Flings etc. on The Session

Flings etc. on The Session

At the risk of raking over old coals, I was wondering what to make of the status of flings on The Session, since they seem to be the one rhythm that’s most obviously missing. I’ve managed to dig up a ton of old discussions about what flings are and how they compare to hornpipes/reels/strathspeys/barndances and the like, but nothing that really states outright why flings and their close relatives didn’t make the cut for their own heading.

Ultimately the answer will probably be something along the lines of “just play the tunes”. However, I think there’s still something to be said for improving the accuracy of the database, and sorting them out seems like it would do that without making things overly granular.

Anyways, I suppose there would be the whole other issue of digging these tunes out of whichever bins they’ve landed in, not to mention the scores of tunes that are played to several different rhythms. But with duple marches in their own category now, it seems like as good a time as any to revive the discussion. And I suppose I’m also just curious to hear what thoughts are out there on this.

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Re: Flings etc. on The Session

murin, I agree with you. But the tune categories here are based on meter and how it’s designated for abcs, not really on tune type. So flings are lumped with reels, usually, unless someone decides to label one as a hornpipe or barndance. Similarly, there’s no hop jig category, so they go under slip jigs, and then someone (not always the original poster) points out the hoppyness in the tune comments.

It’s a bit weird to be lacking these categories when we have “marches,” which can be in one of several meters. So the rationale for the categorization process isn’t really consistent.

That said, if you do a tune search for just “fling,” you’ll get 18 pages of hits (not all of which may be actual flings).

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Re: Flings etc. on The Session

Is a fling not the same as a highland, which in turn is a sub species of strathspey [and that is a recognised category here in ‘Tunes’]. Sorry if this has been raked over before.

Re: Flings etc. on The Session

gimpy said: “It’s a bit weird to be lacking these categories when we have “marches,” which can be in one of several meters. So the rationale for the categorization process isn’t really consistent.”

I totally agree! Marches are a relative recent addition, and I kept saying that having a category for them wouldn’t help much because the term “march” says nothing about whether the tune is in, say, 4/4 or 6/8. But the topic kept recurring so I eventually added the category to stop the debates repeating. But I’m still not sure it was a good idea. And I certainly don’t plan to expand the list of categories any further without very good reason.

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Re: Flings etc. on The Session

“Is a fling not the same as a highland, which in turn is a sub species of strathspey … (?)”

The ‘highland’ as a tune type, as I understand it, is confined to Donegal and neighbouring Ulster counties, but
overlaps broadly in structure with those tunes termed ‘flings’ in other parts of Ireland (Perhaps they were all originally called ‘Highland flings’). Donegal highlands, however, seem to vary somewhat in character: some sound very much like strathspeys*, replete with triplets, dotted and reverse-dotted groupings, but played at a slightly brisker pace, with some of the ‘snappiness’ smoothed out; others sound more like 16-bar reels, slowed down a bit and played with a heavy emphasis on the downbeat. What passes for a ‘fling’ too is somewhat variable – most are 16-bar tunes, but some are played as 32-bar tunes (e.g. Cuz Teehan’s https://thesession.org/tunes/1615 – although it is listed here as a ‘barndance’). There is also overlap between flings and single jigs/slides (e.g. Ask My Father, Maggie Pickens) – if you close your eyes to time signatures and notation and play a single jig at a brisk pace, with the ‘dotting’ smoothed out a little (which is how they are sometimes played), it becomes clear that there is little difference in structure between it and a fling (such as Kitty Got A Clinking Coming From The Fair https://thesession.org/tunes/4276 – listed here as a ‘reel’ 😉 )

So the boundaries are not always as clear cut as the categories in a tunebook or a database would have us believe. All the dance tune categories are essentially defined by what can be danced to them. Any tune can be tweaked to make it fit a different dance – and sometimes the tweaking only need be quite subtle.

*I would refute that a highland is a *subspecies* of strathspey. It is descended from the strathspey, and some are so indistinguishable from strathspeys that they could be regarded simply as strathspeys played in a particular (non-Scottish) style – many are versions of older Scottish tunes. Others are indigenous to Donegal, or sometimess ‘re-purposed’ as highlands from other non-strathpey tunes. I think it would be hard to identify a consistent set of characteristics that would class the highland as a ‘subspecies’ of Strathspey – better to think of it as a different, but related, tune type.

Re: Flings etc. on The Session

Hmm. This sort of issue foxes me every time it comes up. I’ve been playing trad music (however inexpertly) for a long time now, but the taxonomy of tune types remains a lot more obscure to me than it ought to be. Is there a book or online resource that does a neat and comprehensive job of classifying them, so a chap can get to understand the defining distinctions between flings, rants, reels (English, Scottish, and Irish), or between slip- and hop-jigs, or between hornpipes (even or dotted), barndances, Reinländer, Germans, highlands, and schottisches? And should slides always be notated in 12/8? And that’s before we get on to An Dros and Hanter Dros, or bondpolskor and triolpolskor, and the different sorts of Bourrées, etc.

I can quite understand why Jeremy doesn’t expand the list of categories used on this site. Wouldn’t you end up with a huge number of headings, and furious debates as to how a given tune should be classified, and a case for listing a great many tunes in several categories depending on where it was played, how fast, and with what rhythm?

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Re: Flings etc. on The Session

@Bazza – I don’t know of any such book. But once you start looking across different traditions (e.g. what is understood by the term ‘reel’ in Ireland, Scotland and England) it gets immensely complicated – and that’s just within these isles. If you bring in Swedish, French, Breton, German, Romanian, Bulgarian etc., you’re looking at a multi-volume encyclopaedia.

