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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Mon Jun 24, 2019 4:00 pm 
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Peter Duggan wrote:
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You suspect correctly. Parroting someone's version note-for-note may be good as an exercise, but it is not desirable performance. Experienced players would not admire it, because it is not your own.

It's fine for karaoke and tribute bands (IMHO less so talent shows), but not much more. Good covers should go beyond; a favourite example of mine being John Lennon's version of Stand By Me, which stands recognisably and respectfully alongside the original while being satisfyingly distinct in its own right. Others I think go too far, for instance Eva Cassidy's much-admired version of Over the Rainbow, where I think she tries just too hard and ultimately loses the memorable simplicity of Arlen's perfect line.

Well, of course I was referring strictly to Trad playing, but you bring up good points. Judy Garland twice recorded an English-language version (1940 and 1955, I believe) of the Irish song "A Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow" (Cailin Deas Crúite na mBó). I know the tune quite well and loved playing it as an air on the flute, so of course I have my own ideas as to what works and what doesn't. Judy's offering started out syrupy - predictable for the time - but imagine my real dismay when it degenerated into swing. I suppose I shouldn't be too critical as I've willfully (and gleefully) committed some grievous sins myself in stepping outside the box, but judge for yourselves:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEQq6_d62Qk

Apparently it was quite popular. :o

But then I used to play a reggae version of Ue O Muite Arukō (Sukiyaki) on the cittern, so I'll just get my hat.

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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Mon Jun 24, 2019 4:09 pm 
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DrPhill wrote:
Hmmm, I think that either I mis-spoke or that the term 'air' has multiple shades of meaning. In no way am I up to the endeavours you suggest. Can I retract the term and replace it with 'slow tunes' please? I think that I have tripped over this definition before. Apologies.

I enjoyed your description of the definitions though - clear and interesting. When I know the lyrics I always find it easier to learn the tune, but ultimately it seems to have less depth, though that may be my lack of perception. Or it may be that I am not up to the challenge of singing with the whistle.

For example one slow tune I like to play is caoineadh cu chulainn but I believe that this would not qualify as an air by your definition - it is too modern and has no lyrics (leastways I do not think so. I have been wrong before). Likewise Cape Clear as a slow tune which might be old but has no lyrics that I know of. Both of these I find continually evolving in my hands (for good or ill) and may never be 'finished'. The Ruby is likely to become another.

There are more instrumental airs (that is, without lyrics) nowadays in the Irish tradition than there used to be. I still call 'em airs. "Slow tunes" is fine if you like, but I think "airs" still qualifies. TBH, I have a preference for song airs strictly on the basis that the lyrics give me something to hang my hat on (still with the hat metaphors, Nano?). Without them I feel a bit adrift.

When you say, "Both of these I find continually evolving in my hands (for good or ill) and may never be 'finished'", I actually see that as a good thing!

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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Mon Jun 24, 2019 4:21 pm 
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Nanohedron wrote:
Well, of course I was referring strictly to Trad playing,

I know...

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but

The principle is the same, and perhaps easier to illustrate my way. It's about being imaginative, creative, exciting, artistic, musical, personal etc. while respecting both source and bounds and not doing it gratuitously. And the best do it so much better than most of us!

Quote:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEQq6_d62Qk

Um, yes, horrible!

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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Mon Jun 24, 2019 4:34 pm 
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Peter Duggan wrote:
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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEQq6_d62Qk

Um, yes, horrible!

My own version might have met with some opprobrium, as I broke from the usual aesthetic of playing airs non-metrically and instead played it as a waltz.

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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Tue Jun 25, 2019 2:06 am 
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Nanohedron wrote:
I have a preference for song airs strictly on the basis that the lyrics give me something to hang my hat on (still with the hat metaphors, Nano?). Without them I feel a bit adrift.

I know exactly what you mean, though I do not study the lyrics as intently as you. I do hear lyrics in my head under those circumstances, though if the original is in a language I do not know then I hear a mangled phonetic transcription, or a general impression. Recently I found myself wondering if the lyrics/vocals are just another layer over the 'real tune' (bare bones is a good term), a layer that helps me grasp the tune but which could also be a distraction from the real tune. I am not sure if I make sense here. I am learning in isolation from other musicians and probably stumbling over well known territory (I find these kind of discussions very illuminating though)

Nanohedron wrote:
When you say, "Both of these I find continually evolving in my hands (for good or ill) and may never be 'finished'", I actually see that as a good thing!
.
But that means that my version is different to everyone else's, and if I want to play with someone else we need to spend time communicating, adapting and creating yet another version of the tune just for the occasion. That sounds like good fun (though inefficient) but I have rarely found myself in a position to try it.

