Monday, February 27, 2017

February Wrap-Up

A quick look back at February's fun at the monthly Old Songs trad Irish Slow Session.

Image of an Irish colleen in a shawl by Photoglob Z├╝rich, reprinted by Detroit Publishing Co. [Public domain], <a href="">via Wikimedia Commons</a>

Yeah, I went there. It's been a crazy week. Crazy month, really. We've looked at reels, polkas, hop jigs and an even a practice tip. I've got three things for you this week:

  1. the link to Flowers of Red Hill PDF (sorry, Gary told me I linked both links to the audio file. But it was really nice playing by Paul, wasn't it?)
  2. an audio file of February's Learn-by-Ear tune, the Clare Polka #1, and
  3. a question that I'd love to hear your answer to...

Flowers of Red Hill

Here's the link to the sheet music. (PDF) I'm really looking forward to playing this tune with you next month.

Clare Polka #1

I did a little more close listening to some of the recordings I have for The Clare Polka, and discovered that I had been playing a few notes differently from the recordings. It's a G tune, so you start on a "middle" G, and go up from there. The most notable difference is in the A part, second phrase. I WAS playing a DED but I believe I am playing a DCD instead. (That's a C natural, I believe). Note that the first phrase in the A part is NOT syncopated.

Here's the link to the audio file (m4a) of the Clare Polka

And here's a great video that John found on YouTube:

This fellow has some pretty nice versions of tunes on his channel. It's just solo concertina and the tunes are played really clean. 

Question of the Month

Hey, gang. I'm really curious about what methods (tricks? bribes? treats?) you all use to get yourselves to practice. And stay motivated to practice. Would you share with me? Or all of us? You can email me at or share in the comments below! I'm really interested - it can be hard to stay motivated, and hard to keep up with the repertoire when we're all so busy.

I hope I hear from some of you!

Happy Monday!


Our next Trad Irish Slow Session will be held on Wednesday, March 15 at 7:30 PM.

I'm working on securing a location for our First Wednesday Slow Session. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Monday Re-Cap

This week's Monday Inspo Blog Post is last week's trad Irish Slow Session in Review: Polkas and Playback...[READ MORE]

Did You Get Your Shot for Polka Season?

What? Joe Bane AGAIN?

As you know, I'm what I like to call "Clare-nerdy" and I keep bringing these tunes I learned from folks in County Clare. The "Clare Polkas" (a/k/a Joe Bane's or Bill Malley's) seemed to be popular on my trip to East Clare this year. And yes, here's Joe Bane again! I don't know why. I'll try to share something about him in an upcoming post.

Why did I bring a polka for the "learn by ear" tune for last week's February Irish Slow Session? Glad you asked! (You didn't really care, did you?) Firstly because I've always wanted to learn those tunes, and secondly so I could torture you all (of course).

Q. Why was the River Shannon Invented?

Polkas are pretty much associated with counties Cork, Kerry and Limerick, according to Fintan Vallely, and also the Cork-Kerry border area called Sliabh Luachra (say SHLEEVE LOO kruh). You don't hear a lot of polkas in the east of county Clare, but go out to the western side to Miltown Malbay where Jackie Daly lives and you'll hear plenty. Sadly, I couldn't find a recording of Jackie playing them. Listen here to Paddy O'Brien and friends playing Joe Bane's #1 in G major (really nice bouzouki work on this track):

Start at :50 seconds to hear Joe Bane's (p.s. Sue and John, you were right about the more square rhythm of the first few phrases of the tune)

On the subject of Polkas, Fintan Vallely also had this to say:

A popular dance form which was developed in Bohemia in the early 1800s, gained popularity and spread epidemically all through Europe. It reached England by the middle of the century, and there was called the 'German polka'...Introduced to Ireland in the late 1800s, two distinctly different kinds are now found - the simple polka of Sliabh Luachra music, and the 'double' polka associated with such as John McKenna.
       - The Companion to Irish Traditional Music (1st Ed.), Fintan Vallely

A. To keep the Polkas out of Clare!

So, how in the heck did this polka break into county Clare? No clue, because I've heard it said that the River Shannon was invented to keep the polka out of Clare. They probably just forgot to get their polka shots to keep the epidemic under control... Just a joke, folks, just a joke...

[Read all the way to the bottom for a special surprise]

It's all just to say "Thank You" to you all for going with me on this! It was really fun to work on the tune, and I'd like to continue working on it some more next month, if you all don't mind.

Anyway, Moving On...

