American Morris Newsletter  

American Morris Newsletter

Volume 28, Number 2
September 1, 2008

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 In Celebration of Morris in America  

Music Made Visible: Reprints from E.F.D.S. News
#1 Maud Karpeles' "The Relationship of Music and Dance"
Tony Barrand

For many years now, I have owned a set of E.F.D.S. News. It began in 1921 as a magazine to circulate information about the various activities of the English Folk Dance (later, "and Song") Society. I paid little attention to it, focusing primarily on the articles in the accompanying journal.

I went to them searching for information on the EFDS teachers who had traveled from England to teach at the "schools" held at Amherst Agricultural College and filmed in 1927 and 1929. I described these films in the last issue of the American Morris Newsletter "
Reflecting on the New Old Films in the DVRA", American Morris Newsletter, (28) 1, 2008.

To my great surprise and delight, I not only found reports of the participation in the "vacation schools" but articles and commentary written by some of the legendary figures from the early 20th-century dance revival, such as Maud Karpeles, Douglas and Helen Kennedy (née Karpeles), and Cecil Sharp himself. In particular, I found what seemed to be the, to me, previously unknown source of the philosophical core of my dance teaching: "The job of the musician is to make the dance audible and the job of the dancer is to make the music visible" (Barrand, Anthony G. Six Fools and a Dancer: The Timeless Way of the Morris, Plainfield, VT: Northern Harmony Publishing Co. 1991, p. 77). Perhaps I first heard it from Roy Dommett but, without knowing why, I had always attributed the saying to Maud Karpeles. And there it was in an essay called "The Relationship of Music and Dance" in issue No. 13 of 1927: "…as it is the business of the dancer to make the music visible, it is likewise required that the musician shall make the dance audible."

But the essay begins with a puzzle. The phrase "Dancing is music made visible" is given in quotation marks with NO attribution as if it was simply a well-known idea. The reader must assume, therefore, that Ms. Karpeles did not claim it as her own. Whose was it? An enquiry at Cecil Sharp House led Elaine Bradtke in the Vaughan Williams Library to suggest that it was Balanchine's and a Google search associates his name with the saying but always with no specific reference. I'm suspicious of the claim that the saying came from Balanchine in some form as to be well known to Maud Karpeles by 1926 when this lecture was first given. Balanchine was aged 22 and had spent his life to that date in Finland or Russia. A graduate student of mine, a Sufi, hazards a guess that the saying comes from the 13th Century Whirling Dervish poet known as Jelaluddin Rumi. It's a good idea. Certainly his poetry speaks often of dance and of that which is made visible but I'm withholding judgment. The chances of Rumi's poetry being known among the middle-class dancers in early twentieth-century England seem remote.

The essay might "end" for Morris musicians with the reference to instruments of "…as low a social grade as the tin whistle and the accordion." Ms. Karpeles (and Mr. Sharp, too?) would be mightily surprised and even shocked to see the almost exclusive use of accordions for contemporary Morris and Sword. When she recovered, I am sure Ms. Karpeles would say that the principles she has given for the piano and the fiddle apply equally well to the low-status accordion or melodeon.


Maud Karpeles, 1927

Maud Karpeles, ca. 1975


Maud Karpeles (1885 - 1976) was born in London but received her musical education in Berlin. She and her younger sister, Helen, got excited about English folk dance and song at a festival in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1909. They are both seen dancing Lumps of Plum Pudding in the Kinora clip from 1912.

Maud began a dance club in the Canning Town Settlement for poor working girls. This is reminiscent of the dances and songs used by Mary Neal for her seamstresses in the Esperance Guild. When Sharp lectured on dance for the Canning Town women, Maud's dancers illustrated the talk. She later became Mr. Sharp's amanuensis, traveled with him for his Appalachian collecting, took up residence with his family and became an important editor (for example of Sharp' English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians), collector of song (in Newfoundland) and dance (in the North-west, the Royton and Abram dances, and in the "Border" region, the Upton-on-Severn dances, for example) in her own right.

[Note that she rarely gets credit for one contemporary Morris staple: the tune called "Twin Sisters" that she collected from Mr. Malon Hamilton of East Orange, Vermont. It is almost invariably used with what gets called the "Upton-on-Severn Stick Dance" but was composed by Peter Boyce and Geoff Hughes when dancing with the Chingford Morris Men. A check of the dance Ms. Karpeles described reveals very different choreography: Karpeles, Maud. "Upton-On-Severn Morris Dances" Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, vol. I part 2, 1933, 101-103.]


