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Thread: Tune talk for Contra dances

  1. #26
    Notary Sojac Paul Kotapish's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tune talk for Contra dances

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Nollman View Post
    We played Petronella for its eponymous dance the other night at a Grange dance. After 5 repeats we switched to La Bastringue. It seemed to work really well for all involved.
    I'm sure it worked for Petronella, but be aware the "La Bastringue" has it's own specific dance that goes with that tune with lyrics in French that are often sung along with the first part. It's a Quebec quadrille and a popular mixer or first dance in some areas. It works well with beginners or non-dancers at weddings and parties, too.

    http://www.phantomranch.net/folkdanc...s/labastri.htm

    Here are some of the lyrics. There are many other verses, but folks usually just sing three or four.

    Mademoiselle, voulez-vous danser
    La bastringue, la bastringue?
    Mademoiselle, voulez-vous danser?
    La bastringue va commencer.

    Oui Monsieur, je veux bien danser
    La bastringue, la bastringue
    Oui Monsieur, je veux bien danser
    C'est pour vous accompagner.

    Mademoiselle, vous savez danser
    La bastringue, la bastringue
    Mademoiselle, vous savez danser
    Vous allez vous fatiguer.

    Oh! Monsieur, je sais bien danser
    La bastringue, la bastringue
    Oh! Monsieur, je sais bien danser
    Je suis prête à r'commencer!

    Mademoiselle, je n'peux plus danser
    La bastringue, la bastringue
    Mademoiselle, je n'peux plus danser
    Je vous prie de m'excuser.
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  2. #27

    Default Re: Tune talk for Contra dances

    Yes, Paul. Right you are. I would probably not pick this tune to go with Petronella at a dance for the very reason you mention, still it is a good fit structurally. We often play Green Mountain Petronella as a second tune. We rarely play those few tunes that go with specific dances in other contexts, but there really is no reason to save them if they work well, I suppose. Let's see there is Petronella, La Bastringue, what other dance has its own tune... Rory O'More, Chorus Jig, Hmmm... there must be a few more without getting into the English barn dances not often done at a contra, like Bleydon Races, Dashing White Sargent, Galopede, Gay Gordon's, or the singing squares etc.

  3. #28
    music with whales Jim Nollman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tune talk for Contra dances

    Childsgrove? Gallopede? Haste to the Wedding? These are dances we have performed, which the caller seems to have a dance of the same name.
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  4. #29

    Default Re: Tune talk for Contra dances

    This thread has gone dormant. Here is a question that might perk you up...

    At a contra dance, you probably play a few waltzes. What are your favorites? We play many and quite a few originals, but over the years, I guess that the six waltzes we have played over and over again would have to be:

    Feed Your Babies Onions (Peeler Creek)
    Westphalia
    Boda
    Tombigbee
    Planxty Fanny Powers
    Midnight on the Water

    You?

  5. #30
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    Default Re: Tune talk for Contra dances

    The Cumberland Reel set as played by ourselves, just for interest ....


  6. #31
    music with whales Jim Nollman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tune talk for Contra dances

    There's 4 we keep coming back to, although we occasionally play others

    Midnight on the Water
    Fanny Powers
    Swannanoa
    Josephin"s

    Right now we're discussing the idea of adding some waltzes with lyrics. These include:

    Kentucky Waltz
    Sweet Someone
    Bartender's Waltz
    Explore some of my published music here

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    BRW 3-point #65 (2009)
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  7. #32
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tune talk for Contra dances

    There is another aspect to contra dance tune talk, and that is pick up bands. There are many dance venues around the country where once a week or so the band is... who ever shows up and wants to play.

    Usually a strong core group and a lot of hangers, but often the wall of sound created can be really exciting. I prefer this kind of thing myself, in that it feels less like performing and more like playing.

    The tunes are often selected from somebody's huge collection of tunes and are chosen by a carefully thought out process of "oh that will sound good".
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  8. #33
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tune talk for Contra dances

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Kotapish View Post
    One last comment.

