The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly - Objective Measures of Tradition?!
I’m feeling in a can-of-worms sort of mood. On a day away, not too long ago, we fell in with a group of friendly natives learning a bit of dance from a visiting luminary. The When, Where and Who aren’t important to this seed, but one of the items presented is. We had fun, it was a good time, but amongst it all one dance stuck in my craw. It wasn’t hard for us to realize immediately that it was a ‘new’ choreography. So I did ask who had created it, and in asking found that this is new ground now for the choreographers, something else to add to the growing list of manufactured sets (& tunes too). This was a ‘bad’ dance, and that could be judged objectively, I think. No, not a subjective measure of whether anyone enjoyed dancing it. We enjoyed ourselves, as we liked the teacher. It was just an awful dance as compared to those that had come before it and survived to be included in the traditions of the Irish countryside. No, not limited there, compared to couple dance traditions in the West overall, from Russia to Johannesburg to Hobart, from St. Petersburg to Paris, to London, to New York, to Vancouver, and back to St. Petersburg again. Its faults were measurable and could be itemized. That it showed a poor understanding of the traditions of couple dancing worldwide, was clear to me, and to my wife as well, who immediately commented on how unbalanced and clumsy it felt.
From my wife’s point of view, if it were a patchwork quilt, it neither fitted the symmetry of traditional patchwork, or much modern patchwork, or the story or images of other traditions in needlework. It seemed thrown together, without consideration for ‘tradition’ of any sort. Well, as a dance, maybe something akin to contact improv? ;-)
I don’t want to go there yet. This is about whether or not there are clear ways to pass judgement, as near to objective as we might get, based on a history, on tradition, clear ways to judge the success or failure, the beauty or ugliness, the good or the bad, of a single element professing some kind of connection to a given tradition, tune or dance? Yes, there are some things I’ve enjoyed myself, if sometimes only for the moment, but if asked to give an account, well, I could give you the pros and cons of why it does or doesn’t ‘fit’ a definition of a decent ‘dance tune’. And there are other things to judge such things on besides ‘dance tune?’ While here, are good measure of a ‘dance tune’ is whether or not it is any good, or cr*p, for dancing to?
I know there are clear examples on site here of the best and worst of tunecraft, and I personally don’t see a problem in using those as examples, with links. This is not about the source, those claiming authorship, but about the music, the tradition, which stands outside of any individual person or personal history or involvement.
So, can we come to some idea of objective measures with regards to tradition, to music and dance? What are they? What makes for a p*ss poor tune, whether or not it is ‘interesting’, what are the ‘faults’ of poor tunes, some akin to Frankenstein’s monster, cobbled together, some not holding together at all? And, what makes for the gems? By gems I’m definitely not meaning those cute modern excesses that tingle the fancy of those who favour the ‘challenging’ and the ‘bizarre’, or the overtly melodramatic. I mean things like "Miss McLeod’s", something that holds a long history and sinks in and persists because it is that damned good. What are the qualities that keeps a tune in tradition, as an old standard, like a well worn and comfortable pair of blue jeans.
One measure to me has to do with it being memorable. When I hear a group of dancers leave the floor after a good sweat and they’re humming or lilting a tune they’d just moved to. I know with little doubt that is a good melody, one that takes hold, inspires good playing and good dancing. But it is much more than that, and those elements that make it a moving treat, those, I believe, can be listed, discussed, and their presence or absence can be measured…
I do realize others will want to be contradictory here, and some will claim it is all subjective. Whatever your own personal stance, try to give it some body, with examples of why you feel the way you do about this, whatever your personal belief(s), please. Add your own bait here. Such is the nature of a can of worms, or whatever bait you prefer… Worms can’t occupy the same space at the same time, or move in the exact same direction…
Anybody up for a bit of fishing?
P.S. I’ll bring that ‘bad’ dance back into the discussion later, with specifics…