Variations or mistakes

Variations or mistakes

For a number of years I’ve been working on Maudabawn Chapel, the famous Ed Reavy tune. Thanks to youtube there are some fine players who have
been recorded so that I can learn from them on my own time how to play this tune.

While working on this tune I have been struck that there are 2 primary ways the tune is played. The A parts are the same in both versions.
The B parts have a significant difference. To me, they cannot be played together.

It is apparent that the B part on one of them has become popularized from a well-known recording and probably can be referred to as the Kevin Burke version of the tune.

Here is the question. While I prefer the "Kevin Burke version", I wonder if I am playing a "mistaken" version. Did KB record a mistaken version of this tune which has now become popularized due to the commercial success of his recording?
What would Ed Reavy have said about this? Kevin, if you’re out there, I’d love to hear your take on this.

Here are links to the 2 versions played by fine musicians.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73vUksucPz8


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ii-JQlpbSc

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Maybe mistakes are half way to becoming variations and variations are half way to becoming mistakes?

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I was once at a meeting of the Folklore Society, and there was, from the platform, an almost shame-faced agreement that some of the great variations in old ballads might have started out just as mistakes. It’s called "The Folk Process".

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llig’s nailed it. People who are too frightened to make a mistake rarely play interesting musical variations. The first time I turned a mistake into a passable variation was one of the most exciting, enlightening, enjoyable musical experiences of my life.

Likewise, when you play the same ‘variation’ over, and over and over again, it ceases to be a variation. Kevin Burke’s version of Maudabawn Chapel, like his way of playing the first part of the College Groves, is perhaps a ‘setting’, rather than a variation. Because it doesn’t vary.

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I suspect the same may apply to the origins of folk instrumental techniques at least on instruments like fiddle and flute - things done by people not versed in the supposedly ‘proper’ (i.e. classical) way to play their instrument at various stages in the past, which then became established as idioms and sounds in their own right.

As indeed the tunes themselves - produced by people who were not versed in classical theory, just playing what sounded right to them. And lo, it became a style in its own right, which we all now academicise so much…

Variations or mistakes - Kevin Burke’s take on this.

"Kevin, if you’re out there, I’d love to hear your take on this."

I asked Kevin about this (quoting the whole of the OP) - I found his thoughts interesting - here’s what he had to say:

Hi Donald,

Thanks for the email. I presume at this stage that the tune could justifiably be referred to as "my version" (because I often play it even though it must be about 30yrs since I recorded it) but I wasn’t thinking of devising "my version" when I started playing it. I simply liked the tune, heard it from several sources and gradually developed a way of playing it that seemed appropriate. I’ve no idea if Ed Reavy ever heard me play it so I don’t know what he might have thought of it. I hope he’d have liked it … but you never know! I don’t really know if there is such a thing as a "mistaken" version of any tune but it’s probably true to say my version is different from the way Reavy wrote it originally. Having said that, if we could hear Ed Reavy playing it today it too would probably be different from what he wrote originally.

By nature traditional music tends to develop and alter over time and that was especially true when there weren’t many recordings available. You’d hear a tune at a session, try to remember it and then later cobble something together that sounded similar to what you had heard the previous night. SOmetimes the bits that weren’t quite "right" would be heard by other players and maybe adopted by them too. Sometimes however the realisation would come that those differences weren’t quite working and would therefore be changed again. Basically it’s down to the player to make those decisions, often based on who he/she’s playing with.

One further note - I don’t agree that the different versions of the A and B parts can’t be mixed. I’d say it’s worth giving it a go!

Mairtin Byrnes and Brendan McGlinchey were 2 great players who attracted me to the tune first so I’m sure I picked up certain "moves" from them but it was pretty popular in the 60’s and I’m sure I absorbed ideas from plenty of other people too.

Glad to hear Jxxxx enjoyed the workshop - tell him I said "hi".

All the best for now,

Kevin

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Play both B parts and make it a three-parter.

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Neat response from Kevin. I liked how he talked about cobbling something together from what you vaguely remember hearing at last night’s session. It’s not just me who does that! LOL.

