Wednesday, February 25, 2004


Odds and Ends (1)

I'm going to have a while mess of Irish tunes to take to Houston with me for the session at St. Patrick's day. Problem is, they're all polkas, and no one plays polkas anymore (except people from the regions where the tunes were written). So I might be playing my polka set all by myself.

I broke the tenor drone reed on my smallpipes. It and the bass drone reed were catching and clamping shut. I removed a little material from the base drone reed tongue, and that fixed it, but I overdid it on the tenor drone, and it just hisses air now. I had EJ send me some cane so I can make a replacement. Otherwise, the smallpipes sound really good.

I've been doing some research into guitterns/citterns/English guitars. I'd love to get one and use it as an alternate to an octave mandolin or mandola. The Portuguese guittarra seems to be the direct decendant of this instrument, and Lark in the Morning offers one for $900, but I'm wondering if I should get that or hold off for a true reproduction period instrument. Or if I should be even spending the money at all until I'm gigging and am bringing in income from the music.

It's strange that neither Pipe Sergeant nor Major has made any comments to me about auditioning yet. It's clear that I'm ready, at least from a repertoire standpoint, if not the drill. You'd think they'd be at least putting a timetable on it or something, if for no other reason than to know when to order me a tunic and uniform parts. Oh well, I'm content to just go to practice, since it's the ensemble playing that I'm trying to iron out. I can worry about performance later.

Friday, February 13, 2004


Walking and Chewing Gum

I don't know why I just don't "get it" when it comes to band drill. I make way more mistakes than I should. It's playing and walking. How hard can that be?

I'm not ever going to progress from "recruit" stage, no matter how well I play, until I can nail down the distractions and learn to walk, chew gum, and play at the same time.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004


Return of the New Toy

Hurrah! I just got my smallpipes back from EJ on Saturday. When I started playing them again, I noticed that he'd moved the bridle on the E drone so that it played in D, and I discovered that with minimal changes in bridle position, the drone can play not only D and E, but F# as well. This leaves me with the following drone configurations (in .abc chord notation):

[A,, E, A, D] for playing in A & D
[A,, D, A, D] & [A,, F#, A, D] for playing in D

Now I gotta find if I can monkey with it to get the A drones to play in G, and the alto D drone to play in C# or E. And do it without breaking any reeds. Still, I prefer to run with no more than 3 drones at any one time, because it gets to be too loud compared to the chanter.

I played my new competition set for some friends, and they really liked it. I think it was the pseudo-Classical flourishes in the tune. That bodes well for competition this season, I think.

I feel like I'm finally getting somewhere on Irish fiddle, though perhaps at the expense of mandolin. Oh well, I'll get caught up at some point.

Thursday, February 05, 2004


Limp Wrists?

The one thing keeping me from progressing from being a decent fiddler to a good fiddler is my right wrist. I don't use it enough. Beginner players tend to bow at the shoulder; I tend to bow at the elbow. To really get that folksy legato sound, I need to learn to bow mostly at the wrist.

Elke bugged me about this at the beginning, but for a while, talk about my bowing has mostly given way to talk about style. Melinda Crawford commented on it at the Royal Mile jam back in November. And Elke hit on it again at the studio recital. And though Philippe didn't mention it directly, he made it clear that I'm vastly too staccato for the Irish idiom, that I need to "loosen up".

So to this end, I've been consciously working on bowing almost entirely from the wrist. And it's exhausting. Those aren't well-developed muscles there. But I like the sound I get when I can get into a good groove with wrist-bowing, so I'm going to continue to force myself to concentrate on it.

I've also been thinking about reel tempos. I've been trying to play my reels too fast. In the piping world (esp. for Highland dancers), 96 BPM is a fast reel; though that would be slow for a fiddle reel (about right for a Scotch measure). Even in the fiddling & Scottish country dance worlds, 108 BPM is an acceptable tempo. There's never any reason to play faster than 116 BPM; any faster is just showing off. I already play any reel I know well very comfortably at 116 BPM. So there's no reason whatsoever for me to try to increase my skill at higher tempos. Best to concentrate on accenting and articulation at the tempos I can play at.

Piping proceeds incrementally. I'm still having trouble pointing the heavy beats in strathspeys enough. After a 9 week absence (4 of which were health, holiday, or weather-related), I return to band practice tonight.

Monday, February 02, 2004


One Year After Clandestine

It's been exactly one year since Clandestine - the band that inspired me to explore Celtic music - went their seperate ways in a blaze of glory, a teary farewell, and five magnificent final shows.

I thought I'd mark that day by sending my thanks to Jen, EJ, Emily, and Gregory for the inspiration they've given me and so many others, and continue to wish them luck in their future endeavors.

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