Uninteresting Tunes

Uninteresting Tunes

This must be the same for many folks. Some reels in particular that have minimal melody like "Mountain Road" and "Rolling in the Ryegrass" have me underwhelmed. I want to learn them in a way to participate in a session, however there is nothing in the tunes that would make me lead a set with them. I have turned into an Session player overthinker. Dear Abby,"Is it OK to sit out a set", "And Dear Abby, will I be mercilessly judged if I sit them out?" Then the next question, "Why are these reels so popular?", "Dear Abby how many tunes is enough to participate on one hand and not go insane overthinking on the other hand."

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It’s all in how you swing it. I love playing Rolling in the Ryegrass myself. Often I’ll listen to top players work an old tune into someting new and amazing.

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"Why are these reels so popular?" Because for all their simplicity, they are great tunes.
143 recordings of "The Mountain Road" listed here. 83 for "Rolling In The Ryegrass".
Making recordings is a commercial business. A recording of "uninteresting tunes" is not going to sell. So ask yourself, if these tunes are so "uninteresting", why have they both been recorded so many times by great players of the past and present ?
Our challenge - each and every one of us - is to make them interesting. Anyone who can’t should just leave the tune alone for others. Nothing wrong with that, nobody likes ALL the tunes, learn tunes that you like.

Mention of "Dear Abby" has reminded me of the late John Prine [ RIP ] :
https://youtu.be/LJVFY_LX9Ik


Sorry for the diversion, but, there is an Irish connection : He played a concert in Dublin around 20 years ago, liked Ireland so much he said he was going to move there, and bought a house near Kinvara. I saw him in a bar there about 10 years ago.

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Mmm. Both of these tunes have quite a high melodic content, in my opinion.
More so than many reels and have a clear direction of travel too. They are quite catchy and easy to retain in your memory.

You don’t have to like them, of course, or even learn them if you don’t wish. However, it’s a bit churlish to deliberately "sit them out" in a session if you know them.

These days, I just choose to learn the tunes I like unless I’m at a workshop or something or have to practise for a performance of some sort. However, I’ll also pick up many more on the way "by osmosis".

We all encounter tunes at sessions which are not our first choice but, usually, the best course is to go with the flow. Otherwise, a quick visit to the bar or somewhere else to attend to the pangs of nature is OK as long as it’s done politely.

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Its the players job to bring the tune alive…. both cracking tunes. Its not the tunes that are lacking!

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Definitely, listen (and play along with) recordings of good players digging into these tunes! Short single reels like these are perfect for stretching your legs — switching up accented notes, breaths, ornaments, melodic variations, etc., with each time through the tune.

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I guess the Dear Abby reference was a nod to the late great J. Prine. Miss the guy.
Yea, I do need to lighten up. But isn’t it almost always fine to sit out a few tunes and flirt with the "Maid Behind the Bar". I do know people who have tunes they really can’t stand.
A trip to the barber helped the COVID blues amidst the dearth of music. Thanks again for letting me stir the pot. And Thanks Jeremy for this splendid creation.

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From your profile…

"I… like to laugh at the stuffy session players who scoff at singing and playing polkas."

What about the session players who scoff at playing so-called "popular" reels?

;)

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Will has the right idea there about it being your job to make it interesting, not only to people listening, but to yourself as well. I used to get fatigued by tunes that were played at my sessions all the time, and there were a few tunes that I decided that I didn’t like (mostly because of the fatigue). But in the years since that time, I have grown as a player, and now really don’t find myself being fatigued by a tune. If a tune gets played every session, I might point out that we need more variety, but I will happily play the tune anyway. And if someone starts a beat to death "chestnut", I happily play along, because I’ve gotten to a point where I can put my own musical expression into the tune, and discover different things about the tune that I never thought of before. The difference isn’t that the tune got more interesting to me, it’s that my playing got more interesting to me…

But we also have the freedom to sit out tunes, and even dislike them if we want. If you’re really disinterested in a tune, then maybe give it a rest for a while, and maybe you’ll find a new appreciation for the tune someday down the line…

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My pal Olivier, a lovely French fiddler who spent a lot of time in Clare, said it best:

"There are no boring tunes. There are only boring musicians."

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More importantly who is your imaginary friend Abby?

I am about to make a very similar post.

People try and browbeat by saying ‘if you don’t enjoy every the most worn tunes that is YOUR problem and you must learn to love every single tune’ I have tried and tried doing that and really can’t get behind that ideology.

Just like you said, for some reason, I find it much harder to find reels that I get on well with vs jigs, not sure why. I am struggling to make up the numbers with reels vs the amount of jigs I have which I like to practice.

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Will and David said all that needs to be said.

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There’s a lot of white space in "Rolling," which is why I like it. You can do different things, find different textures.