Maud Karpeles' "The Relationship of Music and Dance", E.F.D.S. News, No. 13 1927, pp. 6-11 [An adaptation of a lecture given at Taunton and Cambridge Vacation Schools, 1926]

" DANCING IS MUSIC MADE VISIBLE." In theory we should all accept the truth of this definition, but it is a truth of which in practice we are apt to lose sight. We know, of course, that it is necessary to have music to accompany the dances, but there is a certain inclination to look upon dancing as a sort of musical drill, or at best a healthful and pleasureable (sic) form of physical exercise with the music thrown in to add to the general sense of enjoyment and gaiety, as it is at the cinema. But the dance-at any rate the Morris and Country-has no meaning apart from the musical accompaniment, which is an integral part of it.
The folk themselves are very conscious of this intimate connection between the music and the dance. Mr. Sharp often had the experience that a dancer would sing him the tune and then be quite surprised if having learned the tune he could not tell how the dance went. One old dancer said to him: "We used to learn the song and then there was no trouble, for the steps are just as the words be." From that one would imagine that the words were some kind of description of the dance, but usually they were just nonsense rhymes. For instance, the words of "Greensleeves," the tune used for the Bacca Pipes Jig are :

Some say the devil's dead,
The devil's dead, the devil's dead,
Some say the devil's dead
And buried in Cold Harbour [sic].
Some say he's rose again, some say he's rose again,
Some say he's rose again and married to a barber.

It is certainly a little difficult to see the connection between these words and the steps of the jig, but the explanation is that the dancer felt that the words enforced the rhythm of the music and helped him to get hold of the tune and sing it to himself. Then once having got the tune inside him, so to speak, all was plain sailing. People will never dance well unless the music is inside them.

It is not however, sufficient for the dancer to have a feeling for the music. The accompanist must also take his share in the dance, because, as it is the business of the dancer to make the music visible, it is likewise required that the musician shall make the dance audible. The dancer is dependent upon the musician, because his dance can never be more than a translation of the music into bodily action. It is therefore important that we should know what it is that the dancer requires of the musician.

It will, perhaps, be most useful if attention is concentrated on the Country Dance, although with certain modifications the same general principles also apply to the Morris and Sword dances.

The first thing that strikes us when seeing a good performance of the Country Dance is the lightness and the buoyancy of it. With the best dancers we feel almost that they are floating through space rather than moving about on solid ground. The technical explanation of this is, that the motion of the dancers does actually take place off the ground and not on it; that is, the motion is made by springing from foot to foot. This action of springing is a basic principle in the Country Dance and there is a corresponding principle to be observed in the action of playing-what on the piano we call 'touch.'

Many pianists make a fetish of the production of tone and there seems to be an idea abroad that the harder you dig into a piano the more you get out of it. A heavy legato touch is not suited to the English folk dance and if translated into the dance it produces a plodding step in which the dancer's main object seems to be to plant a foot firmly on to the ground on each beat of the bar-a not unfamiliar sight!

A Morris dancer once said to Mr. Sharp: When my old uncle brought out his fiddle and struck up a tune I felt as though I could fly into the air." A mere technical device will not in itself produce this desirable effect, but it can help towards it; and it will be found that in order to suggest the springy step of the dance a half-staccato touch is required, so that the notes are detached just as the steps are. This principle also applies to other instruments. On the fiddle the notes are separated by means of the bowing, and on wind-instruments by lipping or tonguing. (It should be explained that the slur-marks in the pianoforte copies of the tunes, refer to the musical phrasing and should not be interpreted as slurs in the technical sense.) This staccato touch should not, of course, be exaggerated any more than the spring in the step should be overemphasized [sic]. It must vary with the character of the tune and also be subject to modification throughout the course of the tune.
This matter of touch, important as it is, will not of itself achieve much. A collection of detached notes translated into the dance would be no more than an aimless springing up and down. We must have something that will bind the separate notes together and make of them a coherent whole. That "something" is rhythm. It is as difficult to define rhythm as it is to define life, but there is no mistaking it when we come across it. Outwardly it manifests itself in the coalescing or grouping of things together in such a way that they have continuity and form an organic whole. A sense of rhythm is much the same thing as a sense of proportion, a realisation [sic] of the relationship of one part to another and of each part to the whole.

If a tune is played with an equal accent on each beat of the bar there is no relationship between the notes and therefore no continuity, and the physical movement which corresponds to such playing is a collection of separate steps without flow or meaning.

Many pianists feel the need for continuity and they get it by means of a lavish use of the pedal. Such playing, if made visible, would give us but a poor representation of the Country dance. The clean, crisp step would disappear and instead we should have a crawling step with bent knees. We may succeed in getting continuity by this means, but not rhythm, because an essential part of rhythm is contrast and where everything is blurred and undefined it is hard to get contrast.

Rhythm has been defined as the alternation of two opposites.

