Digging the Dird II

According to the Orkney fiddler Dany Rosie, only three things are needed for playing for dancing, 'Time, Sound and dird'. Since the word 'dird' is not common usage these days, I'm going to attempt to describe what I understand by it, and how it applies to playing Lowland music, particularly on the pipes.

Dird is what drives dancers to dance when they hear a particular tune played by a competent dance musician. Not surprisingly, it is not something that can be described easily: each tune, while conrforming to a particular tune type [rant, jig, hornpipe etc.] , nevertheless carries its own particular inner nature which will add unique features to a well-considered performance. However, it may be possible to outline how these characteristics might be discerned. Since so much of the repertoire of the lowland musician is dance music, this task lies at the heart of its performance.

It might be thought that the proper place to start such an investigation would be with the dance itself, and we do have descriptions of dozens, if not hundreds of dances set to lowland music in 18th century collections. However, these are of little help, since they describe dance figures, but give little insight into dancing, at the heart of which lies foot-work, the dance steps.

Pipers who have come to lowland music via the Highland bagpipe repertoire may well be familiar with the recent growth in awarenes of highland step-dancing, a growth inspired largely by the revival of interest in the style of piping which survived in Cape Breton. Pipers who have come to lowland music via other routes, French or English music perhaps, will probably be aware that step-dancing was once common across most of the British Isles, and can still be seen in its traditional form in some places, particularly in the east of England, as well as the well-established traditions of clog-dancng from Cumberland and Northumberland. All these traditions of stepping have a great deal in common - what differentiates them is mainly the music to which they are done.

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So how are we to re-establish the links between the music that survives and the dancing that might once have been, [and might again be] done to it? I have been playing English fiddle music for danacing for over 40 years and it is from this background that I've been approaching this question. In my opinion, the music of the lowlands of Scotland, whilst it has its own melodic idioms, prior to the late 18th century 'highland hegemony' was much more influenced by the traditions of Northern Europe than by those of North-west Scotland. In the discussions of the various musical forms which I hope to consider here, it is this approach that will form the basis of my suggestions about performance. I look forward to your comments ...

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