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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
GUEST,Peter Laban Playing at speed (82* d) RE: Playing at speed 18 Feb 19

'Peter, is it possible that this story about Jackie playing reels instead of polkas has got turned back to front?'

Steve, my recollection is of him saying 'reels' for polka figures. But it's probably nearly fifteen years ago, it was a late night between tunes after playing for sets for a few hours. You know Jackie, some of his stories and set pieces come out arseways sometimes. And memory is a fickle thing.

But I trot this one out occasionally for discussions like this where there's always one, or two, people coming out with the old 'it's dancemusic, it can't be too fast'. Rather than a diversion of the discussion into the intricacies of the beat count of each tune I think what Jackie said is a great illustration of the pressures dancers often put on musicians to give it more wellie.

That is my own experience as well, dancers almost invariably demand more speed than I, and the people I play with, usually play at.

One instances comes to mind (well, a few more do but I'll stick to this one for now) that occurred twelve or thirteen years ago, Kitty Hayes and myself were asked to play a charity concert locally, which ofcourse we agreed to. A couple of days later the organiser phoned to ask if we could play for a girl doing a brush dance, she'd come round for a practice. So, a twelve year old and her mother turned up at Kitty's for a run through a few days before the concert and could we play the Buck of Oranmore, please. Not one Kitty regularly played but we did. As you know Kitty wasn't a particularly fast player but she had beautiful rhythm, she could dance a set herself with the best of them. The girl stood there all sulky and wide eyed saying to her mother 'I can't dance to THAT'. So we picked it up to the limits of what Kitty at her age and with that particular concertina could muster. No cigar. The mother clearly wondered how they could have teamed her precious up with a bunch of non entities like that. We got Jackie (or Conor Keane) to play for her on the night.

I think when discussing speed it good to keep in mind a tune can be played to suit different dances. It's all fine to trot out the same old Tulla Ceiliband clip and shout 'THIS IS HOW A HORNPIPE SHOULD BE PLAYED'. Well, yes, it was fine on that occasion but it doesn't mean it has to be the standard for every situation. I once posted a clip to one of these discussions of Michael Tubridy playing the Harvest Home for dancer Agnes Haak, recorded at the Willie Clancy week of 2008. Like clockwork the reaction came YOU CAN'T DANCE TO THAT!. And that was in spite of the footwork clearly audible on the recording. Agnes danced beautifully (I was there), she a very lightfooted gracious dancer indeed and Mick Tubridy knows a thing about dancing (and playing for it).

My point is, look at the situation at hand before trotting out the usual cliches, some step dancers demand excruciatingly slow tempi for their hornpipes, some sean nos dancers may give it more wellie and let me tell you, for the last figure of the set (it's mostly the Caledonian around here) dancers sometimes want it at a different speed altogether.

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