I'd like to recap what we did last week at the February session so there's some institutional memory for it! Also, thank you very much to Paul for giving us next month's Reel of the Month! Keep reading to find out what it is...

Learning Tunes

Learn by Ear Tune: Clare Polka #1 (Joe Bane's Polka/Bill Malley's Polka)
Promenade - This was so much fun! You all did so well. Here's a clip of us playing it together
Reel of the Month: Man of the House sheet music w/chords (PDF)

Tunes We Played in February 2017

Clare Polka #1
Promenade (Hop Jig)
Father Kelly's (Reel)
Kinnegad Slashers (Jig)
Mug of Brown Ale (January Learn by Ear Tune)
Connaughtman's Rambles (Jig)
Torn Jacket (Reel)
Trip to Parliament (Reel)
Boys of Blue Hill (Hornpipe)
Man of the House sheet music w/chords (PDF) (February's Reel of the Month)
Merry Blacksmith (Reel)

Question of the Week: Are Polkas Easy or Hard?

Post in the comments below! Please send me tune suggestions! You can get me at I'm loving that you guys have cool tunes you want to work on. Thanks for sharing them.

If you haven't come to our slow session yet, but you've been reading the blog or you are on the email list, we'd love for you to come join us! We're having a lot of fun learning one tune by ear and then playing our learning tunes and finally ending up choosing music from our repertoire. There's a chair for you in the circle so come join us!

All I can say is "Keep on playing!" and...

Happy Monday,


You Found It! Here's the special surprise!

March's Reel of the Month - Flowers of Red Hill Sheet Music w/chords (PDF)
Flowers of Red Hill M4A (melody only)

Monday, February 13, 2017

This Week: The Realz about Reels? And Slow permitting!


Getting Ready for the February Session?

Hey there! Here's a a firehose of musing about reels just in time for the Old Songs Irish Slow Session this Wednesday, Feb. 15 at 7:30 p.m. 

Hey, Tune-Buddies! 

What a crazy weather week - 50 degree weather followed by tons of snow...followed by tons more snow. Of course we only get winter AFTER Punxatawny Phil popped his head out of the ground to tell us "six more weeks of winter." I guess what he meant to say was, "Six weeks of winter starting....NOW!"

What's with the Obsession with Reels? 

Of all the types of Irish "chunes" there are to play, the reel is the one people tell me they have the most trouble with. And I get it. I do. Some reels just make sense and others...well... If I could avoid ever playing The Salamanca, I would. In fact, if you asked me to play it right now, whatever came out of the fiddle would be a hot mess and not sound anything like the tune is supposed to sound. 

A friend of mine has played Irish concertina for a few years. She loves jigs. They make sense to her. "I don't ever get lost playing a jig." But reels? "Well, it's like you're going upstairs to get something. You get halfway upstairs and forget why you were going up there. So you stop for a second in the middle and then forget what you were doing altogether."

Playing a reel is like going halfway upstairs and forgetting why you were going up there in the first place.

Her trick? She tries learning the tune as if it were played in twos instead of fours: one and two and one and two and....  Like I mentioned last week, there are words that perfectly illustrate the reel rhythm: rutabaga rutabaga, for instance, or as a piper friend says "animated alligator animated alligator." We are not alone in our confusion around reels. Seems like everyone has this question at some point. Listen to what fiddler Natalie MacMaster has to say about it.  

Natalie MacMaster explains the difference between a jig and a reel:

Jump to 3:03 to hear Natalie's answer 

Where do Reels come from?

Brilliant Donegal fiddle player Liz Doherty, in Fintan Vallely's "The Companion to Irish Traditional Music," explains the reel as "...2. The most popular tune-type within the Irish tradition. In 4/4 time it consists largely of quaver movement with an accent on the first and third beats of the bar. ...It is likely that the reel originated in France in the early 1500s as the haye. It was being played as 'reill' in Scotland in 1590 and its modern form was brought to Ireland from there in the late 1700s. Many of the older reels in the tradition are borrowings from the Scottish tradition and the tunes are often found in more than one variant in different parts of the country...."

How do I love to play a reel? Let me count the ways...

There are quite a few ways to play a reel: smooth, rolling, jaunty - some of it is personal style, and some is regional tradition. Here, Slaibh Luachra musicians Matt Cranitch, Jackie Daly and Conal O'Grada play a set of reels with a slight bit of a bounce. Lovely stuff:

Can you play it straight?

My first teacher was (still is) a huge fan of The Bothy Band. He didn't give me the philosophy of playing reels, he just taught me the reels. Speed notwithstanding, listen to the flow of the music. The reels flow like rushing water - onetwothreefour onetwothreefour - there's a drive to this approach, right? 

