Friday, October 31, 2014

Sharon Shannon Traditional Irish Musician

Sharon Shannon
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Background information
Born     12 November 1968 (age 45)
Corofin, County Clare, Ireland
Genres     Celtic,  Folk
Occupation(s)     Accordionist, Fiddler
Years active     1991–present

Sharon Shannon (born 12 November 1968 in Ruan, County Clare) is an Irish musician. She is best known for her work with the accordion and for her fiddle technique. She also plays the tin whistle and melodeon. Her 1991 album Sharon Shannon is the best selling album of traditional Irish music ever released there. Beginning with Irish folk music, her work demonstrates a wide-ranging number of musical influences, including reggae, cajun music, Portuguese music, and French Canadian music. Her single What You Make It (da, da, da, da) featured hip hop music artists. She won the lifetime achievement award at the 2009 Meteor Awards.

Early life

At eight years old, Shannon began performing with Disirt Tola, a band from County Clare. With Disirt Tola, Shannon toured the United States at age fourteen.

Shannon also worked as a competitive showjumper, but gave it up at age sixteen to focus on her music performing.

Shannon similarly abandoned studying at University College Cork.

In the mid-1980s, Shannon studied the accordion with Karen Tweed and the fiddle with Frank Custy, and performed with the band Arcady, of which she was a founding member.

Early recording career – The Waterboys

Shannon began her own recording career in 1989, working with producer John Dunford and musicians such as Adam Clayton, Mike Scott and Steve Wickham. The work with Scott and Wickham led to Shannon's joining their band, The Waterboys. Shannon was with the band for eighteen months, and contributed both accordion and fiddle to their Room to Roam album. Her first world tour was with The Waterboys. Like Wickham, she left the group when Scott and group member Anthony Thistlethwaite wanted to move the band back to a more rock and roll sound.
First solo recordings

Her 1991 album Sharon Shannon is the best selling album of traditional Irish music ever released there.

Shannon's solo work has achieved remarkable airplay and commercial success, especially in Ireland. After her inclusion on A Woman's Heart, a compilation album and a tribute to her work on The Late Late Show, Shannon's music received a great deal of exposure, contributing to the record-breaking sales of her debut album.

Sharon's second album, Out The Gap (1994), was produced by Dennis "Blackbeard" Bovell and had a distinctly reggae feel.

Sharon's track, "Cavan Potholes", written by Dónal Lunny is featured on the 1996 compilation Common Ground: Voices of Modern Irish Music. Other stars on the album include Sinéad O'Connor, Elvis Costello, Kate Bush and Bono.

Sharon's fourth album titled "Spellbound" was released in September 1998. This compilation featured new material, live tracks and also tracks from previous albums.

Also in 1998 Sharon was asked by violinist Nigel Kennedy to join a him in performing on his "Jimi Hendrix Suite", later performing this work in some major European cities.

Her 2000 album, The Diamond Mountain Sessions, which included vocals from a wide variety of artists, was also a commercial success, being certified triple platinum.

Shannon recorded with Steve Earle on the song "The Galway Girl", which was released on both Earle's album Transcendental Blues, and Shannon & Friends' The Diamond Mountain Sessions. Both albums were released in 2000.

Another collaboration with Earle was the instrumental "Dominic Street", released on Earle's 2002 album Sidetracks. Shannon has also worked with Jackson Browne, the band Coolfin, Dónal Lunny, Moya Brennan, Kirsty MacColl, Christy Moore, Sinéad O'Connor, Liam O'Maonlai, and John Prine, amongst others.

Later work

In 2004 Sharon Shannon released the album Libertango with guest spots from Róisín Elsafty, Sinéad O'Connor and the late Kirsty MacColl.

In 2005, she appeared on Tunes, a collaboration with Frankie Gavin, Michael McGoldrick, and Jim Murray.

In 2006 a celebration of 15 years of recording came out with The Sharon Shannon Collection 1990–2005.

In 2007 Shannon has worked with Belinda Carlisle for her album Voila.

As a solo musician, Sharon Shannon has toured Australia, Europe, Hong Kong, and Japan. She has also performed for politicians such as Bill Clinton, Mary Robinson and Lech Wałęsa. Shannon has played benefit concerts for causes that she supports, such as animal welfare.

She continues to record her music and perform with her tour band, The Woodchoppers. A live version of Galway Girl recorded with Mundy was the most downloaded track in Ireland in 2007, winning a Meteor Award.

In 2008, Shannon featured in the Transatlantic Sessions.

In 2009, she played "Galway Girl" live at the Meteor Music Awards 2009, where she also picked up a Lifetime Achievement Award and won Most Downloaded Track again for Galway Girl with Mundy.

Shannon features playing accordion on The Lee Thompson Ska Orchestra single "Bangarang", which also features Dawn Penn as vocalist. It was released on 26 May 2014.

Frankie Gavin is a fiddle player of traditional Irish music.

Frankie Gavin (musician)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Background information
Born     1956 (age 57–58)
Corrandulla, County Galway, Ireland
Genres     Irish traditional music
Occupation(s)     Musician
Instruments     Fiddle, tin whistle, flute
Years active     1960–present
Associated acts     De Dannan

Early years

Frankie Gavin was born in 1956 in Corrandulla, County Galway, from a musical family; his parents and siblings being players of the fiddle and accordion. As a child he played the tin whistle from the age of four and, later, the flute. He received some formal training in music, but his musical ability on the fiddle is mainly self-taught. When 17 years old, he gained first place in both the All Ireland Under-18 Fiddle and Flute competitions.

Music career

In the early 1970s Gavin played musical sessions at Galway's Cellar Bar, with Alec Finn (bouzouki, guitar), Mickey Finn (fiddle), Charlie Piggott (banjo), and Johnnie (Ringo) McDonagh (bodhrán).  In 1974, from these and further sessions, he founded the group De Dannan with Alec Finn.

When De Dannan split-up in 2003, Gavin founded a new group, Frankie Gavin and The New De Dannan, which led to an acrimonious exchange between Gavin and Finn, with the latter claiming to have registered the 'De Dannan' name.

Gavin has also played and recorded with Andy Irvine, The Rolling Stones, Elvis Costello, Stéphane Grappelli, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood,[6] and in 2010 became reputedly the fastest fiddle-player in the world, with an entry in the Guinness Book of Records.

A tribute to Frankie:

by Fintan Vallely, Sunday Tribune

2011 saw the release of the latest album by Frankie Gavin and De Dannan 'Jigs, Reels & Rock n' Roll' on the Tara Music label. The album is the culmination of years of work by Frankie to put the De Dannan back where it belongs as one of the foremost performing groups of Irish traditional music.
Frankie, who was born in 1956 in Corrandulla, Co. Galway, comes from a musical family: his father played fiddle, and his mother and all of her family played also. Frankie himself started playing the tin whistle at age four, making his first T.V. appearance three years later. At the age of ten years old Frankie began to play fiddle and by the time he was seventeen he was placed first in the All Ireland Fiddle Competition and in the All Ireland Flute Competition, both on the same day.

