What makes a trad tune a “New England” tune?

What makes a trad tune a “New England” tune?

I’m curious. I think of New England as the region in the United States consisting of Rhode Island, Massachusets, Vermont, etc. So I would have thought that this term is defined by tunes that were created in these regions, perhaps during colonial times when the British created these tunes after coming to the US. But it seems like some "New England" tunes came back to the UK, and became popular there as well, based on some comments on tunes here about English groups playing them.
Example: https://thesession.org/tunes/1150

Re: What makes a trad tune a “New England” tune?

I look forward to more knowledgeable answers, but in the meantime, note that there is a genre called Contra Dance or Contradance. It’s usually associated with New England, although it’s popular in other parts of the country too. Like the Pacific Northwest USA, where the "Portland Books" of Contra tunes originated.

It may be difficult to tease apart a quintessentially New England trad tune from the Contra Dance repertoire, which according to Wiki "has mixed origins from English country dance, Scottish country dance, and French dance styles in the 17th century." Modern Contra Dance also draws from Irish trad and Canadian sources, and includes newly written tunes as well. So when you hear about a "New England" tune entering the session repertoire, this may refer to something originating in the Contra Dance repertoire. Check out the Wiki page for more info on the history:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contra_dance

Re: What makes a trad tune a “New England” tune?

I think of New England tunes as inseparable from the Downeast repertoire - think, Don Messer - and much of the Old Time repertoire of the northern states and Canada generally. FWIW.

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Re: What makes a trad tune a “New England” tune?

Are you talking Jigs Reels Hornpipes Set Dances Planxtys Marches.

Re: What makes a trad tune a “New England” tune?

As a "New England" player first and foremost, I agree with Conical bore, that generally the label means that it comes through the contradance scene. The thing to keep in mind is that it’s cyclical. New England trad music draws from many different sources, including Irish trad, and sometimes it can feed back into those traditions as well, so it is hard to keep origins straight sometimes. It’s very much a meeting place and a melting pot for traditional dance music.

The tunes can also be tweaked, sometimes quite a bit, such as Chorus Jig, which in the New England tradition isn’t a jig at all, and Money Musk, originally a strathspey (in D?) played as a dance reel in A with an extra part.

My other thought is that "New England trad" is as much a style of playing as it is a source for tunes, meaning you can play tunes from Ireland, Scotland, England, wherever, the way a New England player would, which is what I end up doing most of the time.

I do have certain tunes that I place firmly in the New England tradition, but I really couldn’t say what the criteria are. Some sound more Canadian, some sound more Fife-and-Drummy, but I think it’s more of an "I know it if I hear it," sort of a thing. I don’t know if any of that helps…

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Re: What makes a trad tune a “New England” tune?

There are some tunes which are traditional New England-ish. But more than the tunes it is a style. Backes is right in that the tunes come from many sources. Yes, the contradance scene is the underlying basic feature. Compared to Irish music, there is less emphasis on ornamentation. Rhythmic drive is important. The players can vary or improvise on the tune, because during the dance you have to play it many times through. The same tune can be played with a different style in an New England-ish gathering and an Irish-style session in the same town.

Re: What makes a trad tune a “New England” tune?

I attended the Northern Roots Festival in Brattleboro, Vermont in March. Of all the tunes that were played in the 2 sessions that I participated in, only 3 of perhaps 30 tunes were strictly Irish Trad tunes. There was much blending of styles and genres.

Re: What makes a trad tune a “New England” tune?

There are many factors that make a New England tune a NE Tune. Many of the tunes arrived from Quebec and the Maritime provinces along with the people who emigrated to work in the logging and and manufacturing industries.. New Hampshire has a 30% French Canadian heritage. These tunes are both jigs and reels usually cheerful.
With the internet and better recording equipment they were easily spread throughout the repertoire. Adding to the mix in the ‘80’s were Shetland and Scottish tunes. There was very little written Irish music until Miller and Perron published their Fiddlecase Books. At the same time a whole new generation of musicians emerged, many of them read music.
So now these New England tunes are spread all over. Contra tunes have a specific formula. They are 32 bars broken down to 8 bars, then repeated plus another complimentary 8 bars, then repeated.
They work well for both contra dances and squares.

Sylvia Miskoe, Concord NH USA

Re: What makes a trad tune a “New England” tune?

I’m in Colorado, so it’s all imported, whether ITM, New England, Canadian or Old Time. Is upstate New York included as "honorary" New England in musical terms? In my head, I also associate the New England tunes with Contra Dances.

Contra Dance tunes in my area are definitely chosen for the dance energy, mostly the ITM, Canadian or Scottish. But the music is promiscuous, i.e not sticking to a particular tradition. I’ll hear some tunes you wouldn’t normally come across at an Irish session. Others cross over, (Franks, Brenda Stubberts)… At a Contra dance, I hear Jigs and Reels, and of course lovely waltzes.

My sense is that the Old Time tradition is it’s own thing and has less overlap with tunes at a Contra dance. Maybe that is due to a greater emphasis on Appalachian/Missouri selection at Old Time sessions here in Colorado, rather than the New England tradition. You pretty much only hear reels; never a jig, and even the hornpipes end up played as reels. Key of A.