Monday, February 28, 2005


8x32S3 = Tired bow arm

I played my first Scottish Country Dance this weekend, thrown by the fiddle club and put on at the Glen Echo, MD town hall. The turnout among musicians was quite good - we had 24. The turnout among dancers was half that, unfortunately, so a couple musicians got up and joined the dancers on the floor.

The sets went very well, and we all had a lot of fun playing them. Some of the transitions were harder than others, but in all, the band sounded really good, at least from where I was sitting. The only group flub was when a couple people played a Strathspey only once before moving on to the next tune, when the dance called for twice. At that point, most of the band hesitated, wondering if they'd missed their cue to change tunes, and it threw the dancers. This incident revealed a weakness on my part. I was one of the ones who hesitated, even though I knew full well I'd only played the tune once. I should have just kept right on playing; another strong fiddler playing the correct tune would probably have lured the rest of the band back on track faster. So the lesson I learn is: 1) pay attention to what I'm doing at all times, and 2) don't let others' mistakes throw me, because that just compounds the problem.

I was flattered when Liz Donaldson (Elke's usual pianist) came up to me during the intermission and complimented me on the quality of my playing. To pick up one fiddler from a group shows she has a very good ear, and to be complimented for my playing in a crowd by a musician of her caliber was very flattering.

After the dance was over, I scurried over to Elise Kress' house for an Irish slow session. Unfortunately, I missed the repertoire workshop because of the dance, but the session was a lot of fun. I'm getting better at picking out tunes from ear in the middle of a session, and the slow session format really helps. I also got to publicly debut my tenor banjo for the first time, and it was very well-received. I also got to try out some variations in my tunes, and though there were a few stinky ones, some went off fairly well.

I'm ironing out the timing on Lament for Mary MacLeod on pipes from the recording I have, and my version is pretty close. I'm definitely going to need to order more reeds for the A 440 Hz chanter soon, though. I'm not sure if this one will last, since I was having problems with F going flat.

Friday, February 18, 2005


A busy year, and it's barely started

I've updated the calendar page to include all my '05 competition, fiddle club, and pipe band performances, and it looks like I'm going to be a busy fellow this year. And so far, that only includes one (tentative) professional gig, the Saturday night of the Virginia Scottish Games. That's going to be a hectic weekend (pipe, fiddle, and band contests on Saturday, wedding gig Saturday night, reenacting & fiddle club performance on Sunday!).

August looks light overall, with nothing much going on at my day job, no competitions, and only one CAPD performance, so I've told Anders to start looking to book The Devil's Tailors' first gigs in venues around the DC area from 1-25 August, and in the Albany-Springfield corridor from 26 August through 2 Sep.

It's exciting, but I'll welcome 24 October, when the competition season is over again...

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


Take a bow! Take two!

My new baroque-style bows arrived yesterday, and they're a lot of fun to play. They're a little light, and that seems to lead to a bit of bounce, so I'll have to put some effort into learning how to control them. I think I'll stick to my black bow for most performances still, but these will be my all-purpose period bows. The maker did cheat - on bows of this period, the frog clips into place, held by the bow tension. This means that short of rehairing it with shorter or longer hair, a proper baroque bow has only one level of tension. Few period musicians crave authenticity to this degree, so the screw mechanism of a modern French bow is included, though concealed to look like a period bow endpiece.

My first gut E string, broke yesterday evening, spontaneously while the violin was in its stand. (I was alerted to this fact by a loud sudden 'twang' from downstairs, and then the hurried scurrying of claws on hardwood as my two cats desperately ran upstairs to hide under the bed.) The new one's taking a while to settle in, and this is a bit of a learning experience. The Pirastro Chorda's a slightly thicker gauge than what the violin came with, so it might hold up to modern intonation better. But I'm still keeping it at A = 435 Hz for most uses.

I'm still gearing up for the Fiddle Club's spring dance, and learning the tune sets. There are some good tunes here, many of which I'll definitely be adding to my repertoire.

On the Irish fiddle front, I'm going to spend the next week taking a serious look at trying out variations, something I've let slide, a fact Philippe is clearly frustrated with.

My pipe instructor has me working on my 3rd piobaireachd, Struan Robertson's Salute. It's a nice tune, very different from the two laments I know. It's also my first formal introduction to the Braebach form, and with only Taoluath & Crunluath, singling and doubling variations, which are all very similar in formulation, it shouldn't be hard to memorize.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005


Devil's Tailors - Rehearsal #3

Anders and I got a lot of good work done on our 3rd rehearsal. We looked at most of our sets, and Anders took home recordings of most of what we did. Some of the new tunes got arrangements, and we were generally tighter.

My intonation still needs work, but I'm beginning to figure out why. I don't know if it's worse because of the new violin, or, because the overtones are so much stronger, it's just easier to hear on the new violin. Probably a little of both. But I have a good sense of the corrections I need to make to improve it. I also need to become more consistent in my swing - inconsistent swing sounds like a timing hiccup on a recording, even when I'm staying on-beat.

Indeed, I'm really appreciating that I need to record myself more often, for direct feedback on my playing.

Fiddle club was very fruitful - Elke gave us a lot of great tunes, and Anders took some ideas on the Scottish style of accompaniment from our pianist/accordian player (as opposed to Irish, which he has mostly done in the past).

Next rehearsal weekend (Mar 11-14), we'll work on intros/bridges/endings and arranging for more and different instruments.

Thursday, February 03, 2005


Love That Low Sound

I am truly in love with my new violin. After a week of playing it, I played it and the old one in quick succession - after tuning them both to the same pitch standard. And the difference was striking. The old student violin was very thin-sounding, even when I hit a resonance (like a 3rd finger ringing with the string below), it was very muted, like a nasally 8 year-old singing "nanny nanny boo boo!". The new violin rang out like like an opera singer. It was glorious.

I've been working on repertoire reels a lot, and my ability to play in sessions has gone way up. So far, Elke and I have looked at repertoire reels in the first 6 fiddle club books (along with Scots measures and reel-tempo hornpipes), and now we're going to go back look at the repertoire strathspeys and slow airs in those books, after we spend the next few weeks looking at the Scottish Country Dance style, in preparation for the dance the fiddle club is throwing and playing for at the end of the month.

The new pipes are settling in nicely too. As the reed breaks in, it's settling in between 435 and 440 Hz for the A, depending on the outside conditions, so it's very workable. I need to get some extra reeds for it, though. The range of pressures between where high A cuts off and where low G begins to collapse is greater now, allowing me a little more comfort. And boy does this sound wonderful for piobaireachd! I've been playing Lament for Mary MacLeod and Lament for the Old Sword on it every night, and it's just wonderful.

I'm supposed to start on Struan Robertson's Salute as my 3rd piobaireachd soon, so I'm looking forward to that. The strathspeys and reels are coming along well too, but I'm struggling to get the pointing right on the strathspeys. I'm too round generally, even on the light beats.

Anders is coming down for our 3rd rehearsal this weekend. We're going to go through all our existing sets, once for warm-up, then again rolling tape on them. Once we've done that, we're going to start looking at intros, bridges, and arrangements to spice things up. Should be a lot of fun.

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