Dynamics, an overlooked dimension of ITM?

Dynamics, an overlooked dimension of ITM?

One thing I don’t see talked about much here is the issue of dynamics. I think this is an important dimension of the music that often get short shrift.

Anybody who has a serious classical background or pretty much any other serious musical background is likely to already be steeped in the importance of dynamics. I was a trumpet player way back in the day while growing up and into college. Played in symphonic bands and jazz bands and quintets and there is no question that being able to introduce dynamics into phrases is the key between okay playing and great playing.

I mean, think of what Ravel’s Bolero would be like if it was played only at one dynamic. It would be destroyed. Starting off at the deliciously intense pianissimo and the slow, steady, relentless crescendo until the climactic and cacophonous end is part of the essence of this work. But of course dynamics bring lift and life to single notes themselves as well as phrases.

I’ve been reflecting on dynamics because having got my big honking loud Olwell flute there is the tendency to play like the alpha male that I am all the time. But I am finding that the real challenge and the effect of generating excitement and intensity in a tune occurs when I can sculpt in soft but intense phrasing. Or at least this is what i’m experimenting with.

Also, I think playing in the context of loud pubs can force you to always be loud just to hear yourself above the din. But it strikes me that doing the opposite—playing softly and with intensity—would perhaps draw more attention because people would then have to lean in and focus to listen.

I don’t know. Just throwing this topic out there. Any thoughts? Are there any players you would characterize as being really adept with dynamics? Or I am I just smokin’ the crack pipe here?

Re: Dynamics, an overlooked dimension of ITM?

Agree that this is important. But you often only hear dynamics used effectively in a musical group context—the session, with its revolving caste of characters and loud surroundings, often does not use varying dynamics.
Part of it is the fact that everyone has to participate in changes in dynamics, or the effect is lost. Thus, unless you have a bunch of people that plays together on a regular basis, or a group who decides ahead of time how they will approach things, it is hard to vary dynamics effectively.
Bohola is the first group I thought of who uses both changes in dynamics and tempos to create a lot of energy.
And of course, you often hear dynamics used effectively during solo playing, whether it be an aire or a song.

Re: Dynamics, an overlooked dimension of ITM?

I agree too; sessions make this kind of subtlty difficult, and Bohola uses this to great effect. It’s a really nice thing to exploit though…

Re: Dynamics, an overlooked dimension of ITM?

Firstly, for the benefit of those without knowledge of classical music terminology, and for the benefit of physicists and engineers, what (I assume) is meant here by ‘dynamics’, is, in short, how soft or loud you play.

I have heard it said, or seen it written, that dynamics is simply not a feature of Irish Traditional Music. The use of dynamics by fiddlers was regarded by someone (Was it Sean O Riada or Breandan Breathnach?) as betraying a classical music, or at least non-Irish traditional, background. Certainly, many players recorded 30 or more years ago, and some more recently, play at a very steady volume, concentrating more on ornamentation and phrasing for expression. Pipers, of course, do not have the facility for dynamics. But there are plenty of traditional players that do use it extensively - Martin Hayes, Seamus Egan, Brendan McGlinchey, Seamus Begley are a few that spring to mind.

I can’t think of anything intelligent to add for the moment, and the owner of this computer would like to use it, so I’ll leave the subject open for the next contributor.

Re: Dynamics, an overlooked dimension of ITM?

Dynamics not a feature of Irish music? Pipers don’t have the facility to use dynamics? Sorry, but this is completely not the case. Dynamics play a HUGE part in the music. Great players all use dynamics in their playing. It’s part of what makes them great. Players who do not even try to use dynamics in their playing suck. Dynamics can mean playing louder or softer, putting pulses here and there. But it can ALSO be extending and shortening certain notes, putting pulses in the music by this method and be emphasizing certain notes with gracings and what have you. Both of these things are done by all great pipers to a great effect. Without them, the tunes sound dull and flat. This is true of any instrument. Listen to any great player of Irish traditional music that has good style, and tell me they don’t use dynamics to enhance the music. They all do.

When you get right down to it, Irish traditional music is all about they soloist and their individual style. Ensemble playing is a relatively recent phenomenon. Each player has a different style, different pulse, different accents. Most of this is lost in ensemble playing because everyone plays the tune differently, as opposed to classical musicians, who have predetermined (and not chosen by the player) dynamics and accents, in solo and ensemble playing.

Re: Dynamics, an overlooked dimension of ITM?