I’m not sure I agree with Ian’s suggestion that "folk" techniques developed *because of* or compensating for the absence of "classical" techniques. I think he’s making too many a priori assumptions about the superiority and legitimacy of the latter over the former. It’s that old Victorian dichotomy, assuming modern science, training, knowledge, techniques, in all sorts of things, are naturally superior over older "folk" forms of whatever. The concept of "folk" itself came out of this unevenly weighted epistemological binary, but we, I, use it just because it’s handy and everyone knows what I mean when I use it. But in any case, be wary of simply presuming "progression" between things regarded as antiquities, or associated with rural "folk" culture and things regarded as "educated," "modern," etc. Like music. There’s a lot of ontological assumptions between A and B.

It makes little sense that people were like, "We don’t really know how to play the violin so we’ll just scrape away and make some stuff up." Rather, traditional fiddling (not just Irish) is going for a totally different sound and feel than classical violin playing and techniques have developed and of course diverged accordingly.

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llig
<Maybe mistakes are half way to becoming etc,,>
I think this is on the Right track. Ever make a mistake and it sounded brill.. dose not happen often, but I think Mr llig’s Right !
jim,,,

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Yes, that too, but I’d like people to think my mistakes are in fact brilliant and clever variations, and not that I’m actually just making up bits of the tune I forgot. ;-)

(do classical musicians do that? Is that cause I never learned classical technique?)

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I had the opportunity a few years ago to look at a collection of Ed Reavy’s compositions at an exhibition in Drumshanbo, Co. Leitrim. Of the tunes in the book that I knew, not one of them was the same as how I had learned it from sessions or recordings. Given that the book was published well within the composer’s lifetime, we can safely assume that they are as written down (or perhaps dictated - I don’t know whether or not could read and write music) by Reavy himself. Yet, had he committed the tunes to paper on a different day, they might very well have come out differently.

So the way Martin Byrnes, Kevin Burke or Eileen Ivers plays Maudabawn Chapel - or the way it is played at a session in Sligo, Cork, Manchester or Massachussets - may well not be the way it was originally written. But if that were not the case - if every player were to learn it slavishly ‘notatim’ from Reavy’s book - would it still be Irish Traditional Music? Surely, what would be *wrong* would be to ignore the way your session mates play it and insist on playing the ‘original’ against their version, irrespective of compatibility. That’s my take, anyway - I can’t speak for Mr. Reavy.

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Warning I feel a discussion of dots vs ear is about to start !

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"But if that were not the case - if every player were to learn it slavishly ‘notatim’ from Reavy’s book - would it still be Irish Traditional Music?"

Not in my book, so to speak.

For me, a tune becomes traditional by being handed along from player to player, from ear to ear. The more ear-to-ear transfers, the more the tune becomes molded to the tradition, especially when the tune is learned on different instruments. This is why so many modern tunes sound so plastic and boring - since everyone learns them from the record, the tunes have no depth. They’re maybe one or two players from the source. Reavy’s tunes, on the other hand, might have been passed through dozens of heads before they got to Kevin Burke, so it’s no wonder they’ve changed a fair bit.

I don’t know whether the material in the Reavy book is directly from his pen, or if it’s transcribed from his or his son’s playing, but comparing those fairly ornate settings to the ones found in the bush, you can see that there’s been a lot of edges smoothed off.

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"Warning I feel a discussion of dots vs ear is about to start !"

Dot’s not so bad, is it? ‘Ear, you just sit down and enjoy the show.

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I remember reading that William Kimber, Jr. was taught that he should play tunes exactly as they were passed on to him. The aural tradition has some parts which are very conservative and less tolerant of variation than the folk tradition of learning by ear would lead you to expect.

For centuries there have been traditional musicians who learned by ear and carefully preserved the tunes unchanged and those who made written sources their own within the style of the tradition.

Introducing lots of improvised variation strikes me as an infusion is jazz.