Mainly learning by ear, he was strongly influenced by the 78 recordings of Michael Coleman and James Morrison. Sessions in the Cellar Bar, Galway and later in Hughes’ pub in Spiddal led to the formation of De Dannan in 1973.

His Currandulla connection came in useful when De Danann were looking for a singer, and it was he who came up with Dolores Keane from nearby Cahirlistrane. When De Danann brought out their first album, her singing of The Rambling Irishman gained a lot of airplay for the group. Although De Danann has had many highpoints over a quarter of a century, particularly with the singing of Dolores Keane and Maura O'Connell and the box playing of Mairtin O'Connor, Frankie’s powerful virtuoso fiddle playing has always been at the core of the De Dannan sound.

He has recorded 16 albums with De Dannan as well as a number of solo albums, and three collaborations: one a tribute to Joe Cooley entitled ‘Omos do Joe Cooley’ with Paul Brock; a fine collaboration with fellow De Dannan member Alec Finn; and one with Stephane Grapelli exploring the languages of jazz and traditional music. He has also guested with The Rolling Stones on their ‘Voodoo Lounge’ album, with Keith Richards on ‘Wingless Angels’ and with Earl Scruggs the great banjo man.

Exposure to American audiences began in 1976 when he played with De Danann at the American bicentennial celebrations in Washington DC, with artists such as Junior Crehan and Micho Russell. Frankie has also been invited to play for numerous State officials including President John F. Kennedy on historic visit to Ireland in 1962, French president Francois Mitterand and England's Prince Charles. Of a special event in America, United States Ambassador to Ireland, Jean Kennedy Smith is reported to have commented that "The best all 'round performance of the entire week at Kennedy Center was by DeDannan."

2009 saw Frankie Gavin back on the road and with new De Dannan members. The new line up which features Frankie Gavin (Fiddle/Flute/Whistles), Damien Mullane (Accordian), Eric Cunningham (Percussion/Flutes/Whistles), Mike Galvin (Bouzouki/Guitar) and Michelle Lally (Vocals). In Frankie's own words "This recording marks a special time in my musical life and follows a period where it wasn't possible for me to perform as part of De Dannan, a band I first formed and played with in Connemara in the early 1970's."
"Innovation may be the buzz-word in Traditional music, but Frankie Gavin's digressions are not in the common areas of tempo and superficial style-impressions. His contemporary borrowings of art-deco and music-hall Irishness are re-jigged in original avenues of exploration. His dextrous treatment of troublesome tunes might get even the Pope out on the floor, his orchestration could break hearts. A superbly uncompromising player, he makes refreshment of the old by picking out and polishing every detail and setting it off in a steady, listenable pace. Gavin edgy and brilliant on both fiddle and flute, with always the most meticulous attention given to tone and variation. Live, his tune sets are perfectionism that drive and are driven by an audience spontaneity that spurs Gavin to push fiddle from shriek to rasping bass. Tears and cheers erupt spontaneously, the goodwill of his mixed-age audiences has always been great sauce. Like herding the mythic creac, Frankie Gavin here whoops a great retrospective before him into the Ogham of Celtic Valhalla."

Review of my Studio policies

An unfortunate incident occurred yesterday, where a student canceled at the last minute.  Normally, that wouldn't be a problem, but since this student had a special arrangement where they pay each time they come to a lesson, the backlash was significant.  Because of the scheduled time of their lesson, my wife had to leave one of the busiest days at work to come home and take care of our son.  Halloween is a very busy time at UMass, and she forfeited her normal time plus overtime pay to be here for me, and my student.  So not only did we lose my wife's income for that time period, but we lost the income from the student.

Because of this incident, I feel I must reiterate my Studio policies:

Private Lessons are one hour (60 minutes) a week (unless otherwise indicated), 50 weeks a year.  Students are required to pay every 4 weeks.  Classes are taught in 25 week "semesters", leaving the last week of each semester open for makeups.  There are two recitals a year in January and June.  The calendar looks like this:
  •     January: 1 week of makeups, 1 week vacation, Recital on the 3rd Saturday of the Month
  •     Feb, Mar, Apr, May
  •     June: Recital on the 3rd Saturday of the Month, 1 week of makeups
  •     July: 1 week of vacation (usually the 2nd week of July)
  •     Special arrangements may be made on an individual basis with your teacher
There are no makeups if a student misses a class for whatever reason, the student must pay for an additional makeup as they would for an extra class.  There are no exceptions to this rule.  If I miss a class due to illness or other emergency, the makeups will be completed during the last week of each semester at no additional charge to the student.  If a student can't make a scheduled class due to inclement weather, classes may be attended by Skype or Google Hangouts.

The cost of Private Lessons depends on the age and student status.  Discounts are available for Senior Citizens (65 and older) and College Students with a valid (current) student ID. 

Private Instruction Tuition:
  •     Regular Private (60 minute) Lessons: $240 every four weeks
  •     Regular Private (30 minute) Lessons: $120 every four weeks
  •     Senior Citizens (65 or older): $220 every four weeks
  •     College Students (with current ID): $200 every four weeks
Group Class Tuition:
  •     90 minute Adult Group Classes: $100 every four weeks 
Tuition is due at the first scheduled class of each month, or 25 week semester.  If not received within the first two classes of the month, a $10 late fee will be added to your account.  There are no bills sent out unless tuition is past due, then we will notify you by email, so please make sure we have your current email address.

    Semester I: September - January 10, Recital 3rd Saturday in January
    Semester II: February - August, Recital 3rd Saturday in June

There are no senior or student discounts available for Group Classes at this time.  If you are currently taking Private Lessons, you may be eligible for a bulk rate.  Please ask.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Celtic Nutcracker 2014

LOCATION: Bowker Auditorium, Stockbridge Hall, UMASS Amherst
DATE: Saturday, Dec 13, 2014
TIMES:2:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m.
Rehearsals: Wednesdays 7-8:30pm

If you are NOT CURRENTLY attending the Wednesday Celtic Group class (aka Celtic Fingers), you will need to join to perform in the Nutcracker!  Group Classes cost $25 per week, meeting 7-8:30 weekly.
The Group Rehearsal Dates with dancers will be at the Guiding Star Grange in Greenfield, MA:

    Tuesday, Nov 18 5-6pm
    Saturday, Nov 22 12-1pm
    Saturday, Dec 6 12-3 - full dress w/final bow

Experience the story of the Nutcracker told through Celtic Dance from the perspective of a young girl living in a cottage in Ireland. The journey takes her to Tir Na Nog, the land of eternal youth, where she finds herself transformed into a princess and receives gifts from Scottish Sword Dancers, Cornish Dancers and meets a few leprechauns along the way.
In the second half of the show, instead of gifts from Arabia and China, we have gifts from the Celtic nations, such as Ireland, Scotland, Isle of Man and Cornwall.

While the majority of the show is choreographed with original choreography to the recorded music of Tchaikovsky, there will be live Celtic music in the first act with Celtic Fingers: a student group class from the Celtic Music Academy of Massachusetts!

After The Fall - A Jig

I wrote this jig in September, 2014 after a wonderful summer filled with glorious hikes, a wonderful trip to Maine and multiple excursions with my youngest child on our bikes.

