Monday, March 27, 2006


Dance Dance Resolution

I've been playing a lot of dance music recently. I played for a dance class with Liz Donaldson before heading to Houston for St. Patrick's, and yesterday, I played for a fiddle club dance. A few weeks back, I played with CAPD for the Thistle Dancers. I'm enjoying the challenge - it's difficult, especially on these long sets, to be so consistent with tempo and rhythm, but it's a good exercise. Especially at the higher tempos. I've promised myself that I'm going to do more playing for dancers, whenever I can.

The metronome that was supposed to help me through this died mysteriously when I dropped it. The sad part is that I dropped it on carpet! The display comes on, but there's no sound. And it doesn't look like something so simple as a broken wire. So I've been practicing with a mechanical metronome, only to discover that it gives one of my cats metronomic seizures. I'm not joking here!

The hardest sets to get up to tempo were some pipe 6/8 marches I wanted to play for the dance yesterday for a jig set. The set included All the Blue Bonnets are Over the Border, The Atholl Highlanders, and John D. Burgess. And I found the easiest parts to get to tempo were the parts I didn't already know from CAPD - mainly because it's very hard to play 6/8 march ornaments at jig dance tempo. But I pulled it off well, and I and the shuttle piper made a nice addition to the group's sound.

I started my concert series at Potomac Overlook Park this week. It was more of a dress rehearsal, in some ways. The weekend staff were still figuring things out, I didn't have any publicity ready yet (other than an 8.5"x11" version of my business card) and the weather was cold and threatened rain the whole time (though we only got a few drops). I played with Julie Gorka, but Rosemary came out to listen. I tried to get her to play whistle, but she just wouldn't do it! The concert's best moment came when I played my Highland pipes in 440Hz with Julie on piano. The pipes were a bit flatter than that, actually, but that set sounded really great, tuning aside. I did get some enthusiastic mothers and kids to listen for a while, and may have a gig in June out of it. Next concert will probably be April 8th, and I'll probably have Chris with me for it.

The band rehearsals are proceeding apace. Chris had the great idea to combine our waltz set (which begins with Banks o' Doon) with "Ye Banks and Braes" by Burns (which uses that tune). We're also giving Rosemary more flute and less piano on these remaining sets. We talked about some standards we want to have in our pocket too, but I don't want to stress these too much. They'll be things we have available for requests, not part of the formal repertoire.

The PA gear is all in place, cases and all; now it's down to instrument parts and DIs and the like. And I should probably stencil my name on all the gear. I'm also putting the finishing touches on the studio workstation. Mainly I just need cables to connect the mixer to the firewire audio sampling box, to strain-relief some computer cables, and to install and learn ProTools 7 M-Powered.

I'm finally back to learning solo repertoire for pipes again, mainly reels, and dance tunes from the Patrick McDonald collection for reenacting. We're going through the Skye and Simon Fraser collections on fiddle; at home, I also will start looking at Liz Donaldson's dance tune books, as well as continuing to look at the Gow and Marshall collections, along my the Irish repertoire.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Two years and four folks

The idea behind The Devil's Tailors began just over two years ago, on 3/18/2004, when Anders announced his intention to join whatever outfit I started.

Six months later, Anders and I had our first rehearsal together. A year later, in March 2005, Anders and I had completed four rehearsals and had recorded some "concept" demos. Twenty months later, we'd invited Chris to join us. Rosemary came a month after that.

Things are moving very fast now. We have our band, we have our gear, we have our sets. We are working on orchestration, and then demo recordings, and then gigs.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Old Music is Good Music

On another topic, I've recently been getting a lot of new sheet music. I purchased the Gow Collections and Repositories from Fiddler's Crossing, to add to my copy of Marshall. It's great to have those old bass lines too.

My recent find that's got me the most excited is actually Anders' Xmas gift: 2 volumes of the J&R Glen collection for Highland Bagpipe. These books are about 100 years old, and are in pristine condition. Reading through them, I noticed the following:

1) Way more folk tunes, and less of the "composed" bagpipe music seen in later collections. This means the tunes mostly have only 2 parts, and the melodies are stronger. So much of modern competition music feels like an exercise rather than a tune.

