Tag Archives: phonetics

Musical family trees and tap roots

Could it be the epitome of the Caledonian Antisyzigy that music can seem too precise for words while lacking the relatively precise history of linguistic family trees or the absolute precision of, say, phonetics. Although cultural links can be heard (and seen) intuitively by most pupils, pinning down the ingredients which lead to a correct identification can be trickier.

This thought sprang to mind while watching a TED video of Natalie McMaster and Donnel Leahy playing music from Cape Breton. Undoubtedly Scots in origin, what struck me most in the music was the piano accompaniment (from 16:15). It occurred to me that it was not providing rhythmic support as is normally understood because the rhythm in the fiddle tune was sufficiently strong. This left the pianist free to be complementary in the manner of pipe drumming (e.g. from 3:10 to 4:15 in this video of the 78th Fraser Highlanders). 

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The other thing I learned from the TED video was that step dancing is not solely an Irish phenomenon – although possibly the most joyous example of it I’ve seen definitely is (from 3:35 in this video). Featuring The Chieftains and Galicia‘s Carlos Nuñez it exemplifies the breadth of Celtic culture.

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In the following video of Natalie McMaster, the debt which tap dancing owes to traditional step dancing (among other sources) seems quite clear.

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Sound Comparisons

How good is your ear for accents? How different do you think one word could sound in a variety of accents? A new interactive site entitled Sound Comparisons by Edinburgh University in conjunction with the Arts & Humanities Research Council allows you to hear the same word uttered in dozens of accents. I tried out the word “brother” and was amazed at the differences.

Some of the pages are slow to load and using Firefox over Internet Explorer is recommended – but not as highly as downloading the entire site – which I’ve just done.

I’d say it’s impossible to cultivate a musical ear without being sensitive to the subtle changes in pitch and timbre which distinguish accents. Perhaps that’s why so many impressionists are musical.