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virtuosity and traditional music

The Sandman 10 Mar 07 - 12:38 PM
bubblyrat 10 Mar 07 - 01:03 PM
Bert 10 Mar 07 - 01:06 PM
The Sandman 10 Mar 07 - 01:18 PM
Declan 10 Mar 07 - 01:27 PM
lisa null 10 Mar 07 - 01:35 PM
bubblyrat 10 Mar 07 - 02:00 PM
Stewart 10 Mar 07 - 02:03 PM
Dave the Gnome 10 Mar 07 - 02:09 PM
The Sandman 10 Mar 07 - 02:11 PM
The Sandman 10 Mar 07 - 02:12 PM
Linda Goodman Zebooker 10 Mar 07 - 03:47 PM
lisa null 10 Mar 07 - 07:41 PM
GUEST,Art Thieme 10 Mar 07 - 08:39 PM
Roughyed 11 Mar 07 - 03:35 AM
GUEST,Blowzabella - still sans cookie 11 Mar 07 - 04:22 AM
treewind 11 Mar 07 - 05:05 AM
treewind 11 Mar 07 - 05:08 AM
Amos 11 Mar 07 - 09:41 AM
GUEST,Tunesmith 11 Mar 07 - 11:59 AM
GUEST,Mikefule 11 Mar 07 - 12:37 PM
Geoff Wallis 11 Mar 07 - 01:59 PM
Marje 11 Mar 07 - 02:03 PM
The Sandman 11 Mar 07 - 02:12 PM
GUEST,Mike Miller 11 Mar 07 - 05:10 PM
Tootler 11 Mar 07 - 05:15 PM
Rowan 11 Mar 07 - 05:56 PM
GUEST,Tunesmith 11 Mar 07 - 06:51 PM
The Fooles Troupe 11 Mar 07 - 09:10 PM
lisa null 12 Mar 07 - 12:05 AM
Marje 12 Mar 07 - 06:08 AM
The Fooles Troupe 12 Mar 07 - 06:14 AM
The Fooles Troupe 12 Mar 07 - 06:19 AM
GUEST,meself 12 Mar 07 - 08:24 AM
GUEST,Russ 12 Mar 07 - 09:59 AM
GUEST,Bardan 12 Mar 07 - 10:07 AM
Scoville 12 Mar 07 - 10:48 AM
lisa null 12 Mar 07 - 10:58 AM
The Sandman 12 Mar 07 - 11:19 AM
GUEST,Mike Miller 12 Mar 07 - 11:28 AM
Marje 12 Mar 07 - 11:49 AM
Geoff Wallis 12 Mar 07 - 02:27 PM
GUEST,Mike Miller 12 Mar 07 - 03:22 PM
GUEST,Russ 12 Mar 07 - 03:32 PM
CET 12 Mar 07 - 06:21 PM
Stringsinger 12 Mar 07 - 06:42 PM
Stewart 12 Mar 07 - 07:24 PM
GUEST,meself 12 Mar 07 - 07:26 PM
Kevin L Rietmann 12 Mar 07 - 08:16 PM
The Fooles Troupe 12 Mar 07 - 11:06 PM
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Subject: virtuosity and traditional music
From: The Sandman
Date: 10 Mar 07 - 12:38 PM

How important should showmanship and virtuosity,be in the performance of folk /traditional music.
while it is the natural thing for all musicians/singers to wish to improve their technique,and set themselves goals to achieve,and while it is important to have technique to be able to convey emotion.,technique without emotion[ in my opinion] does not make good music.
In my opinion, Sean Maguire and also Earl Scruggs,are examples of players with brilliant techniques,but their music leaves me cold.
with folk music becoming more commercial,I believe there is a danger,that the cult of the virtuoso, may take over from good musicianship[the ability to convey emotion and feeling].which were the things that attracted me to blues and folk music in the first place.
Iwould be interested in your views.


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traDitional music
From: bubblyrat
Date: 10 Mar 07 - 01:03 PM

I tend to admire those "folk" musicians who have reached a certain level of competence & skill in their instrumental ( and vocal ) accomplishments . Examples that spring to mind are Martin Carthy, John Kirkpatrick, Martin Simpson,Nancy Kerr, to name just four from a long list of artistes whose playing I really admire and enjoy. I have always assumed that people like these have reached those levels as a result of first becoming interested in folk-music, and then taking up & learning to play,one or more of the instruments associated with that genre. BUT......!! I know,from personal expereience, that there are also many trained musicians who "discover" folk music at some point in their lives, and jolly good luck to them too, but they always sound, whatever they play, "too good " ,if you see what I mean ?? Their playing abilities are usually so good, that it almost sounds patronising ,in a way : I know they can"t help it, but they just don"t sound " ---Well, "right" !!


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traDitional music
From: Bert
Date: 10 Mar 07 - 01:06 PM

...brilliant techniques,but their music leaves me cold...

Obviously their technique is not good enough.

The real technique of folk singing (what I claim to do) is to hold and entertain the audience.

