Saturday, February 28, 2009

Irish Fiddle Concert: Liz Carroll, John Doyle & Daniel Lapp

Irish Fiddle : Cathal Hayden & Arty McGlynn

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Irish Fiddle Ornaments

When I started playing jigs, my default bowing pattern made a groove like Pop Goes the Weasel: "Long-short, long-short, muberry bush, the long-short, long-short weasel."

And that still works for me without having to think about it. The one rule to keep in mind is: Do not slur from one string to another. This is unlike Irish reels. There, you can and do slur from one string to another. But not in jigs.

Getting the hang of ornaments

I think of the Irish fiddle ornaments as falling into melodic and percussive categories.

The three most common melodic moves are, the grace note, the triplet, the roll. These moves all use "neighbor notes." Any note within one step of the main melody note can be a neighbor note. In Irish fiddling, the neighbor note can be two steps away.

Grace notes are typically the upper neighbor, one whole step or half step higher. The grace note is usually played just before the beat.

In standard music notation it is shown as a very small note. In my tab charts I follow this convention by making the tab grace note much smaller than the main melody notes.

Triplets start with the melody note, go up to the neighbor note, and return to the melody note. The rhythm of this is a substitution of three internal beats for two.

Think of a shuffle pattern: dah-duh-duh. Now go: diddally-duh-duh. This ornament is very popular in Texas Contest style also.

The roll starts on the melody note, goes to the upper neighbor, back to the melody note, then to the lower neighbor, then back to the melody note. When the melodic note is played with the first finger, the upper neighbor is usually the third above, and is played with the third finger. In the roll, the neighbor notes are very light and quick, almost ghost notes.

Percussive finger and bow tricks

These next two moves are a lot of fun. They imitate the bodhran drum. I think of them as being rhythmic ornaments, not melodic.

The bow shake, (my term), is not intended to make three distinct notes. You should hear an interruption of the melodic sound when you do it.
Yes, it is a triplet pattern, but done so quickly that you just hear the sound of the bow digging into the string.

Finally, the cut, which you execute by dragging your finger across the (usually) open string without changing the bow direction. This also creates an interruption of the melodic sound. The violin as a percussion instrument!

Slidin' and Squawkin'

The first collection I found of Irish and Celtic tunes, way back in the day,was
English, Welsh, Scottish & Irish Fiddle Tunes by Robin Williamson.

This was published in 1976 and came with a vinyl recording of the author playing his tunes up to speed. I still play Carolan’s Concerto and Off to California, which came from this book originally.

Williamson writes about slides as being squawks and smears. A squawk is a quick slide and a smear is a lazy slide. The lazy slide has become a favorite of mine, often replacing several notes of a melody.

In slides the object is to start the slide flat to the target note. It can be a half step low or, sometimes, even more. When you slide up the neck, be sure to stop at the desired pitch.

Many times in my studio I coach students to do this correctly. The common mistake is to start at the target pitch and slide up. Be very careful to avoid this error. It just doesn’t sound right.

Quick slides, or squawks, can be done often. You will find some notes are better than others for a quick slide. The third note of the scale you are in, for example, is almost always good. The note attracts a slide, especially if it does not go by too fast.

The slower slide, the smear, will often take more time than the usual note allows. So you just steal time from another note. Then you take that note out back and shoot it. (Just kidding. You let the note back in later, when you don’t play the smear.)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Martin Hayes plays at Sale's wake

Gwennie Sale, a fine Irish fiddler (though born a Scot) was tragically killed in her prime by a negligent driver. She was married to accomplished guitarist Dennis Cahill and he plus a vast number of the Irish community, marked her passing with a day-long wake which started in this park (a favourite spot for Gwen) then moved to Martyr's, lasting until the wee hours.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Irish Fiddle Holidays for Adults

Irish fiddle lessons and courses for complete beginners and Level 1 and 2 intermediates

Kerry Fiddles specialise in fiddle virgins.
Even if you have never played any musical instrument before, by the end of the week you’ll be playing your first tune on the fiddle! Morning classes are a hoot, there’s no music theory, no pressure and no rush. Afternoons are free to explore the most beautiful part of Ireland.
For Intermediates, it’s a chance to devote a week to your music, to getting new tunes, improving technique and learning how to teach yourself.

We do our best learning when we’re relaxed, so don’t expect a studious music course. Though we aim to motivate, lay solid foundations and teach effective practice, our main concern is that you have fun.

Morning classes are held at our house, in a spacious music room with great acoustics and mountain views! Though it feels spectacularly remote, we are only 4 miles from Kenmare.

Afternoons are free for you to do what you want. There are loads of ideas on our 'Free Time' page and all are within easy driving distance of Kenmare

Most evenings will be spent at sessions in and around Kenmare. If there are any gigs on in the Kerry/Cork area we’ll try and get to those too. If you’re up to playing sessions, you’ll be very welcome to join us for tunes on Monday and Tuesday nights in Crowley’s bar.

