Thursday, December 11, 2008

Rainy Day Sun

The Session

And if anyone catches the subject line reference, I'm very stoked. : )

It's one of those blatting, drippy days where the rain doesn't stop but it doesn't really ever start either.  That's not rain out there.  That's heavy mist.  Not enough to keep you from venturing outdoors, but not dry enough to warrant it for extended periods of time either.  Simply put; it's an indoor kind of day.

I've got a stack of work to complete anyway, including some video production and admin, you know - shuffling virtual paper kind of stuff.  Still, this is the quiet season and I've actually been looking forward to it for the sole purpose of doing some long-awaited woodshedding.  This is the concept of basically going out into the woodshed with your instrument and doing nothing but playing, practicing, perfecting and picking apart what it is that you do in order to make it better.  It's a continuous process, this music thing, just like life - you keep growing and changing and discovering new things about old things and strange things about things you thought you knew well.

The link at the beginning of this post is for a website called "The Session" and it is serving as a nice replacement for the Wild Dismay site that disappeared when I wasn't looking (and I'm sure many other people as well.)  It's a nice collection of Irish jigs, reels and other dance tunes with sheet music and ABC files, which can be easily copied and imported into TablEdit for manipulation.  At Unicoi, I picked up some great books, among them a collection of O'Carolan harp tunes by Shelley Stevens and Soodlum's Irish Ballad Book, which has got 158 popular "pub" tunes with simple melodies, chords and lyrics.  As I do some performing in Irish pubs (with some gigs coming up later this month and next at O'Doherty's in St. Cloud), I've been trying to bone up on my authentic repertoire and that's been my main focus this winter.  "Whiskey In The Jar" and "The Galway Shawl" are high on my list of sung tunes while "The Maid Behind The Bar", "Swallowtail Jig" and "The Glasgow Reel" are among the instrumental fiddle pieces that I've madly been sawing, rather plucking, away at.

The latter of those tunes is also known by the title "Tam Lin" and I first heard it performed by Mary Z. Cox at the Suwannee Dulcimer Retreat in January of this year.  I instantly fell in love with its persuasive and haunting cadences and set about trying to locate instances of it on YouTube with perhaps some sheet music or tablature lying about.  I finally did manage to find that on "The Sessions" website and there are quite a few instances of the tune on YouTube as well.

These lads, and Mary, play the tune in the key of F - which can be sort of managed on a dulcimer with a 1+ fret in DAD tuning - but I found myself transposing the tune into the key of G in order to play it more comfortably. Thankfully, it became clear that the fingerings I'm using in DAD tuning, when rendered in CGC tuning, will deliver the tune purely in the key of F, which appears to be the best key for it. Certain tunes, I'll have to admit, just do sound better in certain keys than others - and some folks can get downright religious about it. I made the mistake of suggesting at a jam that we play "Hangman's Reel" in the key of D while Rick Thum was around. He protested, but we went ahead and played it. Turns out, "Hangman's Reel", well known to be a key of A tune, is one of Rick's favorite tunes and he said, "you ruined a good 'A' tune." I don't know - to my ear, tunes like "Hangman's Reel", "Arkansas Traveler", "Turkey In The Straw" all sound fine in any key whereas tunes like "Tam Lin", "Soldier's Joy", "Road To Lisdoonvarna" just sound right in their respective keys (F, D and E.) Some would argue that "Soldier's Joy" is actually a G tune. Heh. Not if you're a dulcimer player.

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