Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ireland Bound

Cover by June McCormack, used with permission

This summer I plan to attend the 37th Annual Willie Clancy Summer Music Festival in Ireland. "Willie Week," as it's affectionately known in traditional Irish music circles, is the prototype for all the traditional Irish music festivals. Held in the hometown of Willie Clancy, a piper who played a prominent role in the Irish folk revival in the 1960's, the festival in Miltown Malbay, County Clare, Ireland, draws about 1300 attendees who take lessons, hear lectures, play in sessions, and attend dances for one glorious week. I am very excited, to say the least.

With accommodations secured and ticket purchased, I've turned my attention to polishing up my playing. Over the past year most of my flute efforts have focused on two areas: transitioning to the Irish flute (changing fingering and embouchure) and learning tunes, especially those tunes I play as part of the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra. Sadly, I have paid very little attention to ornamentation, which is what originally drew me to Irish music in the first place.

You'll recall that while I'm waiting for my custom Peter Noy flute I bought a Casey Burns Folk Flute, the ergonomic small-handed version. (17-Aug-2008: Finding an Interim Flute) I was really excited about it when it arrived, but it has proved to be a disappointment. While the mopane wood makes a lovely sound, the whole flute is flat and proved unworkable in ensemble playing. Sometime in the late fall of 2008, I switched to a borrowed Casey Burns Boxwood flute, a better instrument all around as it is pitched properly and is in tune with itself. Its other advantage is that the spacing between the finger holes is more standard.

So, in the last 10 months I have changed from silver flute fingerings to keyless wooden flute fingerings. I have also adjusted my embouchure and reworked my coordination twice - the first time to cover the holds of the Burns small-handed flute, and then increasing the stretch to cover the spacing of the holes on the Boxwood standard holed flute.

You probably have no idea how much slow playing is needed to establish good muscle memory for playing tunes quickly. Lots, and then lots more. To keep from losing my mind, I started attending more sessions. I have used the sessions as 3-hour practice periods. Even though the music I played at faster speeds had a lot in common with Swiss cheese (lots of holes in the melody), I could focus on the group sound while mentally aiming my fingers at the holes and hoping for the best. In the process, I learned more tunes, and made a few new friends too. I'm now feeling pretty comfortable about being able to play the Burns Boxwood standard holed flute, albeit without much ornamentation.

To add some grace and style to my playing, I've started working through a book entitled Fliuit, Irish Flute Tutorial by Irish flutist June McCormack. June does an excellent review of ornamentation, with explanations notated and illustrated on the CD that comes with the book. Fliuit contains 64 tunes, most of which are unfamiliar to me. I purchased the book last summer at the Catskills Irish Arts Week, but I hadn't used it until now. (If you'd like to order a copy, click here.) It seems to be just what I need.

To illustrate what I find so inspiring, here's June McCormack and harpist/husband Michael Rooney playing a lovely set of hornpipes.

This new focus has renewed my enthusiasm for practicing. While I won't play like June in that video, playing BETTER by the time Willie Week rolls around has given me an exciting goal. In my practicing, my reading, and trip planning, I am truly Ireland bound!

© 2009, Linda Mason Hood
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