Monday, August 20, 2018

About The Sweet Music Studio



  • The Sweet Music Studio provides private and group music lessons on mandolin-family instruments and violin family instruments.  
  • Sweet Music is a purveyor of finely crafted mandolins and violins, offering cases, bows, picks, and accessories needed by these instruments.  
  • Sweet Music supplies top notch luthiers and violin bow makers with the finest quality horse tail hair for bows, abalone and shell for inlay, cow and bovine bone for nuts, saddles and bridges, ebony and rosewood for fittings and air-dried tonewood for musical instrument building.
  • Sweet Music manages the Music Festival Guide on Facebook, providing information and links to the websites of music festivals around the United States.
  • Sweet Music manages the Mandolin Players group on Facebook

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Irish Dance Traditions

Dancing in the Middle Ages (England)
Irish dance dates back to its origins in Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries and became closely tied to Irish independence and cultural identity in the middle ages.  Through history, these ancient dances were never documented or recorded due to Ireland’s occupation by England, which tried to make Ireland more “English” by outlawing certain traditional practices.  Many Irish cultural traditions were banned by the English authorities during the 400-year period that came to be known as the Penal Days.

Despite this ban on cultural traditions in Ireland, Irish dancing continued behind closed doors. Because their musical instruments had been confiscated by the authorities, Irish parents taught their children the dances by tapping out rhythms with their hands and feet and making music through “lilting” (or mouth music somewhat similar to “scat singing” in jazz).  Irish dances came from Ireland’s family clans and, like tribal Native American dances in this country, were never formally choreographed or recorded.

History records a variety of dances done by the Irish in the mid-1500s. These include Rinnce Fada where two lines with partners faced each other, Irish Hey (possibly a round or figure dance), jigs (likely in a group), Trenchmores (described as a big free form country dance), and sword dances. 

The Rinnce Fada or Hey (also Hay)
English suppression of Irish culture continued, exemplified by the banning of piping and the arrest of pipers. However, Queen Elizabeth I was “exceedingly pleased” with Irish tunes and country dances.

Power struggles between the Irish and English continued during the 1600s. The Penal Laws enacted in the late 1600s crushed Irish commerce and industries. The laws also banned the education of Catholic children leading to hidden (hedge) schools. Traditional Irish culture was practiced with some degree of secrecy. This period of severe repression lasted for more than a hundred years, explaining some of the initial secrecy of teaching Irish step dancing. Country dancing continued, one description being that on Sundays “in every field a fiddle and the lasses footing it till they are all of a foam”; another being “the young folk dance till the cows come home.” Dancing continued during the 1700s, often during holidays, weddings, christenings, and wakes. However, the Church sometimes condemned dancing, “In the dance are seen frenzy and woe.”

A major influence on Irish dance and Irish culture was the advent of the Dance Masters around 1750, beginning a tradition that you could argue continues today. A dance master typically traveled within a county, stopping for about six weeks in a village, staying with a hospitable family (who were honored by their selection as host). They taught Irish dancing (male teachers) in kitchens, farm outbuildings, crossroads, or hedge schools. Students would first learn the jig and reel. Sometimes, the teacher had to tie a rope around a student’s leg to distinguish right foot from left. Besides dancing, they also appear to have given instruction in fencing and other skills. Some teachers had other skilled trades that were used on occasion by the villagers, helping to explain dance masters habit of traveling from town to town. Having an eminent dance master associated with your village was a cause for pride and boasting by the community.

Each dance master had a repertoire of dance steps and he created new steps over time. (Eight measures or bars of music are called a “step,” hence the term step dancing.) Sometimes the masters danced competitively at feisianna, the winner being the one who knew the most steps, not the one with the best execution. The loser of a competition might have to concede a town in his territory to the winner. These men were the creators of the set and ceili dances and they carefully guarded their art of step creation. Dance masters created the first schools of dancing, the best known being from Counties Kerry, Cork, and Limerick. One dance master described himself as “an artificial rhythmical walker” and “instructor of youth in the Terpsichorean art.” Villagers paid dance masters at the end of the third week of teaching at a “benefit night.” They paid the accompanying musician a week later. Sometimes, the dance master was both musician and dancer simultaneously! Apparently the level of pay for the dance masters was relatively high for Ireland and it included room and board.


