Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Padraig O'Keeffe's Slide

On April 27-30, 2011, I attended Cruinniú na bhFliúit (The Flute Gathering) in the village of Ballyvourney in West Cork, Ireland. Modeled after pipers' gatherings, this workshop is completely focused on traditional Irish flute playing with lots of good discussion of flutes, flute technique, flute problems, flute tunes, and various flute playing styles. Organizers Hammy Hamilton and Conal O'Grada keep the attendance intentionally small to allow people to become acquainted personally as well as musically. The intimacy that's achieved promotes learning and sharing.

Instruction is a core element of the Cruinniú. The 40 or so flute players in attendance were divided into four groups. Each group received three hours of instruction from each of the four teachers: Hammy Hamilton, Conal O'Grada, John Wynne, and Aoife Granville. Additionally, each person enjoyed 20 minutes of one-on-one advice from Tara Bingham whose flute clinic ran concurrent with the classes.

In this post I want to focus on one of the tunes we learned from Aoife (pronounced EE-fah) Granville, a Padraig O'Keeffe slide(1). O'Keeffe, a noted performer, teacher, and composer, came from the Sliabh Luchra area of Ireland near the borders of Counties Cork, Kerry, and Limerick where slides and polkas(1) are very popular. This slide was the first tune I learned at the Cruinniú. I had never heard it before (or so I thought), and I really liked it. In fact, I was quite taken with Aoife's playing and enjoyed all the tunes she taught us.

Aoife Granville

After I got home, I played the slide for some friends here in New York. Don Meade, well known in Irish music circles for his knowledge of tunes and their background, chuckled at my excitement over this tune and informed me that my Padraig O'Keeffe slide was in fact the traditional children's song Comin' Through the Rye. I have to admit that his comment deflated my enthusiasm just a little bit!

A few days later I did some internet research that put the tune in better perspective. According to Wikipedia, Robert Burns wrote the words to Comin' Through the Rye in 1782 and set them to the Scottish minstrel tune Common' Frae The Town which is also a variant of the tune used for Auld Lang Syne.(2) I read on TheSession.org that the earliest version of Comin' Through the Rye was called The Duke of Buccleughs Tune published in 1690.(3) So this is a VERY old tune.

These dates made me realize that I didn't know when Padraig O'Keeffe lived. A quick Google search revealed Padraig O'Keeffe's lifespan as 1887-1963.(4) In relation to Comin' Through the Rye, he was born about 100 years after Burns put words to the tune, so it is possible that he sang it as a child.

I also played O'Keeffe's slide for Sliabh Luchra fiddler, Tes Slominski. Tes commented that the first half of the slide is clearly related to a jig(1) called Haste to the Wedding.(5) Tes speculated that since O'Keeffe was a great one for making tunes out of other tunes, the resemblance was probably intentional.

Suddenly I realized that O'Keeffe's slide is a fascinating example of how traditional musicians regenerate and recycle tunes. I'm hypothesizing now, but perhaps O'Keeffe recast Comin' Through the Rye (a strathspey(1) in 4/4 rhythm, complete with Scottish snap) in the 12/8 meter of a slide because he was also familiar with Haste to the Wedding (a jig in 6/8 time). The slide version of this melodic material, with its internal triplets and slower tempo, allows time for players to insert some lovely ornamental flourishes. One could argue that O'Keeffe intended it that way, otherwise he would have written it as a reel(1). Pretty cool stuff!

To illustrate the difference, have a listen:

Click HERE to hear Aoife Granville's charmingly ornamented version of the Padraig O'Keeffe slide.  (Thanks, Aoife, for granting me permission for me to the recording I made in our class on April 28, 2011.)

Now, click HERE for a plain-and-simple midi version of the familiar Comin' Through the Rye.  Hear the resemblance?

Finally, click HERE to hear Haste from the Wedding as presented on the website of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, the worldwide association for the preservation and promotion of Irish traditional music. The A-part of the tune is very much like Comin' Through the Rye, whereas the B-part is completely different.

1) Rhythm (Tune Types) Definitions, from Irish Traditional Music Tune Index
2) Comin' Through the Rye, Wikipedia
3) Discussion of Comin' through the Rye, The Session
4) Padraig O'Keeffe, Wikipedia
5) Haste to the Wedding on TheSession.org

Additional information: 

Kerry Fiddles. Topic Records TSCD309 - Padraig O'Keefe, Denis Murphy, Julia Clifford (picture of P O'Keefe on cover)
Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann - website home page
Haste to the Wedding is the first of three tunes in the well known dance set called "The Three Tunes:"  Haste to the Wedding (a jig),  Leslie's Hornpipe (a hornpipe), The German Beau (a reel).

© 2011, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

No comments: