Hello operator

In most traditional music, it is customary to learn tunes by ear and pass them along in the same way. Musicians add variations and ornaments to personalize their interpretation of the tune. I wonder though, where the line is and why sharing tunes doesn’t turn into a huge game of operator.

Here’s what I mean: Someone plays a tune and passes it on to someone else but changes one phrase. That person then passes it to another who adds their own variation. And on it goes. It’s possible that these alterations can easily morph a tune and turn it into something unrecognizable from the original. And yet, I don’t know of very many tunes where this has actually happened.

Except for this week’s tune. This week I may have found one.

We’ve been practicing for a wedding gig this week so I was relearning one of my many favorite reels called The Ivy Leaf. It’s in our set list. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around how I used to play it so I went to Youtube and started perusing different versions and settings and came up with a handful of them. And though most sounded similar there were clearly different versions and settings, none of which sounded like the version I learned. Even within my band each of us plays this tune slightly different. Likely we all learned it from different sources. Our versions are similar but not quite the same. But the versions I saw on Youtube don’t even sound like the tune I know.

Honestly, it’s amazing to me that this doesn’t happen more often. Most of the music I have immersed myself in has been passed down by ear from generation to generation and yet, when I listen to old recordings of composers and musicians who originally shared these tunes, most of them sound pretty close to the source of truth. I thought it was interesting that this one in particular was a little different.

Unfortunately, I don’t know the history of this tune, who composed it or even where I originally learned it. But here is my version of tune number 36, The Ivy Leaf. What’s yours?

The Ivy Leaf: Tune 36 of 52

Join me next week for tune #37 from A Tune A Week.

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