However, scholarship and musical ability are also a necessary part of the folk scene. Those who collect and investigate old songs are invaluable, even if they don't perform. As also are those who choose to explore and master their instruments (not me).


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traDitional music
From: The Sandman
Date: 10 Mar 07 - 01:18 PM

very good bert,but exploring and mastering an instrument should also include playing it with feeling,see Missippi John Hurt,Nic Jones.


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traDitional music
From: Declan
Date: 10 Mar 07 - 01:27 PM

There are people who seem mostly interested in showing off how good a musician they are, and lose the tune somewhere in the middle.

But the notion that you can be too good a musician to play folk music is, in my opinion, total nonsense, and a charter for mediocrity.

To play with feeling and emotion requires a degree of mastery of your instrument, but having the latter does not guarantee the former.


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traDitional music
From: lisa null
Date: 10 Mar 07 - 01:35 PM

I'm not sure entertainment is always a key ingredient to folk music-- it certainly is to some, but there are a lot of songs, including many of the old ballads, that hold the singer and audience together in a spell but are not necessarily entertaining in the sense of giving them a good time. Instead they create a sense of community (if only temporarily) as if you and the listener have suddenly understand or at least contmeplate one of life's great mysteries together.

Some of the blues and spiritual songs do this too.

As for virtuosity-- it's fine as long as it doesn't get in the way of this intense magic and the meaning of the words.

The older I get, the more I am impressed by a certain sort of virtuosity one finds in the great field-recordings. it has little to do with technical facility but a lot to do with a single-minded intensity in putting important songs across.

For a modern singer, the secret is to learn from the old-timers and to re-communicate that intensity and tradition while still being true and authentic to who one is. For a long time, I cared only about mastering the wonderful array of traditional vocal techniques, and this is a useful way to begin. But eventually, you have to make use of them in the light of your own experience. If one is an urban singer with homogenized or blended traditions, this may take years of work because one does not want to seem as if one has put on a minstrel's mask through which to sing.

The virtuosity comes from reconciling what you have inherited or acquired with who you are for the sake of the song. When that happens in performance, you have the satisfaction of knowing you have passed something precious along.


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traDitional music
From: bubblyrat
Date: 10 Mar 07 - 02:00 PM

For probably 500 years, "folk" musicians were people who played a limmited number of instruments in an almost certainly primitive and untutored way. This did not prevent them from becoming adept at playing their instruments---quite the reverse !! But they played as people who had received no structured, professional,theory based training.There was no Folk-music degree course at any university.There was little knowledge about, or understanding of " World music ", or different types of scale,or odd time signatures, assuming that the term was known.They evolved their own mystique, their own playing techniques,their own vocabulary,their own following, their own hierarchy even. They gave us a kind of music that sounds recognisably different when played by virtually anyone who has had any sort of proper musical training,because they always play in a "non-folk" way !! Time and again,I have heard classical violinists play traditional English pieces , and none of them ever sound as good ( or, paradoxically, as bad ! ) as fiddler Ted Davis from Watford !! I cannot imagine anything worse than playing in a session with James Galway and Nigel Kennedy, not because they can"t play ---They most Certainly CAN !! BUT----not like folk musicians !! Does nobody see my point ??


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traDitional music
From: Stewart
Date: 10 Mar 07 - 02:03 PM

I agree, Lisa. I'd like to have all - virtuosity, good musicianship,AND authenticity, knowledge of and sensitivity to the tradition.

Great musicians playing 'folk music' with flawless classical technique, but with no authenticity doesn't cut it with me. Worst of all are over-produced symphony orchestras trying to do 'folk music.'

On the other hand musically untrained folk musicians are sometimes hard to listen to, but are interesting and important for their authenticity and sensitivity to the tradition.

I know a musician who many adore as a great protest singer songwriter. His musicianship is reasonably good. His persona is that of one of the working class and he sings in the style of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan about his fight for the rights of the under trodden people. But in my opinion he lacks authenticity. Outside of his stage persona he can really be a pretty nasty person, and his Woody and Bob style of speaking doesn't carry over into his other life - it's an obvious put on. So I really don't enjoy listening to him.

Many classical musicians try to make the crossover to folk music, but know little or nothing about the tradition. They also come over as artificial.

On the other hand there are classical musicians who have either grown up with traditional music or taken the effort to learn about it, understand it, and listen and listen to it, who are great. They can really convey the feeling in their music, and they are a joy to listen to. One has to have a certain humility and not flaunt one's virtuosity.

Cheers, S. in Seattle


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traDitional music
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 10 Mar 07 - 02:09 PM

2 words - Vin Garbutt

a few more

Feeling, intensity, virtuosity, showmanship, humour.

There are many more but I think Vin is an excelent example.

:D


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traDitional music
From: The Sandman
Date: 10 Mar 07 - 02:11 PM

yes, I do. but James galway was a folk musician before he became a classical musician,I recently heard him play Boys Of Bluehill ,on the whistle and he played in a typically Northern style,very articulated use of tongueing etc.,.very good in its own way.


