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Dick Hensold (B.M. Oberlin Conservatory)

Is a free lance musician specialising in three     genres, early music, Folk music, and Cambodian traditional music. He plays Northumbrian smallpipes, recorder, medieval Great pipes,

Swedish bagpipes, low whistle and traditional

Cambodian reed instruments. He presented a               paper on the Dixon MS at the 1997 LBPS annual Colloque in Peebles.

The music found in the newly-discovered Dixon MS of 1733 gives us an exciting opportunity to dig into a brand-new ancient repertoire. However the unfamiliarity of some of the passages poses some baffling interpretive problems                         concerning beat, phrasing, and ornamentation.

Most of the 18th century references to the social context of this music describe it as dance music. This is curious given the fact that most of the pieces are variation sets, and whereas the pieces start out melodically and rhythmically enough, they soon become thick with runs, called divisions, which can easily obscure the beat. A division is a type of ornamentation common in the 16th and 17th centuries created by “dividing” the melody notes into a series of shorter notes. (They differ from the graces that most pipers are familiar with in that graces theoretically take up no time and divisions are accounted for metrically in the same way as the melody notes are). When I first saw the Dixon tunes I wondered if the busiest of the variations were even used when the pieces were played for dancing, but since examining The Division Violin of 1684 for my talks at the LBPS Collogue last year, I became convinced that they probably were. I found that 7he Division Violin contained different kinds of pieces with two distinct division styles, an art-music style and a folk-music style. The folk-division style in The Division Violin compares very closely with that found in the Dixon MS.

In interpreting a repertoire like the Dixon tunes, there are two main resources. There are traditional aural interpretations, mainly coming from the playing of traditional  Northumbrian smallpipers who play comparable tunes.  I will say very little about this, since I am not a traditional player and have had less access to traditional players than most of the members of the LBPS.

Most of the present article deals with historical interpretations from sources found in early music. _

There is always going to be something of a controversy about whether art music evidence has any applicability in the folk music world, so such an approach must be taken carefully, and probably always in reference to traditional aural approaches. However, my study of

17th century violin divisions has led me to believe that in the late 17th and early 18th                       centuries there was a substantial overlap in the playing styles of folk music and art music traditions, so a combination of interpretive approaches is justified.

First of all we should remember that this is dance music, and be careful never to lose the beat, especially in passages with continuous quavers. Most of the interpretive strategies I will describe here are techniques for making the beat and measure clear and musical. These techniques are best practised with a metronome, trying to keep the beat steady while taking time within the beat in a fluid and musical manner. Also these techniques are most  important on the 6/4 and 9/4 tunes. The beat in the duple time tunes doesn’t need as much help.

  • In runs of continuous quavers, lengthen the first note of the sextuplet and make up the time on the other 5. This also makes room for a gracing on the first note. —
  • Swing the note slightly. This is an interpretation that derives from both traditional and early music approaches, helping to justify the combination of the two. As was done in the 18th century, you can then vary the amount of swing (or inegales) throughout the beat or phrase. Start with more swing and flatten it out as you go along and combine with #1 above. For example:


Obviously this notation is just an approximation to help give you the idea. You have to                     exaggerate this at first in order to learn it, but it sounds terrible if you play it that way. The whole execution should be subtle and graceful and the beat should drive right through the centre. Keep in mind that according to 18th century the swing, or inegales, is less at faster tempos and greater at slower tempos

  • Another technique for making the beat clear is playing the last note a little longer and grouping the notes like this:


This works perhaps better on Northumbrian smallpipes where the stopped chanter allows for an actual silence. Another stopped chanter rhythmic technique is what early musicians call an agogic accent - a strong beat is accented by playing it very slightly late. Musically this is comparable to heavy ornaments in Highland piping. In fact, the combination of the preceding two techniques, that is, playing the last note of the beat long and the first note of the beat late gives you room for a simple grace note or even a doubling in the busiest pas-


sages, such as figure 3 from “Have a care of her Johnny” or figure 4 from “Wallington”.

  • It is particularly difficult to get a good musical effect out of this last example. I would have the doubling take just a little time out of the first note (for the agogic effect) and then would give a very brief pause (tenuto) on the first note, stealing the time from the other five. I would arrive at the last note a bit early so most of the next doubling could be taken from the last note of the beat. If I could, I would add an almost imperceptible swing to the whole thing. The object is to keep the tempo fast enough so that the beat doesn’t bog down, and slow enough not to lose the nuances of phrasing. When deciding on a tempo for this music, keep in mind that many of these settings are based on songs. In examples with surviving lyrics, one can find a comfortable singing tempo and use that as a point of departure. The lyrics that I have looked at for the tunes in the Dixon MS tend to stay on the crotchets and minims, so I assume that the quavers are ornamental and the pieces don't go too slowly.
  • There are no dotted figures indicated in the triple time pieces in the Dixon MS but they may well have been played that way. In fact, “Gingling Geordie”, #31 in Dixon, is notated with dots and cuts in the Atkinson MS of 1694. I prefer the traditional approach of playing the 3 crotchets slightly pointed, that is, like a    figure but not so much. Most  pipers will be familiar with this as a standard jig rhythm. I then extend this proportioning of the beat to figures like this:


which becomes something like this 


but much rounder. This keeps the beat from having too much emphasis on the internal crotchets.

  • The following figure appears in a number of tunes in slightly different guises, and is a good example of a division. It lends itself to some special effects on smallpipes, and these effects should work as well on Scottish smallpipes as Northumbrian smallpipes.

Figure 7 is, in effect, an ornamented version of figure 8:

and the original melodic outline can be brought out by playing the first and fifth notes on

the figure longer and taking the time from the second and sixth notes:

The above technique can be combined with #5, making sure that the third note of each beat starts a littie late, and the shape of the original melody will be heard in the midst of the       busiest variations.

  • This figure:

where the quavers are at the beginning of the beat rather than at the middle, does not occur too often in Dixon, but can be recognised as a common 18th-century ornament called a slide. If these quavers are interpreted as a slide, they would be played very quickly on the beat, and the main accent of the beat would fall on the third note.

Learning these tunes requires some new practice approaches. I find that the best exercise I can do is dot the figure one way and practice it repetitively, and then dot it the other way and practice it for the same amount of time. The best single exercise that I've devised for working on Dixon tunes is the one shown in figure 11: