strathspey Archive: Playing Strathspeys 'properly'

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Playing Strathspeys 'properly'

Message 2617 · Ian Price · 10 Oct 1995 18:16:22 · Top

>As a fiddler, I find that I am never quite satisfied with the strathspeys
>that can be produced on the accordion. No matter how good the musician,
>the accordion is essentially a percussive instrument that cannot reproduce
>the sustained notes, followed or preceded by short notes, that give the
>strathspey its distinctive feel and momentum. The transition between the
>short and long notes tends to sound jumpy and "cute" (using Anselm's word)
>rather than sweeping and elegant. Sandy Nixon and other accordionists may
>record fewer strathspeys in recognition of the greater difficulty of making
>a strathspey sound right.

Sorry, I can' t buy that!

The instrument (IMHO) has nothing to do with it - it's all in the understanding
of the genre by the musician. In my experience, maybe 1% of the musicians I've
heard know how to play a strathspey (live or on record), whether on the fiddle,
piano or accordion - the other 99% haven't a clue! From what I've heard, and
know about those who 'can', it would seem you have to be (a) brought up IN
Scotland; (b), have studied strathspey STEP technique; and/or (c) be at least a
second-generation SCD-music-family member.

>I am sure that we have all had the
>experience of dancing to recordings of accordion strathspeys that seemed
>like they would never end.

>Susan Self

I'm sure most of us have heard little else, Susan - but it's unfair to blame the
instrument rather than the player. I've heard some pretty dreechit Strathspeys
played on the fiddle too (both in Scotland AND North America)!

Regards,
Ian Price
Conductor, Vancouver Fiddle Orchestra.

Playing Strathspeys 'properly'

Message 2624 · Thestrongs · 10 Oct 1995 19:21:32 · Top

In a message dated 95-10-10 12:27:59 EDT, you write:

>In my experience, maybe 1% of the musicians I've
>heard know how to play a strathspey (live or on record), whether on the
>fiddle, piano or accordion - the other 99% haven't a clue! From what I've
heard, and
>know about those who 'can', it would seem you have to be (a) brought up IN
>Scotland; (b), have studied strathspey STEP technique; and/or (c) be at
least
>a second-generation SCD-music-family member.

Maybe you 1% could give us 99% some hints? or is that even possible via this
medium.

David Strong

Playing Strathspeys 'properly'

Message 2664 · Ian Price · 11 Oct 1995 18:00:49 · Top

Since I started this thread (by changing the subject line), perhaps I should
close it 24 hours later...

>Alex is right, we should not have wars. Everyone has their own preferences.
>.
>Sylvia Miskoe, Concord, NH

I'm somewhat mystified how the thread could be interpreted as 'instrument wars'.
Sylvia's, and Alex's (and apparently everyone else's) point is exactly the one
I was trying to make when I said (only yesterday) <paraphrasing> "It aint what
you play, it's the way that you play it". By further suggesting that strathspey
players are born, not made, I have obviously stuck a few noses out of joint -
which was the idea. If we can rationally discuss the technique of playing a
Strathspey on STRATHSPEY, we may yet serve another 'market' for this list.

Providing the necessary support for dancers performing the standardised RSCDS
travelling and setting steps is but one interpretation of this style, but one I
feel is of the greatest interest to readers here. For something completely
different, listen to a pipe band playing the middle tune of a MSR in
competition.

Comments?

Regards, Ian

Playing Strathspeys 'properly'

Message 2680 · --bakere-- · 12 Oct 1995 18:16:54 · Top

Excuse me, folks; this is going to be a long one.

And perhaps a bit rhapsodic.

Also, perhaps it's now a little dated: I wrote it a few days ago
and hadn't decided whether it was worth posting, especially
as most of the hubbub regarding playing of strathspeys,
accordions, fiddles, etc., seems to have subsided. Also,
apologies to Ian Price; I don't at all mean to be rude, Ian,
and enjoy your lively comments and frequent ;-) 's and :^) 's.

