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Irish and Bluegrass, all in one day...

Posted by fiddlepogo on Saturday, October 22, 2011

Or maybe Quasi-Irish and Quasi-Bluegrass.

I woke up this morning with an Irish tune in my head, a reel... tried to pick it out on the fiddle, and got an approximation of the A part.  Well, I started going through my Irish tunes notebook. I've dug out another music stand so I can leave the Irish tunes notebook out, and it seems to be inspiring me to work through it more often.

The first tune I played was Denis Murphy's Slide.  Somehow, something clicked, and I think I was getting a phrasing that had "lift", that sounded Irish to me, that reminded me at least somewhat of the phrasing in the best Irish recordings I'd heard, the memories of which are buried in my subconscious.

And then I played Banish Misfortune, a harder tune, but one I remember hearing in the '70's, but had never really played, and I was able to transfer some of the improvement on Denis Murphy's to it, and on through Saddle the Pony, the Swallowtail Jig, and the Ten Penny Bit.  Then I went backwards, playing several of them again, and then backwards through the hornpipes- Wicklow Hornpipe, Rodney's Glory, The Rights of Man, The Peacock's Feather, Roslyn Castle (says "reel" on the sheet music, but sure doesn't sound like one to me.), The Stack of Barley, The Plains of Boyle, and then into a couple of reels- Silver Spire and Tommy People's Reel.  I had the inspiration to try the Silver Spire as a hornpipe, and I liked it... there's a method to my madness- I've noticed that if I can play an Old Time tune slow and bouncy, once I speed it up, as the rhythm flattens out, I have more control at higher speeds... so I'm going to try that on some reels as well, start them as bouncy hornpipes, then flatten out the bounce as I speed them up to reel tempo.  I LOVE these tunes...

Problem is, the Bluegrass Jam was started at noon, and here I was still playing Irish chunes at 12:30, did NOT want to stop, and I wasn't ready to go anyway... but I finally forced myself out the door in time to catch the last hour of the BG jam.  And I'm glad I went... they didn't have very many heavy hitters, only two strong BG players, and no Scrugg's players.  By BG standards, I'm not very bluegrassy, but I have more confidence at it that many of the people who did show today.  I actually got risky and asked for "Uncle Pen", since I'd been practicing it a little.  Problem was, I wanted to do it in G... and the competent mandolin player got a "deer-in-headlights" look (that not being the normal key), and since I understood how he felt, I did it in A where it's supposed to be... it was a challenge singing that high since I'm a baritone, but it worked, kind of...pretty well for the first time doing it in public.  And the fiddle part worked too- nothing too fancy- the main problem was that I screwed up the transition from the verse to the chorus... there's some timing thing that throws me off.  By the 3rd verse, I think I was starting to get it.  The last song we did was "Mind Your Own Business", which is very raggy, and I think I need to get out the fiddle and work on it.  I actually played guitar on it- the jam leader plays flatpick guitar, but when she took a break, if I wasn't playing guitar, the bottom dropped out.  So I played guitar quite a bit to supply the bottom end.  I also got asked for "Shove that Pig's Foot a Little Further Into the Fire"... I started at my normal slow bouncy pace, but it rapidly flattened out and sped up, and I was playing it faster than I've ever played it.  We also played "Angeline the Baker", but the lady who requested it sang it from female point of view as "Angelo the Baker!" ;^D

The thought just occurred to me that really what I need to do to get competent at Bluegrass is to break down and attend a BG festival... I think that would give me the "immersion" I think I need to feel confident at it.

2 comments on “Irish and Bluegrass, all in one day...”

mudbug Says:
Sunday, October 23, 2011 @3:00:28 AM

Wow! You've been working hard, Michael.

fiddlepogo Says:
Sunday, October 23, 2011 @7:25:05 PM

No, hardly workin'!!!

I've heard "Uncle Pen enough over the years that the tune has sunk in more or less by osmosis. I'm not trying to nail any particular BG fiddlers version, I'm playing it more or less as an Old Time fiddler would... which is kind of appropriate, since Bill Monroe's Uncle Pen WAS an Old Time fiddler!

The Irish has partly come by osmosis too. I had a roommate the year after college that was very gung-ho about Irish Trad tunes. He gave me hours of cassette tapes, and then I went to the Fleadh Ceioll (sp?) and got hours of my own tapes, and heard hours of sessions. And I'd go to Renaissance Faires, and there were usually some Irish-style musicians there... in fact, that was the main reason I went!
Anyway, with all that listening, I don't have to work all that hard on Irish now... certain tunes just seem to flow, like the bow is painting them from an image I have recorded in my brain... except it's sound, not images. And once I get those certain tunes flowing right, they seem to teach me how to get the others sounding more Traddy, and on it goes. Oh yeah... my tune book... I DID do some hard work just before and after St. Paddy's Day last year... I plowed through a BUNCH of Irish abc files, and printed out anything where I liked the tune. Then I went through them all, and if it seemed over my head, I just put those sheets that didn't work very well off to the side indefinitely... and put the rest in a tunebook, so I have a tunebook preselected both for stuff I like, and stuff that I can kind of sort of get through without coming to a screeching halt. So it's a VERY encouraging tunebook!!!

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