So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

Maybe this topic was already discussed. Or, if not, it may not be so important. But I want to know what other people think.

Last night I was listening to J. S. Bach’s French Suites performed by well-known Dutch harpsichordist Ton Koopman. Maybe you don’t know, but many of Bach’s instrumental works are derived from the dance music at that time. In fact, “gigues” in the suites are the imitations of Irish jigs in a sense. So, I feel, while so-called classical musicians play Bach’s works as purely instrumental pieces, many musicians who specialise in the baroque music try to play them “danceably.” Ton Koopman is definitely one of such musicians: what with the dynamic rhythms, lots of improvisational variations and ornamentations, he revives the works of the great German composer in the 18th century as the real dance music.

So, I’m now wondering, what about the traditional Irish music today? Do we always have to keep in mind it is the dance music we are playing. Or can we play or listen to the tunes just as beautiful, purely instrumental pieces?

Idle thoughts….


H.

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

I’m currently cutting my teeth in a “slow session” whose leader while playing sessions, quite frequently plays for dancers, too. I’ve also done the dance thing many years ago myself, and I think it’s invaluable to think of the tunes as something folks should be able to dance to even if dancers aren’t there.

Don’t get me wrong, I like inovative takes on tunes, etc., but jigs, reels, hornpipes and slip jigs should make a listener want to dance (even if they’ve two left feet).

Just my take on this.

Eric

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

I am (and have) played them purely instrumental if by that you mean without dancing. Some of it is dancing music (refering to ITM) some of it is not like slow airs. The style in which they should be played to make some one want to dance.

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Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

A hammered dulcimer player I took a workshop from said he loves to play at dances in halls with wooden floors. There’s a hundred feet playing percussion.
He encourages his students to dance a lot--says it helps you play the music better.

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Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

to my knowledge tune playing pre 1950’s (about) was mostly played in dance halls to the percusion of many feet dancing the appropriate dance. then came television. and the dancers stayed home and thus began the removal of dance tunes from a more interactive context. consequently the bodhran bacame more popular in sessions as the dancers weren’t there to thump along.
i heard this from a fellow folkie from dublin who parents were involed in the scene.
so now when we play tunes down the pub and someones doing the chicken dance it’s a sad reminder that we’ve lost something here. is this evolution? has someone written the “chicken reel”?

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

Okay - back in the mists of time, which came first - music or dancing?

1) Did someone invent dancing, and then say “Play us a tune to do this to” - I doubt it.
2) Did someone invent music, and people found that it made them want to wriggle their body parts in time to the beat - I think this is more likely.

Conclusion? It’s not that WE play dance tunes, but that THEY dance to our music.

Dave ;o)

PS - is someone out there skilled enough in matters of grammar and syntax to tell me where to put the question marks in 1) and 2)

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

It’s amusing, but interesting to see my wee 18-month old laddie bopping to music whenever he hears some tune - anything from trad thru pop to classical. He just does so spontaneously - so dave, maybe music and dancing coevolved (my current buzzword) as behaviour patterns, functions of a top heavy neocortex. My take is that our stuff should be thought of as pieces of music in the abstract sense if you’re a muso trying to learn a tune, but as dance music once you can put in the right pulse.

It’s a shame we have to be so reductionist, though, saying is it real proper music or just mere dance music - implying that if its sole function is to allow people to leap about, that detracts from its musicological integrity and value.

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

Did not David (the biblical one) dance in the temple before the Ark of the Covenant?
Trevor

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

yeah but according to that source, the earth was made in 6 days.

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

Jewish congregations (Reform and Orthodox) dance with the Torah scrolls on the holiday Simchat Torah; in Orthodox synagogues, no music will be involved, although I guess it may be in Reform. Simchat Torah, Hebrew for “rejoicing in the Law”, celebrates the completion of the annual reading of the Torah. The scrolls are taken from the ark and carried or danced around the synagogue seven times. During the Torah service, the concluding section of Deuteronomy is read, immediately followed by the opening section of Genesis.

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

“Day” in that context means a period of time (perhaps extremely long). Given that, the account in Genesis isn’t too bad an approximation at cosmology for a culture lacking our modern scientific knowledge.