Punch It, Willie!

Johnny Doherty is a brilliant Donegal fiddler who plays reels with a more single-bow style associated with the north: and  

And favorite...

French-born Irish fiddler Patrick Ourceau has won the hearts of fiddle players and music lovers the world over. Can you tell why? His music just floats, and is full of magic and lift (and Laura and Josh ain't half bad either!). 

What's Your Favorite/Least Favorite Reel?

Thanks for checking all this out! I hope you found something to love in here. If you are so inclined, share why you love or hate reels in the comments below! Could you tell us which reel is your favorite or least favorite? 

Hope to see you on Wednesday!

Happy Monday,


February's Reel of the Month - Man of the House sheet music w/chords (PDF)
Man of the House mp3 with chords (NOTE: the chords should fairly closely match what's on the PDF)

Monday, February 6, 2017

Reels and Hop Jigs and Chords, Oh My!

Some Tunes for a February Night...

A little musing about types of tunes below. And the tunes that inspired the musing. Grab them today. We'll be using them next Wednesday, Feb. 15 at the Slow Session.

Hey, Tune-Buddies! I hope you had a great week since I last posted...
Was it my imagination, or did we play almost entirely jigs last month at Slow Session? I think if I hadn't introduced the Man of the House reel that night, we might have played entirely in 6/8 time! That's all over now. Time for some weirdo tunes: a hop jig and reel. I know, I can hear you all scream in horror! Read on for scintillating details...

A Hip to the Hop to the Hippity Hop Jig?

At the end of group last month, Susan B. introduced "Promenade", which she called a "Hop Jig." She said she learned it from Boston flute-player Shannon Heaton. I first learned it from the playing of Sligo fiddler Kevin Burke. Curious about the origins of the tune, I did some poking around, and here's what I found out about hop jigs in general, and Promenade in particular.

Hop Jigs, Generally

While has its faults, I often find it a perfectly acceptable starting point for learning tunes. And this time, I dug around and had a look at what everyone was saying about hop jigs and slip jigs. Some people said that hop jigs were basically slip jigs in 9/8, some said hop jigs should be played in 12/8 like a slide, others insisted they were "single jigs." The best description in the whole lot was a comment by "Gord" that was reposted by Virginia flute player Matthew Olwell:
"It’s all about where you place the emphasis. In a slip jig (which will be MOSTLY groups of three quavers) the rhythm will be ‘pineapple, pineapple, PINEapple’, while in a hop jig it’s ‘HUMPty, humpty, humpty’, or even ‘HUMPty, humpty, pineapple’. In fact, the pineapples might appear more or less anywhere but they’ll be outnumbered by the humpties. 
I’d also add that hop jigs tend to be played faster, which is fine if you’re talking humpties, but you do have to be careful with your pineapples."

The Tune: "Promenade" 

The tune "Promenade" was actually named by Kevin Burke. Prior to his rediscovery of the tune on an old Folkways record played by Clare piper Willie Clancy and Sligo fiddler Michael Gorman (recorded in London), the tune was known as "Coleman's" or "Coleman's Slip Jig."  Blarneystar (Don Meade, I believe) posted this on

This tune was made popular as the title track of a Kevin Burke/Micheal O Domhnaill Green Linnet LP. Kevin picked up the tune from a ten-inch Folkways disc recorded in London in the 1950s by the piper Willie Clancy and fiddler Michael Gorman. The liner notes described it as the music for the "promenade" or first figure of a set dance once common in south Sligo, and even provided a description and diagram of the dance. There was no real title on the disc, but Kevin called it "Promenade" for this reason. It has been published as "Coleman’s," but was never recorded by Michael Coleman, only by Gorman.

So much back and forth. All I know is it's a great tune. Click the links below to dig in a little deeper:
Here's Kevin and Micheal playing the tune in Emin I think.
Here's a fiddle lesson of Promenade by Kevin Burke
Listen to Susan's beautiful flute version 
Here's an mp3 version of Promenade (amin) with the chords (NOTE: the chords may not match what's on the PDF)
Here's the Promenade sheet music w/chords (PDF)

Like I said before, the gang has a definite preference for jigs. Here's the thing: reels are groovy. They're cool. They're sexy. They're a little bit rock 'n roll. Here's a quick tip: if you can say "rutabaga" to the's a reel. Try it!

February's Reel of the MonthMan of the House sheet music w/chords (PDF)
Man of the House mp3 with chords (NOTE: the chords should fairly closely match what's on the PDF)

Happy Monday , Gang!