Voyager Recordings & Publications

Repertoire Builder 106 Written Materials and Tune Notes

Welcome to Voyager Recording's "Repertoire Builder" series. We believe you will find these materials useful in adding tunes and playing techniques to your repertoire. Each release in this series focuses on a theme. Some focus on certain types of tunes, traditional styles, social uses of the tunes, or particular instruments. Some focus on playing skill levels. The heart of Repertoire Builder packages is a CD with the lead instrument on the Left channel and accompaniment on the Right channel. A lead player can turn off the lead channel and play to the accompaniment channel; an accompaniment player can turn off the accompaniment channel and play to the lead channel.

While we believe it is important to learn traditional tunes by ear from traditional players, the package also includes printed music for all the tunes in standard notation with chords indicated. The tune versions in the Repertoire Series are those of the musicians who performed on the CD. In most cases these will be fairly "standard" versions, though some versions may be unique to the particular musician. There generally is no "right" way to play any traditional tune, so it is hoped that you will adapt the tunes to your own style of playing after you have mastered the basic tune as presented. Most of the time there are several ways of chording a traditional tune. The chord charts included will work fine for the tune, but should be regarded only as suggestions, or a start to developing your own backup styling.

The first 25 CD tracks are the tunes played at normal speed with accompaniment. Tracks 26 through 50 are the tunes without accompaniment, slowed down digitally for easier learning.

The written music is merely a convenient shorthand. It is an aid in finding the notes of a tune and a reminder of how a tune goes, and can never convey all the stylistic nuances of a performance. I have not attempted to include all the accents, bowings, slides, dynamics, or variations in the written music. Any particular way of playing a fiddle tune is never "cast in concrete." It is inherent in the nature of fiddle tunes that they are always evolving, since they have been traditionally passed down through the generations by ear, and each fiddler has his or her own interpretation of the tune.

The tunes in this repertoire set are all usable for contra dancing. Contra dance tunes usually have to be 32 bars long, since one time through the tune is one time through the dance. Someone in the band needs to provide a 4-beat rhythmic introduction to the tune to set the tempo and to allow the dancers to start on time. Tempo for a contra dance can range from 108 beats per minute to 120; 112 to 115 is a safe speed.

Traditionally, each contra dance had a particular tune to go with it, which automatically matched that dance. These days any number of tunes can go with any dance, so you have to figure out the matching yourself. When there are balances in the dance, it is nice to use a tune with an accent where the balance occurs, for instance a quarter note figure in a jig (for example "Seven Stars") or a heavy accent in a hornpipe or reel (such as "Balquidder Lasses"). When the dance has a smooth walk down the hall, tunes with long notes (like "Road to Boston") work well. If you are clever, you can change how you play almost any tune to make it match the dance.

Most current contra dance musicians play medleys of two or three tunes rather than playing the same tune all the way through a dance. Some transitions from one tune to the next are inherently easier or sound better than others; try out different combinations and practice the transitions. Ideally, a medley should build in intensity. Changing from major key to minor or vice versa works. Going from a key such as G where most notes are stopped to a key such as A with more bright open strings can be an effective way of building intensity. Following a laid-back tune with a more rhythmically accented tune is another common technique. You can go from a jig to a reel, keeping the beat exactly the same; since the reel usually has more notes per bar than the jig, it will feel faster and thus more intense. When the dancers start whooping and hollering at the start of the second or third tune, you know you have pulled off a well constructed medley.

1. Balquidder Lasses [Slow version CD Track 26]
This tune is either English or Scottish. It's easy for contra dancers to follow because the phrasing is crystal clear. I like to play it with strongly accented rhythm like a march.

2. The Dark Girl Dressed in Blue
An English tune from the music hall tradition. The end of the second part tends to merge seamlessly with the beginning of the next part, which makes the phrasing a little unclear for this tune to be used at the start of a contra dance set. But as a last tune, when the dancers know what to do, it's absolutely hypnotic! Try accenting those high F sharps in the first and third measures of the second part.

3. La Bastringue
In contra dance circles, this French reel is usually used for a circle mixer dance by the same name. You can add a little pizzazz to the first note by sweeping the bow over the open D and A strings for a three note chord. Be sure to keep your bow arm loose for those fast string crossings in the second part.

4. London Hornpipe
This tune is also known in England as "Navvie on the Line." If you play it slower with dotted rhythm you could actually use it for a schottische.

5. Mason's Apron
Originally a Scottish tune, also very popular in Ireland and North America. Keep a loose bow arm for the string crossings in the second part.

6. McQuillen's Squeezebox
This march was written by Ralph Page in honor of Bob McQuillen, prominent New Hampshire piano and accordion player.

7. Miss Murray of Lintrose
This probably is originally from England. It's like a march, but more subdued and elegant.

8. Mountain Hornpipe
Another common name for this tune is "Douglas' Favorite." The hardest part is jumping cleanly from the D string to the E string, especially in the fourth bar of the second part where there's not much time.

9. Nancy
This isn't usually used as a contra dance tune, although it could be. If you ever need a tune for a Grand March, this is a good one! The variation is optional.

10. Parry Sound
This Canadian reel also makes a great two-step. To reach that high C, you can go to second or third position, or just reach for it with your little finger.

11. Pete's Breakdown
This Canadian tune could be used for a contra dance, a two-step or a polka.

12. Petronella
One of the classic Scottish and New England contra dance reels, almost always played for the dance of the same name.

13. Road to Boston
This march, also known as "On the Road to Boston," was popular with the Colonial troops during the American Revolution.

14. White Cockade
The white cockade was a ribbon ornament for hair or clothing which symbolized the wearer's sympathy with the Scottish Jacobite Rebellion of the 18th century. This tune was played by the fife and drum of the Colonial army at the first battle of the American Revolution at the North Bridge at Concord, Massachusetts in 1775.

15. Billy the Barber
"Billy the barber shaved his father..." I don't know if there are any more words than that! This Irish jig has a nice lilt to it, and is often used for the contra dance "Lady of the Lake."

16. Buckwheat Batter
A Canadian jig. It's amazing what you can put together out of just a few arpeggios.

17. Country Courtship
A version of the "Irish Washerwoman" from a 1688 English publication, mellower and prettier than the usual way of playing it. I sometimes slur each group of three notes to emphasize the smoothness.

18. Devlin's
An Irish jig, often used together with "Seven Stars" in contra dance medleys. Don't confuse it with "The Gobby-O," which has a similar first phrase.

19. Fair Jenny's
Written by Peter Barnes, one of the best contra dance pianists in the country.

20. Farmers Jamboree
A cute and very simple Canadian jig which I learned from Grant Lamb, former Manitoba fiddle champion.

21. Garryowen
This tune dates from the 18th century and was the theme song of the 7th Cavalry. It was named after the Irish town of Garryowen, which translates as "Owen's Garden." For contra dancing, be sure to accent the beginning of each measure of the first part so that the notes don't run together and the phrasing is clear.

22. The Gobby-O or Jefferson and Liberty
Thomas Jefferson's campaign song in the election of 1800.

23. Honest John
This works well for square dancing, with callers who still remember how to call to 6/8 time. For a square dance it can go a bit faster than for a contra dance.

24. Jimmy's Favorite
Andy deJarlis wrote this tune, which makes a good change tune with "Billy the Barber" for a "Lady of the Lake" medley.

25. Seven Stars
This English jig is very effective after "Devlin's" in a contra dance medley. The accents and phrasing are built right into the tune.

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