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  • Bryan McAlister

    Bryan McAlister June 1, 2006, 8:28 p.m. (Message 45450)

    Re: Divided by a common language (was Reels and Hornpipes)

    Recently I was asked to write a tune for a 32 bar reel dance which the 
    devisor had called a "Rant", which I did, the week before it was to be 
    played and danced publicly, the dance was on the programme for "teaching 
    purposes" and standing in 4th place I set about running my tune through 
    in my head to check if it fitted.  To my horror it didn't fit at all and 
    bore absolutely no relationship to the rhythms of the tune being danced. 
    It took all of 4 times through before it dawned that a 6/8 tune was 
    being played and not a "Reel".  I afterwards discovered the Caller had 
    looked at the word "Rant" in the name of the dance, had found a 32 bar 
    tune with "Rant" in it's title on a CD which just happened to be a jig 
    and hadn't noticed the dance was supposed to be a reel..
    In message <>, Steve Wyrick 
    <> writes
    >On Thu, 01 Jun 2006 15:15:46 UTC
    > John Chambers <> wrote:
    >> The same things seems  to  happened  with  "reel",  which  apparently
    >> started  life as a term for the sort of dance figures where you weave
    >> or zig-zag among the other dancers. This is still how dancers use the
    >> term,  but somehow musicians decided to apply it to a particular sort
    >> of very busy duple rhythm. A reel can be done to music in any rhythm,
    >> so this was a nonsensical use of the word.
    >>  My general theory is that most of these things happen through 
    >> sorts of misunderstandings. If you watch interactions between dancers
    >> who aren't musicians and musicians who aren't dancers, you'll see all
    >> sorts  of miscommunications.  It sometimes seems amazing that the two
    >> crowds manage to communicate at all, despite their obvious  symbiotic
    >> relationship throughout history.
    >Regarding the various meanings of "reel" this sort of evolution happens 
    >all the time with laguage. [an aside: according to, the 
    >English word with the most definitions is "set", with 464 different 
    >definitions in the OED! How many definitions for set in SCD? I can 
    >think of 3...]  I think the confusion we have now is because (what I 
    >assume is) the original use of the term--a Scottish dance containing a 
    >loopy figure--hasn't been totally superseded by the more modern 
    >definitions (a specific figure for 3 or more dancers; a quick-time 
    >dance done with steps having beats of equal length; a specific tune 
    >type).  By the way, musicians in the various Celtic and American folk 
    >traditions who DON'T play for dancers have no confusion about what's 
    >meant by a "reel"; it's a type of tune!
    >Steve Wyrick - Concord, California
    Bryan McAlister

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