Monday, June 25, 2018

The Tortoise - by Mando Mo Strings

The Tortoise
Solid Spruce Top, Back and Sides Solid Maple, Neck  Maple, Tortoise Binding, Top, Back, Neck, Head stock, Pearl inlay Fret Markers, Pearl inlay Mando Mo Logo, Nut width Standard 1 1/8"  or  Wide nut version 1 3/16", Bone Nut, Brekke Adjustable Bridge,   Adjustable Truss Rod
  • $899 comes with a strap, tuner and hardshell case
  • $849 with a padded gigbag
  • $799 without
Pick up in Granby, MA (USA) for cash, PayPal for online and international orders.  Will ship anywhere in the world for an additional shipping amount (based on the destination) by FedEx Ground (US), and DHL Express (everywhere else).

Friday, June 22, 2018

"The Pup" by Mando Mo Strings

The Pup (by Mando Mo Strings). 

Abalone inlay, flatback, PatPend Mando Mo Bridge), scalloped tailpiece.
  • $699 comes with a strap, tuner and hardshell case
  • $619 with a padded gigbag
  • $599 without
Pick up in Granby, MA (USA). 

Will ship anywhere in the world for an additional shipping amount (based on the destination) by DHL Express.

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Dance Music of the Middle Ages - Europe

The middle ages covers a period of a thousand years – and yet much of its music-making is a mystery to us. We’re not completely in the dark, though, so the aim of this article is to give a broad beginner’s guide to the principles of secular medieval music. When were the middle ages? How do we know what the music sounded like? What were the earliest surviving songs? What was its dance music like? Why does medieval music sound so different to today’s? How did medieval musicians harmonize?

When were the middle ages?

The mediaeval or medieval period, or the middle ages, covers a huge stretch of time, from A.D. 476, following the fall of the Roman Empire, to the start of the renaissance in the 14th and 15th centuries, so that’s around a thousand years.

Francesco Petrarcha or Petrarch, 1304–1374, one of the creators, possibly the original creator, of the idea of an Italian renaissance, painted by Andrea del Castagno, c. 1421–1457.
Francesco Petrarcha or Petrarch, 1304–1374, one of the creators, possibly the original creator, of the idea of an Italian renaissance, painted by Andrea del Castagno, c. 1421–1457.
Some historians have taken to splitting the mediaeval period in two: the ‘dark ages’ until the 10th century (from an anglocentric view, that’s before the Norman invasion of 1066, when the language in England was Old English); and the ‘middle ages’ from the 11th century (between the Norman conquest and the renaissance, during which the language evolved into Middle English). This split is an ahistorical view which ignores how the term ‘middle ages’ was originally conceived by those who minted it.

It was Italians of the 14th and 15th century, primarily Francesco Petrarca or Petrarch, Leonardo Bruni and Flavio Biondo, who defined themselves and their generation as bringing about a renaissance (rebirth) of classical Roman and Greek wisdom. Thus, for the people of the self-defined Italian renaissance who delineated the ‘middle ages’, the term meant precisely and explicitly the same as the ‘dark ages’: it was a whole millennium of cultural darkness in the middle period between the fall of the Roman Empire and Italian culture’s rediscovery of its treasures. The idea of this alleged rediscovery of classical Roman and Greek art and wisdom (it wasn’t quite so straightforward as that in reality) spread steadily through the nation before then spreading internationally through Europe. This gradual broadening of the idea makes it impossible to give a precise date for the end of the middle ages and the beginning of the renaissance, so a nominal latest date of around 1470 is often given.

The recovery of medieval music

Much of medieval secular music is a mystery. Most people were illiterate, therefore most music was not written down but passed on and learned by ear and so, of course, we’ve lost it. The music that was written down was most often church music as it was largely clergy and monastics who could write. This ecclesiastical music is important in itself, but its predominance in surviving manuscripts gives a partial view of music-making.

Medieval music is not immediately accessible for a modern musician. There were different systems of musical notation, none of which indicated precise rhythm until the 12th century. Square notation is now the best known system developed in this period, and once you know square notation some of the music is easy to read. At times, though, it wasn’t written very accurately, or was written with a poor pen and so had vague or indecipherable note values, which is adequate if you know what it’s supposed to sound like, which they did, but we don’t.

