strathspey Archive: Tastes in music, US and UK (was In Campbell Country..)

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Tastes in music, US and UK (was In Campbell Country..)

Message 39043 · Chris1Ronald · 14 Sep 2004 06:57:45 · Top

As someone who has danced in both the US and the UK, here's my two cents
worth. I agree with the comment that British dancers seem to prefer accordion
music. I have noticed that even when a fiddle is present, it seems to be playing
the tune along with the accordion/s and tends to get drowned out by them.

Here in the US, fiddles at SCD events are more common, and the fiddle sound
is almost always clearly audible. Often, there is more than one fiddle in a
band. We are incredibly fortunate here (at least in the Eastern US) to have many
brilliant fiddlers playing for Scottish country dancing. On the other hand, we
have relatively few accordionists.

I agree with the comment that the greatest music tends to come when the
musicians and the dancers are interacting, whatever the instruments. And, this
happens more often when the musicians are dancers themselves.

One aspect of the fiddle vs. accordion discussion that I feel is worth
mentioning is in the way strathspeys are played. Assuming the musicians are
proficient, of course, I prefer dancing strathspeys to fiddles (with suitable
accompaniment), whereas I like fiddles and accordions about equally for jigs and
reels. To be more specific, fiddles seem to encourage the surge better than
accordions. (I think this is because the best fiddlers 'bridge the gap' between the
last beat of one bar and the first beat of the next bar.) Among US recordings,
I especially like the strathspeys on the 'Ghillies on the Golden Gate' CD by
Fiddlesticks and Ivory. At any rate, this CD illustrates what I mean.

I hope I haven't stirred up a hornet's nest...

Chris, in New York...

By the way, lest I be misunderstood, I've got nothing against accordions...
in fact, my wife plays one...

Musicians as dancers

Message 39126 · Monica Bielke · 17 Sep 2004 00:49:12 · Top

> Chris, in New York...
> As someone who has danced in both the US and the UK, here's my two
cents worth. I agree with the comment that British dancers seem to
prefer accordion music....

Based on my experience living & dancing in the UK for six years in the
90's, I agree. In fact, the particular group I danced with in southern
England were so used to accordion music that they found it a bit
difficult dancing to the more fiddle-centric CD's I brought to class
when I taught. They said it was harder to hear the rhythm. I think
it's really what one is used to and lack of familiarity with the other
thing. I much prefer hearing more of the tune and less of the
background rhythm. And I'm not a huge fan of straight boom-chuck piano
accompanyment, unless it's generously interspersed with other styles of
playing the chords/harmony.

someone said:
>...the greatest music tends to come when the musicians and the dancers
are interacting, whatever the instruments. And, this happens more often
when the musicians are dancers themselves.

Musicians with a good feel for dancing can really enter into some great
communication with the dancers while playing - which makes it more fun
for everyone! We have a fledgling SCD fiddle band here (in the wilds of
the intermountain west) where I can see that dancer-musician
communication just starting to happen. I liked what Steve Wyrick said
about dance musicians using "controlled abandon". I've always thought
Alasdair Fraser is wonderful at doing that. He's also very good at
playing the fiddle rhythmically, which not every fiddler does well.

> By the way, lest I be misunderstood, I've got nothing against
accordions... in fact, my wife plays one...

Some of my best and oldest friends are accordionists...
;-)
Monica Bielke
Thistle & Ghillies Scottish Country Dancers
Boise, Idaho

Tastes in music, US and UK (was In Campbell Country..)

Message 39128 · SallenNic · 17 Sep 2004 01:17:12 · Top

In a message dated 14/9/04 5:58:41 am, Chris1Ronald@aol.com writes:

