Thursday, April 29, 2004



Elke has me working on repertoire reels, now, and we've started touching on the different styles. In her view, the old Highland reel style emphasized both accenting and swing in varying degrees, and different decendant idioms took different aspects and magnified them.

In the piping tradition, swing became paramount, and what accenting was left was achieved through snaps and ornaments. On the fiddle, though, swing tends to push the accenting into either a down- or up-beat orientation, since it's difficult to accent a note shortened by having time stolen by the previous one.

In the Cape Breton tradition, reels are played absolutely round, with no swing. Moreover, 3-in-a-bows are essentially unheard of. But there are some interesting accenting patterns. For example, with each letter an 8th note, o being unaccented, > being accented, two prominently used patterns are (taking the pattern within a single bar, though sometimes it happens across it):

| >oo> oo>o |


| o>oo >o>o |

These accent patterns correspond to groups of steps in Cape Breton dance. This is making it more and more essential that I eventually take dance classes for the various types of dance: Highland, Country Dance, Cape Breton step, Highland step, and so on. Dance tunes accentuate the dance, and the dance informes the dance tunes, in more ways than I thought. Exciting stuff.

She had an interesting observation about Scottish vs. Irish reels. "I've always seen Irish reels as 'flowing', where Scottish reels are 'punctuated'."

Interesting stuff...

Saturday, April 24, 2004


Musical Smackdown

I have been put back into my place.

For the last year or so, I have begun to believe my own press. Meteoric rise, cinderella-boy, blah blah. Taking 2nd at Richmond just reinforced it.

I just took 5th of 6 in open grade Scottish fiddle at the Southern Maryland Celtic Festival. First, I was unhappy with my own performance, especially with the nervous wavering I should be long over (when sober, I've long been past it tipsy), and the intonation in F-major.

But even if I had played to the best of my abilities, without error, the best I could have done was 4th of 6, and that's debatable. The competition was just far too good. Props to them, they're all excellent fiddlers. However, this reminds me of how much of an intermediate player I really am, and how any delusions of being advanced in my skills are very premature.

In the end, I wandered the festival for ten minutes after the fiddle competition was over, and when I couldn't find the CAPD guys to hang out with, I went home to take a nap.

I have slacked off for the last six months, allowed myself too many distractions. It's time to get back to basics, back to my strict practice regimen, back on that meteoric rise. I may compete a couple more times this year, but this is not my year to make a name for myself, I can tell that already.

Sunday, April 18, 2004


Old Recordings are Good Recordings

J. Scott Skinner was one of Scotland's great fiddle composers, known as "The Strathspey King". Active through the 19th century, his influence on both fiddling and piping is immesurable. Recently, in the beginning of our repertoire survey, Elke has been introducing me to some of Skinner's strathspeys, and to the Northeastern style in which they are now played. Two weeks ago, she also commented, "We know Skinner didn't play his tunes like that, because he lived into the recording age." An interesting footnote, I thought. "I've got to find some of those old recordings someday".

Today in the Borders bookstore, I found (in their impressive Celtic music section) a CD of J. Scott Skinner's music, played by J. Scott Skinner himself, remastered from recordings made from 1905 - 1925, two years before his death. Wow. Three weeks ago I might have dismissed the CD as collection by various performers, and not looked closely to see it was Skinner himself.

The recording quality is poor, and he's often on a Stroh fiddle, which has its own unique sound. But the playing itself is brilliant.

Thursday, April 15, 2004


The Tune That Fell out of my Brain

I wrote my first tune last night!