Peter Duggan wrote:

I will leave that until I have a strong cup of coffee then.

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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Tue Jun 25, 2019 2:32 am 
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I am with Nano on lyrics, 'something to hang my hat on' is a good way of putting it. I don't really 'do creative' and the way lyrics bend a tune to their rhythm is a good starting point that it often seems affected to stray too far from. I am often so busy listening to the rhythm of the words that don't pay attention to the meaning, so I enjoy foreign language songs almost as much.

Without me knowing the song the Judy Garland version had me worrried by the rest in line 2 and offended by "as he said to a colleen breath beside him" in line three. Maybe it is something in the Irish, I wondered. But it seems not (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-u2nBBmOCn8 ), and a piper honours the lyrics the same way (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4F9fm3k3FTk )

I admit to not being a fan of a lot of Irish song because of overt melismatic wanderings. Done subtly as by Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh in the Danu clip I think its lovely.

I am glad I listened to the end of the Judy Garland clip though. I thought the last bit was fun and would probably like Nano's waltz version too. IMO fitting melody and lyrics to a dance rhythm is a different kettle of fish altogether - a different thing to hang a hat on.


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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Tue Jun 25, 2019 3:46 am 
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Nanohedron wrote:

Thanks(?) Nano. What can I say? 'I am afraid I am too narrow minded to listen to that a second time' is about the best that I can do.

As for copying the lyrics - yes I have done that, still do and will do. With some tunes that is all that I can find to do, but with other tunes it seems to me that the shape of the tune emphasised by the lyrics is just an approximation to some deeper bones. Attempting to reproduce the shape of the lyrics may be missing something essential in the underlying bones that the lyrics could not represent. Apologies if that all sounds a bit pretentious for someone at my skill level.

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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Tue Jun 25, 2019 6:50 am 
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DrPhill wrote:
Recently I found myself wondering if the lyrics/vocals are just another layer over the 'real tune' (bare bones is a good term), a layer that helps me grasp the tune but which could also be a distraction from the real tune.

Not if the phrasing's different from what you might expect from just the tune... a line that finishes early or late compared to the metrical (or not-so-metrical) structure. Like you've got, say, a 3/4 where you expect regular four-bar phrases, but knowing the lyrics tells you that this line starts/finishes a beat early, and that one a beat late. Quite apart from the feel being illuminated through the meaning of the words, it's essential to know where to pause or breathe in cases like that.

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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Tue Jun 25, 2019 11:41 am 
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DrPhill wrote:
Nanohedron wrote:
I have a preference for song airs strictly on the basis that the lyrics give me something to hang my hat on (still with the hat metaphors, Nano?). Without them I feel a bit adrift.

I know exactly what you mean, though I do not study the lyrics as intently as you. I do hear lyrics in my head under those circumstances, though if the original is in a language I do not know then I hear a mangled phonetic transcription, or a general impression. Recently I found myself wondering if the lyrics/vocals are just another layer over the 'real tune' (bare bones is a good term), a layer that helps me grasp the tune but which could also be a distraction from the real tune. I am not sure if I make sense here. I am learning in isolation from other musicians and probably stumbling over well known territory (I find these kind of discussions very illuminating though)

I fear I have given the wrong impression as to the degree of my zeal for lyrics. I have committed an unfortunate series of slips in wording, and I apologize for that. Let me try to be more clear: When learning a new air, my goal first and foremost is to hear how the song is sung - that is the Prime Directive - and I learn it that way. If you asked me to recite lyrics off the cuff, I couldn't give you all of The May Morning Dew now, for example, because it's been donkeys' years and I no longer have need of the lyrics as a learning tool; the phrasing is now absorbed and reliable, and I can make appropriate variations because the rhythms of those lyrics remain. Without those guidelines I would be way off track; I have heard musicians play airs in ways that wildly had nothing to do with the songs they came from, and if you know those songs or are at least familiar with how they are sung, it's rather offensive that the musician will think they can do whatever they like with them; airs are not mere putty to be reshaped into any form at a whim and call it artistic license. A song air should be at least recognizable, and to those who don't know the tune, it should make some kind of sense. That said, there will still be various ways the air can be expressed and still be in conformity with the lyrics; musicians will have their favorite ways, and sometimes those differences are notable. But back to lyrics in specific: Nor would I directly study non-English lyrics with any gimlet intensity, because I am not a singer, and as an instrumentalist all I need is the phrasing as informed by the singing. But I insist on my being able to reproduce that phrasing, so I listen, and to multiple sources if I can, because individual variations apply, and as Peter noted, certain lines may contain built-in quirks from the expected. Those are good to know and reproduce, for the knowledgeable audience will appreciate your attention to such details. It's a way of letting them know you care. :)

