It was my turn to perform solo today. I played two very old Shetland tunes, Da West Side Bride's March and Da Muckle reel o' Finigart. I have been playing these for about five or six weeks and learned them recently when at Folkworks in Durham.
They felt pretty secure before the performance. But what is about performance that makes it difficult to play as well as you normally can? Anyway, it went relatively well given they are new tunes to my repertoire. I also felt it was helpful to take the opportunity to play something new even if not completely perfect so as to get some feedback on these tunes. My final recital of these will be in January. From my perspective, there is little point in playing something from last year's sets.
I found it quite difficult to control nerves. That's very annoying. I have been in many scary situations in my life and I feel I should be better at this. I think it is much easier to deliver to an anonymous audience that you probably won't see again than it is to people who you know. As I was asked to play parts again I found these wore off a bit and so that was a helpful exercise in relaxing a bit.
Feedback was interesting. I knew that these tunes would be quite esoteric. I think they were to me the first time I heard them. The second one in particular is not a typical reel but has seven parts and has lots of cross beats. It probably didn't help that I didn't manage to perform them perfectly today. I got some helpful feedback on trying to make the audience understand them by being particularly regular with beat and getting the upbeat right as well as trying to emphasise the long notes. I should also try to get the ornaments clearer and not let these get in the way of the tune. These are the same points that my teacher raised. I had managed to improve them a bit but they need more work yet.
There was a point about changing from one tune to the next ( which happens in traditional music) and how to make this more obvious to the audience. Better to put a whole bar between the two tunes rather than run straight into the second one. I use the first bar of the second tune to speed up and I should try to do this more evenly. They need more work on dynamics.
I am glad I played them. They are interesting and unusual and deserve to be played. You couldn't really play these in the pub or at a ceilidh so a recital is a good place for them.
Happy to have done this today. Many thanks to Laurie and Neil.
Looking forward to moving onto the next set - Strathspey and reel in G minor.
Apart from solo work, we have been working up John Sommerville's lovely tune McKechnie's Farewell for a performance tomorrow. Looking forward to that. The arrangement and harmonies are great. We are also working on a few other great tunes which I blogged about earlier and these are coming on too. Folk Band is the highlight of the week for me.
We also had a strings group rehearsal yesterday and played Telemann's Europa. Its really difficult to get timing as the tempo trebles (?) in the middle of it. Playing parts can be difficult as its sometimes difficult to understand how it all fits together - particularly if you can't see the other parts scores. They are lovely pieces though and we are not that far off performing them. Practising with a metronome required.
More performances on Thursday. We had an interesting talk about trills. Most people attempt them too fast apparently. Its a good idea to start slower and speed up and we were given some practice tips about how to get the speed up. Finally, trills usually start from the top. I know that about classical music - but I don't think that holds true for folk music. There aren't many trills as such but they do feature in some folk tunes and the way I have often heard them is as a decoration to a long note. So you start on the note and then you might trill up from there. For example, you might trill from an open string to a flat first note or a first to a second. Hmmm. I wonder.
I will be performing on 27th.
There is a lot to practice just now, Telemann, Folk Band tunes, performance and improvisation.
Still fine tuning sets to play. I had been considering a G major tune followed by a G minor but tried running them and didn't like the change. Its the wrong way so I think I'll stick with all G minor in one set. I have found a great G minor reel which has a bit in third position which I think I'll try.
I have been comparing the Shetland tunes I am playing with the transcription of Peter Fraser's playing and they are definitely a bit different. I then checked the recordings of Catriona MacDonald's versions (which I learned) and I am definitely playing in line with them so I'll stick to that rather than change and put it down to variations.
Adding double stopping but this is still a work in progress, as is ornamentation.
Changed my strings today - don't like them though and have ordered Aricores again which seems to quite suit my fiddle.
Bought a Coda bow. Feels quite fast compared to my old one - must be the balance. Not quite as good as pernambuco but cheaper and the upper end ones seem to play well. It'll do me for a while and is good for playing outside.