To download, right-click and "save as" to your desktop, or hold down CTRL + P to print

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Irish Modes - Practice Set

The Four (or scales) that are commonly used in traditional Irish music:

  1.     Ionian (Major Scale)
  2.     Mixolydian.
  3.     Dorian.
  4.     Aeolian.
Ionian is more commonly referred to as the Major Scale. This is the most widely used scale in Irish music. It’s used in tunes such as “Miss McCloud’s Reel”, “Off to California”, and “The Blackthorn Stick”. The two most popular keys are G and D, with stringed instruments often using A. Sometimes C and F are used.

Mode    Tonic relative to major scale    Interval sequence    Example
Ionian    I                                                  T-T-s-T-T-T-s            C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C


Examples of mixolydian mode can be found in the tunes “My Love is in America”, “Langstrom’s Pony”, and “Rakish Paddy”.

Mode         Tonic relative to major scale    Interval sequence    Example
Mixolydian V                                                 T-T-T-s-T-s-T            G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G 

There is one note different between The Ionian and Mixolydian. The sixth note of the Ionian is flattened by a semitone. A contrasting example of these two modes in use is to be found in the Lennon/McCartney song “With a Little Help From My Friends”. The verse is in the Ionian mode but switches to a mixolydian mode for the chorus.

Dorian mode is the most common form of minor scale in Irish music. Examples of tunes using this mode include “Star of Munster”, “Pigeon on the Gate”, “Green Groves of Erin”, and “Julia Delaney’s”. The majority of “minor” tunes use this mode.

Mode Tonic relative to major scaleInterval sequenceExample
Dorian II                                            T-s-T-T-T-s-T         D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D

The Aeolian mode is known as the “natural minor”. It is often found in tunes that move to the related major key. “Paddy Lynn’s Delight” and “The Galtee Reel” are examples of this.

Mode    Tonic relative to major scale    Interval sequence    Example
Aeolian  VI                                                T-T-s-T-T-s-T-T            A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A 

When practicing modes, practice them the same as you would practice regular scales.  Use the same picking or bowing patterns assigned you, and practice the 4 modes with each tonic according to the schedule you are following around the Circle of Fifths

For example, if you are practicing the C scale, you are already practicing the Ionian mode and the Aeolian (relative minor) mode.  Just include the Dorian mode (starting on D) and the Mixolydian mode (starting on G)

The origin of Halloween lies in Celtic Ireland - Samhain

Halloween in Ireland

To find the origin of Halloween, you have to look to the festival of Samhain in Ireland's Celtic past.

Samhain had three distinct elements. Firstly, it was an important fire festival, celebrated over the evening of 31 October and throughout the following day.

The flames of old fires had to be extinguished and ceremonially re-lit by druids.

It was also a festival not unlike the modern New Year's Day in that it carried the notion of casting out the old and moving into the new.

To our pagan ancestors it marked the end of the pastoral cycle – a time when all the crops would have been gathered and placed in storage for the long winter ahead and when livestock would be brought in from the fields and selected for slaughter or breeding.

But it was also, as the last day of the year, the time when the souls of the departed would return to their former homes and when potentially malevolent spirits were released from the Otherworld and were visible to mankind.

Samhain: its place in the Celtic calendar

The Celts celebrated four major festivals each year. None of them was connected in anyway to the sun's cycle. The origin of Halloween lies in the Celt's Autumn festival which was held on the first day of the 11th month, the month known as November in English but as Samhain in Irish.

The original Celtic year
  •     Imbolc: 1st February
  •     Beltaine: 1st May
  •     Lughnasa: 1st August
  •     Samhain: 1st November

The festivals are known by other names in other Celtic countries but there is usually some similarity, if only in the translation.

In Scottish Gaelic, the autumn festival is called Samhuinn. In Manx it is Sauin.

The root of the word – sam – means summer, while 'fuin' means end. And this signals the idea of a seasonal change rather than a notion of worship or ritual.

The other group of Celtic languages (known as Q-Celtic) have very different words but a similar intention. In Welsh, the day is Calan Gaeaf, which means the first day of winter. In Brittany, the day is Kala Goanv, which means the beginning of November.

The Celts believed that the passage of a day began with darkness and progressed into the light. The same notion explains why Winter – the season of long, dark nights – marked the beginning of the year and progressed into the lighter days of spring, summer and autumn. So the 1st of November, Samhain, was the Celtic New Year, and the celebrations began at sunset of the day before ie its Eve.

The Roman Autumn festival

Harvest was celebrated by the Romans with a festival dedicated to Pomona, the goddess of the fruits of the tree, especially apples. The origin of Halloween's special menus, which usually involve apples (as do many party games), probably dates from this period.

Pomona continued to be celebrated long after the arrival of Christianity in Roman Europe. So, too, did Samhain in Ireland and it was inevitable that an alternative would be found to push pagan culture and lore into a more 'acceptable' Christian event.

Sure enough, the 7th century Pope Boniface, attempting to lead his flock away from pagan celebrations and rituals, declared 1st November to be All Saints Day, also known as All Hallows Day.

The evening before became known as Hallows' Eve, and from there the origin of Halloween, as a word, is clear.

The origin of Halloween's spookiness

For Celts, Samhain was a spiritual time, but with a lot of confusion thrown into the mix. Being 'between years' or 'in transition', the usually fairly stable boundaries between the Otherworld and the human world became less secure so that puka, banshees, fairies and other spirits could come and go quite freely. There were also 'shape shifters' at large. This is where the dark side of Halloween originated.

Samhain marked the end of the final harvest of the summer, and all apples had to have been picked by the time the day's feasting began.

It was believed that on Samhain, the puca – Irish evil fairies – spat on any unharvested apples to make them inedible.

Celtic tales are full of heroic warriors and mystical gods. They are also the origin of Halloween's (and Ireland's) preoccupation with the 'little people'.

Academics have concluded that the little people were, originally, the pagan gods of Ireland who lost their significance and, metaphorically, their stature, when Christianity arrived.

Despite their reduced state and retirement to the Underworld as fairies, a memory of their magical powers held fast in the imagination of the people. Here lies the origin of Halloween's dark side.

There are two main groups of fairy: the trooping fairies who are, for the most part, friendly and have healing powers, and the solitary fairy who causes mischief and is quick to anger.

Among the specific terrors of Halloween were the Fomorians who believed they had a right to take back to the Otherworld their share of fresh milk, grains and live children.
The fairy most connected with the origin of Halloween is the Puca (pronounced Pooka) who is decidedly malevolent and capable of assuming any shape. The puca is particularly adept at taking animal shapes, especially horses, so riders beware on Halloween – your 'steed' may not be under your control!

    The Banshee is another fairy, always female, who warns of approaching death by letting loose a terrible, eerie wail (the Banshee scream) that is guaranteed to send a shiver down the spine of those that hear it. If you hear the cry of the Banshee of Ireland, you should look out for a funeral carriage pulled by a headless horse.

To ward off the evil let loose at Samhain, huge bonfires were lit and people wore ugly masks and disguises to confuse the spirits and stop the dead identifying individuals who they disliked during their own lifetime.