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traDitional music
From: The Sandman
Date: 10 Mar 07 - 02:12 PM

the above was directed to BubblyRat.


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traDitional music
From: Linda Goodman Zebooker
Date: 10 Mar 07 - 03:47 PM

Lisa Null makes such excellent points. I've been trying to figure some of this out for a long time.

There are a lot of songs I like to hear other people do, but would never try myself because they are just too far away from any of the few styles I can do - that the songs would feel so artificial.

On the other hand, if want to sing something different badly enough, because it really speaks to me, then I'm able either to gradually let the song teach me a new way of singing, or else have had enough life experience to be able make the song my own.

Linda


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traDitional music
From: lisa null
Date: 10 Mar 07 - 07:41 PM

Re: Linda Goodman;s comment:

Hey Linda-- if a song really speaks to you, don't hesitate to learn it even if it comes from outside a tradition you know how to convey.

What you say here makes wonderful sense:

gradually let the song teach me a new way of singing, or else have had enough life experience to be able make the song my own.

That's what enables songs to take on new life through different traditions.


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 10 Mar 07 - 08:39 PM

Lisa,

Hello---from long ago and far away. Thanks for some good memories---and fine music.

Your doing "Virginia's Alders" has alway been one of my favorite renditions by anyone of any song.

Omward and upward,

Art


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: Roughyed
Date: 11 Mar 07 - 03:35 AM

Some players in Eastern and Central Europe seem to aquare the circle. I am thinking in particular of a young fiddler I heard in Zakopane in southern Poland who had a virtuoso technique that would make you gasp, but was firmly within the distinct tradition of that part of Poland and seemed to have acquired his superb technique within that tradition.

Certainly in my experience in Britain a classical musical education seems to destroy the ability to perform folk music with feeling. Classical singers in particular sound very condescending to my ear when they sing folk but that may be because of the link between accent and class in England in particular.

I think classical musicians find it hard to get away from their tradition of taking folk tunes and songs and turning them into classical music. Not that I have any problem with them doing that - but it ain't folk no more.


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: GUEST,Blowzabella - still sans cookie
Date: 11 Mar 07 - 04:22 AM

Personally, I prefer charisma to virtuosity - if there is virtuosity as well, then all to the good - but I also find that virtuosity brings its own kind of spell-bindingness, if you see what I mean. I have seen several so-called' classically trained musicians who understand traditional music - and its traditions - very well and, for me, they are equally capable of expressing the soul of a piece. Probably easier for an instrumentalist than a singer, I would think.

But they don't have to be virtusos for me to find them spell-binding. Competent, definitely. With something indiviual about them. And I know some (many) people will have a go at me for saying this and I know people have to start somewhere - but I will wander off to the bar, or go out for a fag, if I get bored. I don't feel any duty to stay and listen to someone, just because they are 'giving it a go'. I get little enough free time in my life and spend enough of it already committed to doing stuff for other people. Some of my free time is for me to enjoy and if I'm not enjoying, I'll go somewhere else.


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: treewind
Date: 11 Mar 07 - 05:05 AM

I was thinking of Eastern Europe too. No stigma in being able to play your instrument properly there!

"classical musical education seems to destroy the ability to perform folk music with feeling"
A classical music education doesn't do that by itself, but it's no substitute for learning folk music from folk musicians. You have to immerse yourself in the culture for long enough to understand it. What a classically trained player can do is sight read very well, so you can put a page of jigs and reels in front of a violinist and they can play them straight off and then remark that folk music is "easy", but what they played wouldn't usually sound like folk music. On the other hand if they've also spent some time listening to and playing the real thing they CAN do it. The fiddler in my band could hold his own in a string quartet and sailed through Grade VIII violin years ago, yet you can put a tune in front of him and he'll not only play it right (as a folk tune) but make up harmonies and variations as he goes along if he's in a group of players.

Musicians and singers do sometimes have difficulty in moving beteen different styles though. I know someone who plays viola in a local amateur orchestra, but can only play from music. Meanwhile in a separate compartment of her brain, she plays whistles very well but can't read music, follows tunes by ear with ease and can make up accompaniments to a song instinctively. She can't do any of that on the viola.

I also know a member of a well known band who has a background of Oxford college choral singing and had to re-learn singing in a folky style, and now finds if he rejoins his old choir he's lost that classical singing style.

But the thread's about virtuosity in folk music.
I agree that there's no limit to technical ability that's acceptable in folk music, but technical ability (like a classical training) isn't enough by istelf.

Folk music is unusual in that there are also some situations where lack of technical skill doesn't matter too much. That's not to be confused with any notion that technical skill is somehow actually bad.

Finally, showmanship isn't quite the same thing as technical skill, and I think it is an important part of folk music if you're a performer. Having a few showmen around makes it so much more fun!

Anahata


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: treewind
Date: 11 Mar 07 - 05:08 AM

By the way, lots of excellent posts further up the thread. Thank you all - I've enjoyed reading some of the collected wisdom of Mudcat here!