It is extremely rare for us to have any idea what the intended instrument was to accompany a voice (if at all) or to play for dances, so we have to make our own choices from the scant available information and our own sense of what sounds right.

But there are many treasure troves of medieval music. One of the most notable is the Cantigas de Santa María, a book with 420 songs in praise of the Virgin Mary, compiled during the reign of Alfonso X, “The Wise”, 1221-1284, who was King of eight regions in modern day Spain and one in Portugal. During his reign, Alfonso composed, compiled and edited a large number of books, with subjects ranging from art and literature to scientific texts translated into Castillian from the Arabic originals. The melodies of the Cantigas were adapted from sacred sources or popular melodies from both sides of the Pyrenees, including some derived from troubadour songs in Provençal and others that have striking affinities with Arab music. The book of Cantigas, compiled 1257–1283, is beautifully illustrated with pictures of musicians, giving us much information about the instruments of the day, and its music notation is admirably clear.

Medieval dances and dance music

Gittern player with dancers, early 15th century.
There tended to be two kinds of medieval dance music: either each section started the same and ended differently; or each section ended the same and started differently. This goes for nearly all the medieval dance forms: estampie, rotta, trotto, royal dance, saltarello.

Often we find that subsequent sections of a dance grow longer, indicating something about the style of medieval dances.

But no dance instructions survive before the Gresley manuscript of c. 1500, found in Ashford, Derbyshire in 1984, so we know little about how medieval dances were performed and little about which instruments they were intended to be played on, so again we have to bring our own artistic and creative sense to bear, interpreting the clues found in iconography and brief scattered references in writing.






Musical Instruments of the Middle Ages in Europe

Musical instruments of the Middle Ages were divided into three rough categories:

  • Wind instruments, such as flutes, whistles, reeds
  • Stringed instruments, like harps, lutes
  • Percussion instruments, like drums, bells, gongs
These same categories can be applied to many or most instruments in common use today.

Wind Instruments

The simplest and most obvious example of a wind instrument is the flute. While flutes have continued to become more elaborate over time in order to provide more consistent sounds and more variation in possible notes, today’s flute bears a strong similarity to the flute of the Middle Ages. Flutes produced a high-pitched sound, with notes changing based on finger placement on holes or keys. The flute is unusual among instruments in the way it is held, sideways from the mouth rather than straight out or down. Wandering minstrels often played the flute, as it was easy to carry and required little preparation to begin playing.

Shawm
Instruments similar to the flute included the shawm, the gemshorn, the crumhorn, and the recorder. The shawn was a simple instrument that used vent holes and a reed, a small piece of wood that vibrated against the tongue or lips to produce sound. Today’s saxophones and clarinets are reed instruments. The crumhorn was a curved horn that utilized a double reed to produce a similar sound, much the same way an oboe uses a double reed today. The recorder was a very simple instrument not significantly different from a flute. The gemshorn was played like a flute as well, but was a horn-shaped instrument made from ox horns.

Bagpipes were used during the Middle Ages as well. The bag was often made from animal skin, and the horn, or pipe, could be fashioned of wood or bone. The bagpipes were played with a reed. Bagpipes were particularly common among poorer people, perhaps because they could be made at home with materials readily available, such as the skins and bones of livestock.

Stringed Instruments

Stringed instruments today are little different from the stringed musical instruments in the Middle Ages. Some were clear precursors to more modern versions. Others have been abandoned or relegated to strictly historical status due to their sometimes cumbersome natures and the amount of practice needed to become skilled players. Stringed instruments included not only easily portable ones such as fiddles, but also largely stationary instruments, like the harpsichord.

Like the flute, the fiddle was a favorite of minstrels who traveled from village to village in search of work. Fiddles could be played with a bow, like violins, or plucked with the fingers. Each style produced a distinctive and unique sound.

Rebec
An early ancestor of today’s violin was the rebec. The rebec had a rounded, pear-shaped body, very similar to the shape of modern violins. Rebecs, too, could be played by plucking or by bowing. Viols were popular as well, and could vary in size. Some were placed on the lap while playing, while others were large enough to rest on the floor. These would be the earliest versions of the modern viola and cello. They were not instruments that traveled as well as others, owing to the musician’s need to be seated in order to effectively play them.

