Thursday, July 20, 2006

Inspired by Joanie

Photo by Linda Mason Hood
Well, for me it wasn't Irish Arts Week, it was just Irish Arts Days. But what a glorious two days they were! I had two lessons with Joanie Madden of Cherish the Ladies and one lesson with Laura Byrne. I played in two large group sessions and heard many fantastic performances.

The lessons with Joanie Madden were the highlight of my time in the Catskills (as evidenced by this picture -- I'm the smiling face in the lavender shirt). Joanie is the only major Irish traditional artist who plays the silver flute. All the others play the wooden flute. Since the flute I own is a professional concert flute, I have been trying to figure out how to execute the ornaments so that they sound like they do on the wooden flute or the tin whistle. I hoped to pick up some pointers from Joanie.

A good silver flute can be coaxed into coming very close to the fat, dark sound of the wooden flute, but the player must work on his or her embouchure to be able to produce a consistently strong sound in the low register. Joanie's low register is absolutely amazing. I've never heard anyone make the sounds she makes on low D. Her solid silver heavy weight Miyazawa flute gives her a little assistance, but her technique is the main element in the sound she produces. She doesn't teach embouchure exercises or advise practicing "low tones." She tells of her own experience -- just playing a low D until she could produce a "dirty D" (a phrase used by older musicians that she knew). Once she got it, she practiced for weeks until she could get it on demand. Reflecting on her method, it seems like your ear has to guide you. To train my ear, I've decided to practice with headphones on, listening to HER sound while I play. If I can solidly implant that sound in my head and work on reproducing it even without the headphones, maybe I can make it mine. By the way, this is an original idea as far as I know. I've never heard anyone talk about developing sound or tone with the method I just described.

Some creative fingerings and stylistic finesse are needed to to get the ornaments of Irish music to sound "right" on the silver flute. I had figured out some cuts and rolls on my own, but Joanie taught me some new tricks (taps and slides). She also talked a bit about how the ornamentation lends rhythmic emphasis, which plays a role in where the ornaments are placed.

Yes indeed, it was a great two days. I learned a lot, I knew more tunes this year in the sessions, amd most importantly, I came away with renewed passion to play this music well. Now all I have to do is practice, practice, practice!

© 2006, Linda Mason Hood
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1 comment:

rgtuba said...

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