It just sorta came out. I was learning some Shetland reels, Sleep Soond ida Moornin and Willafjord, so I think those had some influence on me, mood-wise. I was then playing around with one of my old competition sets, the one I competed with in Richmond in October. When I got to The Braes of Mar, for some reason I started to play the initial measure as a reel, and it went on its own for another measure. "Hey, that's a cool riff", I said aloud. "Too bad I've already forgotten it". But for some reason, I managed to pull it off again. So I said to myself "I better write this down!", and went to my laptop and launched Barfly and started to transcribe it. The rest just kinda came out from there, and only a couple of times did I deliberately consider the chord progression: a I IV V I tune, with a V7 in there in a couple of places. When I noodle around, it tends to be in D-major. I guess that's the key I'm most familiar with at this point. By the time the A-part was half-done, I already knew what to call the tune; it was fun and perky and spirited, and reminded me of my friend Carolyn.

Here it is, "Carolyn Lentz's Reel", twice through, played by the sheet music software Barfly:

I like it; it's fun and lively. Though it ended up as a double reel, it almost became either a fast hornpipe (a la The Flowers of Edinburgh), or a Shetland reel, with each staff ending with 3 quarter notes, fdd. Upon further listening, the A-part also reminds me a bit of Put me in a Box, and the B-part a reel version of the B-part in The Statten Island Hornpipe.

One guy over at reponded to my link to it. "Neat tune," he said. "It speaks of dirt-floor cottages and touches the Irish redneck within." I consider that a great compliment.

In other news, my Irish mandolin teacher has suggested that I've learned almost all the techniques there are that are specific to mandolin. That doesn't mean I'm that good; I need to practice a lot more to become flawlessly fluid in my execution of the techniques I know, it's just that there are not a lot of things one can do with mandolin; the instrument isn't that versatile in the Irish style. The other material I want to learn for mandolin, improvisation and the playing of counter-melodies, are skills not specific to that instrument. So we're going to probably go a few more lessons, and then switch to Irish bouzouki, played as a rythym instrument. I expect it to be fun!

As I mentioned above, in my Scottish fiddle lessons we've started to look at Shetland reels in my tour of repertoire tunes of the Potomac Valley Scottish Fiddle Club book 1, and we talked about the proper context for and degree of swing, up-beat accenting, and 3-in-a-bow for reels. Fun stuff.

Thursday, April 08, 2004


Odds and Ends (3)

I've got back into the mandolin quite a bit recently, and my instructor has moved me on to some of O'Carolan's tunes, which are quite lovely, and - like a lot of the late 18th century Lowland Scottish tunes, clearly strongly influenced by Continental Baroque music. So far, I've learned O'Carolan's Draught, and this weekend I'm learning O'Carolan's Concerto.

More Kerry polkas on Irish fiddle. Philippe should be moving me onto jigs, and rolls, soon.

More strathspeys on Scottish fiddle. I think this week is the last that we look at repertoire strathspeys of PVSFC book 1, and will probably look at repertoire reels for the rest of the semester.

More strathspeys and reels on the pipes. I'm becoming much more comfortable with the pipe style of reels on practice chanter, but that's not translating to the full pipes well. I think it's because my snaps are way to spastic on the real chanter, so that's going to have to be the main focus of my work.

I'm sorting through registration forms for the various upcoming Games, and membership to EUSPBA and SFIRE. Missed the Southern Maryland Celtic Festival pipe competition registration by a day. Fortunately, they only do field registration for fiddle. I've got to take care of registration for the Houston Highland Games tonight, I think. What a lot of paperwork!

I talked with Anders, and he's begun to look at a few of the band's tune sets with an eye to arrangement. We're supposed to talk about a rehearsal schedual this weekend. I also should probably start looking at trademarking the band name and logo (and getting a logo), getting a business permit, and the like.

Friday, April 02, 2004


A Foot in the Band's Door

My first City of Alexandria Pipes and Drums gig.... sort of...

I played for the first time in public with the band for their monthly gig at Pat Troy's Ireland's Own. We did about 5 sets, then retired to enjoy some beer. I'm still not a proper member of the band yet, but my teacher (and Pipe Sergeant) was pitching my qualifications to the Pipe Major after the set.

I did well, except for the bit where my drones squealed during my strike-in for Amazing Grace. Oh well. Better luck next time.

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