In my experience, dynamics in music has always referred specifically to the changing loudness of the music, and when musicologists say that traditional musics make little use of it, they generally mean that, from measure to measure, section to section, the loudness is fairly constant, or if it changes, it’s more often due to the physical properties of the instrument or maybe the singer’s need to sing louder on high notes.

When you look at note-to-note dynamics, such as emphasizing the backbeat, I don’t think anyone would argue that traditional musicians don’t do a lot of that.

“I have heard it said, or seen it written, that dynamics is simply not a feature of Irish Traditional Music.”

That could be said of almost every traditional folk music, and it would be mostly true. But in the branch of ITM that’s evolved into arranged concert music, it has some nice possibilities.

I don’t see anything wrong with employing classical-style dynamics in Irish tunes. Over the years, I’ve been surprised and delighted at all the ways J.S.Bach’s music can be set or arranged or instrumented or re-interpreted, yet it still retains its special magic. It works brilliantly in lots of different transformations that would kill lesser material. I think the same might be true of ITM.

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Well, if the word "dynamics" only refers to louder or softer, I stand corrected. But I’d still say that most good players will emphasize notes here and there, backbeat or downbeat, and wouldn’t this fall under definition of "dynamics"? And as Spoon said, pipers don’t have the ability to change their volume, but they get a somewhat similar effect w/ staccato/cutting and laying into certain notes by extending their length. I’ve always thought of dynamics as including changes in volume or any other effect that is used to enhance the music. Like I said, I stand corrected.

Re: Dynamics, an overlooked dimension of ITM?

Emphasis is not the same as Dynamics. Pipers have, for instance, no control over the volume of the notes that come out of their instruments. I think you’re talking about something else JZ. Also; I wish the classically inclined here would stick to topics relevant to ITM or at least thereabouts. You’ll be talking about the importance of good vibrato next ;)

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Re: Dynamics, an overlooked dimension of ITM?

And what’s wrong with vibrato (harumpf!)? Pipers and fluters often use it on slow airs.

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Farr, see my post right above yours

Re: Dynamics, an overlooked dimension of ITM?

Yeah, I wrote it as you were writing yours. You beat me to it. hee hee…

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Re: Dynamics, an overlooked dimension of ITM?

these things happen!

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:)

Re: Dynamics, an overlooked dimension of ITM?

As a form of dance music I would have thought that varying the volume of the music would be quite impratical. The dancers make a bit of noise when dancing so they need loud (enough) music to be able to hear. When performing solo for a concert audience you could do whatever takes your expressive fancy but it is not exactly real traditional. I understand that Ceili bands were formed to create enough volume for the dancers in the days before amplification.
Pulse, emphasis and phrasing would be a great deal more relevant to the music. In a sense they are the "dynamics" of The Music.

Re: Dynamics, an overlooked dimension of ITM?

I have had this discussion about pipes and dynamics before. I was in choir for about five years and played the French horn for about seven before I played pipes. When we talked about dynamics, we talked about crescendos and diminuendos, increasing or decreasing the volume of the music. Uilleann pipes can’t do this. You can change the color of a note or phrase by popping the chanter or taking it off your leg or cutting a note and a number of other techniques. That’s phrasing. That’s a whole different deal. We used to talk about that in choir as well, but you do your phrasing within the dynamic range of whatever you’re supposed to be singing.

Re: Dynamics, an overlooked dimension of ITM?

So to sum up: Dynamics, no, Craic, yes?

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Re: Dynamics, an overlooked dimension of ITM?

About dynamics and dancing…

Perhaps dynamics aren’t a big deal in step dancing but they can be *very* useful for near-trad dance forms like contra and squaredancing. It is a booooring contra band that doesn;t use some form of dynamics to keep some tension and release going in the dance. If you play a tune through ten times to people who can;t listen for the subtle melodic and rhythmic nuances one would expect from a soloist, changing the volume is pretty much essential to keep things from getting dull.

Pipers can’t use dynamics per se but the better ones can achieve similar effects with regs.

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Vibrato in ITM? Vibrato is an ornament, and should be treated as any other type of ornament - used intelligently and where appropriate, or not at all.

