Playing for dancing gives a musician the rare experience of being able to see the effect of his playing in the response of the people who are dancing to it. Applause is gratifying, but even more satisfying is the immediate realization that the performance is generating in the dancers their vitality, poise, sense of timeing, and pleasure in dancing.
There are five essential elements in playing for dancing:
The metronome markings have been carefully determined, but tempos can be variable. They depend on how experienced the dancers are, the weight of their costumes, the surface of the dance floor, the heat, humidity, and the level of fatigue. It may be a kindness to the dancers to play a little faster.
Because the correct tempi can be ascertained only by watching the dancers, the treble player must memorize the music as quickly as possible, or at least the first few bars. The lead musicians also has the responsibility of beginning and ending the music, delineating the
phrases clearly, and communicating style as well as tempo to the other musicians. The musician on the bass line not only underlines the harmony but reinforces the phrasing, and assumes the leadership in passages where the treble is fairly static. The alto line is designed to define the harmonic implication, to enhance the melodic contours and to maintain rhythmic vitality.
Ideally there should be four musicians, as in the typical baroque trio sonata: on the treble part a violin, flute, oboe or recorder; on the alto line preferably a violin; on the bass part a cello, bassoon or viola da gamba, and filling out the harmony with the indicated chords a harpsichord, although piano (very light) or plucked strings such as guitar or lute would also serve well.
The musicians who will find this music most satisfying to play are those who are familiar with the works of Bach or Telemann, or better yet, with the works of Henry Purcell, who composed at least three of the pieces in this collection. Use slurs with discretion. Those indicated are in the original, none have been added. Ornament at cadences as dictated by the style of the period. Approcah trills from above. Make the music expressive by variety in dynamics, articulation and tone color, while resisting the temptation to ritard except at the very end of the dance. FInally, in all country dancing the music should lift the dancer in preparation for forward motion. Therefore the upbeat of each measure should be stressed, with the downbeat very light.
Define the phrases, keep the articulation clear, let each line sing -- and welcome to the many joys of playing for dancing.