Re: Flings etc. on The Session

> having a category for them wouldn’t help much because the term “march” says nothing about whether the tune is in, say, 4/4 or 6/8.

The problem is the incorrect design decision that tune type has a one to one relationship with meter which is nonsense; reels alone can be notated in 2/2, 4/4, C, C|, or 2/4, and that’s just the “common” ones [yes, some of them are synonyms, but]. I understand why the decision was made but I don’t understand why it persists. The database is riddled with stuff that is simply wrongly labelled (which the march category did a great deal to clear up).

I agree you don’t want several hundred tune categories, but going from the current 12 to say 15 or 20 would enable a lot of tidying up, as would decoupling time signatures. (And simplifying the use of arbitrary key signatures…)

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Re: Flings etc. on The Session

One group that also doesn’t get a separate category is “Slow Airs” (I’ve probably said this before!)
But again they come in all sorts of different time signatures or even free time, a fact that doesn’t fit the basic design of the database - which I understand up to a point.
The best anyone can do is when someone posts a tune that is really a slow air (and not a barn dance or, heaven preserve us, a reel) they just say so in their submission in their text below the tune. Otherwise you do sometimes hear your favourite slow air being played about 5 times too fast, when someone has picked up the tune from here without knowing anything else about it or checking any recordings of it, and has played it as a barn dance or reel!

Re: Flings etc. on The Session

Calum’s suggestion, ‘… going from the current 12 to say 15 or 20 [tune categories]’ may do as he says - ‘enable a lot of tidying up’ - but who is to carry that out? There are apparently 12776 items on the site at present, with about four times that number of settings. Even if there were to be no dispute about how a particular tune/setting should be classified, that is one hell of a lot of work for an archivist. Any volunteers?

There are certainly examples of tune postings with errors in their notation or labelling, which add to the problems with accurate attribution. But the point of my comment above was that, as far as I can understand from my experience, there are any number of grey areas and overlaps between categories that render a lot of these tune-type definitions unreliable, and very little - if anything - in the way of a generally-recognised source of authoritative expertise to resolve the confusion. I think this would persist regardless of the number of categories the site allows.

This topic exercises me because I’ve assembled a substantial (but smaller than this) collection of tune MSS over the years which is available online, and I’m sometimes asked to construct a reasonably detailed index of some sort to make it more readily searchable (other than by title, or one or two other basic parameters). The more I think about how it might be done, the more I find that, frankly, life’s too short.

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Re: Flings etc. on The Session

To my ear, there is a tight grouping of tune types that go as either flings, highlands, highland flings, or schottisches, all of which are closer to each other than anything else and which mainly seem to differ in their proportion of crochets to quavers and use of Scotch snaps (not to mention the preference of the musician). To be certain, there is a substantial amount of blurring and fraying at the edges that causes some peoples’ flings to sound indistinguishable from others’ reels or slides or anything else, especially as the music and dance have separated more. But there is still a “core” fling that seems to be its own animal and does not fit closely with any of the categories here: a 16-bar tune in duple meter with a very pronounced and almost jagged swing that often ends each part on two emphasized crotchets, taken at a tempo slower than a reel but faster than other duple time dances.

Anyways, the more I type it out the more pedantic I feel. Every tune is going to get interpreted a dozen different ways no matter what label you put on it. On the other hand, I still lose a bit of hair whenever I see one lumped in with the hornpipes or strathspeys.

Also, for what it’s worth, I strongly agree with keeping the categories to a functional minimum. Seeing marches added was a shock, since saying something is a march often tells you more about its history than how it’s played. And airs are a whole other issue; assigning a “rhythm” to something that by definition is played without a fixed rhythm just doesn’t sit right.

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Re: Flings etc. on The Session

As for who would actually do any of this sorting, I’m at least a willing volunteer 🙂

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Re: Flings etc. on The Session

> Even if there were to be no dispute about how a particular tune/setting should be classified, that is one hell of a lot of work for an archivist. Any volunteers?

We did it in short order when the march category and the composer field were introduced.

I agree there are plenty of grey areas and tunes that have multiple forms, but I also think the Slockit Light isn’t a [insert your own adjective] reel.

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Re: Flings etc. on The Session

22,129
That’s the # on the latest tune submitted.

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Re: Flings etc. on The Session

‘We did it in short order when the march category and the composer field were introduced’.
I’d be interested to know a bit more about this, Calum - not least because, if there is an expedient way of reviewing a data set to apply additional search criteria retrospectively, I might well learn from it for my own purposes. Specifically, who is the ‘we’ that carried out the March & Composer revisions? Contributions volunteered by Session site users? Or did someone - or a group - work their way systematically through the database content and add the identifying category to every applicable item? And has it led to general acceptance of the accuracy of the descriptors, or is there remaining controversy over whether particular tunes are/are not marches, or whether composer attributions are all accurate?

Which is to say, I agree in principle but I’d still want to know more about the practicalities. I do, though, agree fully with your observation about ‘Slockit Light’ and could certainly come up with adjectives to put into your brackets.

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Re: Flings etc. on The Session

Some members had kept lists of tunes by certain composers, and that helped when the feature was introduced. There is less disagreement about who-wrote-what than whether Johnny O’Someone’s is a fling/german/barndance/hornpipe/strathspey/single jig/etc.

Re: Flings etc. on The Session

“Specifically, who is the ‘we’ that carried out the March & Composer revisions?”

I would say that the ‘we’ were site members who care about accuracy and see thesession.org as an important and valuable reference resource. I was one of the ‘we’. Some people think I’m a bit of a tune nerd. If they do, I’ll take it as a compliment.

Re: Flings etc. on The Session

“…members who care about accuracy and see thesession.org as an important and valuable reference resource.”
As a nerd I consider this the prime directive. Cheers!

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