The Penal Laws were finally lifted in the late 1800’s, inspiring Irish nationalism and the Great Gaelic Revival—the resurgence of interest in Irish language, literature, history, and folklore—and its accompanying feis (essentially a gathering that included carious forms of competition).  The feis was typically held in open fields and included contests in singing, playing music, baking, and, or course, Irish dancing.

In 1929, the Irish Dancing Commission was founded (An Coimisiun le Rinci’ Gaelacha) to establish rules regarding teaching, judging, and competitions. It continues in that role. Prior to 1929, many local variations in dances, music, costumes and the rules of feisianna existed. Part of the impact of the Commission was standardization of competitions.

During the 20th Century, Irish dance has evolved in terms of locations, costumes, and dance technique.  For example, during the period of the dance masters, stages were much smaller including table tops, half doors, and sometimes the “stage” was simply a crossroad. (An old poem called dancing “tripping the sod.”) Tests of dancing ability involved dancing on the top of a barrel or on a soaped table! As stages became larger, the dance changed in at least two ways. The movement of dancers across a stage increased greatly (a judge would now subtract points if a dancer did not “use the stage”), and dance steps that require substantial space became possible (e.g., “flying jumps”). The location of competitions also changed over time from barns or outdoors where flat bed trucks were (and still are) used as stages, to predominately indoors in hotels, schools, or fairgrounds. (Note that fairgrounds are particularly appropriate in a historical context of where ancient feisianna were located.)

Irish dance has evolved in other ways during the 20th Century. Instruction is beginning at a younger age. Who is instructed has also changed from mostly males to mostly females (the turning point was before 1930). Girls dancing solos in competition were rare before the 1920s. Dance styles have also changed; for example, arms and hands were not always held rigid during solo dances. Previously they were sometimes more relaxed and were even placed on hips. It seems that the influence of parish priests led to the lack of arm movement; some argue that stiff arms were less provocative, others argue that the Church was trying to increase dancers’ self control. Hand movements still occur in figure (group) dances.

The Church opposition to dance was a European universal from the 1740s to the 1930s in Ireland in tandem with state desire for control, resulting in the 1935 Public Dance Halls Act (EDI).* 

Dancing at the crossroads
Houses and crossroads, where Irish music was played and danced, had been the main venues for social dance in Ireland prior to 1935.  These were still in "operation" well into the 1950s, especially for the American wakes.  House dances were often fundraisers, generally benefits or for the fun of it, but sometimes for political groups, and they could be held in anyone's house.  Neither they, nor cross-roads dancing could be legally controlled by the church and this of course they didn't like.  But emigration and recorded music combined with foreign dance forms (the waltz, foxtrot, twostep, shimmy-shake) were beginning to be popular in Ireland.  Private commercial dance halls were being opened to take advantage of the new fashion.  The Gaelic League was against this activity for its perceived "undermining of Irish culture". 

The Church damned dances and saw them as not only improper (on the borderline of Christian modesty - Irish Catholic Directory, 1924), and "direct and unmistakable incitements to evil thoughts and evil desires".  In addition, there was concern among the authorities about the hazards of overcrowding in unsupervised premises, and even about groups like the IRA running dances to raise money for guns.  The issue became a battle for control.  Religious and political forces combined to demand licensing of dancing.  Intensely conservative lobbying was engaged in by the Church.  Under the Public Dance Halls Act (EDI) of 1935, dancing required a license, and this would only be given to people approved of by a district judge.  Failure to comply was a criminal offence.  Overzealous vigilante style enforcement of the Act by the Church destroyed social, noncommercial house dancing, and gradually shifted the social dance from private space to public. 