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Make that "of jazz"

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Emily, unfortunately you slipped into the misunderstanding which I realised was a risk in that last comment of mine.

Apart from the fact it was mere speculation, the inverted commas were meant to indicate ‘proper’ was only a claim that might have been made at the time, rather than any present-day judgement of absolute values by me.

I suspect that throughout the 18th and 19th Centuries, the notion of ‘proper’ musical form had more currency than it does today, in rather the same way that there was considered to be only one ‘proper’ way to speak English, one ‘proper’ code of social etiquette. All of course defined by those parts of society with sufficient clout to influence such things - which largely meant NOT the people who made ‘folk’ music.

I’m not assuming any inherent superiority myself, but given that traditional musics largely originated amongst specific social strata – usually those with less access to the educated, internationalised outlooks of the classical middle/upper classes, it is surely plausible that those forms evolved through a combination of received knowledge of other, more socially ‘acceptable’ music, improvised technique and gut instinct for what sounded right, which in itself may have been influenced by received half-truth hand-me-downs about the wider musical world. (In Ireland, of course, this was presumably also all bound up in the British class structure that had been imposed on the island, and the degree to which various parts of the local populations did or didn’t assimilate into it.)

Just as regional accents have become more ‘accepted’, so our notion of what constitutes ‘proper’ music has also loosened up. So nothing particularly to do with personal taste or prejudice.

I’m just less than convinced that traditional music’s sound was the result of deliberate or even subversive divergence from an accepted norm that might well have been far more prevalent in those times than it is now, as opposed to being the product of happy accident, error and misunderstanding. Evolution surely also plays a parts, as Kevin Burke said.

The a priori assumptions may come in your interpretation of what I was saying!

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Fiddlentina - I like what you said. Nicely pluralistic.

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"so our notion of what constitutes ‘proper’ music " Ian who are you including in ‘our’ (i.e. who are the ‘us’).

I still remember in about 1960 Bryan Redhead appearing on the BBC TV with a *regional accent* - and introducing a somewhat ‘lefty ’ and ‘folky’ program that I think was a spin-off from the Radio Ballads. Here was someone who was not one of ‘them’.

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David - society in general, as in the social norm. Simply that there is perhaps more acceptance of diversity than used to be the case, in music as elsewhere… obviously there always was considerable personal variation within that.

In particular I was thinking of the diversity of styles of music that receive some degree of airing today, as opposed to what might have been accpetbale in late 18th Century broadcasting…

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I’m not sure that 18the Century broadcasting would have covered much of the stuff that went on in the taverns. Same as I am not sure that Victorian morality covered what went on in the woods after the village dance. And later on the music of the music hall probably wasn’t ‘proper’ either. I think you are over-emphasising the view of an ‘intelectual elite’ who’s records and reports we have.

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Emancipation is the word that comes to mind.

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>>I think you are over-emphasising the view of an ‘intelectual elite’ who’s records and reports we have.

That’s precisely the point…

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What was deemed ‘proper’ and what actually happened probably *never were* the same thing. Even amongst the echelons of society that supposedly espoused those values. Think Victorian hypocrisy.

But I suspect that the music of the ‘ordinary folk’ was for the most part beyond the pale so far as the influential parts of society were concerned. I’m not quite sure how people like Carolan managed - he seemed to bridge the divide, though I’m not fully knowledgeable about his own background.

In an age where access to ‘proper’ i.e. formal, socially acceptable education and culture was limited to just the few layers of society who determined such things on their own terms, I suspect that trad evolved in the way I previously outlined.

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I was interested to hear Kevin Burke cite Martin Byrnes as an inspiration for his setting of Maudabawn Chapel, it’s what I’ve long suspected. On the opening track of “Paddy In the Smoke” Martin plays Maudabawn Chapel first time through very close to the sheet music from the Ed Reavy book or the abcs written out by Ed Reavy Jr. at http://www.reavy.us/Reavycom.abc (Not saying Martin used the dots or abcs, of course, but I suspect the book and his son’s abc transcription are close to what the composer himself played). The second time through, Martin plays a less notey variation that sounds a lot like what is now known as the Kevin Burke setting.