Trevor

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

Yes, it still is dance music, even if we aren’t dancing to it, which is why I try and stop people speeding up or starting too fast.
A bit of self control still needs to be exercised in sessions.

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

I’ve recently been looking at the gigue from Bach’s 1st cello suite (in G) from the ITM perspective, putting in ornaments here and there which I was never taught to do and which I’ve never heard done on recordings. It gives the music a completely different aspect.
Trevor

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

Some bebop guy, might have been charlie parker, when someone complained to him that you couldn’t dance to his new take on jazz, replied, “yeah, but you can dance to it in your head”. That’s kind of how I aproach diddly music.

Posted .

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

what a silly view is it to ask wether dancing or playing the music was first? isn

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

as someone who did and was very good at Irish Dancing as a child I probably listen to the music with a dancer’s ear and oftentimes cringe when I hear especially hornpipes played way too fast for dancing or starting off at a nice dancing pace and speeding up horribly. I would imagine the music came first and the dancing followed. Its always n ice in the pub when someone gets up to dance to the session, makes you feel you getting it half right, particularly if its a sean nos dancer.

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

Well said Danny and Crannog. I hoped someone would have the sense to say it out loud - about the co-evolution/synonity of music and dance. I thought the point so painfully obvious that I put it the way I did in the hope that it would provoke some thought. (A process called putting in the michael).

Now, to answer the original question: of course we can listen to the tunes as beautiful instrumental pieces.

Same as a child will sometimes draw a rather obscure picture, and if someone says “What’s it a picture of?” the child may well reply “Its not a picture OF something, its just a picture” - I’ve seen this happen on a number of occasions over the years. The person who would insist on a picture being OF something, may well insist on playing The Music in a strictly danceable way - but I think that most of us know The Music better than that.

0.02p

Must go and laminate posters now.

Dave

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

That sounds like fun, Trevor. I’ve been taking some classical lessons lately, having a go at expanding my horizons (but a bit more than a tad laughably), and was given the dots for a waltz that, as soon as I started playing, turned into this nice little jig. Can’t get away from it, everything comes out sorta Irish, no matter - something to do with a persistent inability to play with the deadly accuracy of machine gun fire. Oh well!

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

I love playing dance music on the bodhr

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

Trevor, you might like to know (or possibly not) that i had a crack at arranging the two menuets from that same suite as jigs.i would n’t play them like that in public but it was interesting all the same.the g minor one worked better for some reason.

by the way,Joe,i did have the VERY good fortune to once listen to a bodhran hitter accompany a slow air.i’ll find out where you live…!

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

Hi all,
I’ve not read all the replies to this topic but I felt I had to reply being an irish dancer 😉

I love listening to irish music and I play traditional irish music and piano (and a bit of bodhran). When I’m listening to either cd’s or bands playing live I often find that the music is way to fast to dance to (even tho my feet start dancing).

Many musicians who play music that’s often used for dancing have a sort of good to dance to rhythm (probably because they heard tunes somewhere else and at that time it was played to dance to or something like that) but very often musicians (not all of them ofcourse!!) get carried away by a sort of attitude “the faster the better”.
Ofcourse a well-known reel like ‘cooley’s reel’ sounds a lot more facinating when it’s played fast and I totally agree and when I play it myself I don’t play it at dancing speed either because there’s no dancer there dancing.

But very often I find I can’t dance to live music because it’s played to fast and I either have to tell the band in advance they have to slow it down or I have to tell them when I’m dancing.

A lot of tunes sound better if they’re fast (if there’s no dancer) but I think it’s good if musicians try to keep dancing speed more often. When there’s no dancer, even tho the tunes itself make people want to dance, I think it sounds great to hear tunes fast because well…. let’s be honest: If you can’t play any instrument or dance it’s fantastic to see musicians go crazy on their jigs and reels.

In irish dancing the fast tunes are usually just used for beginners because the steps aren’t very complicated so you have to speed it up to make the dance a bit more difficult but when a dancer gets to a higher level the music slows down because the dancer has to put all kind of really fancy footwork in.

