Morris Dance Notation using abc
is a musical notation system developed by
It is in widespread use
for the transmission of folk music via ASCII text, and there
are numerous programs which convert the abc source code into
beautifully typeset score and/or audio outputs.
One of these abc client programs is abc2ps by Michael Methfessel
<firstname.lastname@example.org>. Starting with version 1.2.4 abc2ps
implements an experimental extension to the abc language
(w:) which permits alignment of lyrics with notes.
This extension can be applied to the problem of communicating
the notations of folk dancing; i.e., stepping and hand motions.
In particular, it is demonstrably applicable to morris dancing.
Applicability to Morris Dance Notation
Historically morris dance notation has been done by typesetting
(or handwriting) abbreviations of foot stepping and hand motions
under and over the musical score. This was the methodology
originally employed by Cecil Sharp in the Morris Book, and it
has been continued in one form or another in almost all subsequent
publications for teaching the morris.
In June of 1997 Norman Stanfield of the
Morris Dancing Discussion
List started a thread on the problem of jigs with slow capers.
The existing notation for the musical transitions into and out of slow
caper sections has rarely been precise enough to communicate exactly
how a tune might be played. In many cases the exact nature of the
pattern of stepping is equally ambiguous. Thus there is variation in
the interpretation of the dances.
The existence of variation is not a bad thing, the morris has plenty
of room for interpretation. However, it has been effectively
impossible to discuss these variations by any means other than
personal demonstrations by a dancer/musician pair or videos thereof.
Attempts to discuss jig slows via e-mail proved nearly
incomprehensible due to the combined uncertainty of music and
Norman Stanfield's posting caused me to realize that the aligned
lyrics of abc could also be applied to this problem of
morris dance. If one starts by creating abc code which
reproduces a particular interpretation of the music, it is then
possible to add the other elements of the morris dance using the
experimental ``w:'' syntax of abc2ps.
At this point my right brain interrupts and advises (actually what it
says is, "Shut up and dance!") that this technology is not useful to
dancers who dance using the right brain. However it is deeply
satisfying to dancers whose left brain demands involvement.
I am currently at the proof-of-concept stage in doing this,
and there is yet work to be done even on the existing examples.
I want to see if this might become a widely-used method for
transmitting morris (and other folk-) dance technology.
The Nutting Girl (FieldTown)
The first effort ever at doing this. I have the abc source code, a gzipped PostScript file,
and a GIF demonstrating
the output from abc2ps. This uses the tune from Bacon (which
nobody plays so simply) and my own haphazard notatation for
I have the abc source
code, a gzipped PostScript
file, and a GIF
demonstrating the output from abc2ps. This uses the tune from
Bacon, the stepping from Sharp's Morris Book, and some words
gleaned from MDDL postings during 1997 June.
The Nutting Girl (Bampton)
This is the fifth iteration of an ongoing experiment between
myself and Norman Stanfield. I've never done Bampton slows,
and there are many variants in use. Using abc we now
have a common vocabulary, and we have converged
on this representation of the dance.
Comments, and Questions:
My analysis of the results of this collaborative experiment:
The music is almost as indicated by Sharp and Bacon.
This tune is from Bacon and is the Jour EFDS 1928 tune
published under FieldTown.
Some long notes (mostly in the C parts)
have been split into tied notes so that the stepping
can be shown on the right sub-beats.
The ending of the B part has been lengthened by a beat;
it thus corresponds to the Rollo Woods version.
This lengthening seems to satisfy stepping and musical
demands for Bampton and FieldTown; we believe that
Bacon has a transcription error in that last bar of B.
An alternative resolution would be to insert a quarter-note
rest at the end of the B (or perhaps the beginning of the C).
However, the solution we chose re-establishes the
parallel with the musical notation used for the
Nutting Girl jig.
Step and Caper (SC)
It is possible that there should be no instances of SC
(except at the very end). Postwar Bampton practice
seems to have replaced all SC by HC.
Part C1 with Upright Capers (UC)
These are the newer (slower, postwar, 1 and one-half
bar) form of UC as seen in Bacon. Sharp has the
(quicker, earlier, one bar) form of caper with
"straddle". (Perhaps this C might be better notated
in 6/4 time?)
Part C2 with Forrie Capers (HC)
Note that this representation has what might be
interpreted as 8 HC, whereas Sharp's representation of
an equivalent slow in Princess Royal has only 7 HC.
The HC in the two representations are out-of-phase by
180 degrees. Here the strong beat of the stepping
seems out-of-phase with the first beat of each bar.
(Perhaps this C might be better notated without the
bars of 2/4 time?)
Of particular concern are the bars at the end of the B
and beginning of the C parts.
- It works! People who have never met can use abc to
convey a precise description of a morris dance.
As I suspected, the music should be worked out first.
If all parties of the communication do not read
abc then it is essential to number each bar so
that the typeset result can be discussed more easily.
The worldwide number of folks interested in discussing morris
at this level of detail can be counted on one hand; everyone
else just does something that works.
Shut up and dance.
Back to the WWW Morris Music page.
Steve Allen <email@example.com>
Initial deployment: 1997-06-25