Anahata


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: Amos
Date: 11 Mar 07 - 09:41 AM

The core, for me, in any song, is being able to communicate the song.   It doesn't matter if you strum lightly or fingerpick faster than blazes; the technique is only there to support this rare and wonderful act of communication that old songs bring.

I find that songs, if you let them, will teach you how best they should be sung because they have an internal dynamic, imposed long ago, to which you have to resonate in recreating them. When this is done well, it penetrates and energizes the listener, it evokes the imagery and emotion of the original.   This is a wonderful thing to see happen, or to experience, or to make happen.

A


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: GUEST,Tunesmith
Date: 11 Mar 07 - 11:59 AM

I think that a true musician seeks to acquire the technique necessary to achieve his/her personal music vision - be it Django or Michael Coleman or Bob Dylan. In the case of Bob Dylan, instrumental virtuosity was not needed to attain his music goals. And, of course, in our current day-and-age, musical knowledge is disseminated so easily ( think Youtube) that the acquisition of great technical expertise on an instrument is that much easier than even a few short years ago ( it still, of course, takes a great deal of dedication - and not a little natural talent!)


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: GUEST,Mikefule
Date: 11 Mar 07 - 12:37 PM

The original question seems to be based on a classic "false dichotomy". There is no reason why someone cannot be a technical virtuoso and convey feeling at the same time. It is not either/or; it can be and.

The problem with virtuosi (?) is that they very often display their technical proficiency to the detriment of the music. When this happens, they have missed the point completely. At the other end of the spectrum, a lousy singer with a poor voice can sing with intensity and feeling and hold his audience spellbound - for all the right reasons.

Virtuosity is not just about speed, or the ability to play complex decorations and improvised counter melodies. It is also about producing the right tone, keeping the rhythm going, choosing the right speed, putting dynamics (loud/soft, fast/slow) in, and all that.

I was recently lent an album by Martin Hayes. Sometimes he keeps it simple and plays it slowly, and it's beautiful. Sometimes he plays it fast with some clever bowed rhythms and it's great. I recently bought an album, "An English Fiddler" by Dave swarbrick, and, to my mind, he was just showing how clever he is. Martin Hayes showed virtuosity and musicality; Dave Swarbrick (on this album) showed virtuosity at the expense of musicality.


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: Geoff Wallis
Date: 11 Mar 07 - 01:59 PM

Regarding Captain Birdseye's initial question about 'showmanship and virtuosity', it would be difficult to ignore the role that travelling musicians played in the history of Ireland's music. I'm particularly thinking about uilleann pipers, such as the Dorans, whose style was a deliberate combination of said two elements for the simple reason that, if Johnny or Felix was standing in a marketplace or outside a showground, it brought in the cash.

Moving on a step, if Willie Clancy hadn't heard Johnny Doran play, then he'd never have taken up the pipes and neither would countless others who followed in Willie's traces.

As for Seán McGuire (his own preferred spelling), he was certainly not the first Irish fiddler to attempt to apply classical techniques to traditional music - Néillidh Boyle had been doing such from the late 1930s onwards.

Personally, I've never been able to tolerate McGuire's playing of slow airs - an over-abundance of melancholia - but his technical agility on tunes such as 'The Mason's Apron' was wondrous to behold, especially if you were there at the time.

Martin Hayes is a completely different kettle of rosin and I don't reckon he'd ever enjoy being described as a 'virtuoso'. He possesses the most intuitive 'ear' I've ever encountered in traditional music and his playing during live performances is all about a shared discovery of a tune's possibilities. Of course, at times, this exploration wanders far afield from a standard version of a reel or jig, but I've never found the journey less than enthralling.


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: Marje
Date: 11 Mar 07 - 02:03 PM

It's very true that players and singers who are used to other genres of music often play/sing in a manner that's very competent but not appropriate to the music. But the reason they play in a "non-folk" way that jars slightly is not because they're too good or too clever or even too well trained, it's because they're using techniques that are not best suited to the music, and haven't yet learnt the new techniques that would work better.

I think this is an important point, because there are quite a number of folk singers and musicians who appear to believe that it's dangerous to try to improve or to apply any sort of formal learning to their music (e.g. learning to read "the dots", or attending a voice or instrument workshop). They seem to consider that their natural and untrained way of playing/singing is something precious that they'll lose if they start thinking about in analytically, and yet too often they are simply performing in a lazy, slipshod way that has no particular charm or merit. But there's nothing to lose and everything to gain from examining the way you do things and trying to learn to do them better. If conveying emotion and the sense of the song or tune are the important things, then you can learn how to do them more effectively.

Yes, the extreme "virtuosos" can be irritating and leave people cold, simply because they've got their priorities wrong. The singer with the "oh-what-a beautiful-noise-I'm making!" voice but no feeling for what the song is about; the guitarist who over-embellishes a simple song to the point where both the lyrics and the melody are overwhelmed with fancy riffs and twiddles; the session player who keeps on doing show-off individual pieces with way-out chord sequences that no one else knows and can join in - they're all just missing the point of it all. They're not "too good" - they're still not really good enough, and could be so much better if they realised how much they had still to learn.

