Monday, February 13, 2017

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

IN THE CASE OF BAD WEATHER, I WILL DECIDE TO CANCEL BY 6:00 PM WEDNESDAY: CHECK HERE ON THE BLOG, CHECK YOUR EMAIL IF YOU'RE ON THE EMAIL LIST, AND LOOK ON THE OLD SONGS FACEBOOK PAGE FOR CANCELLATION ANNOUNCEMENT.

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DEdM2jHbxUc and  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DL_9r0kSGYA.  

And finally....my 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,

Hilary



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)