Church approved dancing
Many argue that the Church destroyed Irish traditional music and discouraged new players.  But it also laid the groundwork for the "band", the "ceilidh band" in particular, as the mainstay of music for dancing in Ireland, opening a new chapter in Irish music History.

In 1969, the Irish Dance World Championships started in Dublin, and competitive Irish dancing continued to gain momentum.  As the students of the first generation of dance masters became established in American in the 1970’s, the first American Irish step dancing champions began to emerge, and would change the art form forever.

Introducing The Golden Eagle, A-style mandolin from Mando Mo Strings

Thanks to Sandra Goodman Tull of the Bluegrass Cafe on Facebook who came up with the name, The Golden Eagle!


Get your Mando Mo instrument at MandoMoStrings.com for only $535 with FREE shipping!

Here are some other pictures of the instrument:






Monday, August 13, 2018

The People of the Goddess Danu

The People of the Goddess Danu

The Goddess Danu
The Tuatha Dé Danann, the people of the Goddess Danu, were one of the great ancient tribes of Ireland. The important manuscript 'The Annals of the Four Masters', records that they ruled Ireland from 1897 B.C. to 1700 B.C.

According to an ancient document known as the Annals of the Four Masters (Annála na gCeithre Maístrí compiled by Franciscan monks between 1632-1636 from earlier texts), the Danann ruled from 1897BC until 1700BC, a short period indeed in which to have accumulated such fame.

They were said to have originated from four mythical Northern cities Murias, Gorias, Falias and Finias, possibly located in Lochlann (Norway).

The arrival of the tribe in Ireland is the stuff of legend. They landed at the Connaught coastline and emerged from a great mist. It is speculated that they burned their boats to ensure that they settled down in their new land. The rulers of Ireland at the time were the Fir Bolg, led by Eochid son of Erc, who was, needless to say, unhappy about the new arrivals.

The Fir Bolg c.55 b.c The Bag Men
The Tuatha Dé Danann won the inevitable battle with the Fir Bolg but, out of respect for the manner in which they had fought, they allowed the Fir Bolg to remain in Connaught while the victors ruled the rest of Ireland.

The new rulers of Ireland were a civilised and cultured people. The new skills and traditions that they introduced into Ireland were held in high regard by the peoples they conquered. They had four great treasures (or talismans) that demonstrated their skills. The first was the 'Stone of Fal' which would scream when a true King of Ireland stood on it. It was later placed on the Hill of Tara, the seat of the High-Kings of Ireland. The second was the 'Magic Sword of Nuadha', which was capable of inflicting only mortal blows when used. The third was the 'sling-shot of the Sun God Lugh', famed for its accuracy when used. The final treasure was the 'Cauldron of Daghda' from which an endless supply of food issued.

The original leader of the Tuatha was Nuada but, having lost an arm in battle it was decreed that he could not rightly be king. That honour went to Breas, a tribesman of Fomorian descent. His seven year rule was not a happy one however, and he was ousted by his people who had become disenchanted with hunger and dissent. Nuada was installed as King, resplendent with his replacement arm made from silver.

Breas raised an army of Fomorians based in the Hebrides and they battled with Nuada at Moytura in County Sligo. The Tuatha again prevailed and the power of the Fomorians was broken forever. The victory had cost the Tuatha their King as Nuadha had died in the battle. A hero of the conflict named Lugh was instated as the new King of Ireland.

The grandsons of the next King, Daghda, ruled during the invasion by the mighty Melesians. The Tuatha Dé Danann were defeated and consigned to mythology. Legend has it that they were allowed to stay in Ireland, but only underground. Thus they became the bearers of the fairies of Ireland, consigned to the underworld where they became known as 'Aes sidhe' (the people of the mound - fairy mounds).

Eriu or Eire
The Melesians used the name of one of the Tuatha Dé Danann gods, Eriu, as the name of their new kingdom. Eriu or Eire is still used in modern times as the name of Ireland.