> One aspect of the fiddle vs. accordion discussion that I feel is worth
> mentioning is in the way strathspeys are played. Assuming the musicians are
> proficient, of course, I prefer dancing strathspeys to fiddles (with
> suitable
> accompaniment), whereas I like fiddles and accordions about equally for jigs
> and
> reels. To be more specific, fiddles seem to encourage the surge better than
> accordions. (I think this is because the best fiddlers 'bridge the gap'
> between the
> last beat of one bar and the first beat of the next bar.)  Among US
> recordings,
> I especially like the strathspeys on the 'Ghillies on the Golden Gate' CD by
> Fiddlesticks and Ivory. At any rate, this CD illustrates what I mean.
>
At the risk of stirring up further hornets, my son and I were both playing in
the US last year, both together at ESS (Pinewoods) and then my son without me
at Scottish Session 2 there. I play Accordion and my son is a Fiddler.
When he got home we discussed the playing of Scottish dance music and
Scottish Fiddle music in general in the US and he said that he had found that
Strathspeys in particular were played in a much softer and less emphatic way
than they are here. He learnt from Douglas Lawrence, (probably Hector MacAndrew's
best pupil) and received very strict instruction as to how to play
Strathspeys, both dance ones and Slow ones.
We both also felt that Scottish reels in particular are very often
played over the other side like contra reels, and that not enough care is taken to
keep the Scottish technique distinct from Contra. We have quite a number of US
Scottish dance CDs, to which we have both listened a great deal, and these
remarks are made after a lot of thought on both our parts. - Oh dear! All of
this will probably get me lynched!!! :-)

Nicolas B., Lanark, Scotland http://www.nicolasbroadbridge.com

Tastes in music, US and UK (was In Campbell Country..)

Message 39129 · Steve Wyrick · 17 Sep 2004 03:39:11 · Top

Nicolas B. wrote:
> At the risk of stirring up further hornets, my son and I were both playing in
> the US last year, both together at ESS (Pinewoods) and then my son without me
> at Scottish Session 2 there. I play Accordion and my son is a Fiddler.
> When he got home we discussed the playing of Scottish dance music and
> Scottish Fiddle music in general in the US and he said that he had found that
> Strathspeys in particular were played in a much softer and less emphatic way
> than they are here. He learnt from Douglas Lawrence, (probably Hector
> MacAndrew's
> best pupil) and received very strict instruction as to how to play
> Strathspeys, both dance ones and Slow ones.
> We both also felt that Scottish reels in particular are very often
> played over the other side like contra reels, and that not enough care is
> taken to
> keep the Scottish technique distinct from Contra. We have quite a number of US
> Scottish dance CDs, to which we have both listened a great deal, and these
> remarks are made after a lot of thought on both our parts. - Oh dear! All of
> this will probably get me lynched!!! :-)

Not at all! I'd like to hear you expound more on this actually. In
particular, in playing reels what do you consider the "Contra" technique to
be, and what deficiencies in the US interpretation of the Scottish fiddle
style do you identify? Since many musicians here tend to play multiple
styles rather than specializing in Scottish dance music, it's not surprising
to me that outside influences creep in! If I wanted to hear the "true"
Scottish fiddle style, particularly for dance music, who would you recommend
that I listen to? Thanks -Steve
--
Steve Wyrick -- Concord, California

Tastes in music, US and UK (was In Campbell Country..)

Message 39131 · John Chambers · 17 Sep 2004 04:20:56 · Top

Steve Wyrick writes:
| Nicolas B. wrote:
| > [Comments about Americans playing strathspeys too smoothly and reels
| > too much like contra reels.]
|
| Not at all! I'd like to hear you expound more on this actually. In
| particular, in playing reels what do you consider the "Contra" technique to
| be, and what deficiencies in the US interpretation of the Scottish fiddle
| style do you identify? Since many musicians here tend to play multiple
| styles rather than specializing in Scottish dance music, it's not surprising
| to me that outside influences creep in! If I wanted to hear the "true"
| Scottish fiddle style, particularly for dance music, who would you recommend
| that I listen to? Thanks -Steve

I wouldn't mind hearing people's comments, too. With only limited
experience in the UK but listening to assorted recordings intended
for SCD, I've gotten somewhat the same impressions.

One problem that I've seen at a number of RSCDS dances here in New
England is that most of the musicians play for contras a lot more for
Scottish dances, and sometimes it does show. I've applied a metronome
to various live and recorded dances, and found that contras have a
mean speed of about 120, while Scottish reels and jigs average around
112. Both have a 10% range on either side of the average, so they do
overlap somewhat. But the problem is that musicians here are often
more comfortable at the 120 speed, and even if they start at a slow
speed, they speed up to what feels "normal" for the tunes. With the
exception of a few Scottish dances, this is too fast.

Part of the problem is that, when played contra-style, the SCD tempo
can be a bit draggy. You really need to learn a different style of
playing the little notes to make it feel right for Scottish dances.
But the differences are quite subtle, and people don't always notice
them unless someone points them out. Some musicians here understand
the difference quite well, but others don't.

Of course, it helps to have a pianist (or drummer) who knows the
dance well and can force the right tempo on the others. It also helps
if a few of the dancers are able to communicate with the band and
send "slower" or "faster" signals.

One possibility, too, is that the local musicians have learned a
tempo from their dancers, and different dance groups want it done
slightly differently. But you'd expect that this would vary within a
country as much as between countries.

Tastes in music, US and UK (was In Campbell Country..)

Message 39137 · Richard Goss · 17 Sep 2004 08:22:14 · Top

What is interesting about this discussion is that, while there are some forms and styles, that we can all agree are Scottish, within the Scottish tradition are many other forms that are not so obvious and shade off into other styles. When it comes to what some call contra, I can say the same, but then the question becomes which Scottish, which English, which contra. This discussion is ignoring the lack of borders between them.

Having a background in Scottish folk music, the Scottish dance music comming out of first San Francisco, then later Boston, sounds more Scottish than the Jimmy Shand & Scottish Fiddle Orchestra sound comming out of Scotland.

Tastes in music, US and UK (was In Campbell Country..)

Message 39140 · SallenNic · 17 Sep 2004 11:33:41 · Top

In a message dated 17/9/04 2:39:52 am, sjwyrick@astound.net writes:

> ... and what deficiencies in the US interpretation of the Scottish fiddle
> style do you identify?
>
I was very careful NOT to say "deficiencies"! I'll have to think a bit and
get back.

Nicolas B., Lanark, Scotland http://www.nicolasbroadbridge.com

Tastes in music, US and UK (was In Campbell Country..)

Message 39142 · SMiskoe · 17 Sep 2004 13:44:19 · Top


In a message dated 9/16/2004 10:21:43 PM Eastern Standard Time,
jc@trillian.mit.edu writes:

One possibility, too, is that the local musicians have learned a
tempo from their dancers, and different dance groups want it done
slightly differently. But you'd expect that this would vary within a
country as much as between countries.

This is very true. I have even seen tempo adjustments requested
simultaneously by experienced, well credentialed, people, one asking for increased tempo
and one asking for slower.

I have learned to ask a visiting teacher what tempo they wish to have so I
don't get blamed for the 'wrong tempo'.
Sylvia Miskoe, Concord NH USA

Tastes in music, US and UK (was In Campbell Country..)

Message 39148 · Ozorak · 17 Sep 2004 16:22:52 · Top

It probably "sounds more Scottish" to you, but there are a number of
individuals from Scotland who I have known to whom "real" Scottish music
is the Alexander Brothers, Jimmy Dale and Arthur Spink. To them, SCD
belongs in the "stuff for tourists". It all depends on one's cultural
perspective, I suppose.

Etienne

-----Original Message-----
From: Richard Goss [mailto:goss9@sbcglobal.net]
Sent: Friday, September 17, 2004 2:22 AM
To: strathspey@strathspey.org
Subject: Re: Tastes in music, US and UK (was In Campbell Country..)

What is interesting about this discussion is that, while there are some
forms and styles, that we can all agree are Scottish, within the
Scottish tradition are many other forms that are not so obvious and
shade off into other styles. When it comes to what some call contra, I
can say the same, but then the question becomes which Scottish, which
English, which contra. This discussion is ignoring the lack of borders
between them.

Having a background in Scottish folk music, the Scottish dance music
comming out of first San Francisco, then later Boston, sounds more
Scottish than the Jimmy Shand & Scottish Fiddle Orchestra sound comming
out of Scotland.

Tastes in music, US and UK (was In Campbell Country..)

Message 39202 · Bryan McAlister · 19 Sep 2004 21:48:12 · Top

In message <d5.170700cd.2e7c0970@aol.com>, SallenNic@aol.com writes
>
>In a message dated 17/9/04 2:39:52 am, sjwyrick@astound.net writes:
>
>
>> ... and what deficiencies in the US interpretation of the Scottish fiddle
>> style do you identify?

During my visits to the States with a fiddle I was impressed by the
smooth drive of American fiddlers and in particular their ability to put
a strong accent on an up bow to give kind of dum - DAH! - dum - DAH!
Rhythm.

