pennsicdance: need some music

Maugorn at Maugorn at
Mon Sep 12 10:16:53 PDT 2005

In a message dated 9/12/05 7:50:00 AM Eastern Daylight Time, 
judithsca at writes:
> Although I have found references to people dancing a "slow piva" from
> contemporary chronicles, so I do not think that piva always had to be a fast
> dance.  The piva is, after all, nothing more than a double altered and
> accelerated by the tempo of the music. It could very well be that it
> originated as a fast, folkish sort of dance, and then as time went on, and
> tastes changed, they also developed a taste for a slower version.
> J
I suspected as much, I've even said so.
That's really good to know, because sometimes the tempi suggested by the 
dancers for a tune *seem* really cognitively dissonant when you try to play the 
tune at that speed.   When you get a lovely tune like Amorosso, and speed it up 
to a blur,  there are subtleties in the melody that just disintigrate.  It's 
hard to believe that a tune composed for a fast dance would just not *sound* 
right played fast, you know?

I'd like to assume that just because they hadn't yet invented internal 
combustion or even temperament doesn't necessarily mean that our predecessors were 
idiots with no regard for how to make music sound nice.

It's a hard thing to explain sometimes, and again, sometimes there really 
aren't difinitive notes written, you were just supposed to "know" -like when my 
mom describes how to make some dish of hers and you ask how much pepper to use, 
she  says " put it in 'till it tastes right."    I've played alot of 
styles and genres from alot of periods (I'm such a musical slut!), and after 
awhile, even tho you're not even playing it on the original instruments, you get 
a sense for what tempo the tune "sings" in.   It's a very sensual thing with 
your fingers.  Even when you move a composition from lute to a guitar (which 
are actually kinda similar) or wierder yet from viol fingering to say, banjo, 
there's still alot in common with HOW you play it and how it feels when you find 
that magic combination.  It feels very organic and natural
and FUN.   The fingers dance and just feel so good, even if the passage is a 
difficult one, and takes alot of practice to get it right.   Ah, here's the 
word:  it FLOWS.
And there's usually a range of tempos where it flows, but if you slow it down 
too much, the tune becomes limp and if you treat it like a race it starts to 
break and blur.

And all too often, I find that modern dancers of old music seem to have a 
bias that comes across to me as "faster=dancier", which is a correllation that I 
don't believe is 100% reliable.  One of the problems is that alot of the way 
we teach music in our society is that we teach our musicians to emphasise 
"correctness" over "feeling" the music.  Our computer programming culture has us 
thinking that getting the notes right, in sequence, at the correct tempo is the 
goal.  That just makes a sequence of notes, which *can* be danced to, but it 
doesn't necessarily MAKE people want to dance.  So if something is played with 
that kind of emotional flatness, well pretty much the only way it feels 
danceable to a modern ear is if it's sped up.

And this becomes exacerbated when we teach dance as something you do only 
with your feet as opposed to your entire body. (which is an issue I encounter at 
home alot)

Anyway, that's why sometimes when you ask me to speed up a dance what feels 
to me to be too much, I'll wrinkle my nose and ask "Are you SURE?", because 
there will come points at which the melody and such start to break down.  Sure 
I'm your loyal musician and I'll play it the way it makes you happy (well, most 
of the time), but one of the surefire ways for a piece to lose it's appeal to 
me is to turn it into a race.
There are pieces that are built for speed, but others, like Amorosso, I think 
need  just a little room to really breathe and flow.  Amorosso is so very 
sensual and it just grabs you and moves you, even as you play it.  But too much 
and it's like you're rushing thru the motions of lovemaking with no passion. 
("... alright Enrico.  Just hurry up and get it over with...")   (.... eww!)   
"Passionate" is the whole deal for me with so many of those lovely Italian 
dances.  I have a hard time believing that tunes composed to be so obviously 
passionate were to be played dispassionately fast.

There are exceptions, of course.  Black Alman, for instance seems to have 
what I would call "nodal points" in it's tempo where at certain speeds it starts 
to blur, but then a little faster and it seems to wake back up. And watching 
the dancers, that silly little foot thing suddenly starts to make sense.  Makes 
think we're on to something there, and it's worth investigating.

Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that when you're doing 
reconstructions,  try to allow some input from your musicians.  It may be hard to 
articulate, but if they're saying that something is really not working, it might be 
worthwhile to investigate that. You might discover something really neat about not 
only the piece you're looking at, but about all of dance thru all of time 

And yes, sometimes my opinions are in fact my own (or at least they feel that 
way sometimes), so mileage may and will vary from musician to musician.  But 
ask nonetheless, and explore.  It's a sharing of musical experiences, even 
when they differ. 
And that's a whole 'nother realm of fun for me, at least.


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