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One of the reasons I started litening to sean nos music was because someone told me that the singers didn’t use changes in volume to convey emotion, but instead they used ornamentation etc. I thought this was fascinating and wanted to hear that…. it seemed so different. I guess even the language is sort of set up like this… emphatic particles instead of emphasis by volume….
An bhfuil tu ag labhairt liom? — Are you talking to me?
or
An bhfuil tusa ag labhairt liomsa? — Are YOU talking to ME?
Maybe that’s a stretch…. but it certainly is fitting that the tunes should work in sort of the the same way, yeah?

Re: Dynamics, an overlooked dimension of ITM?

The chanter of the pipes can vary in volume slightly, depending on if you use "close" fingering (as few holes open as necessary), "open" fingering (more fingers open), or "off-the-knee" (chanter is lifted from the piper’s leg, opening up the bottom of the bore). The effect varies upon the chanter’s design - more noticable with smaller holes/bores - and is less pronounced in the first octave, but very much more so in the second - a close fingered F# is very much quieter than off-the-knee.
Not all pipers use this for effect, it’s also much less than what you get out of the flute or fiddle, and more specific to certain notes and parts of the chanter’s range.
Paddy Canny is a fiddler who uses dynamics a great deal. A friend pointed out to me that Joe Cooley did that on the box a lot - in dance music, that is - and that no one seems to have emulated him since, for some odd reason.

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Re: Dynamics, an overlooked dimension of ITM?

Ravel once made a remark about his Bolero being "Orchestration without music."

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To me dynamics in the music are a bit more than changes in volume. Subtle rhythmic changes, ornamentation changes, the changing volume of instruments in the mix, the overall changes in volume, the undulations, and other changes all account for the dynamics of the music in my mind.

I believe that these dynamics can be present not only in an arranged ensemble environment but in a session environment as well. Iris spoke of intuitiveness in another thread. I believe it was the most recent guitar chord accompaniment discussion. This intuition, when accurately applied, avails a connection between the musicians that allows for brilliant changes (dynamics) on the fly as it were.

An example of the application of such intuition would be when the keyed on melody player “gets the motor running” when making the turn in a reel (not speeding up but changing the length of the notes compared the turn previous). Intuitively hearing in one’s mind’s ear this rhythmic change coming allows for the accompanist or other melody players to make the change together. Even if not anticipated by all the players a few in the mix clued in can bring the others along with out much if any disruption.

I would not have the interest I have in the music if it were sterilized by the lack of dynamics.

Peace,
Ed

Re: Dynamics, an overlooked dimension of ITM?

amen

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Tony MacMahon is one of the great exponents of the slow air on the button box. I recall reading his observation somewhere that most box players of his generation couldn’t be bothered to vary the volume as they played an air. Listen to the modulation of the singing voice was his advice and bring it out on your instrument.

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As an orchestral cellist I once had the unfortunate experience of playing in a performance of the Bolero. 18 minutes of playing the same pounding rhythm, it nearly drove me nuts. Anyway, in retrospect it’s given me some insight into what may go on in the minds of some bodhran players :-)
The most exciting performance of the Bolero was when the percussionist came in a beat late on the last note. But he immediately said "sorry!", so that was alright.

Re: Dynamics, an overlooked dimension of ITM?

“To me dynamics in the music are a bit more than changes in volume. Subtle rhythmic changes, ornamentation changes, the changing volume of instruments in the mix, the overall changes in volume, the undulations, and other changes all account for the dynamics of the music in my mind.

I believe that these dynamics can be present not only in an arranged ensemble environment but in a session environment as well. Iris spoke of intuitiveness in another thread. I believe it was the most recent guitar chord accompaniment discussion. This intuition, when accurately applied, avails a connection between the musicians that allows for brilliant changes (dynamics) on the fly as it were.”

True, Ed, and good points. But as a practical semantic matter, when we talk about music and use the technical terms that make it possible to do a bit more than “dance about architecture,” “dynamics” does actually mean just changing the loudness. And that meaning was apparently Brendan’s intent in the first post.

An accompanist can exercise a lot of control over the dynamics of a session, not only by controlling their own dynamics, but also by the way their dynamics can subtly influence the melody players to dig in or back a bit. The dynamics are also affected by players or particular instruments joining or leaving the mix.

These things make the music more fun to listen to.

Re: Dynamics, an overlooked dimension of ITM?

"back a bit" = "back off a bit"

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To me, "dynamics on the fly" in a session is the culmination of acquiring the music, playing it with friends long enough, and just sort of knowing when things are going to happen, or change. It doesn’t get any better.

