Tunes people assume are trad, but aren’t

Tunes people assume are trad, but aren’t

I never paid too much attention to tune origins, but lately I’ve been surprised by some popular tunes that turned out to be more recent compositions. Now I’m kind of curious. If you can think of any other "surprisingly non-trad" tunes, please post the names.

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One that comes to mind is ‘Christmas Eve’ which is a Tommy Coen composition. ‘The Butterfly’ was of course composed by Tommy Potts, I would think most people would know that but ya never know. Raithlin Island was composed by Peter Browne, I have seen it credited as trad on some albums. ‘The Mist Covered Mountains’ is a variation on a Scottish air of the same name put together by Junior Crehan. ‘The Glens of Aherlow’ was composed by Sean Ryan. There are more but I can’t think of them off the top of my head.

On the reverse side the tune commonly referred to as ‘Tommy Peoples” was not composed by him. He recorded it on ‘Waiting for a Call’ and it is credited as traditional. Liner notes say ‘All tunes traditional except where noted’ there is no note saying this one is one of his own and he even puts the title in quotations.

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Your starting premise is wrong. All traditional tunes have a composer, the more recently composed ones that have been widely accepted into the traditional repertoire as just as traditional as the ones that were composed two hundred years ago.

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Yes prof. Lately I’ve been surprised by some popular nonsense posted here

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"…all traditional tunes have a composer….." !
How do we know ?
Vas yu ‘der, Charlie ?
All tunes whose origins are lost MIGHT bear a resemblance to something that was being played however many hundreds of years ago you can go back, BUT this completely fails to recognise the "folk process", whereby things change as they are transmitted. Thus whatever we now call "The Piddle in the Trough" or whatever might be changed completely from what one might recognise as closer to the original.
So who is then the composer ?

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Good point, Pete.

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So ummmm, what makes a tune "Irish"? I mean, if an Irish person composed a tune that had no influence from traditional music, and didn’t sound "Irish" at all, but say…. "Italian" would the music still be Irish? Or is it just the composer that’s Irish?

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It’s not the tunes that are Irish, or the people who play them. It’s the way you play them. But even this is nowhere near steadfast. It’s all such a grey area of histories and nuance and influence and crossover with potential undertones of racisim etc etc that really, the whole discussion is just about as pointless as discussing the origin of the wheel.

However, the important point to remember is that all of the best exponants of this music have never given a damn where the tunes they like to play come from. (with the caveat, of course, that while quite a few do delve into the history of it, they still never let that history influence whether they like the tune or not)

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When musicians like Junior Crehan and Tommy Coen, who were steeped in and part of the tradition and (I make two assumptions here) had little exposure to or interest in other kinds of music, compose a new tune, why would it be any less ‘traditional’ than the tunes they learned from their parents and grandparents? I suppose you could argue, from a semantic perspective, that a tune cannot be deemed ‘traditional’ until it has been passed on through sucessive generations; but if the composer’s musical vocabulary (which needn’t be exactly the same from one generation to the next) is informed exclusively by music from the tradition, and the composer does not consciously strive to reach outside the boundaries (such as they are: vague and porous) of the tradition, then what else could their tunes be but traditional?

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"’The Mist Covered Mountains’ is a variation on a Scottish air of the same name put together by Junior Crehan."

No it isn’t. There is no resemblance between Crehan’s tune and the Scottish one. (The Scottish tune itself is a variation on an English one).

There is no reason to believe that all old tunes have a composer. Many of the world’s musical traditions don’t have a concept of "tune" at all - music is improvised around a mode, using a repertoire of standard cadential figures. (Dance music on the bagpipe across Europe tends to operate that way). These cadential fragments can sometimes coalesce into fixed sequences and become "tunes", but the process doesn’t have to be the responsibility of any one musician.

"St Anne’s Reel" is one tune which doesn’t date back anywhere near as far as people would naturally think - seems to be from Canada in the 1930s.

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"the composer does not consciously strive to reach outside the boundaries"

This kind of thinking is one of the reasons the vast majority of "traditional" tunes are hopelessly tedious and derivative

All the best "traditional" tunes were composed (whether the composer is forgotten or not) by intelligent witty people who did consciously strive to reach outside the boundaries. That’s how a tradition like Irish music grows into the wealth it is today.

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Personally, if I hear something that I like, I make a strong effort to find out where it came from, just because; If I learn the source, I could possibly find more that are like the one I found. So far, it’s worked out quite well.

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"Many of the world’s musical traditions don’t have a concept of "tune" at all - music is improvised around a mode, using a repertoire of standard cadential figures."

This is another reason why the vast majority of "traditional" tunes are hopelessly tedious and derivative.

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Yes, Jerone. But would you play a tune you didn’t like just because it came from the same source as one you did?

