Hello, hello! It’s the end of the month, which means it’s time for another tune recap! I will admit that I almost forgot to record this month, but fortunately I had a gig yesterday morning at the Boyne City Farmer’s Market, which proved to be an ideal time to record a few tunes. This month y’all get a bonus guest musician — John Warstler! John and I play gigs together frequently in the Petoskey, Michigan area, so it was great to get to feature him on a few of the sets this month.
If you’ve seen some of my earlier tune recordings on Instagram, you may remember that I get pretty creative with how I rig my phone to capture a good angle when I record myself playing. Think filing bins, kitchen clips, music stands, and blankets hung over doors for a backdrop. My behind the scenes are clearly very hi-tech. This time was no exception! While I did get a tripod for Christmas this year, I didn’t realize I would be needing it so I left it at home! So these videos are coming to you with the help of a pop socket, mic stand, and bright yellow duct tape… What can I say? I’m building this music business one step at a time, and if I have to be resourceful before I can budget out for “proper” equipment, then you bet I will!
This month I’m starting out with a tune that Chuck Boyer requested last month: Niel Gow’s Lament for his Second Wife. This is a beautiful Scottish waltz that I’ve been playing for years, but hadn’t pulled out of the tune repertoire since my undergraduate days. I’ve actually recorded this tune before, I believe in tribute to one of the (tragically) many school shootings that have occurred in the US. I’ve found music to be the best way to express some of my deeper emotions — I hope that whatever you may need to hear this lament for that it gives you some comfort and perhaps a few minutes of joy and peace.
This next set focuses on a project that I actually started back in February, where I tried different methods to help me learn tunes more quickly. Part of the value of learning by ear is that it actively forces you to remember the phrasing and the notes at a quicker rate than reading off of sheet music. This may seem a little counterintuitive to anyone who knows how to read music. After years of practice, I am at the point where I could easily sight read a tune and play it in an Irish traditional style because I know what a jig or a reel is supposed to sound like. However, I can’t tell you how many times I have mindlessly sight read a tune, then been unable to recall how it goes later on in a session. It doesn’t stick that way.
So to combat this tendency, I forced myself to slow down. I picked five jigs that I wanted to learn in O’Neill’s Collection of over 1,000 tunes, and I drilled them. I started off reading them off the page, then played them through enough times so that I could play without looking at the music. Then I put the fiddle away and came back to it the next day starting out with playing from memory. I would only reference the sheet music if I got completely stuck. Adding or subtracting a passing note here and there only added to my version of the overall tune, so I didn’t worry about playing every single note the way it was written. By using that method, I taught myself ten new tunes in three days. Let that sink in… I slowed down so that I could speed up. I was patient so that I could reach my goal faster than the breakneck, unplanned pace I’ve been relying on before now. Needless to say, this is one of my new practice strategies!
Lastly, I couldn’t help but add two of my favorite reels to this month’s recap! As you’ll hear in the video, there is a story to go along with the first tune, John Brosnan’s. So as promised, here it is! Some of you may know of the Irish band, We Banjo 3. Their fiddle player, Fergal Scahill, did a Tune A Day challenge back in 2017, and unfortunately I missed out on my opportunity to play a tune with him when they played at Blissfest that summer. Those were the days when you could barely pay me to be assertive, much less bug a famous person by reaching out more than once to try and meet them. When I saw Fergal was doing the tune challenge again this year, I knew this was my chance. We were already headed down to Ann Arbor to see their live album recording show at The Ark, so with fingers crossed and several messages back and forth on Instagram, we made it happen! The video is on his Facebook and Instagram pages, but if you’re having trouble finding it, I can send you the post on one of those platforms.
We recorded the video at the very end of February, so I decided to wait until this month to incorporate the story in to my recap. I’m posting it this month as a reminder to myself that I can be assertive, and that I don’t need to be afraid to ask if I want something badly enough. Both of the tunes in this video are some favorites that I heard played on my trips back to Cork last year in sessions at the Bodega. Thank you Michael, Hughie, Shane, and Tomas for your influence there! And thank you, of course, to John for playing on these videos this month. Here’s John Brosnan’s/The Sailor’s Bonnet — thanks for following along, and stay tuned for April!