The harp was one of the most common instruments of the time. Middle Ages harps were somewhat smaller than those we are accustomed to seeing today, generally measuring about 30 inches in height. Harps were played by strumming or plucking the strings in order to produce sound, and were easily transported enough that they were yet another favorite among minstrels.

The dulcimer and the harpsichord were unique instruments. Each was essentially based upon the harp, with the harpsichord offering keys to strike each string and the dulcimer requiring the player to strike the strings himself with a small hammer. Eventually, stationary, seated instruments such as these would give way to the piano, one of the most popular musical instruments in the world today.

Percussion Instruments

Percussion instruments create sound not with strings or with the musician’s breath, but by being struck. Drums are perhaps the most obvious type of percussion instrument, both today and in the Middle Ages. Drums were generally made from a hollowed-out trunk of tree or a metal or clay bowl. Animal skin would be stretched across the top of the hollow area, and beating, hitting, or striking the skin would create a percussive sound used to keep tempo and add interest to musical pieces.

Tambourine
Other musical instruments in the Middle Ages qualified as percussion instruments as well, however. The tambourine was designed by stretching animal skin across a hollow circle of wood, clay, or metal and affixing bells to the edges. The tambourine could be struck or shaken to produce two very different sounds, the first being a drum-like beat with added bells and the second being a simple bell jingle. Tambourines were widely considered a feminine instrument, and generally played by women.

Cymbals and the triangle rounded out the most widely used percussion instruments of the time. Cymbals were, like today, thin metal plates that could be struck with a hammer or crashed together. The triangle has not changed at all since its origination in the 1300s; triangles are smaller metal pipes bent into a triangular shape and struck with a mallet or hammer to produce a high-pitched, bell-like percussive sound.

Origins of Dance Music in Ireland

May Day, Beltane, and the menace of May Eve
It is likely that dance was evolved before or independently of music as we know it today.  Within historical time the melodic phrase has been the basis of European dance, not percussive beat (Subsahara).  The earliest social dances were circular and linear chain dances, dating to 1400-1200 BC in Crete/Mediterranean.  Of these, circle dances are most likely the original formal dances.  By the middle ages, the CAROLE (a circle dance) became the most popular form with two associated forms: the FARANDOLE, a line dance from the Mediterranean, and BRANLE, a circle dance from Northern parts of Europe.

The Farandole

In early forms of dance, the music was sung by the dancers in simple, compound double or triple time, with a regular pulse.  Performed exclusively outdoors, the dance steps were very primitive, with a leader directing the dancers in a variety of twists and turns.  This developed to use three arched figures with raised hands under which dancers passed: "Threading the needle", "L'Escargot" and "The Arches".  These fell out of popularity in the 15th century courts either because of high headdresses and pointed hats, or for religious reasons, but remained popular among rural/common dancers.  The dance then became known as HEY (hay, haye, heye or haye) with a changing of the dancers' location in relation to each other.  This pattern is reflected in part of the modern Reel.

The Branle 

From the French Branler: to sway, and the English: to braul, brawl.  These were circle dances.  The music had a pulse/rhythm "the branle double", an 8 bar phrase, the ballad metre, while the branle simple had a 6 bar phrase.  These and other branles became the basis of French folk dance by the 16th century and came in various styles including:

  • Couple Dances -
  • Country Dances (Contradances in New England) - the form of a courtly dance in England, a fashionable dance from the leisure class at court who had time to organize dances and steps.  There may have been more common "country dances" amongst the poor/working class in Ireland, but there is little evidence of such except in 1670 when Richard Head writes: "Their Sunday is the most leisure day they have, in which they use all manner of sport; in every field a fiddle and the lasses footing it till they are all of a foam", and in 1674 John Dunton reports of a wedding where: "a bagpiper and a blind harper that dinned us continually with their music, to which there was perpetual dancing".
  • Withie and Sword Dances - recorded from 1669 - another form of courtly dance in England
  • Quadrilles (sets of 4 dancers) -

16th century French branle performed by students of Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.
Music by Jeremy Barlow and The Broadside Band.