They also deliberately made a lot of noise to unsettle the spirits and drive them away from their homes. The timid, however, would leave out food in their homes, or at the nearest hawthorn or whitethorn bush (where fairies were known to live), hoping that their generosity would appease the spirits.

For some, the tradition of leaving food (and a spoon to eat it!) in the home – usually a plate of champ or colcannon – was more about offering hospitality to their own ancestors.

Just as spells and incantations of witches were especially powerful at Samhain, so the night was believed to be full of portents of the future.

The origin of Halloween games

Celts looked to the future at Samhain and could see 'clues' to the year ahead in the simplest things. Even peeling an apple could provide a clue to the name of a future wife or husband; if the peel was allowed to drop to the floor as it was peeled, it would form the initial letter of the lucky spouse.

Apples also featured in the 'ducking for apples' game where the object is to retrieve an apple from a barrel or large bowl of water without using hands or feet. There was nothing particularly symbolic about the origin of Halloween games such as these. They are fun games in which all ages can participate, and apples were plentiful at this time of the year.

Most other games and 'rituals' played out at Halloween were to do with courtship. Among them was the fortune-telling bowl of Colcannon.

A ring (and sometimes a thimble, too) were mixed into a large bowl of this warming, simple dish which was placed in the middle of the table. Each person sitting around the table took a spoonful of the potato and cabbage mixture, dipping it into the well of melted butter at its centre. The person who found the ring was sure to be married within the year. The thimble denoted life without love and marriage.

The origin of Halloween 'trick or treating' seems to have been a Druid ritual of collecting eggs, nuts and apples from the individual homes of the community. These offerings were meant to bring some protection from bad luck such as damage to crops or livestock in the next year. Those that were miserly in their offerings were likely to have a trick played on them. These pranks were harmless enough. They were intended to cause confusion ie changing the direction a gate opened.

The origin of the Halloween lantern

In order to prevent unwelcome spirits entering their homes, the Celts created menacing faces out of turnips and left them on their doorsteps. Adding a lit candle to the hollowed out face gave added protection.

In modern times, pumpkins are used. They're considerably easier to carve, and a lot bigger, too, but they are not native to Ireland.

According to legend, the origin of the Halloween lantern can be found in the tale of a young smith called Jack O'Lantern who made a pact with the Devil during a gambling session. He managed to thwart the Devil and extracted a promise from him that he would never take his soul.

When he eventually died, Jack was refused entry to heaven on account of his drunken, lewd and miserly ways. The Devil, remembering his earlier promise, also refused to allow him into hell. So Jack was condemned to roam the dark hills and lanes of Ireland for eternity.

His only possessions were a turnip with a gouged out centre and a burning coal, thrown to him by the Devil. He put the coal inside the turnip to light his way through the dark countryside where he still wanders......

Ireland's best Halloween party is in Derry

While the origin of Halloween doesn't lie specifically in Derry, the world's biggest Halloween party is held there every year. More than 30,000 people take to the streets, most of them dressed as witches, ghouls, vampires and monsters from the Otherworld.

It's a time when you're almost certain to hear the Banshees screaming – assuming you can hear anything much above the marching bands, ceilidh music, hard rock and calypso as the carnival proceeds through the town.

Waterloo Place plays host to a free concert, and many events, including Ghost Walks, are held throughout the city before a spectacular fireworks display brings celebrations to a close.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Blues Mandolin - Part Four - "Practicing The Blues Scale"

The Blues scale consists of 6 different notes.  They are the 5 notes of the minor pentatonic scale, plus one additional note.  The note added is the diminished 5th (o5) measured from the scale tonic.

For example :
  • adding to the C minor pent. scale : C - Eb - F - G - Bb - C
  • the diminished 5th - Gb
  • produces the C Blues scale : C - Eb - F - Gb - G - Bb - C
In relation to the Major scale the notes of the Blues scale are : 1 - b3 - 4 - b5 - 5 - b7 - 1.  The b3, b5 and b7 notes of the scale (for C Blues scale : Eb, Gb and Bb) are the so called blue notes of the scale.

Here are the Blues scales in all 12 keys listed in Circle of Fifths order.
  •     C Blues scale     C - Eb - F - Gb - G - Bb - C
  •     G Blues scale     G - Bb - C - Db - D - F - G
  •     D Blues scale     D - F - G - Ab - A - C - D
  •     A Blues scale     A - C - D - Eb - E - G - A
  •     E Blues scale      E - G - A - Bb - B - D - E
  •     B Blues scale      B - D - E - F - F# - A - B
  •     F# and Gb Blues scales     F# - A - B - C - C# - E - F#,     Gb - A - B - C - Db - E - Gb
  •     Db and C# Blues scales     Db - E - Gb - G - Ab - B - Db,     C# - E - F# - G - G# - B - C#
  •     Ab Blues scale    Ab - B - Db - D - Eb - Gb - Ab
  •     Eb Blues scale    Eb - Gb - Ab - A - Bb - Db - Eb
  •     Bb Blues scale    Bb - Db - Eb - E - F - Ab - Bb
  •     F Blues scale       F - Ab - Bb - B - C - Eb - F 
Each day, practice a different Blues Scale from this list, or if you are currently practicing the major and relative minor from the Circle of Fifths, add the Blues Scale to your daily practice.

It's recommended that you practice these scales with the following picking patterns:
  • 4 quarter notes per note: down up down up
  • 8 eighth notes per note: down up down up
  • 2 sets of triplets per note (3 notes each): down up down, up down up
  • 1 tremolo (4 beats long) per note

Blues Mandolin - Part Three "The Blues Scale"

"The Blues Scale"

A diatonic major scale incorporating a lowered or bent 3rd, a lowered or bent 7th and sometimes a lowered or bent 5th to approximate melodic notes that originated in African work songs.

Since the actual pitch is unavailable on a mandolin, the lowered note is often "pulled off" against the natural pitch to approximate the blue note, by placing the finger on the note and quickly pulling it off after pick strike.

Blues Mandolin - Part Two

Jamming is one of the most fun things to do on the mandolin. The blues is one of the most fun and easiest genres to jam to. I’ll show you how to play the blues even with the most basic technique and knowledge of the instrument.

Five Note Blues
Practice and perfect the first five notes of the “a” minor dorian scale.  Be sure to keep the 2nd and 3rd fingers (B and C natural) together.  Intonation should be as perfect as possible. Play the scale up and down in different tempos and rhythms. Experiment with off beats, swinging and dynamics. Incorporate your own feeling into it. One great blues effect is the “broken record” effect, where you get stuck on a riff and just keep doing it over and over persistently.

One Octave A Minor Dorian

Practice the A minor dorian along with an acoustical guitar blues shuffle. 

Work on Finger Patterns

Here is an easy A minor dorian pattern you can play with any acoustical guitar blues shuffle.

A Secret Weapon

Here is my favorite A minor dorian pattern that you can play with an acoustical guitar blues shuffle.

(Reprinted from Fiddlerman's website and edited for mandolin)

Blues Mandolin - Part One

In the early days of the last century, the mandolin gained popularity both as a blues instrument and as the backbone of the early African American string bands. Several of these groups added mandolin to guitars, banjos, fiddles, jugs and kazoos to play energetic and heart-felt renditions of blues and ragtime songs. Bluegrass players, from Bill Monroe onward, incorporated blues licks into their playing. Steve James knows this music and its history well, and he brings it clearly into focus on this fun and funky lesson.