According to legend, the Tuatha de Danann were a mystical race of God-like beings who invaded and ruled Ireland over four thousand years ago. Modern academics and scholars deny they ever existed, yet ancient historians have left behind texts full of the most incredible stories about them. So, medieval fantasy, myth or fact? You decide.

Stories of the Tuatha de Danann were passed down through the ages into legend via the ancient oral tradition of Ireland’s poets. Later, Christian monks began assembling and recording them in an effort to produce a history for Ireland.

Inevitably, these texts were influenced by their beliefs and doctrines, their translation skills (or lack of), and the desire to please their patrons. What we are left with is impossible to distill into fact and fiction.

These myths are so fantastic, so bizarre, that no scholar or historian worth his salt would ever entertain them as anything other than pure fantasy. But I’m not so sure. I say there is no smoke without fire.


The Tuatha de Danann: Pronounced "Thoo-a day Du-non"

Who were the Tuatha de Danann?

Tuatha de Danann (pronounced Thoo-a day Du-non) is translated as ‘tribe of Danu.’ Scholars are agreed that Danu was the name of their goddess, most probably Anu/Anann. However, that is unproven, and I believe could equally have referred to their leader or king, or even the place from which they originated.

They were a race of God-like people gifted with supernatural powers, who invaded and ruled Ireland over four thousand years ago. According to an ancient document known as the Annals of the Four Masters (Annála na gCeithre Maístrí compiled by Franciscan monks between 1632-1636 from earlier texts), the Danann ruled from 1897 BC until 1700 BC, a short period indeed in which to have accumulated such fame. They were said to have originated from four mythical Northern cities Murias, Gorias, Falias and Finias, possibly located in Lochlann (Norway).

The Book of Invasions (Lebor Gebála Érénn compiled c.1150) claims in a poem that they came to Ireland riding in “flying ships” surrounded by “dark clouds.” They landed on Sliabh an Iarainn (the Iron Mountain) in Co. Leitrim, where they “brought a darkness over the sun lasting three days.” There is a lovely line which illustrates perfectly the bewilderment felt towards these conquerors;

“The truth is not known, beneath the sky of stars,
Whether they were of heaven or earth.”

A later version of the story relegates the flying ships to mere sailing ships. The dark clouds became towering columns of smoke as the ships were set alight, a warning to observers that the Danann were here to stay. Clearly, the monks recording this story were trying to make sense of something which was well out of their comfort zone.

And so we have our first dilemma; which story to believe. Did they arrive from the skies, or from across the sea?

What Did the Danann Look Like?

They certainly looked very different to the small, dark native peoples of Ireland at that time. The Danann are generally described as tall with red or blonde hair, blue or green eyes, and pale skin.

Interestingly, archaeology has unearthed evidence all around the world of small colonies of red-haired people from the same time period as the Tuatha De Danann’s arrival in Ireland. Excavations in Xinjiang Province, China have revealed mummies of red and blonde haired people living around four thousand years ago. The extremely well preserved Egyptian mummy of nobleman Yoya, c. 1400 BC, shows he had blonde hair and Nordic features, as did his wife, Thuya. She was also Tutankhamun’s great-grandmother.

First Bionic Man

In order to win supremacy over Ireland, the Danann fought against the existing ruling tribe, the Fir Bolg, in the First Battle of Moytura. During this encounter, the Danann High King Nuada Argetlam (pronounced Noo-tha Or-geth-lam) lost his arm. He survived, but lost his position, as a king could not be seen as anything less than ‘whole’ if he was to bring his people continued success.

In an intriguing turn of events, the physician Dian-Cecht replaced the lost limb with a fully functional ‘arm of silver’. Later, Dian-Cecht’s son, Miach, also a physician, caused skin and flesh to grow over the metal arm. Thus ‘whole’ again, the kingship was restored to Nuada following the ousting of his replacement, the tyrant Bres.