As I’ve heard the music came after the dancing. With hardshoe dancing a simple bit of bodhran to accompany it makes it absolutely fantastic But for softshoe dancing a nice fiddle or flute tune gives both the dancer and the dance something extra, no matter how simple the dance is.

Leenke

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

I’m currently under sufference of having a brother who is a pianist / organist who is absolutely obsessed with early music e.g. Gesualdo, Josquin, Richafort, Rore, Dufay, Machaut. He, living in Oxford, wanted some music at christmas, and as well as buying him yet more of the above composers music, I found some very early Scottish composers just for a laugh (maybe some people might be able to help with the names). What is striking to me is the extent to which some rhythms, ornamentation and modality have strong similarities not only with these early scottish music, but also with some of this italian music. To say it sounds “folky” is an understatement.

Now, I’m getting into this early music!!

So I think tunes came first……….

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Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

showaddydadito wrote: “Did someone invent dancing, and then say ”Play us a tune to do this to“ - I doubt it.” I think I’ve already said somewhere else on this site the following. So… at the risk of being redundant, I will say it again. My understanding is that about 300 years ago Irish folks, who were returning from Europe with dances they had enjoyed doing there, didn’t have video or tape recorders to bring back the music. Local musicians probably didn’t read or play the type of music that went along with it, and the dancers might have said, “Can you play something we can dance like this to?” And the local musicians changed the rhythm of melodies they already had in their head to fit the dance steps. The music and dance then developed hand-in-hand over the next couple of centuries until it became the phenomena we now associate with ITM or Irish dance music. So my answer to showaddydadito is: Yes, quite possibly they could have asked that question.

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

I only have one beef on the subject, and that’s people who play waltzes really really slow, like airs, and then if I play one up to dancing speed, they tell me I’m playing it “too fast.” I don’t mind it if they like to play them slow because they think they’re prettier that way, but for catsake, don’t tell me I’m playing it *wrong* if I’m playing it at the speed a dancer would actually waltz at!

P.S. The question marks go inside the quotations if the quote is a question. They go outside the quote marks if you’re quoting within your question but the quotation is not a question. At least, that’s what my editors always make me do. YMMV.

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

This is one of the reasons I prefer playing for sets rather than contras, Zina. If we play a waltz at the contra the speed we do for the set dancers, we get the “slow it down” signal. We tried playing a waltz in that slow speed at a set dance one night, and they just stood and stared at us. I asked them later why they didn’t dance, and they said they thought we were playing a slow air. It’s not that a waltz can’t be played slowly -- it can be very beautiful. But if someone wants to dance -- play a bloody waltz then I say.

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

Well, what’s that book of Captain O‘Neill’s called ? (can’t find his copy to hand ) - “The Dance Music of Ireland” ! ’Nuff said.

BUT many session players do play things much too fast to dance to - I remember The Boys of the Lough having a trad irish dancer on stage with them sans much rehearsal many years ago, and she really had to get them to slow down to cope.

How did they manage for Riverdance ?

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

1) All of those dancers are champions or champion level dancers, and so can dance well at insane speeds that would cause immediate breakdown in other dancers;
2) There’s a reason that music is much more “arranged” and “filled out” -- a lot of it is at dance tempo, which isn’t necessarily the best tempi for listening. 🙂

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

Jack, there’s a guy who I once danced a waltz with at the Starry Plough over on the other side of the Bay from you…my god, what a great waltzer! Can’t remember his name now, but I do remember the dancing! 🙂 Wouldn’t have been nearly so much fun if it had been slow waltzes…

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

Zina, we have a wealth of excellent watlzers around these parts young lady. If you come to one of our Thursday night set dances, you won’t be disappointed… and you might even re-unite with your mystery waltzer… you never know.

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

Nah. I’m a sucker for a really good waltzer and my husband might object. *grin*

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

It’s fun to read all the responses. Thanks, everyone.