    As the dance itself you can spin your wheels and go crazy trying to match up the perfect tunes for each dance. Unless you are really up to the task, don't let the caller overload you with a lot of detailed info about "there's a hay-for-four in the first A and a balance a the top of the second B" or any of that stuff.
    .
    My experience has been that as long as there are the right number of beats in more or less expected places, the dancers, most of them, don't care what music you play. Experienced dancers like it when the music and the dance match up and the figures flow, but for most of them.. just don't stop playing.

    I half expect some dancer to yell out: "Hey, don't interrupt us with interesting arrangements, we're trying to dance out here."

    I may be totally off base, but I suspect not way off base.
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  9. #34
    Horton River NWT Rob Gerety's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tune talk for Contra dances

    As an avid dancer I can't agree with this. I have stopped going to dances like this. For me the quality of the arrangements etc. is a major draw and adds greatly to the experience. Many of the better bands these days give a great deal of thought not only to the arrangements for individual tunes but also to the "shape" of the entire evening.
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  10. #35
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tune talk for Contra dances

    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Gerety View Post
    As an avid dancer I can't agree with this. I have stopped going to dances like this. For me the quality of the arrangements etc. is a major draw and adds greatly to the experience. Many of the better bands these days give a great deal of thought not only to the arrangements for individual tunes but also to the "shape" of the entire evening.
    Perhaps I overstated my case.

    I agree that the better bands to absolutely give it a lot of thought, in fact most do to some extent. But I think that musicians tend to put together nice arrangements and things that sound great together, because of their musical sensibilities and desire to make something beautiful. I experience it more as a push from the muscians, not a pull from the dancers, musicians providing the quality because they want to, as opposed to dancers demanding the quality.

    A great band will acquire a following of great dancers as well I think.

    But as a percentage, how many dancers are avid experienced dancers who seek out the better bands and better callers.

    I don't know. I may be all wet.
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  11. #36

    Default Re: Tune talk for Contra dances

    Hi Jeff,

    I think I know what you mean. Dance musicians sometimes wonder if the dancers even hear what they are up to, but I think they do. They may not be able to articulate their experience of what they are hearing in words that musicians can understand but they know how to dance to it for sure. Watching the dancers and paying attention is the best thing if you want to satisfy the masses.

    Some arrangements might be overly fancy or some tunes might have too many chords for good dancing, both are pitfalls to be avoided. Thoughtful medleys of tunes that fit the dance always work if you keep in mind the needs of the dancers. We do all kinds of wild stuff and the dancers love it but we never mess with the rhythm too much and we try to keep the phrases clear and well defined so that everyone knows where they are in the dance. We are servants of the dance first and musicians second.

  12. #37
    music with whales Jim Nollman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tune talk for Contra dances

    I think dancers hear us. We have worked hard to put together a good sound system no matter the venue, and we put effort into using monitors that let us hear what the audience is hearing as well as each other.

    What contra musicians call "push" seems to be much the same thing as what rock and jazz musicians call the groove. Getting into the groove is not a secondary objective for me, but as important as having my fingers play all the right notes for an entire evening. Making strong pushes in the right places is what makes the music fun, both for me as well as for the musicians I play with. It is one of things we work on as a band at rehearsal, When we do it well, there is no doubt to me that the dancers respond with more oomph.
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    Default Re: Tune talk for Contra dances

    Two fellow Cafe members and I have been asked to play at quarterly Contra/English Country Dances for High-schoolers. They are currently using taped music. I guess our first step is a get together with the caller and have him show us what tunes he uses for the different dances/sets and maybe work in a few "replacement" tunes that we already know for some more obscure ones... We should have a list of tunes by next week... Maybe y'all could make some suggestions if I publish it here?

  14. #39
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tune talk for Contra dances

    English Country Dancing is another thing entirely. I know those folks listen, carefully and with discernment, listening for the tune to match the dance, which they have been working on to match the tune etc. etc.

    A lot of the English Country Dance repertoir can be found in these two books:
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  15. #40
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    Default Re: Tune talk for Contra dances

    Here's an English country dance popular in Scotland, just for interest ...



  16. #41
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tune talk for Contra dances

    Two interesting and (sorta) related topics: pickup bands, and arrangements. I have put together ad hoc bands on quite a few occasions, based on my knowledge of competent local musicians. In the ongoing bands in which I work, we of course have arrangements, usually of two tunes, sometimes three.

