Sunday, February 16, 2014

Slow Session Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Old Songs Slow Session - Playing Irish Music Medically Necessary - Warms Hearts and Hands Says Fiddler.

What is this deep freeze? And a storm a week? Enough already!

The spectacular full moon on Friday evening
You know it is cold outside when a discussion thread on TheSession.org is "To Drive the Cold Winter Away". (click to enjoy the wealth of music videos posted on this topic!) It truly is cold, but playing tunes with our friends warms the heart, and if you can keep your hands from freezing that's just a bonus!

"Critical listening [to Irish music] makes one think deeply about phrasing and style and tone and so many other elusive elements of this beautiful genre of music"

This month's learning tunes feature a jig and reel contributed by Melora Wolff. She suggested we learn The Milliner's Daughter (reel) and The Humours of Lisheen (jig) (I have this tune as Thrush on the Strand). I seem to recall back in the day playing The Milliner's Daughter with The Torn Jacket. We might try that...

I've been thinking a lot lately about the tunes I already know, and how it seems like it is time to expand my repertoire a little bit. Our good friend Dave Smith said the other day that he has been trying to go through his spreadsheet of tunes as a matter of course to keep up with all the music he has been learning. He told me he was wondering how other people keep track of their repertoire. Well? How do you do it?

Reader's Poll: What methods do you use to keep current on your repertoire? How do you keep track of all your tunes? How often do you practice different parts of the list? Post below and tell us how your strategy!   

I'm nowhere near as methodical as Dave. I guess I find that playing with different people brings up tunes I haven't thought of in a long time and that spurs some exploration of the hidden or old tunes. If I don't have access to people to play with, I rely on listening to Paula Carroll's show or Claire Keville's show on The West Wind on ClareFM. I find it is just so enjoyable to listen to a musician I don't really know playing a tune I don't know at all. Critical listening makes one think deeply about phrasing and style and tone and so many other elusive elements of this beautiful genre of music. And because the music and musician are not familiar, I don't go in to auto-pilot with the music. I soak it up and then, if I really like what they're doing, I'll try to recreate the feeling in a tune I do know.

In searching for new hornpipes, I discovered one that I must have heard in the past, but didn't remember at all. It is a lovely tune called "Alexander's Hornpipe" (#1683 in O'Neill's Music of Ireland). It is one of the top 150 hornpipes on the IrishTune.info site. Most recently, this tune was recorded by Sligo fiddler Tony DeMarco on The Sligo Indians. Tommy Reck and Charlie Lennon also recorded it.

The only real discussion on The Session about this tune involves the fact that is NOT associated with other tune names listed on the page (i.e. Never on Sunday, Ballymanus Fair, etc.). I've included a version from The Session as well as a Liam O'Flynn version that someone posted. That version seems to be closest to the notation in O'Neill's, minus the dotted eighths. The syncopation of the hornpipe is simply implicated and not stated. I noticed that in listening to a version of the tune played by a contradance band that the emphasis was more "reel-like" in placing a emphasis on the One and the Three, which smoothes the tune out more. It seems like the Irish traditional way to play a hornpipe would be more with the syncopated emphasis on the "Two-and" and the "Four-and".

Finally, I've been having some fun with different polkas and slip jigs, and was looking for something brand new to try. In honor of the Olympics in Russia, I thought we might enjoy a new little ditty called "A Peep Behind the Curtain"!

OK, that's really not what it's about. Besides you wouldn't expect Russian music to stay completely in the major key, would you? And it ain't new neither. It was composed in the 1780s by a cornmiller and fiddler from Yorkshire named Joshua Jackson. (Yorkshire? That's not Ireland! - Yeah well, maybe it's the 33rd county, and anyway excuse me if I'm eating homemade Shepherd's Pie for lunch as I write this because I'm half English and it's my damn birthright and everything, and just try the damn tune, already!)

Reviewers of a 1970s recording of his music (Trip to Harrowgate: Tunes & Songs from Joshua Jackson's Book 1798) note that they can hear the "forerunners of Irish and American, as well as English, folk music" in his tunes. This tune sort of has the bones of an Irish tune, but it is clearly missing the modal feel of some of our most favorite slip jigs. Nobody I know has a copy of the manuscripts, but my spies are digging around for information. Updates will come if secrets are revealed!

The real reason I selected the tune is that I've been working on playing whistle and this tune had a whole bunch of fun arpeggios and little shifts inside the melody and it was just plain fun. Let's try it! I promise not to torture you with my whistle playing at the session, though.
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I'll see you Wednesday evening, February 19, 2014 at 7:30 PM at Old Songs! ($4 per person)  I think we'll play downstairs again this month, unless it warms up considerably. Let's conserve energy!

In the meantime, stay warm and enjoy yourselves no matter what you do,

Hilary

NOTE: I've officially increased the suggested donation for the Irish Slow Session from $3 to $4. It's been at $3 for the past seven years, and operating costs certainly haven't decreased! Thanks for understanding.  (Your donation of $4 for photocopies/heat/lights goes to Old Songs to help support the Make Your Own Music program.)

February Learning Tunes:

Milliner's Daughter (reel) / [Torn Jacket]
Humours of Lisheen (jig)
Alexander's (hornpipe)
Alexander's - Liam O'Flynn's version
A Peep Behind the Curtain (slip jig)