SMG term ends with a bendy polka for whistles

The SMG summer term ended this week and we finished with the second of two polkas I learned from Conal  Ó Gráda some years ago.

A distinctive feature of this tune is the opening of the B part, which is a long c# that cuts across the main rhythm and comes as a surprise to the listener.

As this is a relatively weak note on the flute and whistle, sometimes with suspect tuning, a big sliding grace note bends from B through c natural to further enhance the tune at this point.

This tune has  a very strong Scottish connection as it appears to be a version of The Hopeful Lover. The version I have recorded and added to the class resources tune list comes from the Fourth Ceilidh Collection for Fiddlers by Christine Martin and Anne Hughes. Nigel Gatherer has a version closer to our Irish polka and gives Isle of Mull accordionist Bobby MacLeod as his source.

How it got to Ireland and changed is open to speculation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Jimmy Shand was involved in some way as he was as well-known in Ireland as elsewhere in the world. Jimmy Shand and Bobby MacLeod most certainly played together, as this photo nicely captures, (from this tribute web site to Scottish Dance accompanist David Flockhart).

The Barren Rocks of Aden, Mairi’s Wedding and Farewell to Whisky are other examples of Scottish tunes that lead a double life in Ireland as polkas.

Resources for both versions of this tune can be found over at The Flow. Check out the Scots Music Group web site for details of next term’s dates and booking details as they go up. FluteFling classes continue until the end of June.

Photo of Bobby MacLeod from the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame, all rights reserved.

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Flute tone exploration project

Yesterday I began a project with flute player and composer Amble Skuse to explore flute tone. As part of the project, we’ll be recording and blogging about our thoughts and experiences. This is the first of a number of entries about the journey and Amble is also blogging about it.

Amble comes from the Boehm flute tradition, but also plays wooden flute and tin whistle. A particular interest of this project is how to arrive at the dark, reedy sound beloved of traditional flute players and how this differs from the more open and bright sound associated with classical music. As well as looking at wooden flutes, we’ll be exploring different headjoints for her Yamaha Boehm. She brought along a grenaditte headjiont, grenaditte being a form of plastic designed to have similar properties to wood.

As often in these situations, it’s an exchange of ideas, a dialogue or discussion. I have always been interested in tone, almost above everything else. I am self-taught, play with an assymetrical embouchure left-handed on a right-handed simple system flute, so I have questions of my own. By better understanding my own approach I can better communicate that to others.

For many years I believed that only one sound was possible on a Boehm flute, that associated with classical music. This is largely because my experience of that flute has been almost exclusively been through players from that tradition. However, it was hearing Joannie Madden on the radio that convinced me otherwise as I had no idea she was playing a metal Boehm system flute.

So on a rainy Saturday afternoon we tried various combinations of flutes and piccolos, including those by Yamaha, Wilkes, Olwell, Rudall and Rose, Cotter, Thibouville-Lamy and Camac. We broke for tea and whistle duets on Burke whistles.

Some things I noticed from our first session.

  • When I pick up a flute to play I need to securely locate the bottom D and find as much room as I can with it. For me this is the touchstone of the flute and seems to inform everything else.
  • I need to stretch out in that space to know its limits and I do this by giving as much energy to that note as I can, overblowing without forcing it into the next octave. That point where the octave breaks is in interesting one, full of hidden harmonics. It’s like a house with a hidden room.
  • How easy is it to locate that area and then remain there are key to both the flute and my relationship with it.
  • That area is where some of the ‘dirty’ or ‘dark’ sounds come from. I need to explore that idea bit more. It may be that ‘dark’ comes before ‘dirty’. Dark and dirty are terms used to describe the accenting of lower harmonics as opposed to upper harmonics in a sound.
  • Space and room are terms I find useful in thinking about the tone. I tried a headjoint by Chris Wilkes once that I felt provided more headspace by raising the ceiling. It allowed me to become more expansive and flexible in tone and volume without compromising my core tone.
  • We may all have our own ways of visualising our own sounds. Amble thinks in terms of shape — smooth roundedness and edgy corners.
  • Square embouchure designs on flutes appear to promote the open, brighter tone. The more closed, darker tone appears to be associated with elliptical designs. This is supported by what Abell flutes (and others) say about their designs. The square embouchure design is the default one on Boehm system flutes and I believe this not only makes the sound easier to obtain, but is helpful with volume.
  • The Rockstro position is helpful, but it then depends on what you do with your shoulders and arms.