>In my experience, maybe 1% of the musicians I've
>heard know how to play a strathspey (live or on record), whether on the
fiddle,
>piano or accordion - the other 99% haven't a clue! From what I've
heard, and
>know about those who 'can', it would seem you have to be (a) brought up IN
>Scotland; (b), have studied strathspey STEP technique; and/or (c) be at
least a
>second-generation SCD-music-family member.

Ian Price's remarks lead me to make this observation:

Musicians who can really play strathspeys have spent a lot of time
and effort to learn how, whether through intensive study or extensive
exposure or both.

To me, the strathspey is THE most appealing form in all Scottish music.
It combines the beauties of a slow air with the rhythmic drive of a reel.
Strathspeys are slow enough to allow for all sorts of ornamental
embellishments. (Indeed most of them have many embellishments written
into the music.) There is time for subtlety. But strathspeys are the
18th-century descendants of reels, and reels are for dancing. Rhythm
is the key element in all forms of Scottish dancing that I have ever
seen.
(Quick test of verification: If all the melody and back-up players
dropped out,
leaving only a drum, could you still dance? Yes. If all the other
players
dropped out, leaving only a single instrument to play a concerto-style
cadenza, could you still dance? Hmm.) Rhythmic play is the source of
the drive and power that strathspeys have. That combination of lyricism
and drive makes the strathspey. You can vary the relative proportions
at any particular point in time--giving you an enormous range of emotional
expression. The tension inherent in those contrasting elements of lyric
and rhythm is the stuff that musicians and poets throughout the centuries
have spent their lives learning how to cultivate and resolve.

In my experience, when I teach strathspey in music workshops I find
myself focussing much more on the rhythmic elements than the lyric.
I think there are several reasons for this. Most of the musical people
who attend the workshops already have a good sense of the lyrical
aspects of music, although they sometimes lack the technical skills
to give expression to their musical thoughts. Also, since I frequently
teach dance music workshops, I tend to emphasize rhythm first because
of its importance in dance. Rhythm is also more quantifiable than
lyric; it is easier to invent technical exercises that allow people
to practice rhythm than ditto for lyricism.

Song airs and pastorals as tunes for dancing have their place; many
people enjoy dancing to them (including me) and many people enjoy
playing them. But those tunes are NOT strathspeys: the lyrical element
is very much present, but the rhythmic element is rudimentary compared
with real strathspeys.

>Maybe you 1% could give us 99% some hints? or is that even possible via
this
>medium.

>David Strong

Please pardon my arrogant assumption that I am one of that select
1% who know how to play strathspeys. I have some evidence in my
favor, such as various occasions when ballrooms full of dancers have
demanded that I play again "once and to the bottom" for a strathspey!
(I respect the opinions of the dancers: if they can't or don't want to
dance to your music, how can you call yourself a dance musician? ;-) )
Anyhow, I hope any of this babble is of any use to musicians who want
to improve their strathspey. I realize it is probably too general to
answer anybody's questions. Anyone who really wants to know the
details should get themselves to a good music workshop. If there
aren't any in your area, don't complain--organize one!

I dislike the idea that ability to play Scottish music is somehow an
inherited trait--that you must be Scottish to be able to play a
strathspey.
People of all sorts of races and cultural backgrounds can appreciate,
understand, and master the elements of Scottish dance and music,
as this List amply demonstrates. As it happens, there were some
Scots among my hodge-podge of ancestors--but most of them left
Scotland before strathspeys were invented.

Elke Baker
Director, Potomac Valley Scottish Fiddle Club
and U.S. National Scottish Fiddle Champion

Playing Strathspeys 'properly'

Message 2686 · Hugh Goldie · 12 Oct 1995 20:42:57 · Top

Elke Baker wrote (portions omitted):

>...I dislike the idea that ability to play Scottish music is somehow an
>inherited trait--that you must be Scottish to be able to play a
>strathspey.
>People of all sorts of races and cultural backgrounds can appreciate,
>understand, and master the elements of Scottish dance and music,
>as this List amply demonstrates. As it happens, there were some
>Scots among my hodge-podge of ancestors--but most of them left
>Scotland before strathspeys were invented...