No doubt a sequence of alternating opposites is rhythm in its most elemental form, for instance, night and day, summer and winter, sleeping and waking, life and death, and so on. But between these opposites there are many degrees of contrast, because the most elemental rhythmic sequence is always part of a larger rhythm, and that of a still larger, and so on into infinity. Moreover, the lesser sequence is always being modified by the larger; for example, the relative length of night and day is modified by the sequence of the seasons.

In music and dance, rhythm is got by a contrast of emphasis. In music, the most rudimentary form of rhythm is the contrast of a strong beat with a light beat, or a strong with two light beats. This is called metrical rhythm and is the rhythmic sequence contained within a single bar.

Some musicians think that for dance-music [sic] the metrical accent is all that is required, but, although it never entirely disappears, it is always being modified and over-ruled by a larger rhythmic sequence, which is the rhythm of the phrase. For instance, the tune of "Old Mole" consists of a phrase of two bars, followed by another two-bar phrase finishing with a phrase of four bars. In each case, the new phrase is indicated by the initial emphasis, just as in the dance the momentum is got up at the beginning of the figure.

It must be remembered that the metrical accent, though overruled by the phrase accent, is never entirely absent. Its strength and importance must always be determined by the character of the tune. For instance, the metrical accent should be more defined in Black Nag than in Rufty Tufty, and similarly in the dance the step-accent should be more clearly marked in the former than in the latter. It will be noticed that in the Morris dance the metrical accent is much more marked than it is in the Country dance.

The problem of the player is in all cases to maintain the pulsating metrical beat and at the same time to make it subservient to the phrase. The same difficulty presents itself to the singer and to the dancer. The former has to enunciate his consonants clearly and yet prevent them from checking the flow of the melody; and the problem of the Country dancer is to ensure that the impact of his foot with the ground does not impede the continuity of his motion.
It is obvious that in the playing of dance-music a sense of time is all-important, for that, after all, is the groundwork of rhythm and phrasing. As a Morris man put it, speaking of a fiddler: "He gets across the time and makes it very okkard [awkward]." There is nothing that destroys rhythm more easily than a tendency to hurry. There is one place where accompanists are very apt to 'get across the time' and that is at the end of a phrase. They hurry on to the end of the phrase and begin the next just a little too soon. That seems to take all the character and dignity out of the tune and gives a feeling of restlessness and lack of poise in the dance-movements [sic].

There must always be a certain amount of give and take between music and the dance. Generally speaking the music has the upper hand, but the musical phrases must be made to accord with the dance-figures. For instance; in Gathering Peascods, the 'A' music is divided into two phrases consisting of four bars and two bars respectively, whereas in the 'B' music, the final two bars (which are identically the same as in 'A' music) are linked to the preceding four bars and together they form a single phrase of six bars. Often, too, the phrasing of the tune has to be varied for the different parts of the dance, e.g. the' B' music of Black Nag. In the Sword dance, where the rhythm is of a more elemental character than in either the Country or Morris dance, the music is almost entirely subservient to the dance.
The most satisfactory state of affairs is found when the musician is also a dancer and knows just what is required, but when this is not the case the dancers must endeavour [sic] to instruct the musician. The dancers must, however, have patience and realise [sic] that to play these tunes, say, on the piano requires far more technical ability than is needed to dance the dances. We might also remember that the piano and the fiddle are not the only possible instruments; there are others which require less technical facility and are therefore to be recommended, e.g. the concertina (and even instruments of as low a social grade as the tin whistle and the accordion).

But generally speaking our musicians suffer not so much from technical incapacity as lack of real musical feeling. Music is a science as well as an art and many people who study music are so absorbed in acquiring the science and the technique that they neglect the art. They merely learn tricks whereby they simulate an art which they do not feel. There is the same danger in the dancing; that people will attend classes and Vacation Schools and learn steps and figures and all about spring and balance of body and will mistake these necessary technicalities for the art of dancing.

Art cannot be taught. The most we can do is to quicken and arouse the imagination, for art is not an intellectual thing, but is a matter of feeling and instinct. It is, moreover, an instinct which is possessed by every one who is born into this world.

In our teaching we must never lose sight of the fact that music and dancing are natural human functions. If we regard rhythm as something which can be instilled into a person from outside we shall fail. We can talk about rhythm and to a certain extent analyse [sic] it and we can give people the technical facility which will enable them to translate rhythm into bodily action, but we cannot mechanically produce it any more than we can produce life.

The dances we now practise [sic] have their origin, as folk-lorists [sic] will tell us, in primitive religious rites, and the instinct which prompted these rites was man's desire to identify himself with the natural world around him, so that he might assist in bringing about the sequence of nature which he feared might otherwise be broken, and upon which his existence depended. In that primitive instinct we recognise [sic] the force which we call rhythm.

We no longer think that anything we do, or do not do, will affect the regular recurrence of the seasons, and yet if we are to live completely it is as necessary for us as it was for primitive man to give expression to the sense of rhythm that is within us.

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