More questions arise, but I’ll leave it there just now. Amble’s blog has sound clips, more discussion and observation and some photos. We’ll add more as the project progresses.

Photo of Amble Skuse  and flutes by Gordon Turnbull.

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The Cork connection: an Irish polka and fling

By coincidence, the two classes this week both learned tunes with Cork connections. The SMG Whistlers class learned the first of two polkas that I learned from County Cork flute player Conal Ó Gráda many years ago at a workshop in Belfast.

He didn’t have a name for either tune at the time, but Not for Joe and Mrs. Crowley’s are two titles that I have recently found for it. Conal Ó Gráda has a very powerful and distinctive style that turned the heads of many people when they first heard his initial recording The Top of Coom. He now plays with The Raw Bar Collective and their web site has a great introductory 16 minute video that is worth checking out.

I originally taught this tune as part of the original FluteFling afternoon workshop in 2012 and the music for the tunes that day can be found here (PDF). It’s also here in some tunes I put together for set dancing (ABC format).

Meanwhile, the regular FluteFling Improvers group looked at the second of two Terry “Cuz” Teehan highland flings, The Road to Glounthane. Solidly in A major, but conveniently avoiding G# and interestingly D as well, I suspect that parts of it may well be in E major, but in an an ambiguous mode. Things went so well in the class that we ended up recording it, so thanks to everyone for agreeing to share it.

Resources for the tunes can be found on The Flow as usual, which is my Irish/ traditional flute resource site.

Photo of Conal Ó Gráda CC Michael Curry, some rights reserved.

 

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A new tune for the whistle: Kate Dalrymple

The SMG whistle class this week took a look at Kate Dalrymple, well-known reel that can often be heard in ceilidhs. As was pointed out in the class, this is used as the theme tune to BBC Scotland’s Take the Floor, the Saturday night ceilidh show on the radio.

The tune is well-known and appears in various collections, including Kerr’s Merry Melodies for the Violin. Usually it is in the key of A with more parts than just the two we are learning that go with the song.

Our version of it is in the more accessible key of D and comes from Fran Gray’s book Hands on Scottish Tin Whistle, which can be found in various specialist places such as Coda Music in Edinburgh, Scotland’s Music and in Gaelic at Fèisean nan Gàidheal. I have found it to be a useful teaching tool and I use it with my Saturday morning children’s class.

Some information and another setting in A from The Session. That site quotes from The Fiddlers Companion, where is is given as being first printed in 1750 as The New Highland Laddie. It is also known as Jinglin’ Johnnie.

According to flutetunes.com, the words were written by William Watt (1792−1859), and as a song the piece becomes something of a tongue-twister for those unfamiliar with the Scots language. When I play this tune I hear Jack from Sandy Bell’s singing it to a silenced bar. Jack was a well-known figure, who I learned has since passed away.

According to Wikipedia, the Kate Dalrymple of the title was a renowned society figure of her day, although the words of the song are less than flattering. I wouldn’t be surprised if the other titles were also associated with songs.

The Fiddlers Companion makes a reference to Kate Dalrymple having a portrait by Gainsborough in the National Portrait Gallery in London. I couldn’t find it online, but the one included above is also by Gainsborough, possibly of a relative, Grace Dalrymple Elliot, who has her own colourful history.

Resources for this tune can be found at The Flow.

Portrait of  Grace Dalrymple Elliot by Thomas Gainsborough from Wikipaintings, public domain.

 

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Children’s Traditional Whistle Class in Edinburgh

Booking is now taking place for the Traditional Whistle classes at Portobello Music School in Edinburgh that will continue next term after the Summer holidays.

Following on from a successful first year, there will be classes for beginners and those who are continuing on from this year’s classes. The classes run on Saturday mornings throughout term time.

The classes combine a number of approaches, including learning by ear and learning to read music. The focus is on a Scottish repertoire, but also includes music from other traditions.

Full booking details  can be found at the Portobello Music School web site.