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I didn’t take the same intent in the initial post as you Bob H. That could very well be because I know very little and perhaps even nothing of music theory, terms, or definitions. Thank you for the lesson.

If it is simply changes in volume then these too can produce exciting undulations provided that the volume does not fall below what is minimally required to accomplish the purpose of the playing at the time. Often times in a session I’ve witnessed each time through gaining in volume or the third time around might start softer and crescendo and then a change. Any number of combinations. To me it’s like a walk, it’s always more exciting and fulfilling to let new encounters unfold as they would rather than try to control all of what I may discover.

This may belong as a whole other topic but is there documentation as to whether or not the dances were born of the tunes or the other way around? I know it’s a chicken or egg question and may not be of any relevance but I’m curious.

Peace,
Ed

Re: Dynamics, an overlooked dimension of ITM?

A couple of things: first of all, the use of dynamics varies within classical music — romantic-era dynamics are inappropriate for baroque-era music, or at least anachronistic. It seems to me that the circular nature and the restrained emotional affect of ITM don’t call out for the typical use of dynamics in classical music, which seems to have a lot to do with developing an idea and expressing emotion. In ITM, dynamics are improvised, subtle, and changeable. They seem to have more to do with energy or momentum ("one more time! "), and with the internal breath of a phrase of music. Very much as in speaking.

I know that volume varies in ITM, but the ways it varies and the reasons it varies are so different from classical music that I think the whole vocabulary of classical music dynamics is inappropriate. And misleading for people coming out of classical music ("shall we come down to pp before the banjo and box come in forte for the last repeat? But be sure to leave room for a cresc in the last 4 measures")

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Re: Dynamics, an overlooked dimension of ITM?

Good thread Brendan.

Dynamics - in the sense of volume/light & shade - are well nigh impossible in big sessions. This is one of the reasons why I prefer to play in small sessions of 3 to 7 instruments - preferably nearer 3 - in that setting, dynamics can be great fun and very exciting!

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Re: Dynamics, an overlooked dimension of ITM?

I think you’re right, 54321 (can we just call you 54?). The dynamics in a session, when they happen, are mostly the result of other intentions.

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How about a discussion on phrasing!
If dynamics is a problem, so is phrasing. Sometimes I think flute players would be pleased beyond measure if they never had to breathe. I once posed the question to a highly noted flutist about where he would breathe. He hadn’t a clue! He suggested that you try to ‘sneak’ it in where you can!!!
You hear wonderful demonstrations of phrasing with pipers, but it is absent from most performances. Getting the right note seems to be the only goal of most performers.
Stonecrusher

Re: Dynamics, an overlooked dimension of ITM?

great, discussion. sorry i haven’t been responding more (i went to the Flook concert here in chicago on friday—when out afterward on a small booze-up and forgot to get my laptop which i’d left at a friend’s place….)

great point, stonecrusher (nice username!). dyamics and phrasing definitely go hand and hand, although i frankly like it that i am forced to puctuate phrases with breaths on the flute. sometimes while listening to pipers i sort of stop breathing because i’m waiting for the the "breath" but never comes.

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There are a lot of flute players that I wish would forget how to breathe altogether!

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I was thinking about this just last night as I played in my local sesion. Remember, even if the individual instruments don’t change their volume, a lot of interesting dynamics can be created by instruments dropping in and out of the sound. Some of this happens naturally in a session as not everyone knows every tune. Some people may play more than one instrument, and switch, which creates some different dynamics depending on what instruments are added or dropped. And a good accompanist should know when to stop bashing away at the chords, and either be silent or fingerpick whenever the number of people play drops below a certain point.

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No, we try to limit the dropping in and out to the beginning and end of tunes, so it isn’t total chaos…… ;-)

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Regarding phrasing - and this applies not only to flutes but to fiddles and other melody instruments - think how a singer would sing a tune. If you are a singer, try singing the tune yourself, and the act of singing will naturally indicate where phrases start and end, and therefore where a wind player would place a breath or a fiddle player change direction of the bow.
Remember, a tune is not just a series of notes; it is just as importantly a series of silences separated by notes, even if some of these silences aren’t indicated in the sheet music.

Re: Dynamics, an overlooked dimension of ITM?

Re: Definition of ‘dynamics’

I have not studied classical music performance to a high level, so I only know the way the term is used by the common or garden piano teacher - which is simply to mean changes in loudness, or the symbols used to indicate them. However, I agree with Bob himself and others, that it certainly *suggests* something much richer than just that.