    Pickup bands can be wonderful, and are usually at least adequate if you have a "stable" of good musicians from which to draw. But of course one can't get too ambitious about trying "arrangements" with a band that's never played together (as a whole). KISS is the real secret hear ("keep it simple, stupid" for those who think I'm referring to the rock band).

    The real questions on multi-tune arrangements include making transitions smooth, changes in texture logical, subtle, and not clashing, and non-distracting. Key modulations, which sometimes can add energy to a dance, can also change coloration, not always for the better! I sometimes like "alternating" arrangements, swapping back and forth between two tunes, but they have to be the right tunes.

    One place where major pickup action goes on is the New England Folk Festival (NEFFA) which has a traditional "festival orchestra" that's basically anyone who shows up. Huge band, huge sound, always seems to work. Since I'm not a dancer (don't go to dances unless I can play!), I can't speak to the experience on the floor, but from the sidelines "that trick always works," to paraphrase Rocky the Flying Squirrel.
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    Default Re: Tune talk for Contra dances

    That was great, Kevin. I'll see if we can't get those tunes into our repertoire...

  18. #43
    music with whales Jim Nollman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tune talk for Contra dances

    Most of you are probably aware that there's a rather impassioned thread going on in the Celtic area about sitting in at sessions. After reading the latest entries, it dawned on me that the method of Irish session rules relates in an odd sort of way to how contra bands learn tunes, but maybe not as much to how we perform them. We play 20-30 Celtic tunes. To make the effort to play them well enough for a dance, someone in the band has to like the tune well enough to promote it with the rest of us. Once we all decide to learn it, we work hard to play it well enough to play it for other people.

    We simply don't feel we're ready to assign parts, experiment with embellishments, or otherwise create dynamics until, first, we can all play the tune together, without error, at speed, and in unison. Isn't that much the same way they do it in a proper Session? Unison playing is, perhaps, the most affective musical technique for first detecting, then mastering the unique set of bounces that every tune carries.

    Once you recognize that, It doesn't take much of a leap to realize why unison playing is such a practical way to keep the tune articulate in a session, which strives for good music while allowing anyone who walks in off the street to join in, and no matter for their playing level.

    Our performances, however, don't have much in common with the Irish session in two important ways. We don't let anyone sit in, and we strive for interesting dynamics.
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    Default Re: Tune talk for Contra dances

    So here's a list of Country Dances I was given. Are these individual tunes or sets of specific tunes or are the tunes arbitrary with in a type i.e. jigs, reels etc.

    Gordon Dance (aka Gay Gordons)
    Patty Cake Polka
    Cumberland Square
    Posties Jig
    Riverside
    Virginia Reel
    Indian Queen
    Spanish Waltz
    Soldier's Joy

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    Default Re: Tune talk for Contra dances

    Well, we played a practice-dance session last night. We played a reel medley of Mason's Apron and Macarthur Road for a Contra set and it seemed to fit nicely. We also played two Country Dances - Posties Jig (we used Whiskey B4 Breakfast, St. Anne's, Liberty, and Golden Slippers), and Cumberland Square (I can't recall which tunes we used). It seems to me that the word JIG in a country-dance title is misleading as the timing of the dance appears to be 4/4... We're looking forward to putting a "Civil-War" set together for the Virginia Reel...

  21. #46
    Notary Sojac Paul Kotapish's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tune talk for Contra dances

    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Gerety View Post
    As an avid dancer I can't agree with this. I have stopped going to dances like this. For me the quality of the arrangements etc. is a major draw and adds greatly to the experience. Many of the better bands these days give a great deal of thought not only to the arrangements for individual tunes but also to the "shape" of the entire evening.
    Rob,

    Not sure what you mean by "dances like this." There are plenty of great, "hot" dances where the band plays in a very traditional style without a lot of elaborate arrangements, but plays so well and so in the groove that the dancers are lifted off the ground by the music. And there are plenty of bands that use every trick and flourish in the book but somehow manage to not connect with dancers at all.

    In an ideal world the evening is a three-way collaboration between the music, the dancers, and the caller, with the caller facilitating the connection between the music and the dance and then standing out of the way. I think that's why Wild Asperagus has been so popular over the years--George is part of the band, and his calling is tailored to the strengths of the band and works perfectly (nearly) every time.

