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Old 01-10-2021, 12:05 PM   #1
EquusRacer
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Default Selecting Band Tunes

While this topic could be in other places (e.g., Music), I'll start it here, for it pertains to those, like P/Ms or others, who pick tunes for the band.

By what criteria do you select tunes for the band? And is this done seasonally, periodically, etc.? One may have to split this topic into single tunes for the tune list (e.g., marches) vs. those for medleys, QMSs, MSRs, and other sets. But back to the question:

Do you consider the grade, nature of the band? Are there other factors, such as the difficulty level, the sight reading capability of most of the members, etc.? Do you have a limited number of tunes per season? And if so, do you "rotate" (i.e., do you keep a limited number of tunes, and therefore replace some with a new tune? I ask that because I've seen far too many lower grade bands that have a ridiculously large list of tunes...consequently, never really able to practice and polish all appropriately).

Do you keep a sort of balance of tunes (e.g., a variety of time signatures, or varied marches and dance tunes, etc.)? Do you work with the Drum Sergeant or the drum corps when you're looking at tunes? (I do, by the way, for our drum corps is important, and it is vital that pipers learn to listen to the drummers, especially when there is a good score for each tune). Are there other factors or practices in your selection?
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Old 01-12-2021, 04:22 PM   #2
Jim Fogelman
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Default Re: Selecting Band Tunes

G3 band. We switch out one competition set (medley and MSR) each season, so we only have one new set to learn at a time.

As for tune selection, there are a handful of us who find tunes and share with each other to decide what we like and what we donít like (with the PM getting the final say). If there are tunes with complicated embellishments, we either leave that tune out or augment the embellishments to something the whole pipe corps can play.

One thing that I, personally, look for is tunes in a variety of keys. A few years ago, the back half of our medley was all in A and sounded kind of boring. With MSRs, I try to have the overall keys of each piece come to an authentic cadence (V-I) so something like M in D, S in E, R in A (overall progression of IV-V-I) which I feel helps the set flow from tune to tune during transitions.
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Old 01-13-2021, 10:49 AM   #3
pancelticpiper
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Default Re: Selecting Band Tunes

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim Fogelman View Post
One thing that I, personally, look for is tunes in a variety of keys.
I do to. It amazes me how many pipers are key-deaf, and will put together a set of three 4/4s all in A Major.

Or three sets of three 4/4s all in A Major.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim Fogelman View Post
I try to have the overall keys of each piece come to an authentic cadence (V-I) so something like M in D, S in E, R in A (overall progression of IV-V-I) which I feel helps the set flow from tune to tune during transitions.
I understand the thinking, which makes sense, but I wonder how many tunes in the key of E there are. (Yes there are plenty of tunes in A that begin and/or end on the 5th, which is a different kettle of fish.)

I'm not so ambitious, I'm just happy to break things up such as using the ABA format (in the sense of "thing one" into "thing two" then return to "thing one").

It could literally be ABA as in A Major > B minor > A Major or it could be pretty much any two contrasting keys.

One thing I find interesting is the way that in Irish Traditional Music they often put together three-tune sets (the standard number) in contrasting keys, while in Cape Breton fiddling they will often stay in the same key but have contrasting modes.

For example "taking away sharps" by going

A Major > A Mixoldyian > A dorian (or A minor).

I've found that this can be very effective in Highland piping, by starting with a tune in A that lacks the 7th degree and which is perceived as being in A Major by the listener, then going into a tune in A with prominent G notes (the so-called A>G tunes), then going into a tune in A that lacks the 3rd degree which the listener perceives as minor.

To be clear, tunes in these scales, all having A as the tonic:

A B C# D E F# a

G A B C# D E F# g a

G A B D E g a

In ITM a three-tune formula I've found that sounds good almost no matter which tunes you plug into it is the rising tonic, the medley going

D Major > E minor > G Major

The equivalent on the Highland pipes would be

A Major > B minor > D Major.

BTW for competition music I try to avoid tunes in D like the plague. Especially I don't want to end a medley on the note D. Even when Grade One bands do it, that last D is rarely perfectly in tune.
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Old 01-13-2021, 11:14 AM   #4
pancelticpiper
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Default Re: Selecting Band Tunes

Quote:
Originally Posted by EquusRacer View Post
By what criteria do you select tunes for the band?

Do you consider the grade, nature of the band?
I think any PM that doesn't consider the band's playing level is setting himself up for trouble.

Years ago I attended a practice of a Grade 3 band and they handed out a tune of a very high level of complexity, a tune that only a circle composed of Grade One players could handle.

I said something about the suitability of the setting. The Pipe Major looked at me like I had horns growing out of my head and said "this is the actual sheet music from _______ " (a Worlds-winning Grade One band).

Oh dear me.

My idea about suitability of settings may sound crazy, but I think it's entirely practical. I don't think a band should play a setting that the band's worst plper on his worst day on a hot afternoon in the sun in his eyes and a beer in his belly can't play well.

But no, bands will choose settings that only the top couple pipers in the band can play well, on their best day, in ideal circumstances.

Notice I say "settings" rather than "tunes". As I've been told "there are no difficult tunes, only difficult settings."

Quote:
Originally Posted by EquusRacer View Post
do you keep a limited number of tunes? I've seen far too many lower grade bands that have a ridiculously large list of tunes...
That's true for sure. I know many lower-level pipers who forget how to play tunes that they don't practice regularly, and many higher-level pipers who can dredge up tunes that they've not played in 30 years and make a decent go of them. I know it's not always like that, but in general my experience has been that it behooves lower-level bands to have smaller repertoires.

Most of the competition bands I've been in keep small tune-lists, often only their competition sets and Massed Bands tunes.

Or they might also maintain a parade set or two, or a show set or two.

(Sorry for using masculine pronouns, but as English lacks gender-neutral ones I did it to save space and make the sentences flow better.)
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