Music for Rituals and Celebrations

In terms of the long history of music as used for rituals and celebrations, incidental music is a relatively recent use of the music. Just as music separated itself from ritual and developed into an independent form of its own, so did drama. Examples can be found of musical works with spoken language passages. Music and drama developed in parallel, and of course the development of cinema, television and the Internet and video games have all played their part in the growth of incidental music. Incidental music as it first began to emerge consisted of preludes and interludes, songs and dances and marches. There are various examples for example, Christopher Gibbons (1615 to 1676) who wrote a lot of incidental music to plays of the era. Henry Purcell (1658 to 1695) wrote The Theatre Ayres. More recently there was A Midsummer Nights Dream by Felix Mendelssohn (1809 to 1847). By this time we were moving towards the advent of cinema, firstly with silent film and the film pianist, or in the larger cinemas, the cinema orchestra, who played incidental music to accompany silent films. Then on to the films which gradually developed a bigger and bigger film orchestras, where the film companies had their own large symphony orchestras, such as the Rank Organisation film orchestra conducted by Muir Matheson.

Originally, dancers were directly representational. The things they represented were generally concerned with fertility rites and similar (Stravinsky's Rite of Spring is an amazing piece of music that attempts to hark back to such musical use.) Later, the music for such ceremonies achieved a degree of style and formality. So things haven't really changed from the early use of music and dance, has high degrees of sexuality still pervade dancing, not just modern dancing to pop music, but formalise dances like tangos and the origins of some barn dance and ceilidh dances, together with old English dance forms like morris dancing, though the fertility aspects of morris dancing is more to do with growing crops successfully!

The sexual element of dancing has constantly raised objections from Puritan elements, current extreme of the Taliban and Isis. As an example, the stately Pavan was at one time condemned for being lascivious. Similarly the sarabande, which today is considered a slow and formal dance, was once considered outrageous. How on earth would they have managed with the disco? How would they have managed with one of our ceilidh's? There's a particular dance where the dancers move towards each other until they "bump into something soft" (that's the description of our caller). There are invited to kiss as well (irrespective of sex). Oh yes, our barn dances wild affairs?!

Over time, serious music and popular music have moved apart, though there have always been attempts to marry the two together. Although there has always been a separation between so-called serious and popular music, the real split dates from the introduction of the waltz. Before going any further, let's subdivide the subject a little further and look at the difference between popular music and folk music. Folk music, has played by ceilidh bands and barn dance bands and sung in the folk clubs, has always been around. One can say that folk music stems from the first grunting is of Neanderthals and cavemen. It's music that comes from the people, and at some stage in history each tune was spontaneously thought of by some unknown musician, even though it is well developed and often notated in part in today's modern barn dance band. Popular music on the other hand, is written for the people. Popular music originally was jazz, but after the Second World War it moved on to skiffle and rock and all things we know today as pop.

Perhaps pop music can be traced back to Victorian times, with romanticised love themes, themes being frequently death by misadventure of a little girl or her daddy. The pattern was passed to the early days of jazz with examples like Let's Get Together and Everybody's Doing It, with lyrics where as often as not the singers seem to wish to go back to the old farm, which was frequently located in Kentucky.

This difference in musical direction is relatively recent. Before the Victorians the main difference was between sacred and profane music. Music was either performed and written for the glory of God of the entertainment of people, but in either case they made it with all the skill that was available at that point in history, and furthermore it was the same skilled musicians who made it.

Take Johann Sebastian Bach and his great family. In its early generations there were organists and Cantor's, but there are also town pipers (effectively conductors of municipal orchestras who played for the entertainment of the public). And take bark, although he wrote church cantatas, he also wrote music which, believe it or not, was found very entertaining in this day. Hayden was a pop idol. Mozart wrote music Monday for a court ball and another day for high mass. His string quartets were popular entertainment in their day, and be played whilst people ate and drank and socialised, so different from how they are so often heard today, in a sterile concert venue. Schubert, who wrote the wonderful quartet of great passion and depth, Death and the Maiden, also wrote drawing-room songs. Weber composed the Favourite Waltzes of the Empress Marie Louise for the occasion of her Majesty's visit to Strasbourg in 1810.

