Christmas Sets?

Christmas Sets?

To me, one of the really cool things about Irish music is the endless ways there are to set tunes together. Since I like airs and songs so much, sometimes I’ll play a set of tunes after playing an air. Since Christmas carols are some of my favorite melodies ever, I think it would be interesting to set a few of them up at the front of a tune set. I wouldn’t consider most carols danceable, especially considering some of them have some odd timings, but they do tend to be fun and jubilant. Have you discovered any tunes that go particularly well with your favorite Christmas carols?

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Hi, Jerone! I wish Christmas carols were my bag. I personally am not drawn to them. But I appreciate hearing my young niece singing them with joy. She is grand! I would happily play a carol followed by tunes for her. If I recall she rather liked "Walking in a Winter Wonderland". But I don’t know for sure. I need to be a better uncle.

Cheers!

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Ben, my friend, with all due respect! I mean carols as the old traditional Christmas songs, like "Deck The Halls", whose melody is dated back to the 16th century. Not the popularized modern standards. I personally despise the lot of them lol.

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Like I said, I don’t know which carols she was singing. I know I should but unfortunately it’s not something I know well enough. But I love hearing her sing them.

ps ~ and I’m sure it wasn’t "Walking in a Winter Wonderland"… FWIW

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We have a Christmas Carol Jig Set, thanks to a friend who brought along a setting of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" into jig time: quite different from the usual rather ploddy 4/4 time: this version usually raises a smile when people eventually recognise the tune!
It then crossed my mind just how many carols were in jig time, but we put 4 of them together, all in simple 6/8 jig time, i.e.
I Saw Three Ships (G)/ We Three Kings of Orient Are (Em)/ The Seven Joys of Mary (G) / It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (G).
Other jig time ones you might use include In Dulci Jubilo, Tomorrow will be my Dancing Day. You can hear some of these on a couple of CDs Maddy Prior and Tom Hart did together, Carols and Capers being one of them.

And we have a Gay Gordons Dance Set of more carols in 4/4: Good King Wenceslas/ Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly/ Ding Dong Merrily on High / Jingle Bells.

Of course you don’t have to do either of these as whole sets, but just slip one or two tunes in as a surprise addition to a more conventional set.

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“Gloucestershire Wassail” would probably make a decent jig.

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Maybe Christmas is a bit too Christian for Trad Irish music. This music’s probably older than that.

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The wren, the wren is the king of the birds
On St Stephen’s day it got caught on the furze
Up with the kettle and up with the pan
Who’ll give me a penny to bury the wren?

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Then there are the uniquely Irish Christmas songs/airs, such as Don Oíche Úd I Mbeithil, Cuireadh Do Mhuire, and Oíche Nollag.

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Jingle Bells makes a good polka.

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In Tooting SW17 when playing with Foxy et al, Jingle Bells is hard fast reel and usually reserved for the hotttest day in June!!

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Not huge on most Christmas carols as a rule, but they do incorporate some truly lovely melodies. That said I really enjoy playing some combinations of O Holy Night, Bring a Torch Jeanette Isabella, Sou Gan, and my all time favorite Ave Maria (Shubert) often brings tears to my eyes when played very, very well.

The fiddle player in the old time band I’m loosely associated with likes to play Jingle Bells first as a jig then as a reel. I do play it with her, but inside I’m hoping for a quick, merciful death.

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Does she play it in 4/4 or 2/2?

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Cut time, although to me it sounds like a "bothering" of notes loosely associated with a melody!

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//The fiddle player in the old time band I’m loosely associated with likes to play Jingle Bells first as a jig then as a reel.//

ross - there must be an awful lot of repeated notes in those!

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Jim, there are, but if you listen closely you might find a melody…you might, I can’t! As the bass player I just lay down a groove for her. She’s really a charming person, and it’s just about a couple of minutes in an hour long show and it makes her happy. I can just focus on what comes next. The trade-off is that I get to play my own favorite set, as mentioned, solo-flute/guitar back, even thought it’s not their favorite. Interesting dynamic that. At the end of the night we’ve all been paid, maybe fed, and we go home friends. Doesn’t get any better!

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I think I may not have been clear in what I was asking. I’m interested in traditional Irish tunes, the normal everyday tunes we play in sessions all the time, that you think would fit well in a set with Christmas carols, melody-wise.

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"Jingle Bells Polka" was recorded in East Anglia during the 1980’s, I think by Percy Brown, but it’s certainly a very strong tune. The tune usually played for "Good King Wenceslas" was originally a lively Czech dance tune and "Ding Dong Merrily" is a French Bransle, still danced to - it’s usually paired with "The Washerwomen’s Brawl" and "The Horse’s Brawl", though these are not particularly Christmassy.

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Jerone, I would think the usual rules for sets apply — keep the tunes in a similar rhythm, and change keys when you change tunes to add interest. I think polkas generally tend to go well with Christmas carols like ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ or ‘Good King Wenceslas’ since they’re often similar levels of melodic complexity. Consider polkas like "The Little Diamond" or even those two very common Ballydesmonds. ‘Silent Night’ is in 3/4 so should transition easily into—or out of—a simple jig like "The Frost is All Over," "My Darling Asleep" or a Carolan waltz like "Shebeg Shemor."

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And for something from the ITM repertoire, do look up the Wexford Carol - it is mind-bogglingly beautiful if not particularly jolly!
Sorry it’s not an Irish singer but just love this version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CG6vOASt2RU

And doesn’t need another tune with it - stand-alone air IMHO!

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Perhaps our favorite tune for a Christmas gig is this:

"I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In," blended with the three parts of "Merrily Kiss the Quaker."

We play "3 Ships," then the A part of "Quaker"; then "3 Ships" and the B part of "Quaker." Then "3 Ships" and the C part of "Quaker."

Also, don’t forget "Christmas Eve," the three part reel.

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Jerone, which carols and tunes do you combine in sets? I don’t mean to undercut your concept. I always trust your musical intuition. I can appreciate your experience with traditional Christmas carols, but it’s not as rich
for me, personally. So it’s odd for me to think about the songs I hear at this time of year emotionally.
I know there are some wonderful carols/tunes associated with christmas. Unfortunately that music
rarely sparks much of a reaction for me because I hear it seasonally, it’s not rooted in
my sense of self or tradition, and unfortunately (no matter how beautiful the melody) most of it
just does not give me a deeper feeling for the significance of the season.

I want to appreciate Christmas carols. I want to hear them and think of a good set of dance tunes to play with them. I do! If this helps, I’m not anti-christian, though I’m more pagan, probably. And I can bridge the span. Frankly I think they are not too different, but people are fucked up (sometimes) and we forget
how vital it is to be festive and open our minds; share some tunes, dance and be merry.

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Very sad for Aled Jones, particularly at this time of year when he probably had some well paid gigs lined up, that he is a a spot of trouble. Not for those of us who can’t stand listening to Walking in the Air.

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He’ll still be getting his royalties from "Walking in the Air" I guess, tho’ maybe not from this version!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yZOab5gl-4

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Beautiful: the perfect riposte to my frivolity!

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Here’s one I prepared earlier….

https://thesession.org/discussions/2395