Mandolin novices will start out by learning a basic G scale and how to alter it to create a blues scale. Check out Divin’ Duck Blues by the great Yank Rachell. Once you learn some of the primary blues chords on the mandolin, you'll quickly see how it can become a wonderful accompanying instrument with the use of partial chords for rhythm comping. Turnarounds, double stops and variations on a walking boogie-woogie line are all essential parts of a blues repertoire.

Some other Blues tunes to learn include: The Lonesome Train That Carried My Gal Away, from the recordings of Charlie McCoy and the Mississippi Sheiks, Big Joe Williams’ Juanita Stomp is played on a “high-strung” mandolin (the lower strings are tuned to octaves) and features a rockin’ blues riff in A, Saturday Night in Jail, contains double stops, chord comps, blues licks and scales and, Shotgun Blues, which sounds great on the electric mandolin.

Music Therapy For Aphasia

Let's talk with Oliver Sacks about aphasia—a condition in which there is an impairment of speech and speech comprehension—and note that music is being used as therapy for aphasia patients. Can you explain this and tell us how promising the therapy is? Are there other areas in which music has therapeutic value?

Aphasia is a terribly frustrating and isolating condition. Some people experience temporary aphasia (say, following a stroke or brain injury), but others are left with it for months or years. Yet many people with expressive aphasia, unable to utter a sentence, may be able to sing. I often greet such patients by singing “Happy Birthday” to them, whether it is their birthday or not. Everyone knows the words and melody of this song, and often aphasic people can join in. In 1973, Martin Albert and his colleagues in Boston described a form of music therapy they called “melodic intonation therapy.” Patients were taught to sing or intone short phrases—for example, “How are you today?” Then the musical elements of this were removed slowly until (in some cases) the patient regained the power to speak a little without the aid of intonation. One sixty-seven-year-old man, aphasic for eighteen months—he could only produce meaningless grunts and had received three months of speech therapy without effect—started to produce words two days after beginning melodic intonation therapy; in two weeks, he had an effective vocabulary of a hundred words, and at six weeks, he could carry on “short, meaningful conversations.”

This is a very specific use of music therapy, but there are many others. People with Alzheimer’s or other dementias will often respond to music even when they are able to respond to little else. Music, especially familiar music from one’s early years, can help to orient and organize such people.

Music works because it engages so many parts of the brain. Rhythm, actual or imagined, activates areas of the motor cortex, crucial in synchronizing and energizing movement—whether for athletes or people with movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease or Tourette’s syndrome. In Musicophilia, I described a man who has incessant seizures, which only stop when he plays music, though this is a highly individual thing, for some people with epilepsy may find that music of a particular sort can actually trigger seizures. By and large, though, there are few, if any, bad side effects of music, and music can often work where no medications can.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Irish Session (Seisun)

Get a list of area Irish Sessions here:

The general session scheme is that someone starts a tune, and those who know it join in. Good session etiquette requires not playing if one does not know the tune, and waiting until a tune one knows comes along. In an "open" session, anyone who is able to play Irish music is welcome.

Most often there are more-or-less recognized session leaders; sometimes there are no leaders. At times a song will be sung or a slow air played by a single musician between sets.

The objective in a session is not to provide music for an audience of passive listeners; although the punters (non-playing attendees) often come for the express purpose of listening, the music is most of all for the musicians themselves. The session is an experience that is shared, not a performance that is bought and sold.

Learn how to play in an Irish session here:

The sessions are a key aspect of traditional music; some say it is the main sphere in which the music is formulated and innovated. Further, the sessions enable less advanced musicians to practice in a group.

Socially, sessions have often been compared to an evening of playing card games, where the conversation and camaraderie are an essential component. In many rural communities in Ireland, sessions are an integral part of community life.

Typically, the first tune is followed by another two or three tunes in a set. The art of putting together a set is hard to put into words, but the tunes must flow from one to another in terms of key and melodic structure, without being so similar as to all sound the same. The tunes of a set will usually all be of the same sort, i.e. all jigs or all reels, although on rare occasions and amongst a more skilled group of players a complementary tune of a different sort will be included, such as a slip jig amongst the jigs. Although bands sometimes arrange sets of reels and jigs together, this is uncommon in an Irish session context.

Some sets are specific to a locale, or even to a single session, whilst others, like the "Coleman set" of reels ("The Tarbolton"/"The Longford Collector"/The Sailor's Bonnet"), represent longstanding combinations that have been played together for decades. Sets are sometimes thrown together ad hoc, which sometimes works brilliantly and sometimes fails on the spot.

After the set ends, someone will usually start another.

Sessions are usually held in public houses. A pub owner might have one or two musicians paid to come regularly in order for the session to have a base. Sunday afternoons and weekday nights (especially Tuesday and Wednesday) are common times for sessions to be scheduled, on the theory that these are the least likely times for dances and concerts to be held, and therefore the times that professional musicians will be most able to show.

Sessions can be held in homes or at various public places in addition to pubs; often at a festival sessions will be got together in the beer tent or in the vendor's booth of a music-loving craftsman or dealer. When a particularly large musical event "takes over" an entire village, spontaneous sessions may erupt on the street corners. Sessions may also take place occasionally at wakes. House sessions are not as common now as they were in the past. This can be seen in the book Peig by Peig Sayers. In the early stages of the book when Peig was young they often went to sessions at peoples houses in a practice called 'bothántiocht'.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

"Women of Ireland", or "Mná na h-Éireann"

"Women of Ireland", or "Mná na h-Éireann" in Irish, is a beautiful song composed by Seán Ó Riada (1931--1971). The poem, on which the music is based, was written by Peadar Ó Dornín (?1704--1769), This video features the Gaelic lyrics. Below is an English translation, though there are variations (only the first two verses are sung in this version):

There's a woman in Erin who'd give me shelter and my fill of ale;
There's a woman in Ireland who'd prefer my strains to strings being played;
There's a woman in Erin and nothing would please her more
Than to see me burning or in a grave lying cold.

There's a woman in Erin who'd be mad with envy if I was kissed
By another on fair-day, they have strange ways, but I love them all;
There are women I'll always adore, battalions of women and more
And there's this sensuous beauty and she shackled to an ugly boar.

There's a woman who promised if I'd wander with her I'd find some gold
A woman in night dress with a loveliness worth more than the woman
Who vexed Ballymoyer and the plain of Tyrone;
And the only cure for my pain I'm sure is the ale-house down the road.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Monday, September 15, 2014

Antonín Dvořák

Antonín Dvořák
(1841 - 1904)

Complete Works:

Sheet Music from IMISLP:,_Anton%C3%ADn

Contrary to legend, Antonín Dvořák (September 8, 1841 - May 1, 1904) was not born in poverty. His father was an innkeeper and butcher, as well as an amateur musician. The father not only put no obstacles in the way of his son's pursuit of a musical career, he and his wife positively encouraged the boy. He learned the violin and finally was sent to the Prague Organ School, from which he emerged at age 18 as a trained organist and immediately plunged into the life of a working musician. He played in various dance bands, usually as a violist. One of his groups became the core of the Provisional Theater orchestra, the first Czech-language theater in Prague, and Dvořák was appointed principal violist. Around this time, he also began giving private piano lessons, eventually marrying one of his students.