DrPhill wrote:
Nanohedron wrote:
When you say, "Both of these I find continually evolving in my hands (for good or ill) and may never be 'finished'", I actually see that as a good thing!
.
But that means that my version is different to everyone else's, and if I want to play with someone else we need to spend time communicating, adapting and creating yet another version of the tune just for the occasion. That sounds like good fun (though inefficient) but I have rarely found myself in a position to try it.

FWIW, I don't know anyone versed in ITM who naturally plays a tune in exactly the same way as another. We are always urged by our betters to make the tunes we play uniquely our own, so when it comes to playing with others, you make do. In ITM sessions no one is in exact unison note-for-note, and the overall effect is one of "shimmer", as one member has put it. It's when the session is a simple duo or trio that differences might be jarring, but usually this is not the case. But it IS why I took up backup playing just in case. :wink:

You will occasionally hear ITM musicians playing in note-for-note perfect unison, ornaments and all, but that is generally a forced arrangement done for the sake of performance or recording. In my experience it's not the usual, and you will find conflicting opinions on the practice.

DrPhill wrote:
Attempting to reproduce the shape of the lyrics may be missing something essential in the underlying bones that the lyrics could not represent. Apologies if that all sounds a bit pretentious for someone at my skill level.

No, it's a valid concern. My contention is that rather than being hidebound and restricted, playing an air in the context of its being sung is actually liberating, because you know the the why of its general shape and boundaries, and the rest is pretty much all blue sky. If you listen to the difference between david_h's examples, you can see a bit of how this works.

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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Tue Jun 25, 2019 4:45 pm 
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Nanohedron wrote:
DrPhill wrote:
Somehow I never seem to actually manage to learn air(e)s - or at least finish learning them to my satisfaction. Maybe it is in the expression.

It's entirely in the expression.

I think a good Irish air for an English speaker to begin with is The May Morning Dew. The song was written in English, and the lyrics are easy enough to remember, so right phrasing falls into place with ease, and you can take it from there.

It just so happens that I've muddled tunes to death and I too am trying to develop an ear for playing whistle. I've butchered The May Morning Dew to no end. I love that tune/song but prefer the tune versions on YouTube by Davey Spillane (favorite), then John McSherry and Phil Hardy versions as well as a few other players. Oddly, I recently requested some help with the tune TMMD from a YouTube player CutiPie because she helps when she can. Today she posted her tabs and tutorial on YouTube but makes it clear that the player has to develop their own version.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2_zr-G-Scw

I'm just going to have to work the tune a lot more while every bit helps in the learning process and details of expression. Another tune I struggle with is very personal because I play whistle with the gent that composed A Song For Isabella Gail (2007)... Michael Culhane. There are no lyrics for this tune. There is a personal back story for the composition that I'll save for another time while it was written for the loss of a grand daughter, a child. I help manage pages on the STIMS website.
http://shamrockirishmusic.org/in-memoriam.html

I'm struggling to learn this tune completely by ear, yet, determined enough because I know the people here. However close I get to playing the tune my way will be satisfying enough. I do cry when I listen to the tune though because I've watched Michael play this tune several times thru the years, since 2012 when I started whistling, and feel the joyful pain encountered and intended by Michael.


Last edited by ytliek on Tue Jun 25, 2019 5:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Tue Jun 25, 2019 4:56 pm 
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DrPhill wrote:
The questions I am asking myself are graduating from 'what are the notes' to 'how does he make such a simple sequence sound so good' eg: The Ruby

Nanohedron wrote:
That's a different issue. Tunes have the potential for beauty, but it's the details in the playing - ornamentation, pulse, swing, tempo, phrasing - that bring it to life, or, it must be said, crashing ruin. You could play The Ruby all flat and wooden, after all, but that's just getting through the tune rather than expressing it. When I hear that recording, I don't hear the tune so much played as expressed, if that makes any sense. :)

This helped so much with my understanding playing. Thank you.