For what it’s worth I usually attempt a fairly faithful rendering of Maureen Fitzpatrick’s setting on “The Music of Ed Reavy Collection” recording. Hers is close to the book version but with some really tasty departures that flow beautifully. If it was good enough for that album, it’s good enough for me.

X: 1
T: Maudabawn Chapel
R: reel
M: 4/4
C: Ed Reavy
S: Maureen Fitzpatrick on ‘The Music of Ed Reavy’
K: Edor
EF |: (3GFE {F}ED EB,DB, | G,A,B,D EB,DB, | G,A,B,D GABd | gabg eaaf |
|1 gabg efge | dfed Bc d2 | (3efg fa gbec | dBA=c BE{F}EF :|
|2 ~g3 a {b}agaf | gfed efge | dfe=c BcdB | A=cBA GE{F}ED |]
|: E2 BE eEBE | GABG AFDF | ~E3 F GFGB | A2 (3FED A,DFD |
E2 BE eEBE | {Bc}BAFA Bcde | ~f2 (3agf gfec |1 dBA=c BE{F}ED :|2 dBA=c BE{F}EF ||
"end"dBAF E3 z |]

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Ian: ".. I suspect that trad evolved in the way I previously outlined". If you mean what led up to "And lo, it became a style in its own right.." then why I am niggling is that we don’t know the whole gamut of style that the instruments were used for, the ‘folky’ way may have been present all along, maybe even less susceptible to changes due to fashion.

And to get back on topic, maybe there always were the ‘conservators’ keen to keep a tune as they thought it was and ( is there a musical equivalent of a monedgreen ?) the innovators, the mistaken and the lazy.

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>>we don’t know the whole gamut of style that the instruments were used for, the ‘folky’ way may have been present all along, maybe even less susceptible to changes due to fashion.

David, you may well be right on that. It’s very probable that ways changed less quickly amongst the proletariat than in the fashionable classes.

However AFAIK nobody really knows for certain what happened, which is why I was merely speculating. I assume it is reasonable to assume that the music originated amongst the ‘ordinary’ people of whatever time, rather than their (more likely) educated masters, though.

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As I see it, Ian, you seem to be saying there is such a thing as correct technique, or the correct sound, and classical players, being the educated elite they are, have it and traditional players, being uneducated, rural peasants, don’t, and that’s why they play the fiddle differently. They had to get by somehow on dodgy technique, ‘cause they could not get training in real technique, being uneducated, rural peasants. Is that what you mean? That’s how I read it and there are about a million underlying presumptions there.

Don’t forget.. The Victorians LOVED the whole idea of evolution, especially when they could apply it to cultures and "prove" that educated, elite, urban European culture was the pinnacle of evolution. Folk lore, folk music, and various other things were marshalled as evidence of this.

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Or, to go on real shaky ground here, you yourself have some worry that there is an evolutionary continuum with folk music at one end and erudite classical music on the other. Maybe not. Maybe you don’t realise it yourself and I’m psychoanalyzing your posts a bit too much. ;-) Just a thought that jumped into my head in light of some other infamous threads.

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Emily, yes I am mindful of those other posts, and indeed the minefields that similar discussions have led through in the past. But given that AFAIK no-one really knows, who’s to say whose speculation is any better than anyone else’s? Usual caveats of course, but it’s really fairly harmless. We do know that the music must have come from *somewhere* after all, though it’s very unlikely to be one clearly defined source…

As for classical, well yes to some extent I do see it as a gold standard. That’s nothing to do with personal preferences – there’s a lot of classical that does nothing for me personally. It is not really a matter of a sliding scale with trad at the far end either. I would actually put them fairly close together, with other kinds of ‘noise’ entirely down the far end! But in terms of artistic and technical development and refinement, I do think classical is supreme at least as far as western music goes, and I have had enough experience in it to have formed *some* limited impression of what is involved.