I agree heartily. People of all ethnic derivations enjoy Scottish Country
Dancing and/or performing Scottish music. People who have Scottish heritage
may have an advantage since they have been exposed to Scottish culture
and have been taught to appreciate its beauties; however, many people who
are not Scottish decendants more than make up for this with their
enthusiasm and hard work.

Albert Einstein was attending a music salon in prewar Germany. When a
couple of Japanese musicians performed some very German classical music,
someone exclaimed that it was wonderful because it sounded "so German".
Einstein responded "Madam, people are all the same." This is one of my
favourite quotations. It is simple, but profound, like "E=mc**2".

I think a lot of Scots tend to enjoy Scottish music and dancing more when
it is done the way it was done in their particular region of Scotland or in
their personal time frame (recent dance and music practices) and feel that
other approaches are "wrong". This leads them to feel that accordions are
superior to fiddles, etc., etc. (This is said by a Scottish decendant who
has been involved in Scottish culture for a long time.) Some of the local
Scottish folk "hate" Gaelic mouth music, for example, and others can not
live without it. Personally, I love it all. It's all Scottish and it's
all great!

Hugh Goldie, Saskatoon Scottish Country Dancers, Saskatoon, Canada
goldie@duke.usask.ca

Playing Strathspeys 'properly'

Message 2696 · McOwen · 13 Oct 1995 09:09:38 · Top

To David Strong (hi!), and anyone else interested,

I had planned to mention one brief thing about playing strathspeys, but by
now I've read Elke Baker's eloquent testimonial. I've been among those
calling for her to encore a strathspey, and I second what she says about
rhythm. The one big thing I was planning to say (but now looks rather small)
also has to do with rhythm: Stre...t.....ch the dotted notes!

Hope this helps,
Barbara McOwen
mcowen@aol.com
Arlington, Mass.

Playing Strathspeys 'properly'

Message 2709 · Ian McHaffie · 13 Oct 1995 22:23:16 · Top

Hello All

On the subject of playing strathspeys, the film "Mr. Menhuin's visit to
Blair Castle" is illuminating with amusing moments. I would guess that the
filn is about 15 to 20 years old. The scene is set with Menhuin making a
visit to the fiddle school at Blair Castle to explore the Scottish fiddling
tradition -- he has a fascination with fiddling of all types, all over the
world.

He does the appropriate listening and admiring and then takes fiddle
lessons from the school instructor -- I am sure that one of our
fiddler-readers will know who the instructor is -- a sort of contemporary
Neil Gow (?) -- and one of the film's great moments is this grand Scottish
fiddler saying to one of the world's great violin players "Aye, Mr.
Menhuin, you've almost got it!" And he was right!

Anyway, if any Strathspey musicians have not seen this film, I'm sure you
would enjoy it.

Perhaps those who have seen it more recently than I can give further
details about the film.

Ian McHaffie
ianmch@inforamp.net

Playing Strathspeys 'properly'

Message 2712 · Tappan · 14 Oct 1995 05:35:46 · Top

Hi friends,

Ian McHaffie wrote about Yehudi Menuin trying to learn to play strathspeys
properly, as recorded on the show Mr. Menuhin's Visit to Blair Castle:
>
>He does the appropriate listening and admiring and then takes fiddle
>lessons from the school instructor -- I am sure that one of our
>fiddler-readers will know who the instructor is -- a sort of contemporary
>Neil Gow (?) -- and one of the film's great moments is this grand Scottish
>fiddler saying to one of the world's great violin players "Aye, Mr.
>Menhuin, you've almost got it!" And he was right!

The "contemporary Niel Gow" in question was Hector McAndrew, one of the
truly great fiddlers, now dead for some years, unfortunately. What was
interesting to me when I watched the show was that Mr. Menuin actually
hadn't really come close to actually "getting it" - he was reading the
music note-for-note perfectly but it wan't the same as what Hector McAndrew
was playing.

I think it was a BBC (or other British TV network) TV show around about
1978-1980. I'd love to know if there's a way to get copies of it. I have
one, a copy of a copy and transferred from British video format to
American, and it isn't all that good, as you can imagine, and possibly not
awfully legal.

