Scottish Country Dancing Music Workshop 2019

Helen, Lynne and Liz try out some tunes

On 16 June, I attended a music workshop with Lynne Scott – versatile musician, music teacher, and NZ Branch Music Adviser.

The workshop was aimed at both dancers and musicians, or talented people who are both.

It was held in Lynne’s beautiful music room at her home in Lower Hutt. With only four participants, it was disappointing that not more people had taken the opportunity to come and learn more about the music we dance to. There is definitely more to Scottish Country Dancing music than “putting on a CD and dancing to it”.

One of the participants was a very new dancer, but a talented musician; one other (me), a reasonably competent dancer, but with very sketchy music knowledge (I love music, but my technical understanding was stunted by hated piano lessons in childhood). We both had plenty of “aha!” moments during the day.

Lynne talked about such things as tempo (reel, jig, strathspey), ‘lead’ tunes, the arrangement and structures of tunes. I learnt the difference between ‘grace notes’ (the twiddly, decorative bits) and the ‘Scotch snap’ – the short (semi-quaver) note before a longer note, on the stressed note of the bar, which is characteristic of strathspey, and which makes Scottish music distinctly Scottish.

To illustrate, Lynne played various examples on the fiddle or accordion, and the two other musicians in the group played several tunes with her on the piano and double bass, to show how tunes were repeated in particular patterns.

When preparing to play for a dance there are many things for a band to consider: e.g. the kind of gathering, the state of the floor, the age of the dancers, the speed at which to play, the mood in the hall, even the ambient temperature.

In the choice of tunes, musicians have to select tunes that are similar in style within a dance, decide how to join them up, whether to have a change of key, have a ‘break’, or an extra long ‘lead note’ between 32-bar sequences, and how to phrase them to match the dance.

I came away from the workshop a little more knowledgeable about the music, but a lot more aware of all the time-consuming preparations that go into planning and arranging music for a dance programme.

The Wellington Region is very lucky to have so many skilled musicians available for our dances and classes, thanks to Lynne’s encouragement of likely prospects.

From Désirée Patterson. Originally published in Harbour City Happenings Volume 22 No. 2 June 2019

Thank you to Catherine McCutcheon for the photo

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