Monday, January 30, 2017

Monday Practice Tips

Good morning, friends! I hope you had a great weekend. Did you play tunes? We did. Eric and I pulled out the button accordion and concertina and went over the very few tunes we have, including "Happy to Meet, Sorry to Part"! In working with a new instrument, I find I have to make myself aware of a different posture and a different approach to the tunes (that's a discussion for another day). That got me thinking about practicing. Even a short ten minute practice can leave you feeling "creaky" if you aren't paying attention to your posture or your technique.

“Strain and fatigue are often caused by rigidity. The more you allow your body to move and breathe, the greater your stamina.” – You Are Your Instrument, Julie Lyonn Lieberman

How many times have you finished up a practice session or rehearsal and struggled to get up out of the chair or had to stretch or massage your jaw/hands/shoulders? Chances are that when you are practicing, you are tensing up as you focus on intonation, technical mastery, or just memorizing a tune. 
Make breathing, gentle movement, and mindfulness a part of your practicing and you soon train yourself into a more dynamic yet relaxed way of playing.  A great way to start sorting that out is to play/practice one tune or set and then stop for a minute. Scan your body to see if there is any discomfort. Is my neck sore? My jaw tight? Hands tensed? Shoulders hunched? Did I forget to breathe during the tune(s)? If the answer to any of those questions is "Yes", you have your marching orders. As you play the tune or set of tunes, scan your body again for signs of tension. When you discover one, slowly breathe in and out as you play and make a conscious effort to loosen your grip, straighten your spine, unclench your jaw, etc. Work with gravity not against it. 
Have a great week!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

January Session a Success!

A Joyful Evening of Music and Chat...

On Wednesday evening, January 25, 2017, a small group of traditional Irish musicians gathered in the basement office of the Old Songs Community Arts Center to share some Irish dance tunes. Old Songs, an arts organization that presents concerts, music classes, and an annual summer festival, hosts "Make Your Own Music" nights each month "...intended to foster community participating in music making." Make Your Own Music nights include an Open Mic, an African drum class, a contra dance tune group, and a meeting of the Capital Region music group "The Pickin' Singin' Gathering" - a group of folks who love to sing and play guitars, banjos, mandolins, fiddles and more.

Also part of the MYOM nights, the Traditional Irish Slow Session is generally held on the third Wednesday of each month with the idea of learning some new tunes, working on tunes attendees already know and just mainly getting comfortable playing together in a group. Everyone is welcome to come and bring a tune they'd like to share. Tunes from each month are listed on the blog along with a link to the music.

Last night, eight musicians of varying levels of accomplishment on an assortment of instruments (to be honest, mainly flutes and fiddles) arrived at Old Songs around 7:30 and arranged themselves in a loose circle. The leader started the evening by teaching a tune by ear. "I chose 'Mug of Brown Ale' because it has quite a bit of repeated parts and isn't too complicated," said session leader Hilary Schrauf. "People seemed to pick it up pretty quickly and it got us all warmed up and on the same page before getting into the heart of the evening."

The group continued with a tune called "Happy to Meet, Sorry to Part," which was introduced by one of the group members last fall. Next up was the Foxhunter's Slip Jig. There was some discussion about the sheet music version and how it differed a bit from how people actually play the tune. After playing the tune a number of times, one musician noted that there is a reel by the same name. "If you only went by the name," she joked, "you'd think there was only one tune. Aside from the fact that one is a slip jig and the other is a reel...and they are in different keys...and I know one of them but not the other...!" The group burst into hearty laughter.

As is customary in sessions, it was time to take a little break and have a bit of a chat. While in pubs, the conversation tends to be local and gossipy, the leader instead asked a new member of the group how he came to play the music and how he chose his instrument. This prompted a bit of round robin with people telling a little bit about how they came to the music and their instruments and where they first started out. After a nice interval, the rest of the evening was then spent with everyone selecting a tune they wanted the group to play. On the list were The Carraroe and The Rambling Pitchfork, Connaughtman's Rambles, Road to Lisdoonvarna, Banish Misfortune, Man of the House and Woman of the House, Cooley's Reel, Kinnegad Slashers and The Haunted House,

As the evening wrapped up, the leader asked for tune suggestions for February's gathering. Among the planned tunes: A hop jig called "Promenade", a replay of "Kinnegad Slashers", "Happy to Meet, Sorry to Part" and "The Foxhunter's Slip Jig", as well as a promise to bring a reel for the group to work on by ear in February. The group chatted congenially while putting instruments away and headed off into the night until next month's session.

The next scheduled Traditional Irish Slow Session is Wednesday, February 15, 2017 at 7:30 p.m. $4 suggested donation goes to Old Songs for heat/lights/copies. Questions: Call Hilary at 518-424-8701 or email 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Irish Slow Session January 25

New Year, New Tunes?

Hey, gang! Hope you had wonderful holidays and that you're looking forward to our first slow session of the new year tomorrow, Wednesday, January 25, 2017.

In thinking about what you might like to do at the session or get out of it, I asked John Conway what you'd worked on at the Comhaltas session this month. By way of explanation, he gave me the spots for The Foxhunter's Slip Jig from the Comhaltas Slow Session, which we will play tomorrow. I also appreciate that Paul Derby brought the jig Happy to Meet, Sorry to Part in November. We'll play that tomorrow too. In addition, I'll have a tune for us to work on by ear, and we'll go around the circle, so bring a tune or two that you'd like to start.

For the new year, I want to encourage everyone to bring a device that you can record on, whether it is a tape recorder, a mini-disc recorder, a phone, a tablet, a computer. I don't care. I want you to be recording tunes that you don't know and listening back to them to try and get them in your head without the sheet music. My expectation is that as we go through the season, you'll be starting to play more tunes by ear and from memory rather than from the page.

As to tomorrow night, I believe that the contra dance group will be at the building for their regular date tomorrow evening, so we will be downstairs in the office area starting at 7:30. I'm looking forward to seeing you all.

See you Wednesday!