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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Tue Jun 25, 2019 5:21 pm 
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ytliek wrote:
I've butchered The May Morning Dew to no end. I love that tune/song but prefer the tune versions on YouTube by Davey Spillane (favorite), then John McSherry and Phil Hardy versions as well as a few other players. Oddly, I recently requested some help with the tune TMMD from a YouTube player CutiPie because she helps when she can. Today she posted her tabs and tutorial on YouTube but makes it clear that the player has to develop their own version.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2_zr-G-Scw

Have you listened to it sung, ever? Spillane's great, but an involved act to follow, because he really pushes the air to its limits. I wouldn't go with him if you're starting out. I recommend you get familiar with the basic song first, and then hear what Spillane's doing from that perspective. And CutiPie's right: You want to develop your own version. But you can't really do that without knowing the basic song first; that's the trellis on which your roses train, as it were.

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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Tue Jun 25, 2019 11:34 pm 
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Nanohedron wrote:
ytliek wrote:
I've butchered The May Morning Dew to no end. I love that tune/song but prefer the tune versions on YouTube by Davey Spillane (favorite), then John McSherry and Phil Hardy versions as well as a few other players. Oddly, I recently requested some help with the tune TMMD from a YouTube player CutiPie because she helps when she can. Today she posted her tabs and tutorial on YouTube but makes it clear that the player has to develop their own version.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2_zr-G-Scw

Have you listened to it sung, ever? Spillane's great, but an involved act to follow, because he really pushes the air to its limits. I wouldn't go with him if you're starting out. I recommend you get familiar with the basic song first, and then hear what Spillane's doing from that perspective. And CutiPie's right: You want to develop your own version. But you can't really do that without knowing the basic song first; that's the trellis on which your roses train, as it were.

Yes, I've listened to many sung versions, Sean Keane, Dolores Keane, and The Chieftains are the most frequented songs while I searched and dug out as many versions as I could find. Yes the great artists make a version their own, yet, I found that I liked many sung versions by lesser known individuals. There is a friend of our STIMS group, John Hoban, who resides in Castlebar, Co. Mayo and visits annually. We have a workshop with John every visit and a few years ago as each player took turns playing solo so John could get an understanding of the level of experience and progress I had slaughtered The May Morning Dew. I had researched, listened, and played that tune prior to the workshop so when John heard my playing he just sat back and sang his own (humble) version of the song to give me a better feel for the tune. Hearing the song live being sung by somebody I knew rather than a CD or YouTube recording made the song/lyrics stick in the head. I didn't intend on singing the tune and I don't, but, wanted to understand the bare bones melody along with the structured lyrics. I love the tune and will beat it thru infinity or until my last breath.


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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Wed Jun 26, 2019 8:30 am 
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Until today I didn't even know there were lyrics to May Morning Dew *cough* :o . Good that I play alone at home mostly -- could have made a fool of myself playing it to someone who knew the song.


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 Post subject: Re: Muddling tunes
PostPosted: Wed Jun 26, 2019 10:58 am 
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Sedi wrote:
Until today I didn't even know there were lyrics to May Morning Dew *cough* :o . Good that I play alone at home mostly -- could have made a fool of myself playing it to someone who knew the song.

You're probably okay. That's one air where the more-or-less "basic" version is pretty universal (as universal goes); I hew to the basically basic for that one, myself, because - as everyone knows by now - I like to evoke the song as it might be sung. To date, my favorite in that category is from Mick O'Brien, to be found on his album of the same name as the air. :)

But as I said, it's best to run on the assumption that an Irish air, particularly an older one, is going to have lyrics behind it. Of course there will be exceptions, notably Lament For Staker Wallace, and dig as I might I have never been able to find any lyrics associated with Ag Taisteal Na Blárnan. In those cases I have had to listen to numerous sources in order to get a confident grip on what makes them what they are; fortunately, any differences are usually minor, but every now and then you come across a version that has all the building blocks in common, but is at structural odds in some way with the usual offerings. At that point you have choices to make. Personally, I am normally inclined to err on the side of the majority.

ytliek wrote:
Hearing the song live being sung by somebody I knew rather than a CD or YouTube recording made the song/lyrics stick in the head.

This reminds me that there's another aspect of airs as relates to singing: pulse. Since Irish airs are often played rubato (that is, with no strict tempo), there's a risk of them having no moorings, and the effect can even be chaotic. That's where pulse comes to the rescue. Pulse isn't necessarily regular, but it gives the tune a structure it otherwise wouldn't have. That's where knowing the lyrics (or at least knowing how it is sung) helps loads, because that way you can know how to apply pulse in a coherent manner.

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