suggested that the tune sets arose through the early commercial recordings of Scottish music - they felt that one tune for three minutes was a bit much, but a set of three was just fine.
John Kirkpatrick, famously, in his early days as leader of Dingles’ Chillybom Band, had a series of vulgar codewords he would shout to the rest of the band for key changes and tune changes - I believe A minor was "Arsemuck" for instance. Unfortunately he used to bounce up and down whilst playing, often putting his mouth dangerously close to the microphone for the RHS of his melodeon - perhaps that is why he’s changed to sticking to one tune per dance.
My band did try this one tune per dance once - Little Brown Jug went quite reggae by the end of the dance.

Re: Are sets unique to ITM

The idea of sets in Irish music almost certainly dates back to the US recordings of Coleman, Morrison, et. al.

However, it certainly didn’t catch on throughout Ireland until relatively recently as the recordings of numerous Donegal fiddlers evince (and the wonderful, now OOP, recording of the McDonaghs of Ballinafad).

For reasons too arcane to divulge I’ve spent most of the day listening to recordings of music from the north of Portugal and Galicia. There’s no evidence of sets on the recordings, but I’ve certainly been present at local festivals when the musicians have switched from playing one popular dance tune to another and, in the process, required the dancers to reconfigure their moves.

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Re: Are sets unique to ITM

Sets of tunes have mostly come about for playing for dances, some of the early recording of Scottish bands only played each tune once, and nowadays they mostly only play them twice each, whereas in Ireland you can hear them several times. As one Irish musician told me, "if the tunes good enough, play it more". The scandinavian countries also play sets of tunes, I would imagine it also comes from playing to dances.