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New flute and whistle tunes for May: a jig and a fling

Last night the SMG whistlers made good progress with what seemed to be a daunting task a couple of weeks ago, learning the Scottish jig A Fisherman’s Song for Attracting Seals.

A very unusual tune in its use of repetitive phrases and uneven structure, whistler and Nigel Gatherer mentions in this discussion that it may have first appeared in The Patrick McDonald Collection of Highland Vocal Airs (1784). A quick search reveals that this collection may be available as a PDF via a number of sources if you’re interested in hunting down some more of this music. I’m not aware that lyrics exist for this “song” and it it may be that they were never collected.

The version we’re learning is close to that of Iain MacDonald of Glenuig and former Ossian member that is included in the link above. Another version can be found on Ossian’s Seal Song, which is the first traditional album I bought. Here’s a link to the tune from the Ossian recording on Youtube.

The two part jig has an A part of just 8 bars, including repeats and a B part of 10 bars (8 or 16 would be expected). The B part also bears 4 of the bars of the A part, so that when going from the A part into the B part it becomes difficult to distinguish the parts. The effect however is of a groove that can feel infectious.

We’re going to be putting this tune into a set with our previous tunes this term: The Iona Boat Song/ Ciamar a nì mi a Dannsa Dìreach/ A Fisherman’s Song for Attracting Seals.

Meanwhile, the Thursday night FluteFling Improvers class has led to learning the first of two flings by Terry “Cuz” Teehan. I came across these in the 90s played as a pair, although I can’t recall who first popularised them as a set.

Flings occupy an uncertain place in Irish traditional music and appear to have a connection to Scotland. This discussion on The Session attempts to clears up a few questions. In Ireland they appear to occupy an area closer to hornpipes and barndances in terms of style, than Scottish strathspeys or even Donegal highlands. I sense that a connecting line can be drawn between them all, although I have no idea how accurate that might be.

As it happens, concertina player Niamh Ní Charra has just released Cuz - A Tribute to Terry “Cuz” Teahan. In addition, this original and out-of-print recording may be of interest. Some more background information here back at The Session.

As usual, all resources for the tunes can be found over on The Flow.

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New beginner jig: Ciamar a nì mi an Dannsa Dìreach?

This week the SMG Beginners whistle class consolidated The Iona Boat Song and began looking at a jig.

This one is a piece of Gaelic mouth music called Ciamar a nì mi an Dannsa Dìreach? (How Can I do the Dance Properly?) that is closely related to the four-part pipe jig Paddy’s Leather Britches.

Mouth music, or port-a-beul, is a form of dance music found today primarily in the Western Isles that came about due to the lack of an instrument to dance to. Instead, words were put to music and the singer(s) provided the music instead.

Here’s a version of our tune from the Tobar an Dualchais/ Kist o Riches archive, by Dr Allan MacDonald of Uig, Isle of Skye, recorded in 1953. The words ask “How can I dance properly, when the pin has come away from the bottom of my dress?”

I first heard this on a record by Sprangeen in in the early ’80s, where it was paired with Paddy’s Leather Britches. The version we are learning comes from Ceol nam Feis 2, a bilingual repository of tunes taught by Fèisean nan Gàidheal. This community-based Gaelic arts organisation runs events all over Scotland.

A key to learning jigs, especially when new to them, is to slow them down into 3/4 or waltz time. This retains the sense of the timing and relationship of the parts of the tune without feeling that it is about to run away too quickly.

Resources for this and other music we are learning can be found over at The Flow.

Photo: A Basket-full of Ceilidh Dancing by Derek E-Jay, some rights reserved.

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New term, new tunes: The Iona Boat Song and The New Claret

The summer term began this week with a look at some Scottish tunes with a little bit of history behind them.

The SMG whistlers looked at Caol Muile (The Straits of Mull) or The Iona Boat Song. Another Scottish Boat Song to go alongside The Skye Boat Song and The Arran Boat Song that we learned this year and also Iomramh Eadar Il’ A’s Uist (Rowing from Islay to Uist), which I also sometimes teach.

Intended to assist with the steady rowing rhythm required to cross the stretches of water that link the islands, these are possibly very old tunes. The words for them have been lost but, as with The Skye Boat Song, words have been added in more recent times.