Any of you familiar with Bristol Fiddles will know about our Weekend Workshops with Kevin Burke, Tommy Peoples, Brendan McGlinchey, Paul O'Shaughnessy, Ciaran Boyle, Pete Challoner, Des Hurley, Bernard and Gerard KilBride, Joe Scurfield and Henry Sears.

We're planning to put similar workshops on in Kenmare. Send us your e-mail address if you'd like advance notice.

Irish Fiddle Regional Styles

An Article from Caoimhín Mac Aoidh on 
Regional Styles in Irish Fiddling


Approximately 90 years ago the Irish language was spoken without break along the entire southern western and northern coastline and as far inland as County Roscommon (Irish Language Survey of 1891). At this time the Irish of these areas, dialectically speaking, gradually flowed into one another, thus making distinct dialects along a continuous transverse section almost undetectable.

A language can be simply defined as a highly organised series of sounds and it is important to note that music, and in this case traditional Irish dance music, also fits well with this definition.

I feel that both language and music are reflective of their practitioners or creators. Northerners to me generally are straightforward people in their humour and speech. Their music is usually straightforward as well; their song, ornamentally, is also. The Ulster dialect of Irish is often referred to as bland or flat. The music of the more southern counties, as regards their sound, and Irish dialects are significantly lighter in nature. A link between the music and the language is herein implied.

I would like to speculate that prior to the drop-off in the acceptance and playing of traditional music as well as the speaking of the Irish language, dance music, like the language, existed in a continuous gradual blending of styles between areas. These gradations, however, most likely suffered some breaks in the face of insurmountable natural barriers such as the River Shannon and various mountain ranges which limited communication between regions. Postdating the decline in both the acceptance of both traditional dance music and Irish, it was exactly these barriers which helped to maintain the now remote, isolated pockets which held on to their traditions. By the turn of the century the blending of musical styles was defunct, with distinct styles, like Irish dialects, being recognisable only within isolated areas.

To support this idea, one can easily see the River Shannon acting as a natural barrier between County Clare, a musical province where the reel is a heavily emphasised rhythm, and Counties Kerry and Limerick, where a generation ago slides and polkas predominated. (The author acknowledges the presence of turf boats which, at the time in question did somewhat link these areas. It is significant to point out that The Foxhunter's Reel is claimed to be a native tune in both areas with each side claiming transportation to the other district to turf boats). Scattery Island, by all local accounts would have been enigmatic. As this island lies comfortably tucked in a harbour by the mouth of Poulnasherry Bay near Kilrush, it would be thought that the music of the island would be more representative of the Clare area, yet highly credible sources without exception maintain that the music of this island was more like that appreciated on the southern bank of the Shannon. These informants also tell me, however, that the islanders, although forced by geographical division to call themselves Claremen, preferred to consider themselves as separate "islanders". Another excellent example of geographic barriers seperating musical and linguistic provinces are the Bluestack and Sperrin Mountains of Counties Donegal and west Derry which isolate the latter from the flat basalt plain of east County Derry and County Antrim. The mountains of Connemara act similarly separating Connemara from the east County Galway plain.

Rapid mass transportation for the general population in Ireland has become a reality within approximately the last fifteen years. Essentially, what this means, in terms of traditional music, is that prior to the arrival of the motorcar, buses, etc. the country population (musicians included) were restricted to small localised areas. The boundaries of most of these areas were commonly dictated by natural geographic barriers such as rivers, mountains, watersheds, etc. This exposed the musicians within them to a local sphere of influence, thus promoting the continuence of local styles, as outside influences such as travelling musicians still remained minimal. (Some such as Johnny Doran, in recent years however, had a dynamic effect on the local style within certain areas).

As regards the mass media and recordings, I feel it can be truthfully stated that it will be these which deal the killer blow to localised fiddle styles. At present anyone can readily obtain a recording of nearly any type of fiddle style, thus I feel eventually contributing to the rise of homogenous fiddle styles based on heterogenous influences. The late Patrick Kelly of Cree, Co. Clare best summed up the evil side of recordings when he stated that "the worst thing that ever happened to the West Clare style of fiddling was the appearance of Micheal Coleman's records". I needn't go further to illustrate the gargantuan impact which the recordings of the late Sligo fiddle master had on the entire musical population.

I posted part 1 of the promised article on regional styles. In relation to this, I wish to point out that it was written back in the late 1970s and published in the early 1980s (I suspect about 1980), based on a reference to Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh as having been already married. At that time it was the only article published which directly addressed regional styles. Few if any, other than Philippe's, have been published, indicating the dearth of investigative initiatives directed at one of the most interesting and important subjects in the music.

I should point out also that while I still stand over the article, my views have changed a wee bit. I would also write it today with a more tempered view such as substituting a different word for "evil" as appearing in part one. Again, this is an indicator of where things stood then in the 1970s, where the "national" style was booming and there was a virtual intolerance of anything local