Jerk move, or what?

Jerk move, or what?

A while back I found myself at a session that was quite wonderful except for one inexplicable moment. A fiddler launched into a set of jigs which included the tune Calliope House. He played it in D.

After the set the guitarist who was leading the session asked him what the name of the middle tune was. He said "Calliope House". The guitarist said "The tune I know as Calliope House is in E. Does anybody know Calliope House?"

At this point a few fiddlers sat up straight on the edges of their seats and proceeded to play a louder, faster version of the exact same fecking tune, this time in the key of E. For what it’s worth, the original ‘offender’ seemed to be able to play it in E with no problem.

It really left a bad taste in my mouth.

A) What’s the harm?
B) Scottish tunes have been put into the common keys forever.
C) Why be an obtuse jerk about it even if you think you have a valid point?

What do you think?

Re: Jerk move, or what?

My impression from your description is that the intent was to belittle the player. If so, no comment is necessary. We all know when someone is being a jerk. Besides, who plays tunes in E? Heck, I can’t play The Mason’s Apron in A, so what does that tell you?

On the other hand, if those who play the tune all know it in E, playing it in D is not a good idea. I also cannot transpose on the spot.

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Re: Jerk move, or what?

On the zero to 10 douchebag scale, I reckon this rates as an 11. Lots of people (anyone who plays or frequently plays with pipes, whistles, flutes) play that in D. What a tool.

Re: Jerk move, or what?

The tune is the tune — it doesn’t matter what key it’s in. That guitar player was wrong on so many levels.

Re: Jerk move, or what?

Could have been worse, he could have played it in F. :-)

Re: Jerk move, or what?

It’s good to see that I’m not alone on this. And yes, the Fluters putting their instruments on their laps and staring off into the distance spoke volumes.

Tunes in keys….

"I can’t play The Mason’s Apron in A, so what does that tell you?"

Not a serious question, is it?

Re: Jerk move, or what?

I’m only half a jerk (or is it douchebag?). In most sessions I’ve heard it played in D. When it is I play my flute.
But I know one fiddler who only plays it in E and then I play on my A whistle. I like it this way; and we go at a moderate tempo.

;)

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Re: Jerk move, or what?

This is one of the things I have liked less about Irish trad sessions, as opposed to jazz and blues jam sessions where I bring my saxophone and musicians are a bit more friendly. I’ve been to some trad sessions in my area that are quite friendly, and others that are very snobby. Some sessions the players really look down on other musicians whose skills aren’t quite as good as theirs.

I remember one jazz musician telling me "Always try to play with musicians that are better than you. It pushes you to be a better player, and there’s always something to learn. Learning to listen to others is important. Obviously, don’t go playing things that are over your head, but don’t be afraid to play a tune you know with musicians that are more skilled than you."


I’ve always tried to follow that advice, and have been playing tin whistle for a little over a year, but it can be rough trying to get in trad sessions and not feel like you’re being looked down upon. Like I said, some are friendly, some are not. In general, I’ve found musicians in jazz and blues jams to be far more friendly to newcomers, so long as you don’t go acting like a dick.

Re: Jerk move, or what?

I think the original key for the tune was E, it was written by Dave Richardson from Boys Of The Lough? I play it on guitar in D and either D or E on banjo.

Re: Jerk move, or what?

"I can’t play The Mason’s Apron in A, so what does that tell you?"

Not a serious question, is it?

# Posted by David Levine

More of a point than a question. As you would know, TMA is awkward for flute in A. When Matt Molloy does his tour de force with it, he plays it in A with the band fairly slowly and then fires it up for his solo in G. What’s good enough for the master is good enough for the man, sez I. But my larger point is that playing a tune in a given key at a session is acceptable only if it is generally done in that key. So whether or not the guitar player was being a putz is largely a matter of answering that question.

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Re: Jerk move, or what?

Just one thing that occurs to me from the description of the op. Maybe the Guitarist didn’t actually know the tune, just the keys for accompanying "a tune in E"? And then his comment that what he associated with the name "Calliope House" had to be in E. Otherwise he would not recognise it? And then everyone starting it could just be a momentum question. (And I and others around here play it in D.)

OTOH I do know a few players who like playing known tunes in obscure keys deliberately so that they are not drowned out by all those horrible flutes, pipes, whistles etc. Usually fiddlers. Because they can. Or guitarists who don’t want to understand that other instruments don’t have Capos. G*ts!.

Re: Jerk move, or what?

Calliope House is quite a distinctive tune, with a character all of it’s own, and for string players that character comes largely from the fact that it is in E, and where the open strings occur - playing it in E you are using the open E on emphasized beat notes, but if you drop it to D, in the first couple of bars you land up with the unemphasized notes ringing on the open A string and the character of the tune changes completely - it becomes just another jig. But in sessions it does often get put down to D, so it’s no big deal, and certainly not something to humiliate someone over. (Especially if you are just a guitarist).

I always assumed dropping it to D was done simply to make it fit in a set with other D tunes, not because the original key was hard for other instruments (apart from pipes, but because of the drones, not the fingering) - if you play it in E it doesn’t go above top B, and it doesn’t actually have any D#s in it, so if you can play in A you should be able to play this particular tune in E even if you can’t play the whole scale. Or have I missed something?

