Monday, March 21, 2005


Rehearsal 4 Addendum

I listened to the raw sound files again, and it sounded better than I had remembered. I also noticed that my bowing wasn't quite as staccato as I remembered, but that there was a different problem that was exacerbating this impression. In my reels and jigs, I've been playing my quarter notes as an eighth note followed by an eighth note rest, rather than drawing it out the full length. Philippe has definitely commented on this, and now I really understand what he means. This is an easier fix than smoothing out my bowing more generally, and I can implement it immediately.

Anders and I talked on Friday night about the mix. He took the raw files, put them through some EQ, reduced the severity of the pan (the raw files had guitar all in the left channel, fiddle in all in the right), simulated an acoustic space, and burned those tracks to CD, and he says they sound fantastic. He's going in to tweak some little flubs on my part, and I think we'll get a demo tape out of this. I'm really looking forward to hearing it. Next time, we want to record the rest of our sets, and those we don't like from the first recording, and we'll have first cuts of all our music.

To this end, I purchased condenser microphones identical to those Anders brought and a slightly more useful mixer (more analog features, no digital effects), so he won't have to travel with the equipment anymore. And Anders pointed out that my mixer could, when the band is doing a gig, serve as my personal sub-mixer. But this setup will me to record my practice sessions more often, with greater fidelity, so I can listen to them at work. I guess I need to get in the habit of burning CD-RWs for this.

On the topic of our remaining sets, I finished the fiddle harmony for the 2nd time through Nine Pint Coggie, wherein the guitar will take the melody line. The B-part is a mix of harmony and taking an octave below the melody, and the A-part is a counterpoint that contains a bit of a musical joke: the notes of the counterpoint, when put to a different rhythm, are those of the Dies Irae - a favorite musical in-joke among classical composers. And it sounds like it works pretty well. I'm now working on the harmony/counter-melody for My Only Jo and Dearie. I'll also start working up variations for me, and I'll give some thought to what harmonies I might play in lieu of the melody line if we ever get a flautist or mandolin/cittern player.

I started filling out my registrations for various Highland Games contests this year, stymied by the fact that I ran out of checks. It's going to be a busy summer.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


The Devil's Tailors - Rehearsal #4

Anders and I got a lot of great work done at this rehearsal. We're definitely seeing incremental improvements each time we play together. Anders brought a small mixer and a couple of studio microphones, and I went out and bought a couple of boom stands, and we recorded on real equipment this time, and the difference was huge.

I'm still not completely happy with my intonation, that's something I'm really going to have to concentrate on, by doing scales and intervals with double-stops with every practice. Elke has said it took her two years to iron that out. Ouch. I also feel, from listening to the recordings that I'm too staccato; there's that instant of "dead" at the bow change. Philippe has commented on this, but I always assumed it was my "Scottish" style leaking in, but upon listening to the recordings, it's more than even the Scottish styles should allow. I don't do this on slow airs so much, I suspect, since I'm thinking about smoothness. So Elke is going to have me do bowing exercises with wrist and fingers, then practicing bow direction changes, and then playing the faster tunes at air tempos. That's a good idea, it'll help me integrate more ornamentation into the tunes. When I play an air, or a slow strathspey, I naturally throw in a lot of ornaments. But when I speed things up before becoming comfortable with the ornaments, I just skip them. So this exercise will give me two improvements for the price of one.

But our execution otherwise is tightening up, and Anders is increasingly happy with the ideas he's coming up with. The music I'm exposing him to, and fiddle club, are helping, it's really giving him a sense of what Scottish music is, as opposed to other idioms.

He was really blown away by Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas on Sunday night. But then, so was I, and I'd seen them together several times already.

In April, we start working on songs.

Friday, March 11, 2005


What a difference a week makes

So I went back and spent a week on the technique on the strathspeys I was having trouble with on pipes, marking all the weights of the beats, drawing ties to indicate all quadruplets, and focussing on execution. When I went to my lesson, wow, what a difference. I played Bob of Fettercairn and Maggie Cameron with my instructor, and both were coming along very well. Also, I think I'm beginning to get the hang of interpreting the scansion in Struan Robertson's Salute, which I've also managed to more or less memorize.

Moving out into the repertoire strathspeys & airs in fiddle club books 1-6, Elke and I looked at a few cool tunes. Hamish Henderson's Refusal being the coolest so far, especially since that's a Royal Mile jam session favorite (at least among one of the regulars). Loads of fun.

The session went well, but was lightly attended. Maybe next month we'll grab some more people. This weekend Anders is coming to rehearse; also we have fiddle club and an Alasdair Fraser concert. Looking forward to the fun.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


Climbing off the latest plateau

I was very disappointed with myself at my pipe lesson. The piobaireachd material, Struan Robertson's Salute, went fairly well. But when we got to the strathspey I've been working on for a year now, Bob of Fettercairn, I just couldn't do it. I was no better than I was a year ago, and worse than I was six months ago.

"Musically, it's clear you know what you're trying to do", my instructor told me. "But executionally, you're all over the place". So I'm going back to basics on this tune.

But that speaks to a general trend on my piping. My execution has sagged in a lot of ways. I've been so obsessed with competition and band repertoire and mindless repetition and getting time in on the pipes to build endurance that I've let my technique on non-competition tunes go to crap.

On the other hand, I'm much better when it comes to public performance, and playing in the band, and my blowing is somewhat steadier, and I now better how to tune the pipes. So it's not like I wasn't developing any skills at all in the last 18 months.

But I've got to go back to execution. And that means two things. First, I really need to stop gabbing with my instructor during the lessons; I'm there to work on technique and material, not chit-chat. More importantly, I need to reduce my bag-time. I need to drop back to an hour a day on the full pipes, and spend the rest of my practice on practice/electronic chanter. That's where I developed my (once) precocious technique, and that's where I need to go back to rebuild it.

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