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The punter who plays the old chestnut at half-speed today may be the ace who plays Dr. Gilbert’s (sub your fave here) at dance speed in the future. One young fiddler used to play Kesh Jig slowly and haltingly, then one day he came in and started a set with Martin Wynne’s #1. I used to get irked by the guys who play reels at half-speed, but now I try to encourage them (sometimes by subtly playing a wee tad bit faster). Our sessions need more new players. When we finally get back to socially un-distanced sessions.

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Thanks for all the input. Every session in the last 3 months has been lacking. But there is hope on the horizon. I think we will get a session nearby going again, outside. I might have to request the tunes I dislike. Thanks for the jabs and abuse, it makes me more of a character. Preciate ya.

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Davids’s pal Olivier (above) makes a good point, but perhaps not the whole story. There are perfectly serviceable ‘starter’ tunes that have been played so often that they’ve lost their former allure (such as ‘Speed the Plough’ or ‘Winster Gallop’ in English sessions) and habituated sessioneers probably wouldn’t set them off. But every so often they crop up and, because they’re so well-known, the entire crowd will join in with élan and they can take on a head of steam that reminds you why they were popular.

And another thing. As one who works my way through written collections to seek out the ones I’d like to learn, I sometimes play something off the page and dismiss it as fairly ordinary and unexceptional. But the next time I come across it, I find a distinctive character in it that hadn’t struck me first time round. Maybe it’s to do with mood, powers of concentration (or lack of same), or just some aspect of how it can be played that makes the difference. The thing is not to be too quick to write a tune off as uninteresting,’cos you never know if you’ll like it better when you come back to it. Hell, even ‘Shepherd’s Hey’ …

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Just remember that a tune you’re not wild about takes what? Two minutes out of your life? Everybody’s favorite tune is hated by someone, including the one that you just learned and are keen to play, so take it for what it’s worth and try not to be a jerk about it. Go pee and grab another beer if you need to, but keep it in perspective.

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Yes it’s in the eye of the beholder.

I remember many years ago being enchanted by a video of a fellow playing Lord Gordon on a Generation Bb whistle. I thought it was the greatest thing. I learned his version. The next time I was out I played it and somebody said "oh, Lord Gordon. That has got to be the most boring tune there is."

There have been many times when people have been playing "the exciting new tune" and to me it seemed utterly uninteresting. I listen and think "oh, it begins with the first phrase of (insert Common Tune #1) going into the second phrase of (insert Common Tune #2) and there’s bars 7 and 8 of (insert Common Tune #3) and the second part starts with the beginning of the second part of (insert Common Tune #4) and next there’s a bit from (insert Common Tune #5)."

In other words the "exciting new tune" has not an iota of creativity to it. It sounds to have been composed by a computer program into which some of the most common reels have been input.

It leaves me wondering
1) why compose a new tune when you don’t have anything musical to say?
and
2) why do other musicians pick up this tune and spread it from session to session?

I suppose there’s the simple fact that the tune is new.

The good part of these tedious derivative tunes is that you can instantly pick them up.

Now about the "old chestnuts" I’ve been playing through dozens of those during the quarantine and there’s a reason those tunes have survived through the years and continue to be popular: most (perhaps all) of them have something musical to say, some little twist or "hook" that each generation of players that comes along finds interesting.

The fact that these tunes have been endlessly raided for the material used in new tunes doesn’t paint the old chestnuts in a bad light, just the opposite.

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Richard: The next time I was out I played it and somebody said "oh, Lord Gordon. That has got to be the most boring tune there is."

That is unbelievably rude! I swear, some people don’t realize that they don’t have to vocalize every little thought that flows through their head. Just reading that pisses me off.

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These threads seems to appear from time to time about tunes that have proved popular. Irish Washerwoman, Kesh, Tam Lim etc. Myself, I really dislike Harvest Home.
When it comes to Harvest Home Hornpipe, I’ll never say it’s uninteresting or rubbish, if I did I’d be wrong. Popular tunes are popular simply because they’re good. Because they are popular they’re the most commonly ruined, it’s just the way.

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Personally, although i have plenty of’ notey’ tunes I gravitate towards the simpler single reels. I find they offer more space for thought and ideas and variations ,more relaxing. Ergos description of white space resonates

Forgotten lord Gordons ! Feck 🙂 better get back to it! If i dont play a tunelike that for decades its gone!!

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I remember almost thirty years ago when a few of us had not long learned "The Butterfly".
A female fiddler whom, until that time, I thought was quite cool just refused to play the tune. "Just a cliche" she snorted.

Anyway, I still like to play it all these years later and there’s so much you can do with it. It’s not a lead tune though but still nice in the middle of a set.

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There are a few tunes, harvest home, king of the faeries , butterfly that are the only three or 4 tunes the violin player might have so they are somewhat ubiquitous!!
On a seperate note, I learnt lord Gordons from Matt crannitchs book in ‘92 . Could anyone send me a pic or pdf of the page?! Pretty please

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I can do that Will. PM me an email address.

