Organizing your dance tunes

Organizing your dance tunes

Hi there. I play some ceili dances throughout the year and I always have trouble with organization.
Every dance group has their usual sets that they know, but those can vary event to event. I’d say we have about 15 sets and then several ceilis that we do between the dances.

My question: How do you organize yourself? Do you assign specific tunes to the figures and bar counts of each set (which requires a LOT of tunes, mostly reels) or do you have a master list of jigs and reels that you run through, no matter the figure/set?

I know some sets have figures that prefer specific tunes, and we do try to accommodate some of those.

Hope this all makes sense. I’m just curious as to how some of you approach this.

Re: Organizing your dance tunes

For sets, instead of worrying about bar counts, it’s a lot easier to watch the dancers and stop when they’ve gone round the house. There are sets that don’t end with a house-around, mind you.

Re: Organizing your dance tunes

Well, up to a point, some of the dancers don’t really mind as long as the music keeps going at a steady tempo, but then there are others who are insistent that the music should match the dance figures.
Can’t speak too much for Irish set dancing, but in Scottish, many dances are done to 32-bar stanzas, but there are others that need 40 or 48 bars for one round of the dance. And then for the Eightsome Reel, your start and finish tune goes AA BBB, and the intervening tunes are either AABBAB or ABABAB (where A = first half of tune and B = second half).
We do have a master list of all of our tune sets, and they are all coded, e.g, 32R = 32-bar reel set, 48J = 48-bar jig set. And we also cross-reference sets - we have a number that were put together for specific dances, but could work perfectly for e.g. a Gay Gordons or Strip the Willow set.

Re: Organizing your dance tunes

The internal logic of a lot of set dances doesn’t match the 32-bar structure, unlike SCD.

We attempted to run a ceili last year with all the tunes matching the internal logic of set dance figures, conceiving that a particular step would occur at the same point in a tune through each repeat, and a tune change could come at a logical place like it does in Scottish Country Dance. This ended up amounting to logic like the following. It was frankly insane, but matched up beautifully with the dancers. We haven’t done it at any ceilis since! ;)

Caledonian Set
—————————
Figure 1: R 128
Tune: Cregg’s Pipes (G)
Structure: 5x through, one extra A part after the last time through for a house around

Figure 2: R 96
Tune: Devanney’s Goat (D)
Structure: ABB start, (AABB) repeat until closing on 1 time through A

Figure 3: R 192
Tune: Bucks of Oran Mor (D)
Structure: CCDDEE (AABBCCDDEE) until close

Figure 4: J 224
Tunes: Cook in the Kitchen (G), Battering Ram (G)
Structure: BCC (AABBCC)x2, then (AABBCC)x2 for 2nd tune

Figure 5: R 192
Tunes: Humours of Tulla (D), Glass of Beer (Bm/D)
Structure: BB (AABB)x6, then (AABB)x6 for second tune

Figure 6: H 160
Tune: Peacock’s Feather (Dm)
Structure: B (AABB)x5

Re: Organizing your dance tunes

In the 5th figure of the Sliabh Luachra set, there’s a 24-bar repeating step in a hornpipe figure. So we played a hornpipe AAB, which felt really odd.

Re: Organizing your dance tunes

Trish, I love the idea of coding each tune with the bar count. Brilliant!
And yeah, Ben, it really depends on the sets. Some of them work out, some need an extra A or B part (we usually do an extra A at the beginning of the tune for those, so that we can end with the dancers).

Re: Organizing your dance tunes

In short, you need one or more in the band who actually knows the dances: it does help!

Re: Organizing your dance tunes

Surely this is the job of the caller. S/he discusses with the band what sort of tunes s/he wants, eg 32 bar jig, slow waltz etc, and they provide suitable tunes from their repertoire. The caller also starts and finishes the dances, suitably signalling the band.
The band I play with most regularly file the tunes largely under type and they’re numbered within this, so the leader might call "Polkas 6" or "Bourees 2".

Re: Organizing your dance tunes

It doesn’t work like that at real Irish ceilis, Mr Ebor. Often there is no caller. And what is being talked about here are "sets" - quadrilles - the figures of which vary in length and most of the time do not last for multiples of 32 bars. They end when the dancers get to the end of the figure, not when a caller decides they have been at it for long enough.