Re: Jerk move, or what?

The guitarist’s response was, without a doubt, inappropriate. But it is just possible that it was not meant to be deliberately belittling and that he *genuinely* hadn’t recognised the tune because it was in a different key; this and his lack of social graces could have been down to autism. But I suppose you had to be there…

I am intrigued by the fact that all the fiddlers immediately complied with the guitarist’s desire to play the tune in E. Was this out of fear, compassion or secret ridicule?

Re: Jerk move, or what?

Crackpot: "Or guitarists who don’t want to understand that other instruments don’t have Capos. G*ts!."

I’m not sure what you mean by that. Are you referring to guitarists starting tunes (melody) themselves? If so, perhaps they don’t want to get drowned out by a dozen other instruments. If you are talking about guitarists that accompany their own singing, then the same may be true - and they are entitled to choose whatever key best suits their vocal range.

If you are talking about guitar backing, the guitarist shouldn’t be playing in any key other than that which the tune players wish to play their tunes in - using a capo if necessary. If a backer is trying to tell anyone what key to play a tune in, they’re stepping out of line.

Re: Jerk move, or what?

"if you play it in E it doesn’t go above top B, and it doesn’t actually have any D#s in it, so if you can play in A you should be able to play this particular tune in E even if you can’t play the whole scale. Or have I missed something?"

My ‘home’ session plays it in D, so that’s how I learned it. I don’t personally think it’s ‘wrong’, either way, it’s just this particular reaction that put me off. If someone plays it in E and I have to sit it out because I didn’t do my homework, or because I’m not clever enough to transpose on the fly, then that’s on me as I see it, though I do feel that it’s best to think of the flutes, whistles and pipes.

"I am intrigued by the fact that all the fiddlers immediately complied with the guitarist’s desire to play the tune in E. Was this out of fear, compassion or secret ridicule?"

I took it as "let’s show him what’s up", but I could have just been projecting.

Some of the musicians were familiar with each other, a lot were visiting from other places at this particular gathering, maybe half and half.

Re: Jerk move, or what?

"…..the guitarist who was leading the session……… " !!! Now that’s a new one to me.
From the information given above, I’d say the fiddlers who complied were just as much to blame, [ if you want to "blame" anyone ] , but at the end of the day, so what ?
The tune was played at our session last night, started by a mandola player, who played it in E. Cool. As far as I know, nobody felt the need to then play it in D, and we certainly wouldn’t have done it if suggested by the guitar players.
There is no "right" key, only different, except for the fact that the "right" key for any tune in a session is the key chosen by the person who starts the tune.
My two bawbees……………………..

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Re: Jerk move, or what?

"I am intrigued by the fact that all the fiddlers immediately complied with the guitarist’s desire to play the tune in E. Was this out of fear, compassion or secret ridicule?"

I’m not really surprised by this. They probably weren’t thinking about the etiquette at all, just happy to play a tune they enjoy. Most of them probably learned it in E because that is where it was written (and that particular session presumably plays it regularly in E). They were probably struggling in D, and shifting to E would come as a relief, they wouldn’t necessarily be thinking about the social consequences. For the fiddlers playing it in E is fun, it’s one of those tunes that seem to dance a couple of inches above the ground, but in D it just plods along. But that still doesn’t make playing it in D wrong, or make what the guitarist did right. Once you’ve played a tune you’ve played it, even if it wasn’t your favourite version, and it’s time to move on to the next tune, not go back and do it a different way (particularly if it means humiliating someone else in the process).

Re: Jerk move, or what?

In all the sessions I’ve attended, I’ve never come across a session "leader". It’s a strange concept to me, and probably an American one. But that’s a whole other discussion.
The OP’s story is nothing to do with leading, more bullying really. I wouldn’t put up with it, as a victim, or a participant, but Mark has it figured pretty well. Repeating tunes is naff.

Re: Jerk move, or what?

My read is that suggesting it in E was the guitarist’s attempt at mansplaining that E is the "correct" key for the tune. Putting myself in the fiddlers’ place, I’m sure I also would have jumped in and played it again in E. For one thing, it is more fun to play in E and it is a tiny bit more challenging because of the reach to the G# on the D string. For another, mansplain at me and my maturity goes right out the window.

Re: Jerk move, or what?

"They probably weren’t thinking about the etiquette at all, just happy to play a tune they enjoy …. they wouldn’t necessarily be thinking about the social consequences."

Yes, on second thoughts, if someone were to play the first few notes of the tune (perhaps just to demonstate how it sounds in E), my fingers would probably just join in spontaneously, without consulting my social conscience - I’m sure many would do the same. Once two or more people are playing, it gives everyone else the ‘OK’ to join in and before you know it, everyone (except those who aren’t) is playing the tune at full tilt.

Re: Jerk move, or what?

Just for the fun of it at home, I’ll play Calliope House in E, then in D, then jump over/down a string and play it in A, and then in G. We get insane here in the fidkid kitchen I tell ya.

Re: Jerk move, or what?