Marje


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: The Sandman
Date: 11 Mar 07 - 02:12 PM

Marje,I agree.


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: GUEST,Mike Miller
Date: 11 Mar 07 - 05:10 PM

Far be it from me to disagree with so dedicated a scholar as Lisa Null but, then again, not so far because I think she is mistaken. Performance, in and of itself, is artificial and, decidedly, unfolk.
The chantyman on a whaler, the laborer in the field, the sweet young thing a'rockin' on her Smokey Mountain porch, none of then have to please an audience. They can forget a verse or two, ramble on and on (and on), change keys like a locksmith, and who is to say nay.
Performers, however, are held to a higher standard. Audiences have limited tolerance for the authenticity of a Sara Cleveland or a Joe Heany (both, of whom, I admired and respected). Lisa Null knows all about this. Does she think that Saul Broudy's "authenticity" is compromised by his skill and polish?


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: Tootler
Date: 11 Mar 07 - 05:15 PM

Cap'n,

I think you hit the nail on the head in your original post. Technical Virtuosity of itself is not enough. There has to be musicality - the ability to interpret the tune or song and to convey your understanding of its meaning to your "audience", whether you are playing for dancing or for listening.

I believe improving technique is valuable - in fact one should always seek to improve, but it is always important to keep in mind the importance of providing a musical interpretation of your song or tune.


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: Rowan
Date: 11 Mar 07 - 05:56 PM

It's interesting how people have interpreted the original question. For me, the posts that have nailed their message best have been the ones that addressed the term "traditional" as just that; those posts that explicitly used the term "folk" where Cap'n had written "traditional" may have addressed other issues but not the one I thought he was interested in.

I was listening to a radio program the other day which discussed a piece of (what these days would be called 'ethnography') description of Irish traditional music. The description was written in the 11th century and mentioned the virtuosity and speed of the tunes played by the assembled harpists. My initial reaction was "nothing much has changed in a millenium" but I then got to thinking about the enormity of the technical improvements to instruments from the 17th to the 19th centuries. It's quite likely that those periods saw concomitant increases in virtuosity, as the improved instruments allowed.

But I suspect that players in the 19th century who had excellent skills but not much in the way of feeling would be just as limitied in their abilities to communicate as players in the 21st. And John Carger's programs on singers with more than a little renown and extreme skills (limited as it might be in relevance to this discussion) demonstrates enormous changes in singing styles over only the period we've been able to record them.


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: GUEST,Tunesmith
Date: 11 Mar 07 - 06:51 PM

When posters say the that virtuosos have got their priorities wrong, I think they mean that they've got the posters priorities wrong!


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 11 Mar 07 - 09:10 PM

Django wasn't all that widely popular at the very first - he was 'doing it all wrong' according to the experts - but then after that accident he only had 2 working fingers, so 'he made it up as he went along'. Now there are seminars to which hundreds of people of all ethnic mixes travel from all over the world to "play his particular type of "Gypsy Music"'.

Funnily enough, many good guitarists say that the easiest way to try to play his style, especially at first, is often to bind up the rest of their right hand fingers so they can't be used.... trying to do that style with all four fingers seems to 'break it' :-)

"Yes, the extreme "virtuosos" can be irritating and leave people cold, simply because they've got their priorities wrong. The singer with the "oh-what-a beautiful-noise-I'm making!" voice but no feeling for what the song is about; the guitarist who over-embellishes a simple song to the point where both the lyrics and the melody are overwhelmed with fancy riffs and twiddles; the session player who keeps on doing show-off individual pieces with way-out chord sequences that no one else knows and can join in - they're all just missing the point of it all. They're not "too good" - they're still not really good enough, and could be so much better if they realised how much they had still to learn."

You've all heard the 'Irish play as fast as you can' sessions....

I've previously mentioned about when I first got a bit good - showed off to my dad how fast I could play... he laughed, took out his violin, then pulled the bow from frog to tip in one stroke that took ages - and produced a soft steady note that went on for ages....

then told me that any fool can play fast and loud, but to play with music with real feeling, it takes far more talent, control and practice to play slow and quiet.


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: lisa null
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 12:05 AM

Well I guess this response is mostly intended for Mike Miller as he posed a question and, in a sense, a debate.

Mike, I couldn't agree more with you that formal performances -- paid gigs in front of an audience-- demand skills that are quite different from those demanded of a performer sitting around swapping stories, songs, and tunes with friends. For more than 20 years, since I got off the road, I've been doing just that -- helping to conjure up magical evenings with friends from the Folklore Society of Greater Washington. That is quite a different task than winning a group of festival goers at, say, the Winnipeg Festival.

Skills necessary for larger than life moments at a festival might not translate easily into my neighbor's living room, anymore than the stuff I do in a livingroom belongs on the big stage. But the smaller, informal places for sharing are where the songs I sing were sustained for generations. They demand performance skills of their own.

