Glossing over rhythmic style and musical identity

The case of Polish dance rhythms and Western notation

By Dr. Ewa Dahlig-Turek Warsaw, Poland, Dr. Bjørn Aksdal Trondheim, Norway, Dr. Rebecca Sager Tallahassee, Florida, USA and Prof. Dan Lundberg Stockholm, Sweden

Meddelanden från Svenskt visarkiv nr 47 
Reports from the Centre for Swedish Folk Music and Jazz Research 47.

The report presents a practical experiment in ethnomusicology that was designed to investigate significant differences of style and interpretation of ”Polish dances” in Sweden, Norway, and Poland. The authors collaboratively examined the local styles and playing techniques of three fiddlers and considered various issues arising from using standard Western notation as a medium of distribution and maintenance of traditional music.

Three musicians (each from a different local tradition) were asked to play three ”Polish dances” (each also from a different cultural origin), using scores in standard notation as the point of departure. The musicians came from Hagfors in Wermland, Sweden, from Holtålen in South Trøndelag, Norway and from Warsaw, Poland. They are all skilled representatives of their respective local traditions. The performances were in the form of ”blind tests” where the musicians did not know the geographical origin of the tunes they were asked to play. We instructed the musicians to play as if the tunes came from their own home village. Their performances and comments were recorded on audio tape and video and then analysed and compared from rhythmic and melodic perspectives. The experiment showed that the same musical text fixed in a score would be ”read” and interpreted in different ways, depending on the fiddler’s own local culture. We were able to identify specific and patterned differences between the three fiddlers’ rhythmic, melodic and technical approaches to ”Polish dances”. These clearly audible differences, which mark the local identity of each performer, are systematically described for the first time in this article.

The Polish fiddler is Bartosz Niedžwiecki from Warszaw.
The Norwegian fiddler is John Ole Morken from Holtålen southeast of Trondheim.
The Swedish fiddler is Sophia Eriksson from Hagfors in Wermland in western Sweden.

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