So here we have another case of strange, advanced (dare we say ‘alien’?) technology. Could this be the first-ever prosthesis, a robotic arm built over four thousand years ago?

The Four Treasures of Eirean

The Danann brought special equipment with them, four magical talismans of great power. These were:

Sword of Light
The Sword of Light - also known in Irish as Claiomh Solais (pronounced Clee-uv Shull-ish). It was said to have been made by Uiscias in the northern city of Findias, and brought to Ireland by Nuada, and that no-one ever escaped from it once it was drawn against them. It is also described as a ‘glowing white torch.’ The similarities to the imaginary light sabre are quite striking; could this sword have been some kind of futuristic laser weaponry?






Lugh’s Spear
Lugh’s Spear – also known as ‘the finest/famous yew of the wood,’ said to have been made by Esras in the northern city of Gorias. Lugh used it to kill his Formorian grandfather, the giant-king Balor at the Second Battle of Moytura (although some versions of the story claim he used a sling). It has been suggested that Lugh’s spear, the spear Crimall which blinded Cormac mac Airt rendering him unfit (not ‘whole’) for rule, and the Lúin Celtchair are one and the same weapon, although there is no concrete evidence to back this up. The Lúin Celtchair is a fascinating legend. It was a long, fiery lance from which ‘sparks as big as eggs flew’ when ‘the spear-heat takes hold of it’. In order to prevent the flames of the tip from consuming the shaft and the warrior holding it, the spear head was dipped into a cauldron of mysterious sorcerous liquid. In ‘The Destruction of Dá Derga’s Hostel’, a saga of the Ulster cycle of mythology, the Lúin Celtchair is claimed to have been discovered at the Battle of Moytura, the same battle where Lugh killed Balor. This spear, then, could well be Lugh’s, and seems to possess many of the qualities of the Sword of Light.

The Dagda's Cauldron
The Dagda’s Cauldron - Also known as the ‘Cauldron of Plenty’ (Coire Ansic in Irish, pronounced Kwee-ra On-sik). It was made by Semias of the northern city of Murias. Not much is known about this vessel, although it was thought to have had the power to bring the dead back to life, and that “none would go from it unsatisfied.” Dr. Ulf Erlingsson has suggested that the giant stone basin found in the eastern passage of the central mound at Knowth, part of the Newgrange complex, could be the Dagda’s Cauldron, and that the concentric circular design depicted on it could be a map of Atlantis, as described by Plato. How could the Danann have come by this knowledge?

The Lia Fáil
The Lia Fáil - Also known as the Stone of Destiny, and the Coronation Stone. It was made by Morfessa of Falias, and brought into Ireland by the Danann, where they duly placed it at the Hill of Tara, in Co. Meath. Legend has it that its cry confirmed the coronation of the rightful High King of Ireland, and that its roar could be heard throughout the land. It was broken in half sometime later by Cuchullain when it failed to proclaim him or his protégé. One half was carried away to Scotland, where it eventually ended up in the throne of the British monarchy, although there is a whisper that the true stone was hidden, possibly beneath the River Tay, and remains there to this day. A stone with a voice sounds too fanciful to be true, but perhaps it was misunderstood; perhaps the stone was no more than a stage upon which the new king stood, his voice amplified by some sort of early (or alien?) microphone.

Immortality and the Other-world

More famously known as Tir na Nog, or The Land of the Ever Young, this was thought of as the original home of the Danann. It could be reached through water, by traveling west over the sea, or passing through the gateways of the Sidhe mounds. In these places, the veil between the worlds was considered very thin, and therefore more easily traversable. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the magical realm is not the eternal youth, beauty, joy and plenty it represents, but the passage of time attributed to it. In Tir na Nog, time seems to stands still, while in the mortal world it passes in the blink of an eye. The story of Oisin, Fionn mac Cumhall’s son, and his other-world lover, Niamh, illustrates this perfectly. After only three blissful years in the magical realm, Oisin returns home to find three hundred years have passed. When he falls from his horse and his feet touch Ireland’s soil, age catches up with him, and he dies an old man.