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"It’s not the tunes that are Irish, or the people who play them. It’s the way you play them."

Which would suggest that you can’t compose traditional Irish tunes, because it’s the way that they are played that defines them.

"Traditional Irish" is pretty vague - it has lost its literal meaning. There is an idiomatic structure, but some might (and do) call playing a tune in a particular style "traditional Irish", even if the tune is attributed to a pair of Scousers:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNYDsjZtcQA


So, perhaps the wording should be "Tunes people assume are old, anonymous and traditional but aren’t."

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"the folk process"

"That which subconsciously rounds all interesting and original edges off of tunes in order for them to conform to some homogenised standard. i.e. hopelessly tedious and derivative. (Born about, of course, by people too lazy and/or unskilled enough to learn the bloody tunes properly.)"

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I should add "Irish" to that list of qualifications.

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""That which subconsciously rounds all interesting and original edges off of tunes in order for them to conform to some homogenised standard. i.e. hopelessly tedious and derivative. (Born about, of course, by people too lazy and/or unskilled enough to learn the bloody tunes properly.)" "

Wotalotofsheight. Tunes evolve through playing and learning - where the ear doesn’t just get deceived, but embellishments are added and some carry through to the next stage of evolution. The only way to avoid this is to use something like notation and everyone adhere to the dots. I’m sure that would satisfy you, Mr Gill.

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"But would you play a tune you didn’t like just because it came from the same source as one you did?"

Haha, no. It has to be in my taste, no matter where it came from. And if it’s in my taste, it doesn’t matter where it came from.

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"hopelessly tedious and derivative"
Michael, are you sure you wouldn’t be happier taking up some other hobby?

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I dearly wish it were true that "the folk process" was one where the ear doesn’t just get deceived, but embellishments are added and some carry through to the next stage of evolution. But, alas you know my description is far closer to the truth.

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Yes Jerone, that was my point about all the best players of this music.

Johnsamuels. There are so many tunes that the very small proportion which are actually any good is still a sufficiently large enough number towards which to dedicate a life time.

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"But, alas you know my description is far closer to the truth."

So. looking at Ceolachan’s ongoing process of submitting the versions of "The Frieze Breeches", who were the musicians who were "too lazy to learn the tune properly"?

Meaning of "Traditional."

Something is called traditional because it is characteristic of an older style, rather than being old itself.
Many of us use the word "traditional" in a normative context rather than a descriptive context. Sean Ryan wrote traditional tunes. How about Liz Carroll’s tunes or some of Lunasa’s new material? Is that traditional? I don’t really care for it but that doesn’t mean it’s not "traditional."
Or does it?
Who really gibes a sh*t, anyway?

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"Something is called traditional because it is characteristic of an older style, rather than being old itself. "

That would be a traditional style. Something that has been learned through generations of having been practised could also be traditional. It’s the "handing down" that marks it as literally "traditional"- but this one has been done to death.

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"Yes Jerone, that was my point about all the best players of this music."

Ahhh, I get it now. I thought we all played music to our taste. I still haven’t learned how to learn pieces of music that I don’t like…even when commissioned….(still trying to sort that out)

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Just changed the title there for a bit of devilment.
🙂

"The folk process" is one of the most abused and misunderstood terms ever. As Llig suggests, it usually tends to be used by those who wish to justify the fact that they have learned a tune or song incorrectly probably through laziness, having a poor ear(or even being a bad sight reader) and can’t be bothered to do things properly.
Having said that, we can all be guilty mishearing or misreading a note or phrase on occasion and, in many cases, it doesn’t always matter but this isn’t the true meaning of the "folk process".

Generally, I prefer to think in terms of the music being played in a "traditional style" rather than "Traditional" Versus "Known composer". In my view, "Anonymous" and "traditional" are NOT the same.

A problem for those who compose new tunes, however, seems to be that they invariably "get a bit of stick" if their efforts sound too familiar, i.e a bit derivative or like something else. They might even be accused of plagiarism in extreme cases.
However, if the composers of the tunes aren’t known, then this seems to be less of an issue and there are obviously(as we know) loads of tunes which sound a wee bit like something else but these are just described as "variants" by the folklorist types and others who tend to concern themselves over such matters.

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"In my view, "Anonymous" and "traditional" are NOT the same"

No, I don’t think they are - but to a record company, something old, anonymous, and in a style that adheres to a particular genre would likely be classified as "Trad" with some royalties maded to the person or persons who are responsible for the "arr". It’s often the publishers or the record company who assigns the label. The rest just play the tunes and might occasionally say "I didn’t know so and so composed that tune".

Those who play tunes badly and dismiss their blunders as "the folk process" don’t usually find those blunders carried into the tradition. It’s the good blunders that actually get involved in the folk process.