I also toy with the idea of a given instrument – say the violin/fiddle – having a finite potential capacity for sound. You can then ask which type of music/technique/approach exploits the greatest fraction of that which is theoretically possible. Again, I would suspect that that dynamic range of a top-notch classical player is likely to exceed that achieved by any other genre on the same instrument, albeit probably still far away from 100%. I suppose the only kind of test one could subject that to would be a fairly pointless kind of a musical dual…

That is about as close to objective as I can see it being possible to reach – and there’s still a hell of a lot of subjectivity involved. Even Llig has described trad as being musically narrow, and he’s right. In fact, that’s part of its appeal, at least for me – and the above is of course not comment on the deep pleasure it can bring, nor the breadth of what one can still do with it. But we surely need to separate personal bias from something more detached in such matters? And I’m afraid I can’t see that trad can really claim to surpass western art music in this respect.

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p.s. I am not saying I agree with the notion of what is ‘correct’. That will vary according to genre and indeed intent. But that is not to say that past generations were equally broad-minded! But I would still say that my ‘dynamic test’ may have something to say here…

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Hmm, dynamic range, is it as simple as that ? What was it Aly Bain said, in a recent interview, about the Stradivarius in his kitchen ?

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I really need to be heading off to this session.

But… "I would suspect that that dynamic range of a top-notch classical player is likely to exceed that achieved by any other genre on the same instrument"

And.. "But in terms of artistic and technical development and refinement, I do think classical is supreme at least as far as western music goes, and I have had enough experience in it to have formed *some* limited impression of what is involved. "

My answer is a very erudite and academic, "So what?" So classical explores more of the violin’s dynamic range and messes about with time signatures and one needs more, or different rather, technical chops to play classical violin than folk fiddle. Because they are doing different things. To me it’s like comparing Shire horses to thoroughbreds. Sure, the latter can run faster and jump higher and yes, it can be argued they are the supreme equine athletes, but then they are pretty rubbish at pulling heavy things or staying sound for more than five minutes. Classical violinists, unless they’ve put some effort at studying Irish fiddle, are pretty useless at playing Irish fiddle, cause while they might know what to do with a 3/17 time signature and play in third position, don’t seem to know what to do with Irish-style ornaments and phrasing..

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I don’t know. And no, it’s not that simple. That’s just one variable. To balance the argument, there’s the issue of interpretation/creativitry of the player, and it could be argued that classical is more limited in the scope it presents to a player in that respect.

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>>Classical violinists, unless they’ve put some effort at studying Irish fiddle, are pretty useless at playing Irish fiddle,

from bitter experience I know you’re not wrong on that one. But I wouldn’t want this to go down to some kind of bidding match. That’s not what I’m saying. Studying ay genre takes time, and I would agree that there seems to be an section of the classical communtiy that seems to think it can do anything, go anywhere with impunity. But that, once again, is an issue about people, not music.

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>>llig
<Maybe mistakes are half way to becoming etc,,>
I think this is on the Right track. Ever make a mistake and it sounded brill.. dose not happen often, but I think Mr llig’s Right !
jim,,,FIDDLE4

>>Yes, that too, but I’d like people to think my mistakes are in fact brilliant and clever variations, and not that I’m actually just making up bits of the tune I forgot.
(do classical musicians do that? Is that cause I never learned classical technique?) TheSilverSpear

These comments remind me why I hated classical music and love ITM. In classical music you have to follow the dots ‘religiously’. If you play something different to what’s written you sternly tell yourself "that’s wrong. I’ll practice again and again so that I get it ‘right’." In this lovely music, you tell yourself "wow - that sounded great. I think I might do that again!" Thus mistakes can be opportunities for wonderful new variations.

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But if it doesn’t sound Irish, isn’t it wrong? Thats why i don’t do too much variation cause i don’t wanna play something "Not Irish" sounding.

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- In classical music you have to follow the dots ‘religiously’. If you play something different to what’s written you sternly tell yourself "that’s wrong. I’ll practice again and again so that I get it ‘right’." -

Never learnt much about classical music, did you?