Traditional Musical Instruments for Dancing

Instruments used while dancing was mainly drums and background lute, accompanied by singing. Other instruments also included bells, jingles, long drums, nakers (or nakir: a small drum of Arabic origin), side drums, tabors, tambourines and timpani (also known as a kettle drum).

Other forms of Dance (European During The Middle Ages)
    Circle Dances:
    • Sellingers Round
    • Estampie
    • Saltarello
    Court Dances:
    • Basse Dance
    • Black Alman
    • Black Nag
    • Rufty Tufty
    Line Dances:
    • Prince William
    • La Spagna
    • The Morris Dance
    • The Jig
    Country Dances
    • Scottish Dances
    • The Egg Dance
    • Ballet
    • Pavan
    • Burgundian Dance

    Dance in Ancient Ireland (13th - 17th centuries)

    In Ireland, the haye, rinnce fada and rinnce mor are three names used to refer to dance in old literature: "haye" was a chain dance, rinnce fada similar to an English country dance, rinnce mor or trenchmore, was a long dance.  In 1265 a poem on New Ross's fortifications talks of "carolling" (dancing and singing), and in 1413 dancing is described in relation to a Christmas visit by the Mayor of Waterford to the O'Driscoll seat in Co. Cork (Breathnach, 1977).  The first reference to the dance in the Irish language is 1588, when Tomas Dubh, tenth Earl of Ormond, talks of "a dance around fires by a slender, swift, vigorous company".  The Irish words for dance, "rinnce", first appears in 1609 and "damhsa", ten years later.  Descriptions of music and dance together come from 1602 at the court of Elizabeth I, where Irish tunes are mentioned: "We are at frolic here in court; much dancing in the privy chamber of Country dances before the queen's Majesty, who is exceedingly pleased therewith.  Irish tunes are at this time much liked."

    Dancing was associated with important times of the year:
    • Bealtaine: Gaelic May Day festival. Most commonly it is held on 1 May, or about halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man
    • Lughnasa: Gaelic festival marking the beginning of the harvest season. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. In Modern Irish it is called Lúnasa in Lùnastal, and in Luanistyn.
    • Samhain: Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the "darker half" of the year. Traditionally, it is celebrated from 31 October to 1 November, as the Celtic day began and ended at sunset. This is about halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.
    • Imbolg: also called Brigid's Day, is a Gaelic traditional festival marking the beginning of spring. Most commonly it is held on 1/2 February, or about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.
    Dancing was also associated with the rituals of life: births, weddings, and wakes.  

    Nobody knows for sure about dancing in Ireland before the 17th century.  But even though there is no official Irish word for dance (because the documentary evidence of dance is from the 17th century on), and because of its popularity depicted in Holland by painters like Peter Breughel in the 16th century (bagpipes and dance for weddings), it's a good assumption that it was practiced also in Ireland.

    Irish Dancing (18th - 19th Centuries)

    The original style of dancing is the solo step dance, and this is found all over Ireland.  This was taught by travelling dancing masters who were well established in the late 18th century.  They taught jig and reel steps, and also made up fancy circle dances for several couples, and "set" dances (not to be confused with sets or set-dancing), which were display dances for talented dancers.  

    NOTE: Solo and group step dancing have been refined in the 20th century into the costumed and choreographed kinds we see at competitions today, and in Riverdance and the Lord of the Dance.  In the competitions, dancers will be dressed in colored costumes decorated with Celtic designs, these dating to the early 20th century, their more elaborate forms originating in the USA and Australia.

    Irish Dancing (20th Century)

    The Gaelic League favored a deanglicization policy in anything culturally-related.  The banned all European circle, country and sets dances, encouraging a revival of older dances and creating new ones.  In 1939 the Coimisiun an Rinnce (Irish Dancing Commission) published instruction for the approved choreographies, "Siege of Ennis", "Walls of Limerick", "Sweets of May", etc.  Although sets were banned, they continued anyway, surviving to the present day in areas like Kerry and Clare, boosted in the 1980s by revival and in their original English (courtly) forms, they are still danced in some Orange halls in Co. Down.  