Re: Tunes some people assume are hundreds of years old, by [an] unknown composer(s), but aren’t

ironically, some well-know examples:
The Mountain Road (Michael Gorman)
The Moving Cloud (Neillidh Boyle-supposedly)
The Luradan (Junior Crehan-supposedly)
Hunter’s House (Ed Reavy)
The Scholar, The High Level, The Omnibus, Beeswing, The Wonder hornpipes (James Hill)

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Yeh I agree with Prof. All tunes, old or new have a composer or two. The problem I have with some modern compositions is that they are moving outside the traditional idiom. Keep it traditional I say.

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Every day I eat French Traditional Baguette that was made the very same morning, how dare they call it traditional, la honte.

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Would that be a baguette in the French tradition, or a poor bâtard?

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"Those who play tunes badly and dismiss their blunders as "the folk process" don’t usually find those blunders carried into the tradition. It’s the good blunders that actually get involved in the folk process."

I’ve always said that it’s the way the tunes change as they pass from player to player and from instrument to instrument that makes them traditional, and I suppose this is what they call the "folk process". However, I don’t think I mean that these are ‘blunders’ being passed along. Some of them might be creative mis-hearings, like when you parse someone’s sentence wrongly for a moment and get a new idea out of it, but mostly I mean adaptations. Every player who’s worth mentioning has a style, and when they learn a tune they’ll put their own spin on it. Then they’ll play it for someone else, and that spin will now be part of the tune.

This is why it’s so important to learn tunes by hearing them in the world, of course. It’s the only way to learn the whole tune.

If this is true, then I think there’s no reason to say that Reavy’s tunes are not "trad" in the same way that any other tune is trad. For purposes of royalties, we put Reavy’s name on it, because we happen to know where this one started and we want to respect that, but it’s as traditional as anything you’ll find. Do all tunes have authors? Well, we might run into a difficult problem here. Imagine two tunes which today we think of as completely different tunes. Now suppose that some clever person like the Prof. comes along and demonstrates conclusively that the two tunes must be derived from tune C, also still in the repertoire, seemingly unrelated to the first two, and that this split happened gradually over the course of some number of decades.
Suppose that tune C was written by some composer, Paddy O’Furniture, and suppose we know this to be true. Did Paddy write A and B as well? If Paddy didn’t, then I think there is no single author. To make the point sharper, suppose that Paddy unfortunately died shortly after composing tune C, and never heard anything resembling A or B. Did he then write A and B posthumously?

I’m not going to say this is how most tunes happen, but I think some do, and those tunes, to me, don’t have authors in any obvious sense.

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@Why Bother
"The Butterfly’ was of course composed by Tommy Potts"

Actually it wasn’t. The tune is put together from two much older tunes. The second and third parts are the old slip jig ‘Barney’s Goat’, and the first part is adopted from an old piper tune, Bobin John.

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"Many of the world’s musical traditions don’t have a concept of ‘tune’ at all - music is improvised around a mode, using a repertoire of standard cadential figures. (Dance music on the bagpipe across Europe tends to operate that way)…" (Jack Campin)

Now I know why traditional Continental European bagpipe music is practically unendurably dull, making me want to pass out till it’s over and proper tunes start again.

Maybe its modal selections are really there to set the tone for chanted epic ballads, such as were recorded in the former Yugoslavia in (I think) the earlier c20 although other survivals of this particular tradition may be rather thin on the ground. I dare say the same has applied in the history of the harp, and of the Classical lyre further back.

The difference is that indefinite modal noodlings on the harp can sound very nice, while on the bagpipe they tend to take away the will to live.

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"There is no reason to believe that all old tunes have a composer. Many of the world’s musical traditions don’t have a concept of "tune" at all …"
So, lacking the concept of tune it’s only logical that there is not a composer either.
No?

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"There is no reason to believe that all old tunes have a composer."

Just because we don’t know the composer doesn’t mean they don’t/didn’t exist.

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"However, I don’t think I mean that these are ‘blunders’ being passed along. "

I wasn’t really being very serious…..

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Way back when the world’s surface was covered with a fetid green soupy liquid, little gas bubbles would rise to the surface going plip plop plip plop plipperty plop and all the tunes sort of evolved from there,
Hence the bodhran and its rightful place in the tradition.

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What I was suggesting is that tunes can emerge out of a practice without them, if you string enough of those modal bits together. You can see somehing like that happening in 17th century bagpipe tunes from the north of England and Scotland - a lot of the early transcriptions are very long, and may have a form like

AXBY:|
CXDY:|
EXFY:|
GXHY:|


(each letter representing one bar of 9/8 or 3/2, typically). This looks like frozen improvisation around a partially fixed framework: the player only needed to think of two new bars in every eight. Combinations that worked stayed in, and the set got steadily longer. At that time dances only used one tune throughout and some could be very long.