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Of course there was a time when classical musicians were expected to be able to improvise round a theme.
I actually expect that the ITM we love and classical music, both, have been strongly influenced over the centuries by various strong, leading, and inspirational musicians. That one went one way and one went another is just how things happen. And then lesser persons take the principals that these inspiring musicians showed AND SET THEM IN STONE.
And that’s where the rot sets in.

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Well Jack, that was a simplified statement I wrote. Classical music is full of nuances that can be varied, but in general, I think I was correct in what I said. There isn’t much scope to vary the notes, or even the volume level, from what is written.

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Jerone, when you’ve put in your 10,000 hours, even your mistakes will sound Irish.

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FWIW Ursulas version is the one i am familiar with.
Liked the other variation as well so i’d say go with what you like best - or develop a third version ; )

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I’d just like to add, long after his quoted reply, how nice and sensible and intelligent Kevin Burke is. I am so old ( as I’ve said before ) that I remember when he was the wild youth among the Camden cognoscenti.
Didn’t he do well !

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Despite our friends who believe that dots are evil - they do render a window into the past, based on the transcriptions of excellent players who’s nuance we may lose in the argument about tradition.

If your concern is about Maudabawn Chapel, the evidence of the composer is clear! And here:
http://www.reavy.us/tunes.html

If you can’t read dots, well then, Dog save us all!

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Strangely enough Ed didn’t play the setting laid out in his book on a home recording he made in duet with Louis Quinn - you can hear this at the Comhaltas Archive. The setting in the B part is more like that of the 2nd fiddler in the OP, at the 3rd bar, where the melody doesn’t ascend to G. So, from Ed’s perspective, either is correct; sort of. Usual law of the jungle applies to sessions, whoever has the loudest instrument and/or is the elder spokesman and/or is the most accomplished player and/or etc plays the setting for the evening.

You should hear Tommy Potts play it; I had the track mislabeled for about 5 years, it was so oddball. "Mistake"? What’s that? Repeat it three times and you have a variation.

I feel the same way about "standard" settings of a lot of other tunes, the Fnat in Chief O’Neill’s for instance. That was something Burke or one of his peers threw in and it’s become de rigueur now.

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Another good example of a unique setting is how Martin Rochford played Paddy Fahey’s #1. Completely "wrong," and a beautiful setting in its own right. These old timers often were a bit more creative in these matters than modern musicians, I imagine since it was largely a solo music in those days. It was just like with the singing, altering the odd word or phrasing thereof was just your way of putting a stamp on what you did.

I must write out Martin’s setting - it’s really great. If some Prof hasn’t already, that is. ;)

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One of the problems with this topic I’ve seen often, is that people often use this so called "folk process" as an excuse for not learning tunes properly. They miss a detail in a particular turn and just say, hey, it doesn’t matter, it’s the folk process. This really really annoys me. If you can’t be bothered to learn a tune properly, play the bodhran instead

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Yeah, you should play it differently because you want to play it differently. Not because you can’t play it the same.

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One of the problems with this topic I’ve seen often, is that people often use this so called "folk process" as an excuse for not learning tunes properly. They miss a detail in a particular turn and just say, hey, it doesn’t matter, it’s the folk process. This really really annoys me. If you can’t be bothered to learn a tune properly, play the bodhran instead.
Interesting comment from Michael Gill, I dont like versions of Chief ONeills Favourite that miss out the Fnatural and play an F#, to me it misses the point of the tune, but then I remind myself this is natural enough in an orally learned tradition. however if someone who starts a tune plays it in a particular way there are only 2 options do not play along or play along in the same way
as for ornamentaion having to be played one particular way or a turn having to be played a certain way, that attitude reminds me of Baroque or classical music, where turns have to be played in a proscribed manner, the whole point of ITM is that the player has the freedom to choose a triplet or a turn or a treble to ornament, or they have the choice of playing turns or rolls in differing ways, for example a fiddle player may want to speed up the bow during a roll or he may not, or he may want to emphasise the roll in a different way, neither way is right or wrong its just different.