At first glance, the guitarist does indeed sound like either a massive douche-nozzle or an utter ass-hat (it can be hard to distinguish between these two species). I could be tempted to give him the benefit of the doubt and (as suggested above) assume he didn’t actually know the tune at all and was just aware that there is a tune called Calliope House which he knew as being in in E for backing purposes.

The more pressing question arising from the OP - who on earth appointed a guitarist as a session leader? ;-)

Re: Jerk move, or what?

Fun fact: I hate the tune irrespective of key.

Re: Jerk move, or what?

Tøm, I must admit I’m not a massive fan of the tune either. I’d be very unlikely to start it myself but would join in as long as it was being played in D.

Re: Jerk move, or what?

I keep getting this image of a wild west saloon. Guy in black hat, "Hold on there stranger, we do that tune in E ‘round these parts, ain’t that right boys? Let’s show him!"

Re: Jerk move, or what?

"But it is just possible that it was not meant to be deliberately belittling and that he *genuinely* hadn’t recognised the tune because it was in a different key; this and his lack of social graces could have been down to autism."

Also, if this guitarist "has perfect pitch" it is possible he didn’t recognize the tune, or didn’t register it in his mind as the same tune - just a different tune that reminded him of the tune he knew.

Or he could be a jerk. But I like to give people the benefit of the doubt when possible. (Some people do make this difficult…..)

Re: Jerk move, or what?

I keep getting this image of a wild west saloon. Guy in black hat, "Hold on there stranger, we do that tune in E ‘round these parts, ain’t that right boys? Let’s show him!"

Perfect! Thanks for that.

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Re: Jerk move, or what?

Yeah, that’s how it felt to me. In Texas, at that.

Re: Jerk move, or what?

I hate this aspect of sessions; I always wish I had stayed home when it happens

Re: Jerk move, or what?

To be fair, it was only 2 or 3 minutes out of an otherwise beautiful session.

Re: Jerk move, or what?

I must live a charmed life - I have almost never come across that level of ass-hattery in sessions*. Whenever I have gone to a session that wasn’t one of my ‘home’ sessions, I have had one of two experiences. Either it’s a big and busy session and the regulars just kind of ignore you and do their thing (and if you go a few times in a row they’ll start chatting to you more and asking you to start tunes), or you get a great welcome and get asked to start set after set and an invitation to stop by the next time you’re in town.

* The very occasional time I’ve encountered someone being a massive ass-hat at a session, I’ve been reliably informed that the offending ass-hat applies the same sort of ass-hattery to all aspects of said ass-hat’s life, so I never saw it as a session-related hazard.

Re: Jerk move, or what?

I am not sure what everyone’s problem is here. Sometimes it is fun to play the same tune in different keys. I like Calliope House in E best, but the flutes like it in D. So I am ready to play it in either. The first fiddler may have chosen D to fit in with the rest of the session. I’ll bet the other fiddles enjoyed playing it again in E. This is minor compared to some session conflicts.

Re: Jerk move, or what?

When the tenor banjo players start putting on capos, you know whatever happens next will certainly be posted here the next day…

Re: Jerk move, or what?

What donoghue said. I don’t see the problem. I think it’s reasonable and fair that the one starting the tune is the one who chooses the key. People who have good manners as well as some knowledge of possible limits of certain instruments adapt to the other musicians. Mostly fiddles? Anything goes. Some D based wind instrument? I’d probably avoid tunes in C, F, Dm, (Gm,) and E (and Emix), but we’d still have hundreds of tunes in common.

Last time, someone played a tune in G which I’d only played in F. No problem.

Re: … or what?

The tune, "Calliope House", is great played in E. Play it the way you like it.
If you see me sitting there w/a D whistle don’t change what you usually do to benefit me.
I’m fine not playing on every tune.

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Re: Jerk move, or what?

I was playing fiddle at our Tuesday session, here n York, when a young woman started playing a tune I vaguely recognised, in G. I picked it up fairly easily and after we’d finished, I asked her what it was called. "The Battle of The Somme" she told me. I was gobsmacked, because I am trying to learn this for Friday, which is the centenary of the battle commencing. Just over half of my granddad’s battalion went West on the first day.
The only reason I didn’t recognise it, was because I was learning it in D!
Willie Laurie wrote it as a slow pipe march, but probably in some other, more pipe-friendly key with lots of flats. Some say that key does nothing to help identify a tune, but my, and the OP’s experience would suggest that in fact , it does matter - more than we would think.

Chris B.

Re: Jerk move, or what?

"The Battle of The Somme … I was learning it in D! … Willie Laurie wrote it as a slow pipe march, but probably in some other, more pipe-friendly key with lots of flats."

The Great Highland Pipes are generally regarded as being in A mixolydian, even though their A is pitched somewhere close to concert Bb. With the flattened 7th, that means two sharps in the key signature - although sheetmusic written for pipers rarely has a key signature at all (There is no need for one, as the piper has no choice). If you start on the 4th step of the bagpipe scale, you’re in D - so D *is* the original key for "The Battle of the Somme (although that would be Eb according to modern pitch standards, when pplayed on the pipes).