Saying the end product of that process had a composer would be like saying the final configuration of a dominoes game was designed by an artist.

Some of the traditions of eastern Europe are much less regular in structure. The earliest notated harp music we know of from both Scotland and Ireland has a similar character. It’s pretty hard to get your head round if you think of it as "tunes" as now understood. Think of it as some 16th century proto-jazz-geek doing the equivalent of transcribing a Lee Konitz solo and it makes a bit more sense.

Bodhrans didn’t need to evolve to survive. They cluster together like a jellyfish swarm to eat music - they’ve always been at the top of the food chain.

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"I wasn’t really being very serious….."

No, you weren’t, but it’s a good parody of a misconception which I read in michael’s post ("people too lazy or unskilled to learn the tunes properly"). It’s not a matter of people just getting it wrong and dumbing down the tune, it’s a matter of people getting it right, at least getting it closer to what they want, and passing that along.
It’s somewhat different from evolution in that regard: the watchmaker here is not a blind one.

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It may well not all be a matter of people just getting it wrong and dumbing down the tune, but it feckin well mostly is.

… and if I arrive anywhere where the jellyfish are the top of the food chain, I always make sure I’ve brought my leatherback turtle

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Jack, there’s the distinction. One type of tradition, the one you describe, tends to develop rules regarding how bits of music are to be played using fixed pattern vs where to allow variation. Perhaps there is a separate tradition, also with variation, with less (or no) use of fixed patterns. In that tradition individual composers begin to emerge & then, inevitably, variations on those *composed* tunes. So, these tunes & composers emerge only to be thrown back into the grist mill of tunes?
IMHO traditional compositions exist, but they’re almost always collaborative to one extent or another.

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I knew before I hit the link that it was that derivative thing again …
You’re becoming slightly predictable, Mustard People.

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I like mcknowall’s theory best… 😉

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Now there’s a swan dive in my endless search for intelligent mustard.
Thanks, AB!
;)

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""’The Mist Covered Mountains’ is a variation on a Scottish air of the same name put together by Junior Crehan."

No it isn’t. There is no resemblance between Crehan’s tune and the Scottish one. (The Scottish tune itself is a variation on an English one)."

Granted, these things are often subjective but, to my ear, there is an indisputable resemblance between the two tunes. Besides, I believe that Junior Crehan himself acknowledged the Scottish tune as the basis for his jig - and Slieve Callan as the inspiration (according to W. Clare piper, Michael Falsey, who knew Crehan).

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It is well established that Junior took his inspiration from Jimmy Shand’s recording of ‘the Mist Covered Mountain of Home’ . The usual, probably apocryphal, story has it Junior played it for Willie Clancy who pointed at Mt Callan and suggested the name, no doubt well aware of it’s inspiration.

The waltz/jig version were often played together in Gleeson’s of Coore where Junior played music and within a few miles of the Mt Callan.

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Does history record whether Shand ever recognized what Junior was playing?

Historical connection doesn’t imply musical resemblance. People often think tunes are similar because they are used to sing the same set of words.

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From The "i" this morning:

"Any good artist [and] any good composer pits himself against the past and attempts not just to extend tradition, but to recreate it."

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"That is not to put the two artists [Leonardo and Hockney] in the same category, although Hockney arrives at this show with the popular reputation of being Britain’s greatest living artist now that Lucian Freud and Richard Hamilton have both died. But any good artist, like any good composer, pits himself against the past and attempts not just to extend tradition but to recreate it. In Hockney’s case it is the tradition of landscape that he has now set out to build anew."

Adrian Hamilton

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/hockney-goes-back-to-nature-6290563.html

OK, Mr Gill seems to be advocating the Hockney approach to traditional music.

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The use of the word "recreate" in that passage creates a delicious ambiguity, particularly in the context of this discussion.

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No, not necessarily, I just thought it was an interesting quote. For example, I wouldn’t advocate a traditional musician "pitting" himself "against" the past. But I do think it would be more helpful if the best of our traditional musicians were recognised more for their successes in extensions and recreations.

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sorry Jon, that was to weejie

But yes, the word "recreate" doe have a delicious ambiguity. I a big fan of ambiguity

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Oh, I hadn’t even thought of "recreation" as "diversion" - a three-way ambiguous construction, then. Excellent.

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When asked to define pornography, US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said: "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [hard-core porn]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that."

I find the same to be true when it comes to knowing which tunes are Irish trad tunes and which are not. I know it when I hear it.

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Well there is that same oral tradition.

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That’s a deeply penetrating insight, Tonya.

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Take away the oral tradition, in either case, & what remains is pulp fiction.

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😀