Stone Arch Collective's program "A Musical Journey Through Time and Space" takes their audience around the northern hemisphere from Germany to Puerto Rico. Part of their mission as an ensemble is to champion new music and underrepresented composers — so mixed in with Mozart, Bartók, and Joplin are composers like Dan Shore and Luís Miranda, who would be brand new to many people.
The theme throughout the program is the significance of folk music in different societies throughout the world. There are loads of folk songs out there that perhaps you might not have known were folk songs (did you know that the melody to "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" is from a French folk song?). Much folk music from the past might not still be known if certain composers had not gone out and collected these melodies. Béla Bartók was one such composer who travelled around his native Hungary and the bordering countries to notate these melodies that he later wove into his own compositions. There are many purposes to folk music around the world, but one of the main ones is for dancing. As they played Bartók's Romanian Dances, Stone Arch encouraged the audience to explore how they thought people might have danced to this music by making a "dance floor" with one hand and pretending that two fingers on the other hand is a dancer.
The klezmer music from the Ashkenazi Jewish tradition is another example of old music that has lasted a long time. It has been around for so long that no one knows exactly where and when it was written, though it is generally from what was known as Bessarabia, but is now Moldova and the Ukraine. The purpose of this music was for celebrations, in particular dancing at weddings. The musicians or klezmerim to give them their proper name, played instruments like the violin, clarinet, and cimbalom, and in certain times of history and in certain areas of Europe and America were well respected for their musicianship, even outside of the Jewish community. Klezmer has been influential on several classical composers and on the jazz genre. For instance, the famous sliding opening clarinet solo in George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue is based on the klezmer clarinet style. Stone Arch played two klezmer dances called Der Heyser Bulger and Hebrew Dance.
Not all folk dances are for particular events or have particular steps. African-American composer Scott Joplin popularised "rag" so called for its "ragged" syncopated beat with the emphasis on the second beat rather than the first (one-TWO, one-TWO). As pianos in homes become more popular towards over the 19th century, people started to buy sheet music and Joplin's rags were circulated via this medium. People could dance for fun in their homes or in the local bar.
However, Stone Arch also demonstrated a dance that was the complete opposite of the rag in every way. The danza is the national dance of Puerto Rico and around the turn of the 20th century, it was reserved for formal grand balls where the ladies and gentlemen were dressed in their finery. There are two styles of danza and the romantic danza, which Stone Arch performed, has two parts. In the paseo, there are eight measures without a fixed rhythm when the couples would parade around the room so the ladies could be admired. The dance partners would then bow formally and begin the merengue, which is vaguely similar to the waltz. These dances were exclusive to the upper class citizens and would be a good place to meet a potential future spouse.
There have always been dances that have been more practiced more by the wealthier members of society. In Mozart's time, people danced such formal dances as the Allemande, Courante, and Gigue. However, just because those dances are no longer popular does not mean they cannot be resurrected and given a modern twist. Stone Arch performed versions of these three dances composer in recent years by American composer Dan Shore. Tonally, these pieces sound nothing like what Mozart and his countrymen would've danced to, however they all have particular rhythmic characteristics (and also dance steps) that make them recognizable for what they are and so that — making them adaptable to the modern age.
One can learn a lot about how a society functioned in the past from its folk music. There were songs and dances for weddings, births, deaths, religious rituals — anything, really. It has been, and continues to be, worth the effort to continue to preserve and celebrate this music. It needs to exist as a teaching tool for groups like Stone Arch to educate the generations of the future.
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