This idea of infinite paradise where no one grows old and time has no meaning has parallels with space travel, alternate dimensions, and even the mundane, such as advancements in health care and medicine. Were the Danann immortal? Not in the absolute sense of living forever; they could be killed in battle, or by sickness, although compared with the natives at that time, they were clearly long-lived. Even modern man would seem ageless and long-lived in comparison with our early ancestors.

The Danann and the Sidhe

The Milesians
The Danann were defeated in two battles by the Milesians, whom historians and scholars alike agree were probably the first Gaels in Ireland. Not only were the Danann defeated by military might, but by cunning too. It was agreed that the new invaders and the Danann would each rule half of Ireland, and so it was that Amergin of the Milesians chose that half of Ireland which lay above ground, leaving the Danann to retreat below. They were led away to their new domain via the Sidhe mounds by Manannán, God of the sea, who then shielded them from mortal eyes by raising an enchanted mist known as the Faeth Fiadha (pronounced Feh Fee-oh-a), or ‘Cloak of Concealment’. As time passed, they became known as the Sidhe (Shee), Ireland’s fairy-folk.

So, Gods or Aliens?

To one who observes without understanding, even an airplane flying through the sky carrying people in its belly to far distant, unimaginable lands seems like powerful magic; so does flicking a light switch, a television screen, a mobile phone. The plane becomes a ship, transported on dark clouds; a television screen becomes a vision, the phone a stone which speaks, perhaps an oracle giving advice direct from the Gods. Those who manipulate such magic must surely be Gods themselves; they look like Gods with their height, their red-gold hair and sky-blue eyes; they wield fiery, powerful weapons; they appear to be ageless and immortal, and they are wise, beautiful, and fearsome.

Danann ‘magic’ can be explained, though not proven, as technology misunderstood by the local population. Whether it was man-made or alien made, is debatable. It is certainly possible that these were migrating people from advanced civilizations in our world, perhaps displaced by the Great Flood, searching out new homes, bringing with them what remained of their knowledge and technology. I also believe that ‘we are not alone’ in this great cosmos, and that visits from other worlds and dimensions cannot be ruled out. Or perhaps it was magic after all, a force which, having no comprehension of, we seek to deny.

Experts, being of scientific and analytic mind, will insist the lack of physical evidence proves the Tuatha de Danann never existed. The fact so many stories about them remain, however, is evidence enough to me that they did. The aura of mystique that surrounds these elusive people is, for me, the greatest part of their allure.


Friday, August 10, 2018

New fern A-style mandolin from Mando Mo Strings Naming Contest

New fern A-style mandolin from Mando Mo Strings Naming Contest

To enter the contest, post your name suggestion (keep it to one suggestion please) either in the Mandolin Players group on the original post, or by PMing Adam Sweet on Facebook

This new fern A-style mandolin has been constructed with hand-carved air-dried sugar maple back and sides, Sitka spruce top.  It comes with a solid cast tailpiece, a hand-carved Brekke bridge and hand-wound Optima strings from Germany.

You will be able to buy this mandolin from the Mando Mo Website.  We don't know the price yet and with the tariffs now affecting prices, it's confusing, but you should feel free to check with Al at Mando Mo any time to learn more.  You can reach him at mandomostrings@yahoo.com

Adam's been playing it for a few days and really likes the tone.  It sounds great with Celtic music - he played it with the Thursday night Celtic group, and Classical music - he played the Partita No 1 by JS Bach with it.

Here's the intro video Adam made recently announcing the contest:







Thursday, August 9, 2018

Meet the owner of Mando Mo Strings

Today Al, the founder and owner of Mando Mo Strings stopped by the studio for a chat.  We talked a bit about how the company was founded and Al's background, and then our favorite subject, mandolins!

Take a watch:


About The Sweet Music Studio

The Sweet Music Studio provides private and group music lessons on mandolin-family instruments and violin family instruments.   Swee...