During this early period, he composed a ton of music, learning how through studying scores mainly by Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Liszt, and Wagner. At first, his music resembles that of Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. The quality varies in this music, as you would expect, but the sheer amount of it impresses you. Furthermore, if some of it shows awkwardness, it also shows imagination and inventive tunefulness. In addition to songs and miniatures, you find a great deal of chamber music, at least one opera, and a concerto. Toward the end of this apprenticeship, Liszt and Wagner dominate, although Dvořák still tries to contain them in classical forms. The big work of this phase is the Symphony No. 1, which the composer thought had perished in a fire. In later life, he told his composition students that he had irretrievably lost his first symphony, his students asked anxiously, "What did you do?" "I sat down and wrote another one," he replied. Fortunately, it turns out that this composition wasn't lost, merely misplaced, and we can now hear this milestone in the composer's development. The Wagner phase, however, was brief, about five years. It permeates the opera The King and the Charcoal Burner (1873). The opera was taken off the schedule of Prague's Provisional Theater, due to rehearsal difficulties. Far from sinking into discouragement, Dvořák began a thorough reassessment of his artistic direction, finding his mature path of combining Czech folklore with classical forms. He revised The King and the Charcoal Burner, resubmitted it to the theater, and enjoyed a successful premiere in 1874. Other major works of this period include the Stabat mater (1877), the symphonies 4-6, the serenades for strings and for winds, the violin concerto, and the enormously successful first set of the Slavonic Dances.

In 1874, Dvořák applied for and received a grant from the Austrian government. He applied successfully three more times. Apart from easing Dvořák's financial stress, the grants also brought him to the attention of Brahms, one of the members of the jury. Brahms immediately became a fan and persuaded his own publisher, Simrock, to take up Dvořák's music. Thus began Dvořák's career outside Czechoslovakia. He certainly became the big musical deal within his home country.

Part of the spread of his music derives from Austro-German politics of the time. Bans were placed periodically on performances of Czech composers within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Scheduled performances of major works like the Sixth Symphony were cancelled in Vienna. However, in 1883, Joseph Barnby invited Dvořák to London to conduct his Stabat mater. The British went crazy for the music, and Dvořák's international career dates from this visit. He returned to England eight more times. His reputation was large enough to attract the notice of George Bernard Shaw, one of the finest of all musical critics. Unfortunately, Shaw disliked Dvořák's music for many of the same reasons he advanced against Brahms.

In 1889, Dvořák became a professor of composition at the Prague conservatory. His best student was undoubtedly his son-in-law, Josef Suk. As a teacher, Dvořák was no wizard of technique. In fact, he insisted that his students have a finished technique before he allowed them into his class. He would criticize student scores, put his finger on weak passages, and in general treat his pupils as colleagues, insisting that they find their own way, as he had found his.

Jeannette Thurber, a wealthy American music patron, in 1892 offered Dvořák a position as artistic director and composition professor at New York's National Music Conservatory, at a salary of $15,000, twenty-five times what he got in Prague. It was also clear that the Americans expected him to help pave the way for an "American" musical style. Dvořák took this last charge to heart. This inaugurated Dvořák's "American" phase, which produced his Ninth Symphony "From the New World," the String Quartet #12, the cantata The American Flag, and the String Quintet in Eb. However, financial advantage and high artistic purpose competed with simple homesickness in Dvořák's soul. Summer vacations among the Czech-speaking community in Spillville, Iowa, helped, but the longing to return to Prague grew. Dvořák wrote almost as many works celebrating his native country as those which hymned the New World: for example, the Te Deum and the cello concerto (one of the best for the instrument). Furthermore, Dvořák had become increasingly interested in streamlining classical forms. In the 1880s, he had entered a so-called second nationalist phase, in which Czech folk elements are completely absorbed and put in the service of Dvořák's formal experiments. The image of Dvořák as some spontaneously musical "holy fool" doesn't hold up in the presence of scores full of formal sophistication. The cello concerto, for example, provides an heroic part for the cellist without burying him in the orchestral mass. Examination of the score reveals tremendous planning to unleash orchestral power while keeping the orchestra out of the way of the soloist. No less a composer than Brahms, who had written his double concerto in 1887 in part as a solution to the problems of the cello as solo instrument, exclaimed, "Why on earth didn't I know that one could write a cello concerto like this? If I had only known, I would have written one long ago!"

A major economic depression in the 1890s reduced the Thurber fortune. She felt she could no longer keep her commitment to pay Dvořák's salary and indeed owed the composer money. Dvořák and his family returned to Prague. This inaugurated Dvořák's final period dominated by tone poems (The Water Goblin, The Noon Witch, and The Golden Spinning-Wheel, among others) and opera (Rusalka, The Devil and Kate, and Armida). Dvořák considered himself primarily a dramatic composer, although, so far, few have agreed with this assessment. He wrote more operas (11) than symphonies, but only two – Rusalka and The Devil and Kate – have been staged with even minimal frequency outside Czechoslovakia.

Nevertheless, Dvořák remains the great 19th-century Czech composer – truly international, building on the achievement of Bedřich Smetana, and outstanding in symphony, concerto, symphonic overture, and chamber music. ~ Steve Schwartz

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

David Byrne: How architecture helped music evolve

As his career grew, David Byrne went from playing CBGB to Carnegie Hall. He asks: Does the venue make the music? From outdoor drumming to Wagnerian operas to arena rock, he explores how context has pushed musical innovation.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Turloch O'Carolan: The Vivaldi Tale

An interesting episode is told of O'Carolan:—"At the house of an Irish nobleman, where Geminiani was present, Carolan challenged that eminent composer to a trial of skill. The musician played over on his violin the fifth concerto of Vivaldi. It was instantly repeated by Carolan on his harp, although he had never heard it before. The surprise of the company was increased when he asserted that he would compose a concerto himself at the moment, and the more so when he actually played that admirable piece known ever since as 'Carolan's Concerto.'"[1]

It seems rather a pity to spoil this story, but it appears from O'Conor, who knew O'Carolan, that Geminiani never had the pleasure of meeting the Irish minstrel. Thus writes O'Conor:—"In the variety of his musical numbers he knew how to make a selection, and seldom was contented with mediocrity. So happy was he in some of his compositions, that he excited the wonder, and obtained the approbation, of a great master who never saw him—I mean Geminiani." [2]

The following seems to be the true version of the incident:—"Geminiani, who resided for some years in Dublin, heard of the fame of O'Carolan, and determined to test his abilities. He selected a difficult Italian concerto and made certain changes in it, 'so that no one but an acute judge could detect them,' and forwarded the mutilated version to Elphin. O'Carolan listened attentively to the violinist who performed the concerto, and at once pronounced the composition beautiful, but, to the astonishment of all present, added humorously in Irish: 'Here and there it limps and stumbles.' He was then desired to rectify the errors in musical grammar, which he immediately did, and his corrections were sent to Dublin to Geminiani. No sooner did the Italian composer see the changes than he pronounced O'Carolan to be endowed with il genio vero della musica."

