Sunday, 30 November 2008

The old measures

It's a funny thing to me that there was a person locally who after 3 months still knew me as a dancer and dance teacher, and not that I'm a mad keen costumer. Myself I identify primarily as costumer and crafter, and many people reading this probably don't even know I dance. But I do spend 2-4 hours a week doing or practising medieval dancing for much of the year. I dance because it's fun, but I also devote extra hours to this as a way to slow down my descent into very unfit. And like most of my other pursuits I find myself seeking authenticity in this too, and end up teaching because I want to pass the fruits of my knowledge on (rather than for any skill I possess at teaching).

Anyway, enough prelude, today's musings concern a particular genre of Dance, the Old Measures, danced in London Law Courts (Inns of Court) in the late 16th and 17th Century.

These dances range from extremely simple to approaching moderate in difficulty. That makes them excellent dances to teach beginners and also to warm up with at the beginning of a session. Quadran Pavanne is my favourite warm up dance - it's little more than walking, but introduces the concept of singles and doubles, and gives the participants a chance to chat to each other in greeting (it may be best to use non-hopped doubles if this is done before stretching). The basic number of moves needed for the Old Measures are small - it's easy to teach a new alman if the person knows a couple of others. And it is easy to arrange to teach the dances in an order which introduces one new concept per dance. (eg doubles & singles, then turns, then set & turn, etc)

Another attractive prospect of these dances is that they teach many of the basic moves needed for English country dance - singles, doubles and reverances, 4 beat doubles, set & turn, chorus & verse structure, etc. And I consider it likely that these moves were performed in the same manner for both aalmans and English country dance, as both were being danced in the same place by the same people. Think of English country dance as what you dance at the free dance after the formal set of the debutante ball, or maybe it was more the modern dances you danced at the after party.

Anyway, the very simplicity of the old measures may be one reason they are not danced very often. One possible solution lies in more period presentation of the dances. the old measures weren't the hip dances of the day, they were the compulsory dances at the start of the night. make them the dances that everyone knows, everyone (including the older and less fit members of your group) dance. Or dance a more period number of repeats - we generally dance 2-4 times the period preferred number of repeats, which makes it nicer for beginners, but the period 1-2 repeats avoids boredom by people who know the dance. Make things more interesting by dancing the old measures as a set of 6-10 dances (as was done in period), each danced back to back - make the experienced dancers work to remember the dances correct because they don't have 3 more repeats to get the dance right. (a nice dancemaster will however provide cheatsheets). Anyway, those are a few options to try to create more interest in the old measures.

But I think the most likely reasons some of the old measures are danced less than others is that while music and instructions are widely available for some (like the ubiquitous black alman), they are more difficult to find for most of the old measures. There are actually two good publications which cover the near complete collection of old measures. Practise for Dauncinge and Durham's "Dances from the Inn's of Court", and del's dance book also has a few allemande. Any of these are good starting points, Dances from the Inns of Court is my favourite, giving a good historical overview, comparisons of original sources, and a carefully thought out reconstruction accompanied by sheet music for a melody line and an optional CD. However it is not free, nor is it instantly available (order from here). Del's dance book provides well spelt out reconstructions, and I've always found del's a great source for showing beginners the dance they've just danced written down, and for helping intermediate dancers to teach their first dance from, however the historical background is very scanty, and the range of old measures supplied is limited. Practise for Dauncinge is also available online, with a large range of old measures, and good historical background, and gives original instructions as well as reconstructions. It's not quite as easy to follow as Del's, but it isn't difficult to interpret.

Here's a chart to show the historical trend of what was being danced (or at least recorded) when:

MS Rawl Poet. 108 SRO DD/WO 55/7 Harleian 367 Douce 280 Rawlinson D.864 Inner Temple, vol 27 RCM 1119 RCM 1119 Fol. 2
year c. 1570 1594 1575-1625 ? 1607 1630-1633 ca. 1640-1675 after 1640 ? after 1640 ?
The Quadran Pavan yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes
Turkelone yes yes yes yes yes yes yes
The Earl of Essex Measure yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes
Tinternell yes yes yes yes yes yes yes
The Old Alman yes yes yes yes yes yes yes
The Queens Alman yes yes yes yes yes yes yes
Madam Sosilia Alman yes yes yes yes yes yes yes
The Black Alman
yes yes yes yes yes yes yes
Other old measures 8


Interestingly, there is little variance between the sources. To me this reflects what Durham and Casazza have written about - this is a set of formal dances that everyone learned, and were quite old fashioned for most of the above manuscripts. The proliferation of other old measures in the first manuscript may reflect that it still lies in an era when the old measures are popular dances of the day, with what will become the classics still being chosen, and new dances created - or the author may just be a more avid dancer than his successors.

Here's a chart showing which reconstructions of old measures are available in each of the books I have mentioned:

Practise for Dauncing Del's dance book Inns of Court
The Quadran Pavan yes
Turkelone yes yes yes
The Earl of Essex Measure yes yes yes
Tinternell yes yes yes
The Old Alman yes
The Queens Alman yes yes yes
Madam Sosilia Alman yes yes yes
The Black Alman yes yes yes
lorayne Allemayne yes yes yes
Brownswycke yes

The newe allemayne, yes

When it comes to sheet music for these dances, a much wider range of music is available, and yet little of it is easy to come by. Eric's music search engine can help greatly with finding music (both sheet and recorded, with a good collection of the quadran pavanne), but is not complete, and some dances are hard to fins due to the variety of spellings used in their names. Here is a chart linking to versions of sheet music available for the old measures, sorted by most easily available source:
(The names listed are the arranger/transcriber/composer of the version, where multiple names are listed, click on each for multiple versions. "Inns of court" is not available online.)

Practise for Dauncing Del's dance book Inns of Court other
The Quadran Pavan Casazza
yes Avatar,
Turkelone Casazza Del yes
The Earl of Essex Measure Casazza Hendricks yes Hendricks
Tinternell Casazza Casazza yes
The Old Alman Casazza
The Queens Alman Casazza Smith yes Hendricks,
Madam Sosilia Alman Casazza Phaedria yes Avatar,
The Black Alman Casazza Yardley,
yes Exeter
lorayne Allemayne Casazza Phaedria,
yes Smith,
Brownswycke Casazza

The newe allemayne, Casazza

yes Smith

I'd love to make a later post describing which sheet music is better for which purposes (eg key suited to trumpets, this one good for a group playing, this one better for a virtuoso player, etc), and am handing music out to local musicians (let me know if you are local to me and haven't recieved any) but so far the only comment i've recieved is that 1 page versions are better than 2 page ones. So dear blog reading musicians, your comments are sought.