I've just discovered that the old Hector McAndrew LP, "Scots Fiddle" has
been reissued on cassette, and Fiddlers Crossing will be carrying it as
soon as it makes its way across the Atlantic. This is a real gem! It's
been out of print for far to long. He did 2 other LPs which I haven't seen
in some time. I think they were named something like "Vol. 1" and "Vol. 3"
(I was told Vol. 2 was someone else!) - does anyone know if these are
available today?

Jan Tappan
Fiddlers Crossing
Pasadena, California
tappan@netcom.com

Playing Strathspeys 'properly'

Message 2713 · John Ward · 14 Oct 1995 06:49:16 · Top

On Fri, 13 Oct 1995, Tappan wrote:

> Hi friends,
>
> Ian McHaffie wrote about Yehudi Menuin trying to learn to play strathspeys
> properly, as recorded on the show Mr. Menuhin's Visit to Blair Castle:
> >
> >He does the appropriate listening and admiring and then takes fiddle
> >lessons from the school instructor -- I am sure that one of our
> >fiddler-readers will know who the instructor is -- a sort of contemporary
> >Neil Gow (?) -- and one of the film's great moments is this grand Scottish
> >fiddler saying to one of the world's great violin players "Aye, Mr.
> >Menhuin, you've almost got it!" And he was right!
>
> The "contemporary Niel Gow" in question was Hector McAndrew, one of the
> truly great fiddlers, now dead for some years, unfortunately. What was
> interesting to me when I watched the show was that Mr. Menuin actually
> hadn't really come close to actually "getting it" - he was reading the
> music note-for-note perfectly but it wan't the same as what Hector McAndrew
> was playing.
>
> I think it was a BBC (or other British TV network) TV show around about
> 1978-1980. I'd love to know if there's a way to get copies of it. I have
> one, a copy of a copy and transferred from British video format to
> American, and it isn't all that good, as you can imagine, and possibly not
> awfully legal.
>
> I've just discovered that the old Hector McAndrew LP, "Scots Fiddle" has
> been reissued on cassette, and Fiddlers Crossing will be carrying it as
> soon as it makes its way across the Atlantic. This is a real gem! It's
> been out of print for far to long. He did 2 other LPs which I haven't seen
> in some time. I think they were named something like "Vol. 1" and "Vol. 3"
> (I was told Vol. 2 was someone else!) - does anyone know if these are
> available today?
>
> Jan Tappan
> Fiddlers Crossing
> Pasadena, California
> tappan@netcom.com
>
Don't know about the recordings, but there is about 20 minutes of Hector
McAndrew on the School of Scottish Studies CD regarding Scottish
fiddlers and their art. The CD features a number of fine Scottish
fiddlers, but the largest portion goes to Hector.

John

Playing Strathspeys 'properly'

Message 2720 · Ian Price · 14 Oct 1995 19:20:40 · Top

>On the subject of playing strathspeys, the film "Mr. Menhuin's visit to
>Blair Castle" is illuminating with amusing moments.
> -- and one of the film's great moments is this grand Scottish
>fiddler saying to one of the world's great violin players "Aye, Mr.
>Menhuin, you've almost got it!" And he was right!

>Ian McHaffie

He sure was! He went on to say, "Ye dinna have the dirl", and might as well
have added "and ye never will".

Yehudi-baby made an even bigger fool of himself at the opening ceremony of the
Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh (1986 was it?), in his kosher kilt as I recall.

DEFINITELY one of the 99%! Which proves that even the finest violinist in the
world doth not a fiddler make. It simply isn't a question of technical ability,
it's pure SOUL or lack thereof.