O'Conor adds;—"O'Carolan outstripped his predecessors in the three species of composition used amongst the Irish, but he never omitted giving due praise to several of his countrymen who excelled before him in his art. The Italian compositions he preferred to all others, and was enraptured with Corelli's music."


[1] The Monthly Review. Old series. Vol. lxxvii. The story is substantially the same as that told by Goldsmith.
[2] Charles O'Conor, of Belanagare, died July 1st, 1791, aged 82.

Celtic Music Academy of Massachusetts

Celtic Music Academy of Massachusetts

Irish Dance: A History

Irish dance dates back to traditions in Ireland in the 1500’s and is closely tied to Irish independence and cultural identity.  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 or Fading 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.  It is not clear whose dances influenced whom among the Irish, English, and French, but it was characteristic that Irish dances had a faster tempo and included side steps. 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.

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.

Visit the Celtic Music Academy of Massachusetts for more information!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Daily Practice: The Scale Set (major / relative minor)

On a calendar, plot a daily practice schedule of a different scale set each day.  That way you practice each scale in the circle of fifths, its arpeggio and relative minor with a group of picking patterns (for guitar and mandolin) and bowing patterns (for violin, viola and cello).

Practice 2 octaves, always use 4th finger, root the first finger in each position.  
  • For pickers, practice each scale and arpeggio with 4 quarter notes down up down up, 8 8th notes and 6 8th notes per note.  
  • For bowers, practice 1 whole note (frog to tip), 4 quarter notes (middle to tip), 8 8th notes (upper 1/3rd to tip), 2 triplets (upper 1/3rd to tip)

  1. Monday: C major, arpeggio; a minor, arpeggio
  2. Tuesday: G major, arpeggio, e minor, arpeggio
  3. Wednesday: D major, arpeggio, b minor, arpeggio
  4. Thursday: A major, arpeggio, f# minor, arpeggio
  5. Friday: E major, arpeggio, c# minor, arpeggio
  6. Saturday: B major, arpeggio, g# minor, arpeggio
  7. Sunday: F# major, arpeggio, d# minor, arpeggio
  8. Monday: C# major, arpeggio, a# minor, arpeggio
  9. Tuesday: F major, arpeggio; d minor, arpeggio
  10. Wednesday: Bflat major, arpeggio; g minor, arpeggio
  11. Thursday: Eflat major, arpeggio; c minor, arpeggio
  12. Friday: Aflat major, arpeggio; f minor, arpeggio
  13. Saturday: Dflat major, arpeggio; b flat minor, arpeggio
  14. Sunday: Gflat major, arpeggio; eflat minor, arpeggio
  15. Monday: Cflat major, arpeggio; aflat minor, arpeggio

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Normans

The Norman Invasion and Conquest of England

In the year 1066, the Saxon-Dane rulers of England were overthrown and replaced by new invaders.... The Normans.  By the end of the year, the old king was gone and the fate of the country was changed for ever.

History of the Normans

When William defeated Harold in AD 1066, the future of the Isles took a major change. For hundreds of years to come, it would be embroiled in wars in Europe and the Holy Lands. Civil unrest would be rife and the once proud traditions of the Saxons would be ground under the stone of a network of castles that covered the country. However, there is much more to the new rule than this gloomy picture paints! The Normans brought a whole new society which made the country what it is today.

A common misconception today is that the Normans were "French." Strictly speaking this is not true although it is a widely held belief and, like most beliefs, has some basis in fact.
Towards the end of the ninth century, the Viking raiders from Northern Europe (commonly known as Norsemen) were regularly foraging (raiding and trading) along the coast line of the Frankish kingdoms. During these raids, the Vikings got more and more bold - even going as far as sailing up the Seine and sacking Paris. Initially the raiders would set off from their home villages in Scandinavia and return a few weeks later with any plunder they had gathered, however as the raids continued the Norsemen started establishing raiding bases away from home. It was during this time that England was invaded by the "Grand Army" (more detail in the Vikings Section). These bases were often in very good farmland and quickly grew rich with the spoils of war, and as a result of this quickly grew in size.

In AD. 911, the Frankish King Charles (the Simple), in an effort to reduce the raids and destruction offered a large amount of land in northern France to a band of Vikings led by Rollo in return for token obedience to the Frankish crown. During the years of "Duke" Rollo's reign, the local term for the "Norsemen" slowly contracted to "Norman" and this pretty much stuck for the rest of time.
As befitting the descendants of excellent seafarers, the Normans traded with most of the kingdoms and Empires. They provided soldiers to act as a papal guard and not long after the conquest of the Angle's lands (England) they turned their attention to other places. The Normans raided Italy, and were a driving force behind the Crusades.

From the British point of view, the main identifiers of the Norman invaders were the language they spoke (a variant of Frankish - French) and their tendency to build castles everywhere. Prior to the Norman occupation, both the Anglo-Saxons and the Celtic Britons before them had lived in smallish communities built on hill tops. These Hill Forts were the primary means of defense and provided a community central point for refuge etc.

Following the Invasion of AD 1066, one of the first things William I wanted to do was to establish Norman control. This was, in part, enforced by the building of Motte and Bailey castles over the land where the Norman Knights could have a base to subjugate the surrounding lands. To ease the building, these were often on the site of Hill Forts, and equally often these hill forts had been removed from the local Celtic/Saxon nobility not to long in the past. Building on hill forts is one of the reasons why so many Norman castles (especially the early ones) are of the famous motte and bailey design. This design is easy to implement over the site of a previous hill fort.

On occasion, the Norman buildings were inside even older structures - such as the Norman Castle inside the Roman Fort at Portchester

Another common trait of the Normans, was their love of Hunting. In addition to the construction of new forest blocks across the Country, the Normans established lots of new laws. These were all very unpopular with the local British - often they were now unable to hunt or farm on their own land. While the Norman hunting may have left some gorgeous forestry blocks, and been responsible for the importation of new species, it certainly was not started from ecological grounds. Another side effect of this hunting fanaticism, was the construction of hundreds of hunting lodges around the country. These mini-castles, like Luggershall  were used by the Knights and Kings as places to stay and feast while they were out hunting (which was a lot of the time). Although they were never used as fortified bases in the way the Castles were, the hunting lodges were remarkably well built. A sign of how cheap labor and materials were to the Norman overlords.

Norman Life

The Normans had an interesting mix of cultures. Historically, they were a combination of viking settlers who had married into the local Frankish cultures and as a result their society was a conglomerate of the two.

As befits their despondency from the vikings, the Normans were a warlike culture and prized mounted soldiers. The Norman cavalry were to form the basis for medieval Knights and what we now look at as "Chivalry" stems from the Norman codes of conduct on the battlefield.

The Normans were more than just mobile killing machines (although they excelled at this), and with their invasion of England they brought in some fantastic examples of architecture and style. As they were devout followers of the medieval Christian church, the best examples of Norman style can be found in the churches and chapels that still exist all over the country.