So, which came first, dance or music? I have got just another idea. It’s maybe the song which came first. You know it’s very boring to do some simple manual labor silently, so someone started singing while moving the body. Then, when people sang just for fun free from work, they couldn’t help moving their body and elaborated the movement. At the same time, some bad singers brought instruments and played along with the songs. They were probably very simple and repetitive melodies, so variations were added little by little. On the CDs of Cape Breton singer Mary Jane Lamond, you will hear some very primitive but beautiful melodies which have not developed into instrumental tunes.

Well, I couldn’t insert any humours. Sorry.

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

So, am I playing dance music? I played at a ceilidh the other night and I was. It’s a different skill to what I normally do so what are the differences?

Strict tempo? I always keep a strict tempo so no change there.
Sower speed than normal? Not strictly true. I usually play faster and slower than dance speed.
Less complicated tunes? Not really.
Strict length for sets? Depends on the dance so no.

The real difference is who you are dioing it for. When I normaly play, I play for me. When I play for a dance, I play for a dance. It’s as simple as that

Posted .

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

What does POLICE Capt O’Neill from Chicago know anyway??

The answer is that it is and it isn’t. When someone dances to it, it is, and when there are no dancers it isn’t!!

My kids are dancers and when they get up on the floor I play the tune to suit their dancing. When there are no dancers I play to suit myself and the other musicians. This can sometimes mean that we play the tune wild fast or very slow in comparison with the dancers’ timing.

Either way is great - there are no prescriptive rules about what speed to play the tune [hence my dislike for some of the metronome discussions here]. Even with the same group of musicians we dont play the same tune in the same way at the same speed all the time. The heart and the soul have different needs at different times - go with the flow is what I say!!

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

In sessions, you have to listen (unless you play bodhran) - you should also be watching - knees, fingers, faces etc. all give signals, especially if the lead musicians are scattered around the room.
Leading a dance band, you have to watch like mad (or certainly at the start of the dance), to gauge the tempo to tonights dancers - some evenings have better dancers than others.
Two tempo tips -
Jimmy Shand - “Play to match the best dancers on the floor”
Geoff Wright - “Play to match the set containing the people paying you”

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

Slainte - interesting little theory. But I bet you the music/song/dance spectrum of human creative activity pre-dates organised labour, which is usually seen as an indicator of what we now call “civilisation”. In other words hunter gatherer societies did - and still do, where they still exist - sing/play/dance.

Maybe you’re thinking of the Hebridean Whalking songs, or black slave spirituals, and so on, but they just go to show that you can’t stop people from making some kind of music even when they exist in the direst of circumstances.

Good food for thought anyway, so thanks. Good topic, this one.

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

Ha ha, I like that one, Play to match the set containing the people paying you". That’s exactly what I was doing the other night.

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Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

Hey Geoff! Like your reply (and many others).

When I was in The Breinton Morris, I was taught to play my our musician. His background was as a concert pianist mostly accompanying flute. He adapted this to playing pipe-and-tabor. For him, the dancers weren’t dancing to the music, the music was accompanying the dance. This meant that his playing really emphasised what was going on in the dance. Listening to recordings of old morris musicians just playing for the collector, their playing sounds wierd from a musical point of view but if you can imagine the dance itself you can hear how it all works together. That was exactly what my mate was doing.

I hope I’ve transferred this way of doing it to my bodhr

Re: So, Are We Playing Dance Music?

Just as a PS, our approach in the morris was vindicated one night when we had a booking but our then musician didn’t turn up. We waited but our audience was getting restless. So we went ahead and danced our set unaccompanied. It made us concentrate very hard on remembering where we were in the dance and on staying in time with each other. The sounds of the stepping, of the bells and of the sticks (in some dances) was the music. A good morris musician uses these sounds and wraps the tune around them.

I’ve had a go at playing bodhr

Re: Yes, but how many ITM players have ever danced themselves?

How many ITM players actually dance themselves? I know one who used to dance a lot at ceilidhs, that’s about it. I know players who’ve played for ceilidhs with a caller, and probably for other kinds of traditional dancing (I’m not including Morris here) - but DANCE? - no way, in all probability; it would be as alien as flying. The footwork of the vast majority of TM session players would seem to be confined to stepping over guitars on the way to getting the beers in.