    It's great when a evening program really clicks and the caller, band, and dancers are all in synch and the evening has a tangible arc of energy tension and release.

    But when in doubt, groove trumps all, and a novice band would always do better playing material they can really hammer home rather than floundering around with arrangements or tunes that diminish the rhythm rather than enhancing it.
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  22. #47
    music with whales Jim Nollman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tune talk for Contra dances

    I think Rob is referring to jam-style dances, where anyone who wants to play is allowed to get up on stage. By the end of the evening there may be lots of players, but only half of them actually know the tunes, let alone at speed. We used to have such dances occasionally where I live. The music is barely legible, and the bounce is nonexistent. But until they know what their missing, the dancers who love to dance will endure anything to get their contra hit.

    I agree that the push, or groove, or bounce (or whatever else you want to call it) is primary. A band that can get it going cleanly and sharply, and then keep it going through original combinations of medleys and through entire sets, may have the dancers who endured the above type of dance begging for them to return. As a player, I very much enjoy when different tunes with different rhythms are chosen carefully enough to generate a transformation in the room. We do one medley with modal Appalachian fiddle tunes, that contain a kind of drone feel. Then we start the next medley with a tune like Morpeth Rant, and the mood in the room changes. Quite magical.
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  23. #48
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tune talk for Contra dances

    I have played in contra dance bands, both gigging bands and pick up bands, which included a piano. If you have a good contra dance piano player, it seems to almost not matter what ever else the band is doing. Especially if the piano player catches the rhythm emphasis at the ends of tunes and swings well into the beginning of the next tune - my goodness many a sin is covered by the piano and the dancers always complimented us.

    I would never say we didn't do a good job, or that we got sloppy because we let the piano cover it. We worked hard and sounded good, sometimes great. What I mean is that we probably sounded better than we needed to, and our arrangements were absolutely more interesting to us than to most of the dancers, and the very few times an entrance or tune entrance was awkward, the piano player covered it so that nobody could tell.
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  24. #49
    music with whales Jim Nollman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tune talk for Contra dances

    If you have a good contra dance piano player, it seems almost not to matter what ever else the band is doing.
    What I mean is that we probably sounded better than we needed to

    Your first statement reminds me that music is the whole thing, not just its parts. Dancers who make a point to tell us how much they like our version of song x or y are not being insincere.

    I can't get into this idea of playing "better than you need to". It's always more fun to play as good as you can play. When all the players in the band are locked into a groove, the music takes on a life of its own. Dancers respond accordingly. At least in my experience.
    Last edited by Jim Nollman; Jun-15-2011 at 12:09pm.
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  25. #50
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tune talk for Contra dances

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Nollman View Post
    I can't get into this idea of playing "better than you need to". It's always more fun to play as good as you can play. When all the players in the band are locked into a groove, the music takes on a life of its own. Dancers respond accordingly. At least in my experience.
    I agree aboslutely that it is much more fun to play well, and to play interesting and effective arrangements. And if you are meaning that the general increase in fun amongst the musicians translates into a better grooce for the dancers.. I buy that too.

    What I mean is that all but the very experienced dancers are not going to be able to articulate what it is you are doing right, and most of the dancers won't notice any particular arrangement except that "a change occured". If you are doing great and interesting things because you enjoy it and it makes everyone play better and work harder, that is great (and its the way I like things), and it will contibute to the general energy and feel. If you are going for more challenging arrangements in the hopes that the dancers will appreciate the music, the way a stationary audience might, I think it will be lost of most of the dancers, and you could have the same effect with a less challenging arranement more enthusiastically played.


    This is very different, in my experience, to what is expected by English Country Dancers, who, as a generalization, seem very very tuned into the nuances of the playing and the arrangements. The compliments we have gotten are different. A contra dancer will say something like "that was great, you guys are the best", while an English Country dancer will say, "I like the way the fiddle came in on Double Lead Through in the B part, very dramatic. It helped with the lift the dance needs at that point."


    YMMV and one should always do the best one can, regardless of whether or how knowleadgably it is apprciated.
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