Norman Warfare

The Normans brought with them a wholly new form of warfare. The Saxons and, before them, the Celts had largely depended on armies of "brave warriors" who would band together to fight the enemy. Often battles were resolved through one on one fights between clan heroes. (Very similar to classical era Greeks).

The Normans had a warfare style that evolved from their Norse roots and was heavily influenced by the European wars of the 9th and 10th centuries AD and the Frankish kings like Charlemagne.

This resulted in the Norman armies being very organised and disciplined. The mainstay of the army was the heavy foot soldier, although the nobles and leaders were always mounted on powerful horses. During the middle-medieval period the status symbol of horses became firmly rooted and even today people think of owning a horse as being something the "rich" do

In addition to the new forms of combat, the Normans brought with them a brand new way of defending territory. The Saxons were from a culture of mobile raiders and as such tended to not rely on heavy defensive structures as we think of them today. Most Saxon strongholds were hill forts similar to the ones the Celts used, or where they had taken over an old Roman fortification the Saxons would shore up the walls and reuse it. In the mainstream of Saxon culture, it was wrong to attack the settlements where people lived (raids, however, were common place) and battles were always fought in open ground.

This changed with the arrival of the Normans. They brought with them the massive stone structures we still see today. Norman castles were a stamp of authority as much as a defensive structure and the conquerors spent little time building hundreds of them across the country.

The Norman Timeline

For the purposes of this site, this timeline is very compressed and only highlights some of the more important dates in the history of the Normans. It is not complete - as people learn more about the past, old events which may have seemed insignificant take on a new meaning. If you have any suggestions for an important event then send an email to Etrusia with the details and we will see about adding it to our list.

The Frankish King Charles the Simple grants the Viking Rollo land in what is now northern France. This land becomes known as "Normandy" and the people who live there are known as the "Normans."

The Italians request the Normans send an army to help them defend their land. On arrival the Normans like the country and invade it themselves.

Nineteen year old, William The Bastard wins his first major engagement at the battle of Val Es Dunes on the Norman / Frankish border.

Duke Willam of Normandy (obviously didnt like his old nickname) invades England putting an end to the 500 or so years of Saxon rule.

Germans attack Rome, the Norman armies drive back the Germans and save the Pope only to raid Rome themselves.

King William I of England orders the Domesday Book be compiled.

Norman led crusaders, following Pope Urban II's orders, capture Jerusalem and massacre the occupants.

King Henry I's nephew Stephen goes to war with the Empress Matilda and brings nearly two decades of anarchy to the Norman lands.

The French King Phillip II invades and conquers Normandy. Most of the Normans in England decide to stay and become English. Most of the Normans in France become French. The Normans themselves effectively cease to exist.

The Pentatonic Scale

Dr. W. H. Cummings, one of the most eminent living English musicians, thus writes:

"I believe the Irish had the diatonic scale as we have it to-day. It was the advent of the Church scales which supplanted that beautiful scale." 

More recently, Father Bewerunge, Professor of Ecclesiastical Chant in Maynooth College, expresses his conviction as follows:

"It is thought that the old Irish melodies contain within them the germ that may be developed into a fresh luxuriant growth of Irish music. Now, the Irish melodies belong to a stage of musical development very much anterior to that of Gregorian chant. Being based fundamentally on a pentatonic scale, they reach back to a period altogether previous to the dawn of musical history." ~ New Ireland Review, March, 1900.

A pentatonic scale is a musical scale or mode with five notes per octave in contrast to a heptatonic (seven note) scale such as the major scale and minor scale.

Pentatonic scales are very common and are found all over the world. They are divided into those with semitones (hemitonic) and those without (anhemitonic).

Anhemitonic pentatonic scales can be constructed in many ways. The major pentatonic scale may be thought of as a gapped or incomplete major scale. However, the pentatonic scale has a unique character and is therefore complete in terms of tonality. One construction takes five consecutive pitches from the circle of fifths; starting on C, these are C, G, D, A, and E. Transposing the pitches to fit into one octave rearranges the pitches into the major pentatonic scale: C, D, E, G, A.

Thursday, July 31, 2014


The nine instruments in general use among the ancient Irish including the professional names of the various performers were:
  1. Cruitire [harper]; 
  2. Timpanach [timpanist]; 
  3. Buinnire [flute player]; 
  4. Cornaire [horn player]; 
  5. Cuisleannach [player on the bag-pipes]; 
  6. Fedanach [fife player]; 
  7. Graice [horn player]; 
  8. Stocaire and Sturganaidhe [trumpeter]; 
  9. Pipaire [piper].

The CRUIT is called crwth by the Welsh, and crowde by the English. Originally a small harp or lyre, plucked with the fingers (as in the case of the Roman fidicula), it was subsequently played with a bow, and is mentioned by an Irish poet who flourished about four hundred years before Christ. 

It is justly regarded as the progenitor of the Crotta, the German Rotte, and the Italian Rota. St. Venantius Fortunatus (the great Christian poet, A.D. 530-609) calls the Cruit a CROTTA; and we learn from Gerbert that it was an oblong-shaped instrument, with a neck and finger-board, having six strings, of which four were placed on the fingerboard and two outside it—the two open strings representing treble G, with its lower octave. 

In fact, it was a small harp, and was generally played resting on the knee, or sometimes placed on a table before the performer, after the manner of the zither.


The CLAIRSEACH was the large harp, "the festive or heroic harp of the chiefs and ladies, as also of the bards," having from 29 to 58 strings, and even 60, but as a rule 30 strings. Its normal compass was from CC (the lowest string on the violoncello) to D, in all 30 notes, that is, about four octaves. 

It was generally tuned in the scale of G, but, by alteration of one string a semitone (effected by means of the ceis or harp fastener), the key might be changed to C or D. "In those keys the diatonic scale was perfect and complete, similar to ours now in use." It may also be added that the ancient Irish played the treble with the left hand, and the bass with the right.

The so-called "Brian Boru's Harp," though not dating from the time when the hero of Clontarf flourished, has a venerable antiquity, and was almost certainly a harp of the O'Briens. 

It really dates from about the year 1220, having been made for the famous Donnchadh Cairbre O'Brien, King of Thomond, whose death is recorded on the 8th March, 1242-43. 

A detailed account of its workmanship is given by Petrie and other writers; and it is here sufficient to mention that it is furnished with 30 metallic strings, having a compass from C below the bass stave to D above the treble stave.


The timpan was a small stringed instrument, having from three to eight strings, and was played with a bow or plectrum, being also called a benn crot, or peaked harp.

The body was a small flat drum or tympanum (whence the name) with a short neck added; the strings were stretched across the flat face and along the neck, and were tuned and regulated by pins or keys and a bridge, something like the modern guitar, or banjo, but with the neck much shorter. It was played with a bow, or with both a bow and plectrum, or with the finger-nail; and the strings were probably stopped with the fingers of the left hand, like those of a violin.


The Fiddle was used in Ireland as early as the eighth century, as is quoted by O'Curry from the poem on the Fair of Carman:

"Pipes, fiddles, men of no valour, bone players and pipe players; a crowd hideous, noisy, profane, shriekers and shouters."  

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 ...