Regards, Ian

Playing Strathspeys 'properly'

Message 2726 · Colleen Putt · 15 Oct 1995 05:08:22 · Top

>Hi friends,
>
>Ian McHaffie wrote about Yehudi Menuin trying to learn to play strathspeys
>properly, as recorded on the show Mr. Menuhin's Visit to Blair Castle:
>>
>>He does the appropriate listening and admiring and then takes fiddle
>>lessons from the school instructor -- I am sure that one of our
>>fiddler-readers will know who the instructor is -- a sort of contemporary
>>Neil Gow (?) -- and one of the film's great moments is this grand Scottish
>>fiddler saying to one of the world's great violin players "Aye, Mr.
>>Menhuin, you've almost got it!" And he was right!
>
>The "contemporary Niel Gow" in question was Hector McAndrew, one of the
>truly great fiddlers, now dead for some years, unfortunately. What was
>interesting to me when I watched the show was that Mr. Menuin actually
>hadn't really come close to actually "getting it" - he was reading the
>music note-for-note perfectly but it wan't the same as what Hector McAndrew
>was playing.
>
>I think it was a BBC (or other British TV network) TV show around about
>1978-1980. I'd love to know if there's a way to get copies of it. I have
>one, a copy of a copy and transferred from British video format to
>American, and it isn't all that good, as you can imagine, and possibly not
>awfully legal.
>
>I've just discovered that the old Hector McAndrew LP, "Scots Fiddle" has
>been reissued on cassette, and Fiddlers Crossing will be carrying it as
>soon as it makes its way across the Atlantic. This is a real gem! It's
>been out of print for far to long. He did 2 other LPs which I haven't seen
>in some time. I think they were named something like "Vol. 1" and "Vol. 3"
>(I was told Vol. 2 was someone else!) - does anyone know if these are
>available today?
>
>Jan Tappan
>Fiddlers Crossing
>Pasadena, California
>tappan@netcom.com
>
>Please, for those not familiar, what is "Fiddler's Crossing"? How can one
get on a mailing list?

Thanks,
Colleen Putt

>
>
>
>

Playing Strathspeys 'properly'

Message 2730 · SMiskoe · 15 Oct 1995 15:09:09 · Top

Let Yehudi play strathspeys for 5 years and see how well he does. It's not
fair to judge him on the first or 2nd try. We often jump to conclusions too
quickly. None of us were very good when we began.
Sylvia Miskoe, Concord, NH

Playing Strathspeys 'properly'

Message 2781 · A J Dewdney · 18 Oct 1995 19:48:59 · Top

>Yehudi-baby made an even bigger fool of himself at the opening ceremony of the
>Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh (1986 was it?), in his kosher kilt as I recall.
>
True, Ian, I remember seeing that, and it was certainly not YM's first
attempt. BUT

>it's pure SOUL or lack thereof.
>
I would hesitate to suggest he has a lack of soul!!!! You must surely have
heard him on 'home ground' so to speak?

It's more a case of don't play whats written, play what feels right. My
violin teacher had the same problem, you really need to have listened to a
skilled exponent, and preferaby danced too.
______________________________________
* Andrew Dewdney,
* IRC for Semiconductor Materials,
* Imperial College,
* SW7 2AX
* 0171-589-5111 Ext 56667 (lab)
* 0171-594-6669 (office)
* Try out our Web page http://sparcy.sc.ic.ac.uk/
*_____________________________________

Playing Strathspeys 'properly'

Message 2791 · Ian Price · 19 Oct 1995 16:29:26 · Top

* Andrew Dewdney responded to an observation of mine concerning the GREAT
VIOLINIST Yehudi Menuhin....

>>it's pure SOUL or lack thereof.

>I would hesitate to suggest he has a lack of soul!!!! You must surely have
>heard him on 'home ground' so to speak?

Not quite my suggestion! I was referring to the specific (Scottish fiddle music)
rather than the general (music). Yehudi Menuhin will never be Yehudi McEwan, as
it were :-)

>It's more a case of don't play whats written, play what feels right. My
>violin teacher had the same problem, you really need to have listened to a
>skilled exponent, and preferaby danced too.

Exactly! As I keep harping on to my group, the written notes serve only as a
framework and as a prompter. The music itself comes from the heart.

I'll try to make my point again:-

The only thing fiddlers and violinists have in common is that they use the same
instrument. In some parts of the world (e.g. Cape Breton, Shetland) they don't
even necessarily hold the damn thing the same way.

[Sorry to resurrect the thread, folks - time to rebury it?]

Regards, Ian

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