The informal sharing of music has been good for me, and my role models have shifted increasingly to those singers who excelled within community contexts and kept the music going among friends and family until "discovered."

When I go back on the road again--and I am plotting a return to performing--you bet I'll be looking again at people who have mastered the art of stage performance-- balancing repertoire, vocal hygiene, timing, humor, good intros -- all will become important to me once more, even if I focus on house concerts and intimate venues. But I have learned a lot from the informal singers too,


The indivudual singers you mentioned in your post are all incredible to me.

When I first heard Joe Heaney, I had no idea what I was about to witness -- I wandered mistakenly into an auditorium looking for a poetry reading at the local Y and left with something close to a "born again" experience. I had goose bumps, a lump in my throat, and felt that I had just heard the history of a noble people wrapped up in a few songs. Maybe he didn't give me a conventionally good time, but he brought me into a world I'd never have known existed without him. He awakened a deep love of Irish music. Later in life, emphysema knocked out some of the "virtuosity" of his singing but none of the artistry. He became a guide and teacher to many of us. Maybe he didn't always have the ability to move a mass audience (though I've seen him do this), but the intensity with which he could always shake the souls of a few beyond all measure seems a worthy trade-off.

Sara Cleveland is another marvel -- I only knew her after her accident, and I'm told her voice had a lot of power and timbre and lyrical beauty earlier in her life. When I first heard her, I had scant knowledge of American traditions of singing other than those from Appalachia. I was oblivious to the strengths and weaknesses of her voice but completely caught up in her songs. I can remember hearing each one she sang back then as well as her introductions. I barreled my way right over to sit with her and drink at the fountain. She did not teach me how to vocalize, but she certainly taught me about taste, restraint in ornamentation, and letting the tune and words come forward. She thought a lot about these things. Maybe her music was not meant for a coloseum, but she conveyed a tremendous amount of wisdom, assurance, and delight in her material. Is this virtuosity -- for a singer?

I think so.

The proof was that she could continue to inspire even when her breath was short and her range, minimal. Also, having a limited memory myself, I was staggered by the breadth of her repertoire -- memory counts a lot for a singer. You should know-- I believe you too know lots and lots of songs. That must give you a lot of flexibility no matter where you perform. Sara Cleveland wore at least a hundred or two hundred songs like a glove.

Saul Broudy? -- well, Saul has been such a good friend over the years, it's hard to write objectively about him. On the other hand, maybe admiration preceded my friendship. Are there more elaborate guitarists? Yes. Are there people who do even more with a harmonica? Maybe (though not many-- and certainly none who can play it more tenderly). There are few singers with a more exhuberant, clear, and unerring voice--all his energy snaps into focus when he sings.

How many other singers can communicate the stylistic DNA of a song with more economy, timing, understanding, wit, spirit? Saul taught me how to listen to music -- any music, all music -- how to latch onto the signature riffs, the uncanny things that make a song unique. He would imitate those things as we listened -- and later those observations would translate themselves into his singing-- almost a Haiku of music that had once been blowsier and more elaborate.

I'd say that's a very special kind of virtuosity and, no, it does not interfere with authenticity--- Saul IS music-- he has given his life to his music, doing his thing his way.
Perhaps his greatest gift is the ability to listen and express the very marrow of a song or a tune -- not many singers know how to do that.

He could sing the phonebook and probably has! That's another kind of virtuosity too.


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: Marje
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 06:08 AM

Tunesmith writes:
"When posters say the that virtuosos have got their priorities wrong, I think they mean that they've got the posters priorities wrong!"

I said something to that effect, but I was only referring to certain "virtuosos" who put technical proficeincy before other values that are generally considered to be more important in traditional music. They are, of course, my priorities, but I also believe they are widely shared in the world of folk and traditional music. These include things like the importance of the words or story of a song; the importance of the melody; the need to engage with your listeners and/or other players; the ability to get inside a song and sing it as if every word and every note really matters. I'm sure others could add to that list. For instance, Lisa (above)mentions "taste, restraint in ornamentation, and letting the tune and words come forward".

A true virtuoso will understand and value these aspects; the ones I have a problem with are those who don't, and who don't think they need to. The same would apply if a folk singer were to sing the Hallelujah Chorus in the style of a shanty, adding shouts or "Hup!" at intervals, or a traditional flute player joined an orchestra and insisted on putting traditional slides and slurs into a classical piece. Just because you can do something a bit clever, it doesn't mean that it's a good idea to demonstrate it at every opportunity - the context matters too.

Marje


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 06:14 AM

"sing the phonebook"

Interesting you should say that!

There is a TV show on Aussie ABC in which one section of which a team member has to have his team mates work out what the songs are - they are given a random book - usually something wonderfully dry and boringly scholarly, the words of which they are to use to the tunes...


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 06:19 AM

Marje - you had me in tears of laughter imagining that performance of The Messiah - it probably would be on a par with "The Portsmouth Synfonia"'s version...