    The Church

    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).*  

    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.  

    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.

    Modern Irish Music

    Demands of dancing in large spaces altered the performance style of music.  It did not require solo and duet playing, it sacrificed rhythm to beat, impersonalized the musicians, prioritized the music=making over social occasion and obliged musicians to learn other forms of music (non-Irish) demanded by the modern venue.  The Accordion became important, for volume, diminishing the status of the subtlety inherent in expert fiddle playing.  Dancers were separated from the process of music-making, standards of appreciation declined, musicians lost local importance, became discouraged and many abandoned playing altogether, or switched to performing European or popular American music, which was becoming more popular in Ireland.

    *From Wikipedia:

    Public Dance Halls Act 1935 (Ireland) cover.jpg
    The Public Dance Halls Act 1935 (IrishAcht Um Hallai Rinnce Puibli, 1935) is an Act of the Oireachtas which regulates dance halls in Ireland by introducing a licensing system and a tax on admission tickets.
    The proposals were based on the recommendations of the 1932 report of the Carrigan Commission into juvenile sex crimes.[2] Other Carrigan Report recommendations were enacted in the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, which raised the age of consent and banned artificial contraception.[2][3] On dance halls, the report stated:
    In the course of the Inquiry no form of abuse was blamed more persistently for pernicious consequences than the unlicensed dances held all over the country in unsuitable buildings and surroundings, for the profit of persons who are liable to no control or supervision by any authority. The scandals that are the outcome of such a situation are notorious. They have been denounced in pastorals, exposed in the Press, and condemned by clergy, judges and justices, without avail. Before us the Commissioner, speaking for the Civic Guard, said these dance gatherings in many districts were turned into "orgies of dissipation, which in the present state of legislation the police are powerless to prevent." In short, there is no effective legislation to put down this nuisance.
    The Public Dance Halls Bill was introduced in 1934 by the then government of Fianna Fáil, and supported by the opposition Fine Gael and Labour parties.[4] It was supported by the Catholic hierarchy. Secular nationalist institutions like the Gaelic League the legislation were seen as beneficial for protecting Irish culture against foreign influence.

    Licensing is administered at the district court, subject to the discretion of the local judge. In the early years of its effect, they were less tolerant of more recently introduced musical styles, such as set dancing(seen as "foreign") and jazz dance clubs.[6][7][8] However, it also disadvantaged many traditional Irish musical activities, such as private house dances and crossroad dances, forcing spontaneous and social music and dance into a controlled and commercialized environment. This set the conditions for the predominance of the céilidh, with its large and loud musical ensembles and wide open dance spaces.[5][9] The ceilidh arose at the expense of older traditional music, which declined in popularity for decades until the creation of the Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, and later the Folk Revival brought new attention to traditional Irish music.

    The Act remains in force, with amendments.[10] Nightclubs may be subject to stricter conditions in some districts than in others, depending on the particular judge. The Irish Nightclub Industry Association has described the legislation as "archaic".[11] In 2001 there was confusion about whether the Act applied to lapdancing clubs.[12]





    Thursday, June 7, 2018

    The Star Above The Garter - Origins of the Title and Music

    By Eddie 
    The title of this slide, “Star Above the Garter,” seems to be something of which no true gentleman would speak, especially in mixed company.  However, that view is more the result of said gentleman’s own salacious thoughts, than of anything factual about the name of this tune. This is because, first, there is a public house in Manchester, England called “The Star and Garter” which has a room upstairs for music. The building was built in 1803, not far from its current location.  When Manchester-Piccadilly station was expanded in 1849, the Star and Garter was moved, brick by brick, to its current site on Fairfield Street behind the railway station and reopened in 1877.  Built as a hotel that brewed its own beer, it has since been transformed into a pub and club venue.  Second, the name “Star and Garter” is an abbreviation of the insignia belonging to The Most Noble Order of the Garter, founded in 1348 by Edward, Prince of Wales. The tune seems to be of more recent origin, however.

    Following a comment on the session.org, there also may be a relationship to British Order of Chivalry (Orders of the Garter, Star, and St. Patrick).

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