Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Willie Week - Wednesday

We learned five more tunes in Day 3 of the flute class, bringing the total number of tunes taught to 12. In addition, there were two more tunes which were given out. Let me explain what I mean by tunes taught and tunes given out.

Tunes TAUGHT: As you may already know, tunes are taught aurally. The instructor plays the tune through a few times to introduce it to us, and we all record it on our tape or digital recorders. (Some type of recorder is an absolute necessity.) Then he or she breaks the tune into phrases, playing each phrase slowly then pausing while the class plays back that phrase. The same phrase is repeated and played back in call-and-response fashion until the class is able to play the tune more or less in unison. The harder tunes might take 15 or 20 minutes to learn, whereas simpler tunes can be learned much more quickly. Conal O’Grada, one of our teachers, said he once taught a particularly easy tune in 3.5 minutes and challenged us to beat that record. I’m happy to report that our class set a new record – 3 minutes and 8 seconds.

If the tune is really unusual and people are having trouble, sometimes our teachers would write the notes on the blackboard. However, Irish musicians use ABC notation since many – maybe most – players do not read music at all. In ABC notation, you simply write the note name as opposed to drawing a note on a musical staff. There are various abbreviations to denote octaves, and some even use certain squiggles to denote ornamentation.

Tunes GIVEN OUT: This phrase means that the teacher played the tune for us to record and learn later on our own.

One of the tunes given out today was a slow aire. Conal challenged us to try to learn a slow aire by listening to a singer’s performance of it, since any instrumental slow aire would be modeled after singing technique. Vocal ornamentation is extremely subtle and very nuanced, so I would imagine learning an instrumental aire from the singing of that aire could be a really interesting approach.

Afternoon pub session

After class I went to Friel’s pub. Tara Diamond, one of our flute teachers, was playing there with some of the other teachers. (Tara is the blond whose back is to the camera in the picture above. And if you look closely, you can see me in the mirror, taking the picture!) The music was lovely, so I turned on my new recorder. I propped it inside the front pocket of my bag, hanging by the mike on the edge of the pocket. I guess the weight of the recorder caused the microphone to detach and fall off. When I discovered what had happened, I searched the floor and asked other patrons if they had seen the little T-microphone. The bartender said he had actually seen it lying on the bar, but of course it was gone by then, never to be seen again. I was in a really foul mood until I realized it could be replaced for about $19.95. After that, I decided to put the whole incident behind me and use my backup recorder. Thank goodness I had the presence of mind to bring along my old one.

In the afternoon I attended a presentation by Len Graham on the Ulster song tradition. Afterwards Lauren, Danika and I had dinner at the Bakehouse Restaurant, probably the best food in Miltown Malbay.

After dinner we went back to the dance tent to hear the Kilfenora Ceila Band. Tim Collins, who was part of the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra when he was the Fulbright scholar at NYU in 2007-08, is one of the leaders of the Kilfenora. Their sound in contrast with the Tulla was very interesting. The Kilfenora had a string bass as part of the ensemble, as well more accordion/concertina sound. The Kilfenora's tempos were much faster, but the music seemed overall much smoother. They were selling their new CD, made to commemorate their 100th year as a band, so of course I bought one.

At the end of the night, they played some music for sean nos dancing (pronounced SHAWN-nohz) -- solo dancing where the feet stay close to the floor (as opposed to the high kicks of step dancing) and dancers improvise the sequence of steps. One at a time, dancers came to the center and danced. The band played until the succession of dancers seemed concluded.

Sean nos dancer enjoys Kilfenora's music

After another action packed day, Lauren, Danika and I returned to the B&B to catch a few winks. It seems like our standard Willie Week bedtime is about 1:30 AM.

© 2009, Linda Mason Hood
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