There are many rules to remember when playing for feiseanna.
Tempos have changed a lot around here in the past few years. Be aware of what the tempo requirements are for each feis. It should be listed in their feis syllabus.
Here is one example from the Dairyland Feis 2020 syllabus:
First Feis (if offered), Beginner I, and Beginner 2 are required to dance at traditional speeds. Novice and Open/Prizewinner dancers may choose between traditional and Oireachtas speeds.
It’s very important to practice every tune you are thinking of using for the feis at all of the different speeds for extended periods of time. Try playing your tune for 3 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes. If you can successfully do that, without losing the beat, then the tune is ‘feis ready’.
• Keep a list by tune type & tempo for all of the tunes that are ‘feis ready’. This will be your go-to-guide to get you through the day. No guessing or wasting time trying to think of your next tune.
• Reserve single reels & shorter tunes for smaller groups of dancers.
• Some feiseanna don’t mind if you string a set of similar tunes together for larger
groups of dancers, but other feiseanna require that you play the same song for
the entire group to be fair.
• Keep it simple. Try not to do too many variations in the tune or try new variations
in your tunes that you’ve never played before.
• Multiple part tunes (AABBCCDD etc.) are great for large groups of dancers. Don’t play crooked tunes (extra measures or extra beats). Only choose tunes with even bar sections (4 bars, 8 bars, 16 bars, 32 bars, etc.)
• Don’t play the same tune at the same time as the stages playing directly next to you. -Do note if someone is playing a tune that you know. Put it on your list & play it later.
• Be mindful of your volume. Ask the sound techs if you need them to adjust your levels of output or your monitor.
• Also don’t be afraid to mention to the sound technician if someone else’s volume is overwhelmingly loud to the point that you or your dancers can’t perform without struggle. Changes in volume happen for all sorts of reasons & the musician that is too loud most likely doesn’t realize the sound is carrying, bouncing, or bleeding over.
• Always keep playing while the dancers are dancing. Being a melodic human metronome is your only job.
• Remember that you were hired to play for the dancers, not for a concert audience or for your own tune variation practice time.
• Choose tunes appropriate for the dancer’s age & level which are easily recognizable.
• Play common dance tunes for younger dancers or beginners. (They will usually be wearing the school uniforms).
• Slightly less known &/or melodically complicated tunes may be used for experienced dancers. (The ones with the fancy sparkly dresses… Unless it’s a black & white feis, in which case, good luck guessing).
• The dancers have been trained to bow to the judge and bow to the musician after they’ve danced. Get used to it. You are not obligated to bow back. A smile back
will do. Eyebrow raise is acceptable. Head nod if you’re feeling it… But only if that doesn’t distract you from playing well & focusing on the dancers currently dancing on stage.
Fast or slow?
Some dances (treble jigs, hornpipes) will have fast & slow tempos within the same group of dancers. The stage monitor or assistant should provide that information for you as they line the kids up. Otherwise, ask the judge. Most judges are very friendly and will volunteer the information. Some are not. Use your best judgement.
What to do if something goes wrong on stage
Dancers sometimes miss their cues. They shouldn’t, but they do. If this happens you can choose to:
- Watch them & replay the A or B part in question.
- Continue playing.
It’s up to you. I generally watch the dancers & play through the A or B part again to line the tune up properly for the next group of competitors. I like seeing them dance to an even AABB. It sounds & looks better.
Sometimes it’s unavoidable that they’re dancing to the wrong part of the tune or on the wrong beat. If this happens it’s not your fault. They’ve been trained to listen to the tune & count the beats, and they’ve been trained to enter, get ready, start dancing, and exit the stage at the correct time.
Beginner or first feis dancers will often have a more experienced dancer or stage monitor cue them when they should start dancing. The ‘helper’ doesn’t always listen to the tune correctly & cue them to dance at the right time. That is an example of where you should pay attention & adjust the tune accordingly, replaying the intro if necessary. First feis kids are super cute & adorably awkward, so giving the first feis kids a little help is ok.
Dancers may drop things as they perform. Hopefully they don’t lose any articles of clothing, competitor card, glasses, or wigs on the stage, but sometimes this happens. If they do drop anything, it is not your job to help pick them up. Just keep playing and let the judge determine if it will interfere with the dance.
If a dancer falls or stops dancing, let the judge decide if the music should stop. The judge will usually ring a bell or will speak to you directly when necessary. Otherwise, keep playing. The dancers are trained to hop back up and keep going. Unless they’re visibly broken & bleeding. Then you can probably stop.
If you are starting a tune and your mind suddenly goes blank, try again. We all forget tunes occasionally. To prevent this happening, you might want to keep a cheat sheet with the first couple of measures of each tune printed out in front of you on a music stand, a chair, or on the floor.