2) They look more like fiddle tunes. The strathspeys, for example, use quadruplets, just like I'm used to seeing in fiddle music, but now wholly alien to pipers. And the presence of doublings on the first note of some indicate that they were articulated like the fiddle quadruplets too - long first note, then a run of 3. The reels are mostly written round, but I'm guessing they were swung.

3) The ornaments are noticably different. For example:
* Low-hand doublings. Rather than starting a doubling with a g-gracenote, this collection uses d- and e-graces to start the low-hand doublings and shakes. This is very similar to what Irish pipers (and flautists) do on their low-hand crans and short rolls; and supposedly this comes from the warpipes. Are the Irish playing the more authentic tradition in this case? Apparently the modern form originates with the Logan tutor, and Army piping rapidly standardized this ornament in its wake.
* Many more half-doublings. Today, we only play half doublings from high A - because we can't play an initial grace note - and from high G, because an initial a-gracenote is sometimes awkward. This collection has half doublings and half-shakes all over the place. The full doubling is both articulatory (from the initial gracing) and emphatic (from the second gracing, like a delayed tap on fiddle). Using half-doublings instead keeps it emphatic, but takes away the articulation, creating a greater illusion of legato. And the delayed tap/half-doubling is very common for Scottish fiddlers, so it makes sense that pipers would use it too.
* I haven't noticed the alternate Taorluaths (w/ the "redundant" low A) yet, but they're probably there, just written differently. My reading of Joseph McDonald is that it's really the second low G that's redundant, but it's really easy to get the "redundant" form from that just with a crossing noise after the e-gracing. The modern taorluath definitely had more bite than the McDonald one, and is easier to cleanly execute.

Very exciting stuff.


Blazing Speeds

My music has been moving at blazing speed recently; not just the tunes themselves, but the pace of things.

I've had two parades in the last 2 or so weeks with Alexandria. Both finished up for some of us at Pat Troy's, and I was dragged on stage four times after the St. Paddy's for little 5-10 minute pipe sets while the musician playing that stage took a break. Though I made lots of mistakes when playing the fast stuff, I kept the beat, and few noticed. Even got an invite from one of the musicians to bring my fiddle and play with him at his regular night. Also had beers bought for me, posed for pictures, and had a generally rollicking good time.

The Devil's Tailors rehearsal sessions are going very well. Rosemary and I have worked out our orchestrations for most sets, and we brought Chris into the mix for the first time this weekend. I ordered another batch of gear too, and now I'm just two cases and two spare microphones away from having the full gear for the band. Okay, I may need a van too, eventually. Not sure if all this crap will fit in the PT Cruiser!

There are two upcoming events that are really kicking my butt, though. City of Alexandria plays for the Something Scottish Thistle Highland Dance School concert on Saturday, and we're playing the Broadswords: 2 parts of 6/8 march, 1 part of 6/8 air, 6 parts of strathspey, 4 parts of (single) reel, 1 part of 6/8 air, 2 parts of 6/8 march. And we - individually and as a band - are having the worst time playing the reel at tempo. What kills me is that we're only going for 86 beats per minute, which isn't even reel tempo for a fiddler. And yet I'm falling apart. It's terribly embarrassing to see my fingers trip over each other. So we'll be doing this gig on a wing and a prayer.

By the same token, Liz Donaldson invited me to play with her for a Scottish Country Dance class on the 14th, and we have the Fiddle Club dance on the 25th, and I'm struggling to get those reels to tempo too. I like to play my reels at a comfortable 105 bpm, but the Country Dancers want 112-116 - which is close to where I play my jigs, but damn, that's fast for a reel. Especially ones I don't know well. And then there's the issue of tunes. I'll be cramming tunes in Liz's book this week.

My newest friend these days is the Korg Metrognome, an earbud metronome. For both instruments. I think I'll be playing with this thing a lot more. Better get a bunch of spare batteries.

And on top of all this, I went and bought tickets to see Dervish w/ Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill last night and Natalie MacMaster tomorrow night. Not that I'm regretting that, but it's taking a bite out of my practice time when I need it most...

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