the Pipe and Tabor compendium

the Pipe and Tabor compendium

essays on the three-hole pipe

Playing for morris

Fieldtown music

based upon notes handed out by Mary-Jo a workshop
at the International Pipe and Tabor Symposium, 2012, Gloucester, England

The Field Town Morris dancers were noted for their vigorous and expressive dancing. They particularly valued the ability to get height off the ground. Henry Franklin reminisced that "They capered as high off the ground as that table, always as high as they could. Then the sweat ran down their faces; then they'd drink again, and the sweat ran down again!"

Morris dancing flourished in Leafield until the 1860's, after which it fell into rapid decline, as in other villages. The main reason for this seems to be the unwillingness of young men to participate in a cultural form increasingly regarded as rowdy, uncouth and lacking social respectability.

1. fiddle / pipe music differences
The Field Town repertoire was collected from fiddle players in late Victorian times, but many were probably pipe and tabor tunes before that. The tunes were changed to suit the different instrument:

a. the fiddlers version may have more notes.
Fiddlers can only use the tune to emphasise the rhythm so may have added more notes.

The pipe can hold long notes whilest the tabor continues the rhythm. So it is not necessary to play all the tune's notes on the pipe. For example with lead-in notes pipes need only play one note, with the tabor giving the beat and timing.

b. fiddlers may add notes to regulate the direction of the bow-stroke.
Normally each bar starts with a down-bow. To get the bow into the correct position for this the fiddler needs an even number of notes per bar. This is usually achieved by adding a note where there is an uneven number of notes in a bar.

Pipe players can leave out these extra notes.

c. Fiddles have a wider range of notes than a pipe.
(However the very high and very low notes do not carry well out-of-doors.) So newer tunes in the fiddle repertoire may exhibit a wider range which is difficult for a pipe player to follow. Melodeon players have similar problems.

d. Fiddlers may have changed the key. ‘A' is easy for fiddlers. Pipe and tabor players (and melodean players) find it easier to play in ‘G'.

Pipe players may need to change accidentals if they play with melodean players; such as f-naturals to f#.

 2. pipe-paying hints
a) shrill upper notes - play them staccato, or modify the tune slightly if there are a lot of them. The versions printed are not necessarily the only versions collected and there can be major differences between versions from the same village. If a tune cannot be played on your pipe, then change it. If in doubt simplify the melody and be creative with the tabor.

b) tunes that start on high notes - use an arpeggio to work up to the first note. This is better than not blowing hard enough and only realising that you are in the wrong key when the tune falls off the end of your pipe.

c) tunes with big jumps - add an extra note between a big jump or change one of the lower notes to make the jump up easier to play.

3. basic piping stuff
Stand up straight, shoulders back, and fill your lungs. You might not need all the air to play but it helps your body to resonate like a singer. If your lungs are still full when you are nearing the end of a phrase and are running out of oxygen leak some of the excess out through the nose whilst you are playing. This way you do not have to breath out before you can breath in again.

Play with a wide throat - imagine you are just about to swallow some beer. This makes the tone fuller. If done to excess, however, it can make the pipe sound buzzy/gravelly.

Use vibrato - it is good for camouflaging slight inaccuracies in tuning. There are different techniques for doing this so google advanced recorder playing techniques to learn more about it.

4. basic taboring stuff
Your taboring style can be affected by the size and type of tabor, the size and weight of the stick you use on it and the speed at which your morris team wish to dance.

If you play the tabor with a very dense rhythm and want to mark the end of a phrase, leave a beat out of the last bar or the penultimate bar. This can be very effective.

If you play a large drum then sparse taboring works better as the sound of the drum hangs in the air after the beat. The sound of a small tabor with snare dies away more quickly, so fill gaps with a roll.

5. Field Town taboring hints
The taboring that Mary-Jo uses for Field Town suits a slow and slightly variable speed.

a. Start by playing a beat every time the dancer's foot hits the floor.

b. Whenever there is a hop emphasise or embellish the rhythm with a double-beat or roll. In Field Town there is usually a hop on the last beat of every bar. The emphasis on the hop helps to propel the dancer into the start of the next step.

This means that there are three slightly different beats depending upon the step: double-step, single-steps and the feet-together-jump

c. Avoid playing a tabor beat whilst your dancer is up in the air. This way it will be less obvious if they do not jump quite as high as they think they are going to and therefore land a fraction early, out-of-time with the music. It also adds to the supense.

However if you play for a very athletic jig dancer, (solo morris dance), they can spend so long up in the air that you might want to play extra beats.

d. The galley (a morris step) can be played the same as the feet-together-jump, or embellished with a slight roll on a small tabor.

e. In stick choruses, if the stick rhythm is simple then play the gaps, or stop taboring altogether. Avoid duplication of the rhythm of the sticks.

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