The excellent archive web site Tobar an Duchais/ Kist o’ Riches has a field recording of Hugh Duncan of Islay singing a version in Gaelic that was collected in 1953. The words were composed by Rev. John MacLeod of Morvern. There are links to other versions of the song on the site from about 30,000 different field recordings in total.

Another author was Sir Hugh S. Roberton, founder of The Glasgow Orpheus Choir. His words evoke the spiritual heritage of the island which has been a final resting place for many saints, leaders and royalty of Scotland.

The FluteFling Improvers class began with a Scottish slip jig, The New Claret. Claret was once Scotland’s second drink after whisky at one point, with claret carts as common as milk carts in Edinburgh. While versions of this tune exist in Ireland (e.g. The Sport of the Chase), the chordal construction strongly suggests a Scottish origin.

Resources for these can be found at The Flow as usual.

Photo of Iona by Jim Barter, some rights reserved.

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FluteFling end of term, SMG students concert

We finished off this term with reels for both FluteFling classes. The Improvers group learned one of my favourite Irish reels, The Otter’s Holt, composed by County Clare fiddler Junior Crehan. This completed a set of three tunes: The Maids of Mount Cisco and The Sailor on the Rock being the others.

Originally entitled Poll an Mhadra Uisce, (The Otter’s Den), there is some discussion of it over at The Session. Matt Molloy may have been one of the first people to record it on his debut solo recording and The Bothy Band (with whom he played) also featured it on Old Hag You Have Killed Me. Both were released in 1976 and both are excellent and highly influential recordings worth checking out.

Meanwhile the Beginners class learned the Shetland reels Lay Dee at Dee and Da Ferry Reel. Usually we would cover hornpipes before tackling reels, but the structure of these tunes is similar to hornpipes and suited us well. These tunes also were covered by the SMG whistlers and more information can be found on the tunes in this earlier entry.

All resources can be found at The Flow.

Summer Term for FluteFling will consist of 5 classes for both groups and begins on Thursday 18th April with the Improvers class, Beginners resuming on 25th April. Booking details will be up soon; check the diary for the dates details.

The Scots Music Group whistlers, after some encouragement from John, opted to perform in the recent student concert alongside other student groups and tutors. A mixture of  marches and song airs, the two sets of tunes had a very lyrical feel. There was some very positive feedback, in particular relating to the arrangement for three whistles of Da Day Dawn, which seemed to fit the atmospheric church setting well.

There was quite a buzz at the event, particularly backstage, where as many as six different groups could be warming up at once. It was great to see so many people there and while I completely appreciate that there are many reasons to learn and play music, performance can help to focus and discipline one’s playing. I’ll bear that in mind for the Tutor’s Concert at the end of April.

There was just one class left over from a cancelled one and we learned an Irish jig, The Idle Road. We haven’t done many jigs and this one has some sprightly and rhythmic octave jumps that stand out but can be tricky to tackle. I believe that the tune is sometimes taught to fiddlers to help work on bowing technique. There don’t appear to be many recordings of the tune, although there are some Youtube examples. A few different versions of the tune exist and can be found online, for example at Tune Archive and its previous incarnation, The Fiddler’s Companion. The jig is also known as The Winding Road and both are a translation from the Irish for a road that is indirect.

I haven’t recorded this tune yet, but a version I taught at last year’s FluteFling day workshop can be found in this PDF. Please note that I have corrections to make to that document.

Summer Term: The Scots Music Group resumes for a 6 week term on Wednesday 17th April. Booking is through their web site.

Photo of wooden flutes being cleaned and photo of The Scots Music Group Students’ Concert 2013 (c) Gordon Turnbull

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FluteFling Improvers: The Sailor on the Rock

The Sailor on the Rock is a solid single reel from Ireland. Punchy and in D major, it fits a number of different instruments well enough to have been recorded many times and have some variations in setting.

The Fiddler’s Companion suggests that it was popularised by highly influential Leitrim flute player John McKenna and speculates that it w as a Leitrim tune that he brought to wider attention. An alternative and distinctive title is Johnny with the Queer Thing (in O’Neill’s Music of Ireland).

Resources for this tune can be found at The Flow.

Photo: On the Rocks, Atlantic View County Clare by Hervé BRY, some rights reserved.

 

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