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: GUEST,meself
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 08:24 AM

"vocal hygiene"?! Now would that mean avoiding rugby songs? Or does it have something to do with mouthwash and dental floss?


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 09:59 AM

Captain,

I'll start with a very obscure reference.
Ever heard of "The Little Sandy Review"
From 1960 something

A reviewer criticized a revival group for being too good technically. Generated a bit of controvery at the time

Anyway,
The Traditional musicians I am familiar with strive for technical excellence, just like everybody else.

They don't always achieve it, just like everybody else.

Some are virtuosi by any measure, some aren't, etc.

You are not doing them or their musical traditions any favors if you affect some sort of "primitivism" in your performances. It is patronizing.


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: GUEST,Bardan
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 10:07 AM

There's a Klezmer violinist called Itsak (or Itzack or Itsaak or something) Perlman who is trained as a classical comcert violinist. He's bloody good. I think, as has already been said, its about whether or not a musician has a 'feel' for the style in question, and that's down to how much they've listened and played, and maybe whether they have the humility to learn from the old codger down the road who's technique is lousy but who genuinely knows how to do folk. If they really appreciate the music and learn, then they'll probably be amazing-if not they'll sound like a classical musician failing to loosen up. (A la menuhin and grapelli recordings.) Unfortunately, to be a real virtuoso you might have to really concentrate on one type of music, so I'd say that really good classical musicians who cross over well are rare, but it's completely possible.

oh, and someone who fails to convey any emotion isn't a virtuoso however good his technique is.


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: Scoville
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 10:48 AM

You are not doing them or their musical traditions any favors if you affect some sort of "primitivism" in your performances. It is patronizing.

Hear, hear. I hate it when musicians play the yokel. I've never known anyone who didn't work hard to play the best that he/she could.

To my mind, there is no one type of virtuosity and virtuosity as a whole is not the sole propriety of classical musicians. As has been gone over again and again on this forum, the best violinists do not always make the best fiddlers. I've known fiddlers who really are virtuosi [?] and probably could have been excellent violinists had they been so inclined, but they weren't, and that's not the direction they took. They were no less musicians for it, they just used their ability differently. It's apples and oranges.


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: lisa null
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 10:58 AM

From Marje's note:

Points well taken but:

"The same would apply if a folk singer were to sing the Hallelujah Chorus in the style of a shanty, adding shouts or "Hup!" at intervals" -- this sounds so good, I can hardly wait to try it out!

....or a traditional flute player joined an orchestra and insisted on putting traditional slides and slurs into a classical piece.

Actually one of my favorite virtuosi musicians is Don Byron who jams and wails Mahler's Symphonies in a klezmer-like jazz trio. Somehow it works-- maybe better than the orchestral settlings ever did!

Foolestroupe:

if you knew Saul Broudy, you would not put a phonebook singing experiment past him. I've seen him do this sort of thing with zip codes.


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: The Sandman
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 11:19 AM

guest Russ,No one has said im affecting[or that i wish to affect]primitivism in my performances.


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: GUEST,Mike Miller
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 11:28 AM

Perlman would be delighted to read that someone thinks of him as a Klezmer. He is, of course, the most famous violinist in the world and is, entirely, classically trained. He did, however, appear on a television show called "In The Fiddler's House" where he played with some of the great Klezmer fiddlers and aqitted himself quite well.
Joe Heany's singing style (shanos) is not for every ear. It is a cross between Mabel Mercer and Leonard Cohen with lots of echo. His primary audience was a blend of elderly Celtophiles and aspiring folklorists, I am in the first group, Ms Null and Mr. Broudy, the second. Leslie Berman claims to have dated Joe, but I think she was just bragging.
Sara Cleveland lived at Kenny Godstein's house, in Mount Airy, while he was taping her voice and tapping her brain. She was a delightful woman who knew every verse of every song from every mountain and she sang every word of every one. For all I know, Kenny made his students copy all those songs, learn them and spit back the words on a final exam. That would explain Lisa Null's evaluation of Sara's singing.

                        Mike


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: Marje
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 11:49 AM

Looking at the responses to my last post: yes, the Hallelujah Shanty idea, which was just an off-the-top-of-my-head example, has a certain appeal about it.
"King of Kings, me bullies, Lord of Lords!"
"I thought I heard the Captain say, way-hay Hallelujah!"

Perhaps this crossover thing, mixing up styles, isn't so bad after all ...

Marje


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: Geoff Wallis
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 02:27 PM

Mike Miller wrote: 'Joe Heany's singing style (shanos) is not for every ear. It is a cross between Mabel Mercer and Leonard Cohen with lots of echo.'

Well, I must make two vital corrections - Joe's name was Heaney and he sang in a style which had become known as sean-nós. The rest of Mike's message is simply an insult to one of Ireland's greatest unaccompanied singers.