Reading the historical accounts of Neil Gow's bowing what is emphasised
is his ability to "strike an Up-bow with a strength and certainty which
never failed to surprise and delight the skilful hearer". I wonder if
Scottish fiddlers do not have something to re-learn from American ones
in that nowadays, particularly in NE fiddle style the driven Up-bow has
become a slightly esoteric thing used in some styles of strathspeys
which actually tends to be rather less emphatic than a good strong
driven up bow and which seems to have been promoted by classically
trained violinist fiddlers around the late C19 early C20. After all
they made a living teaching technique.

You do have to learn the technique of this strong emphasised up bow, it
is one you are more likely to hear in Scotland from fiddlers under the
age of 40 and not ever in my experience from country dance bands.
Curiously on my visits to Denmark playing their folk dance music, which
in terms of notes and harmony, is much simpler than Scottish music, I
have found that they also use the heavily emphasised up bows or
Accordion accents to give a life to the music which is not apparent to
someone unfamiliar to it 9were they simply to pick up an instrument and
sight read the notes).

Did we lose the technique and our continental and transatlantic
neighbours keep it up?

--
Bryan McAlister

Tastes in music, US and UK (was In Campbell Country..)

Message 39204 · Richard Goss · 19 Sep 2004 21:55:36 · Top

Remember that it was during the Gows´ time that many of the country fiddlers came to North America.

Tastes in music, US and UK (was In Campbell Country..)

Message 39206 · John Chambers · 20 Sep 2004 01:55:18 · Top

Bryan McAlister writes:
| During my visits to the States with a fiddle I was impressed by the
| smooth drive of American fiddlers and in particular their ability to put
| a strong accent on an up bow to give kind of dum - DAH! - dum - DAH!
| Rhythm.

That's called a "backbeat". I've read that when Stan Hamilton's first
recordings appeared in the UK, dancers had a lot of trouble dancing
to them, because his musicians did this. It's basically of jazz
origin, and it pervades American music of all sorts. Whether it's of
African origin or developed in America seems to be a bit unclear. In
North America, it has infected pretty much all styles of folk music,
because we've grown up hearing it for generations, and don't even
notice it unless someone points it out. It's how New Englanders
usually play reels. You can hear it in the earliest recordings back
in the 1920's and 30's.

A case where it has been a problem in the US: I've played music for a
lot of Scandinavian groups, including a group for the past 15 years
that's mostly Finnish immigrants. This group went to a festival in
Finland a few years ago, and decided to include a few "American"
dances in their program. They had a lot of trouble hearing the beat,
because of the strong backbeat. When I played the music with a strong
downbeat, they could follow it with no problem. We went through a
teaching period of slowly shifting the beat to the New-England norm.

| You do have to learn the technique of this strong emphasised up bow, it
| is one you are more likely to hear in Scotland from fiddlers under the
| age of 40 and not ever in my experience from country dance bands.

Yeah; the infection has spread to many other parts of the world. ;-)

| Curiously on my visits to Denmark playing their folk dance music, which
| in terms of notes and harmony, is much simpler than Scottish music, I
| have found that they also use the heavily emphasised up bows or
| Accordion accents to give a life to the music which is not apparent to
| someone unfamiliar to it 9were they simply to pick up an instrument and
| sight read the notes).

I've gotten the impression that there are a lot of jazz musicians in
Denmark. Don't know why, but I suspect that this is what has modified
their folk music.

| Did we lose the technique and our continental and transatlantic
| neighbours keep it up?

Nah; it's an American export. Don't listen to any American or "world"
music; it'll infect your brain and you'll never be cured of it. ;-)

In exchange, I've seen an interesting import: Americans who get into
trad Scandinavian music have to learn the funny sort of Swedish
polska with the early second beat. This sounds very bizarre to most
people at first. But when you get it, it's incredibly infective. In
the US, you often hear waltzes played with a dotted rhythm, and to
Scandinavian ears, these sound like polskas. I've been at some dances
where the musicians mostly knew the Swedish style, and this sort of
waltz was played with the off-beat polska rhythm. It probably sounds
very odd to most people, but once that Swedish rhythm gets into your
subconscious, you can have a lot of trouble evicting it. Tunes just
sound so cool played that way, that the dancers will just have to
learn to dance to it.

(We've also been corrupting New England contras with klezmer and the
related eastern-European styles, but that's another story. ;-)

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