However, from the early 1800s onwards things began to change, with the musicians of the Romantic Movement beginning to put their art on a pedestal of idealism. Dance music was composed for popular entertainment, the waltzes of Strauss epitomising the style of the era. Intellectual music veered off in another direction with Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms. It became beneath them to write music for the masses, for popular entertainment, and the kings of the waltz would never dream of writing a symphony. This is all against a background of great composers like Mozart, who would cheerfully write popular music and serious music without giving it a second thought.

As the 19th century progressed, the split grew wider until composers, performers and the listeners, seemed to think of themselves as belonging in one or other camp. Well, things have begin to change there is much better acceptance of all kinds of music. At the forefront of that change (or at least, I like to think so, but then I would wouldn't I), is Midsummer Music Agency, bringing you classical string quartets, jazz bands, ceilidh bands, barn dance bands and function, party and covers bands of all kinds.

We've been talking about music, musicians and composers but we've hardly spoken about the audience, the listener, the bride, the groom, the guests – or the birthday girl and all the friends and relatives at the ceilidh. Let's talk about the listener. What does a listener want from music? Some listeners want to hear a famous soloist or a world-renowned string quartet, just as they have heard on the CD that was recommended in this that or the other magazine, and which they've just bought off Amazon. Well, you're not going to get that from Midsummer Music. The musicians on our website are excellent, but on the whole they're not interested in the kind of performances and the kind of life that will make them world-famous, their interests in a different kind of music. A much more personal kind of music, performing for really enthusiastic audiences at the barn dance, playing for the bride and groom at the wedding ceremony, an occasion which is vitally important to them, much more so than some odd concert they happen to go to.

So, what is it that most listeners want to hear, what will be asked for by the majority of people who hire a jazz band or string quartet through Midsummer Music? The typical request is "play something we know". Yes, most people want to hear things that they know. That's why covers bands are so popular. They're not really interested in listening to some wonderful new composition by string quartet or the latest love song composed by the drummer of the function band. They want music that has been tried and tested, has made the grade, and they want their own live personal performance of it, especially for them. True, the listener may want to be listening to the very latest pop number on their headset, something new that has just been packaged and marketed to them by skilful music marketeers, but that's about being in with the crowd, and the download only cost them a couple of quid anyway. When that same person is paying out many hundreds of pounds for music for their wedding day, they want stuff that is proven. They want a jazz band to play jazz numbers from the Great American Songbook, tunes that they've heard many times before. The bride's favourite piece of music is usually Pachelbel's Canon – every string quartet can played at standing on their head with a rise closed. But it is a wonderful piece of music and something that everybody knows, that's why they want to hear it on their wedding day. That's why repeating the familiar stuff in no way detracts from the music, that is what classic FM relies on. In the world of pop music, songs calm and go at a great rate of knots, feeding the insatiable desire of both the public and the music marketeers, but the really great pieces of music tend to get filtered out with time, and reappear, possibly by the original performers the very often in variations by the bands. This is nothing new. The same applies to baroque, classical and romantic music. There are vast amounts of this music it is never heard, and with good reason, wading through it just the hell of it, cold winter's night with a bottle of wine or two, with my string quartet, it's very clear why this music is no longer heard. It really is not very good at all, but it can be an entertainment. The same applies in the world of ceilidh bands and barn dance bands. You can buy thick books of Irish folk tunes, or Scottish folk tunes, and Cecil Sharp house is packed with collected English tunes. Yes, there are a host of wonderful tunes which will go on forever, but are many many more that are boring, samey, have very little merit in them.

So there is great merit in playing the music that people have heard before, and at Midsummer Music we have many hundreds of excellent ceilidh and barn dance bands, jazz bands, string quartets and covers bands that can do just that, especially for you.