Sunday, 27 March 2011

Don't Be Zilly!

Imagine the scene ....

There you are, at a hafla. having a great evening. The lights on the dance floor start to come up, you hear a soft jingling - and a troupe of beautiful tribal dancers move slowly, sensuously onto the floor. Oh, the kaleidoscope of colours, the gentle swirling of their skirts, the fringes that swish hypnotically to and fro, the cascade of flowers in their hair; you sidle forward in your seat, desperate to see more. The music starts to rise, calling out to your soul. It's a slow track and the dancers start to sway in unison, drawing the audience in.. This is good - all's right with the world!

The final strains of the melody fade away, and the first notes of a new track kick in. Great, it's one of your favourite faster tracks! Toe tapping time! The dancers bring the tempo up a couple of notches and .....

Clank clank clank! One two three! Right left right! Six sets of zils start to bash away remorselessly, battering the music into total submission! Clank clank clank, one two three, right left right, all the way through to the bitter end. Hey, there's a lovely twiddly bit in the middle of the track - can't wait to see how they work that into their improv! Oh yes, of course, clank clank clank, one two three, right left right! I didn't even hear it. Our moves and rhythm will prevail regardless of what's going on in the background. Right. To. The. Bitter. End.

And the beautiful moment is lost.

Now don't get me wrong, I LOVE my zils. I have a pair for every handbag, just in case the urge strikes. I practise anywhere and everywhere, including as an accompaniment to the odd tv advert or theme tune (whilst sporting my zil muffs of course, to alleviate the strain on my husbands ears). However - and here's the big however - to me, practice means broadening my repertoire of rhythms. It means appreciating the rhythms going on in the music and making sure that whatever I'm playing complements that. It means not necessarily hammering away at the zils ALL the way through a track, but choosing my moments. It means working WITH the music, not against it - and appreciating and responding to the different parts of it, even if it sometimes means that there may be the odd little snippet that needs to be pre-planned rather than totally improvised. It means accepting that some music is better left to stand alone, without my accompaniment. Because as far as I am concerned, dancing and music go inextricably hand in hand - and as such I need to respond to it sensitively and respectfully.

There are differing views as to whether zils should be seen and used as a prop or as a musical instrument.  As a violinist and amateur percussionist (having dabbled in kettle drums and doumbek)  my feet and ears lie firmly in the latter camp. When playing the violin, a melodic instrument, in the school orchestra (yes, only a school orchestra but I did rise to the heady height of leader of the first violins!) I would not have dreamed of going out there and sawing away relentlessly at an open 'D' string throughout whatever piece we were playing. Firstly it would be working completely against the music, and secondly it just would NOT sound good. If that was as far as I'd got in my musical path, I would go away and practise until I could do more. Similarly, open 'D' string or not, in most cases I wouldn't be playing relentlessly all the way through - because the composer would have arranged for instruments and sections to fade in and out , to highlight interesting melodies and rhythms and to provide accents and nuances. Even the percussion section, which often had something going on all the way through (and I was the violinist who had to leap over the rest of the string section to provide a bit of support on the glockenspiel and tympani part way through Noye's Fludde!) would be employing a range of sounds and rhythms. And working together, all of those different sounds made a beautiful whole.

And so it should be with dance music - tribal or otherwise. There are some beautiful tracks out there too that can be enhanced and enlivened by your zil accompaniments - but enhancing does mean working with the music, not against it. It means listening, allowing the music to work in isolation where it merits it, allowing the audience to hear what drew you to that music in the first place. Zilling whilst dancing isn't easy, you may feel extraordinarily proud of the fact that you can hold that one two three whilst you move, but if that's as far as you've got, then, just like the open 'D' string, are you really ready to put it out there on the stage? Wouldn't it be better to go away and practise until you can hold a range of rhythms and use them sensitively and appropriately? Wouldn't it be better for the audience to go away with the lasting impression of a synergy of wonderful music and dancing in their thoughts, rather than the painful memory of a real ear-bashing?

Of course you may subscribe to the line of thought that considers zils to be a prop rather than an instrument. So what is a prop? The dictionary defines it as 'a support'. So what is it supporting? Are you using it to support your dancing, so that you get a steady rhythm all the way through and don't need to worry too much about the fancy bits in the music that might stop you from saying your dance was 100% improvised? If that's the case then choose music without fancy bits so that you don't need to worry about them - there's plenty out there! Otherwise think about what you're supporting with your prop -- the music or the dance. Shouldn't it be both?

OK, rant over. I appreciate that you will not all share my point of view. I appreciate that some of you will still want to go away and zil that one two three incessantly because you enjoy it and because you can and that's your prerogative. Just one thing; if I'm there in the audience I will probably be loving your dancing and your costumes and your smiles and energy. But I won't be loving that zilling!

No comments:

Post a Comment