On the subject of "The Harvest" Home", there are Highland bagpipe versions in at least 4 collections, and I would also recommend the version recorded by "Nomos", which I believe originated from Cathal McConnell. A perfect example of how to make a fairly simple tune downright complicated, but still musical !
88 recordings of "Lord Gordon’s" listed here. Anyone who thinks it’s "boring" needs to listen to Conal O’Grada’s version on Colm Murphy’s "An Bodhran" CD.
Or these :
https://youtu.be/mOi4zZD-Ntw


https://youtu.be/ZWCgnVWy0zM

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Great comments here on a perennial source of concern for anyone playing in a mixed-skills musical environment — i.e., a session. I’ve been playing American old-time music more than Irish tunes lately, but the issues are the same. If I can’t enjoy playing a simple tune with relative beginners then there’s something wrong. There’s always something new to find in any tune, and of course the social aspects of a session are nearly as important as the musical aspects.

I’ve encountered pedantic and cliquish players in all genres. It’s an ego thing — there are always players who get their personal validation by trying to be the person who decides which tunes are acceptable, and what the "proper" setting or version of a tune is. They recoil in horror if someone wants to play a common tune. It’s a stage many musicians pass through and some never leave it.

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On the subject of the reel Lord Gordon:

Yeah, it’s played quite often, but almost always using Michael Coleman’s setting and personal variations. In Coleman’s setting it becomes a technical showpiece, but over the years I’ve come to love the old version as it was played before Michael Coleman altered the tune, seemingly forever. Take a look at the tune as it was set down in the O’Neill or Cole/Ryan collections. Like Green Grow The Rushes, it can be played slowly, almost as an air, or at dance tempo. Such tunes have good "bones".

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There’s also an interesting variant on the 2-part version which Dolores Keane used to play, and recorded. I seem to remember "Dow" posting it here, but would have to check.

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Just sent a scan of Cranitch’s "Lord Gordon" to the email address you sent me, Will.

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Thanks so much Kenny, i used to have the book but somehow its moved on and we have parted ways!

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They are 2 tunes that I like to play
I play rolling in ryegrass and then go into green fields of America
The mountain road I play with the flogging reel
To me they are two great tunes that have stood the test of time and are played regularly in sessions
So I’m curious to know what tunes do you call interesting ones ?

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Maybe this discussion has gone on too long. Mostly I posted to joke around a bit. It is funny, some D Reels such as Silver Spear, Wind that Shakes the Barley, Miss McCleods and Maid behind the Bar I quite enjoy. It could be the reel heavy sessions that get overloaded with the rhythmic fast reels. Going a different direction, I try to call sets with Hornpipes, Jigs and Polkas. I’m sure the sessions I go to are overloaded with fiddlers who prefer the lightning fast reels. Once again I’ve been to zero live sessions in the last three months, and I’m barking at the moon.

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Miss McLeods in D??? Anyway I agree too many warp speed reels gets tiring !

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"the person who decides which tunes are acceptable…they recoil in horror if someone wants to play a common tune."

The most tedious guy was the one who turned up his nose at tunes he thought too common for him…but was equally peeved if I played a tune HE didn’t know.

Tunes were in three categories

1) tunes that he knew and I knew: lowly and unworthy.

2) tunes I knew and he didn’t: uncool.

3) tunes he knew and I didn’t: the cool and worthy ones.

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Aaaahhghh, last post from me on this subject. It finally came to me, the rhythmic, fast reels are played that way for dancers. Those tunes I talk about are not always for melody, they have(had) a greater purpose, to keep the dancers feet moving. Few dancers appear at the sessions I go to. There certainly is an old-time feel to this version of Mountain Road from Kevin Burke, interesting it is from a WV show. He is great, however there are tunes that are just never gonna get ya excited. It certainly varies person to person. Enjoy the video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCoW0FqS-4Y

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Just so people know, the playing in that video doesn’t have any similarity to West Virginia "old time" music, or trad WV banjo playing or fiddling.

Here’s WV banjo, West Virginia being the birthplace and home of the player and where the style of playing and the tune itself are from:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ioh0XRO80Q

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Well said Richard.
And to reiterate David’s comment there are no boring tunes just boring musicians
Absolutely agree

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Harvest Home was mentioned a couple times above… last year we were playing at for a feis and one of the hornpipe sets we chose included Harvest Home, which we don’t play lately at our session, but it seemed like it would be good for the dancers. After the feis, we were sharing a meal with one of the judges from our stage, and he said to us, "… I was so happy to hear Harvest Home! No one every plays that any more!" So I suppose it is all a matter of perspective. I am glad we played it.

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I think Willa Fjord sounds hokey and generic, and there are some modal piping tunes that drone on and on that I’m not a fan of.

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This might be a bit controversial….but….I think there’s no such thing as boring tunes, only boring players.