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: GUEST,Mike Miller
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 03:22 PM

I am sorry that Geoff Wallis was offended by my spelling. Joe Heaney was, indeed, a great "shanos" singer. (I don't know how to write those cool accent marks and, besides, if b-u-r-d doesn't spell bird, what does it spell?) My comments were about the style, not the artist. Even so fervent a Celtie (That's like a Trekie with a brogue) as Geoff Wallis would have to admit that Mr. Heaney's performances had limited appeal outside of a fla-kyool.

                   Mike


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 03:32 PM

Captain,

Oops!

Wrong choice of words.

Should've said
"One is not doing them..."

Comment wasn't intended to be personal.


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: CET
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 06:21 PM

I can think of some great classical singers who perform folk music without any condescension at all. Kathleen Ferrier and Kenneth McKellar are the finest examples I know of. Bryn Terfel has recorded some Welsh folk songs, although most of his repertoire is probably best described as concert music rather than folk. My current favourite is a Canadian soprano named Suzie Leblanc, who has recorded traditional Acadian songs. She has an absolutely pure, classically trained voice and her arrangements are entirely appropriate for the material.

Edmund


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: Stringsinger
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 06:42 PM

Captain Birdseye,

IMHO, virtuosity seems to be more of a concept that's related to classical or jazz performance. Folk music doesn't require it.

Virtuosity for its own sake is almost always boring. Pyrotechnics on an instrument means nothing without the expression and feeling of a musician.

It also requires a kind of musical originality of ideas. You could say that Earl Scruggs represents this since he was an innovator. Nowadays, there are so many bluegrass banjo players attempting to play like him that his playing has almost become cliched.

Still, when you listen to Scruggs participating in his bands, you get more than just virtuosity. He integrates well with other bluegrass musicians.

Not every kind of music will appeal to all.

Showmanship is relative depending on what entertains an audience. It can be very subtle in the hands of a great artist. If the music impels you and pulls you in, that's showmanship. The concept of "show biz" has changed over the years. The old stereo-type of the Song and Dance Man is now a cliche. People are entertained by other things.

However, when you listen to classical soloists, a certain amount of virtuosity is expected. I think the same applies to jazz.

As to instrumental virtuosity in folk music, it's really not that important, Doc Watson notwithstanding. Burl Ives, the great popularizer of folk music started singing songs with almost minimal but effective accompaniments that pretty much any player could do.
It didn't matter that he wasn't a virtuoso guitar player. If he were to come back and appear again on the concert stage as he did in the Forties and Fifties, he would have enthusiastic audiences that would love what he did. And the guitar would just "um-plunk" along.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: Stewart
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 07:24 PM

I think the term "virtuosity" in this discussion means different things to different people. My dictionary says "great technical skill in some fine art, esp. in music". So what's wrong with having good technical musical skill? But good musical skill without the feeling and understanding of the tradition, I think we would all agree is not enough. And feeling and understanding without any musical skill may be interesting, but usually hard to listen to. So is there anything wrong with having both?

Cheers, S. in Seattle


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: GUEST,meself
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 07:26 PM

(Important distinction: not "good", but "great").


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: Kevin L Rietmann
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 08:16 PM

"....or a traditional flute player joined an orchestra and insisted on putting traditional slides and slurs into a classical piece."

If you're referring to wooden open-holed "simple system" flutes, those used to be the instruments used in classical music - utilizing slides and slurs, and variation at the whim of the player. Classical music has changed over time as well.

I agree with you all the way about Sean Ma/Mcguire, Geoff. Have always had the same take - great virtuoso when he goes easy on the Heifetz touches. Can't much enjoy the sobby airs either, although I was pleased to figure out the other day that he was playing Our Highland Queen on one of my 1966 recordings.
Andy McGann was a great fiddler and a student of Michael Coleman's, who Andy said preferred to just play music instead of talking about it ad infinitum.


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Subject: RE: virtuosity and traditional music
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 11:06 PM

"You could say that Earl Scruggs represents this since he was an innovator. Nowadays, there are so many bluegrass banjo players attempting to play like him that his playing has almost become clichéd."

One could say almost exactly the same thing about Django!

~~~~~~~~~~~~
""....or a traditional flute player joined an orchestra and insisted on putting traditional slides and slurs into a classical piece."

If you're referring to wooden open-holed "simple system" flutes, those used to be the instruments used in classical music - utilising slides and slurs, and variation at the whim of the player. Classical music has changed over time as well."

This IS the whole point - if you want to 'join in' with another group doing another style from which you come, you can't just 'take over' it - if you can't accept and adapt to 'their style' then you are possibly just a selfish git, or perhaps you really are very limited in your technical musical ability (the most important of which is to LISTEN and work out what others around you are doing!) - in much the same way that many 'amateur actors' (perhaps that should be 'would be amateur actors') can give a 'brilliant performance' that is totally out of kilter with all the other surrounding performing actors - because they are trying to 'steal the stage'.

The Term for this is "Coarse Acting" - Michael Green wrote some clever books on the theme of "Coarse" Performers in many fields, sailing, cricket, football, etc. The more you know about each field, the funnier are his insights.

I suggest that he could easily do one on "Coarse Musicians" - I probably would fall into that category.... :-)


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