Setting up at Avonbridge
I played a gig for Pedal for Scotland with the Band Noisy Shoes today. It was in a good cause for Maggie's Centres. We provided the music for cyclists pedalling between Edinburgh and Glasgow. We were based at the stopover at Avonbridge in a very wet field which saw us on pallets so as not to sink into the mud. There were very long queues for everything!
We played for four hours which was really too long. We took it in turns to have a short breaks but by the end, the band was flagging a bit. Its really hard to play the fiddle for that length of time.
The cyclists did well and no doubt worked as hard or harder than us over the 50 mile ride or so. There were apparently over 9000 people on the ride.
This week has seen a lot of playing. I am working on bowing and timing. I am playing some amazing Shetland pieces - some of the oldest we have. They are both tunes from the West side of Shetland. The fiddler was an important person and used to play at all the social events - especially weddings. There would always be a bridal tune played to escort the bride from the church to the house and then wedding dances. There were even bedding tunes - yes bedding tunes. The fiddler was the only person allowed in the room, other than the bride and groom (who would be in their box bed with the curtains drawn presumably).
The wedding tunes for processions would be quite slow as everyone would be tramping across the countryside. Weddings would sometimes be slightly sad. Daughters would often be moving quite a long way from home.
The second tune, Da Muckle Reel o' Finnigirt is an old dance tune and has impossible timing, with changes in time signature but an underlying pulse all through. It has been notated from the playing of Peter Fraser (Shetland Fiddler) who grew up on the West Coast of Shetland. It is VERY close to Norwegian hardanger music and sounds a bit strange when you first hear it. It has seven parts - lots of different motifs which repeat. The original dance involved travelling parts and not dancing in pairs.
I found these tunes during the summer (from Catriona MacDonald, also from the West coast of Shetland). Coincidentally I met a dancer/fiddler, Jane Harrison there whose father collected dances. She sent me his notes from a meeting her Dad had with Peter Fraser in 1959. What a piece of history! This sets out the dance - which has not been regularly performed since about 1880 when Peter Fraser's grandfather died. This was because when someone died there would be no dancing in the house for about four years and Peter Fraser's house was where the dances were held in those days. If it wasn't performed there it probably wouldn't be at all. It has never really been revived since this lapse. The notes actually say that the tune gradually quickens throughout. That is not particularly how I was taught it by Catriona. Jane thinks she has an old tape recording of Peter Fraser playing the tune which she is gong to try to dig out. Amazing!
Both tunes are played very smoothly on long bows and feel tricky, trills, doublestopping and the issue of whacky timing - or more properly an irregular meter?
End of my first week back at Edinburgh College (just merged). Its has been great and I feel excited about it. lots of work to do already. Improvisation was great fun on Tuesday, lots of rhythms and singing. I will be researching Count Basie's Band tracks this week and practising C minor pentatonic riffs.
Composition sounds really interesting this year. Choosing two pieces to analyse and I will then be composing. I think I'll look at film music with a world flavour.
Performance is on Thursdays this year and people did really well to play at the first week. There was some interesting feedback about things like playing the piece at the pace you can play the most difficult part - or even slowing down and making this a deliberate feature of the tune. Practicing the bits you can't play rather than the bits you can.
I have also started using a Practice book.
Played in strings group and folk band. I sent in a few tunes to Folk Band and we played those today.
Choir starts up next week. Really looking forward to recording and music technology. Almost got instrument tuition set up and I am trying out bows this week too.
Oh I really, REALLY love the fringe. I have been busy!
Last night I went to see the Poozies at the Queen's Hall. Its the first time I have seen them. Four inspirational women and last night they were joined by special guests Su-a Lee (cello & saw) and Signy Jakobsdottir (percussion). Sally Barker writes great songs and the I loved a pibroch written by Mairerad Green. Mary MacMaster plays the electro harp brilliantly - there were lots of Harpists there! Being a fiddler though, I was amazed by Eilidh Shaw's playing. How does she do it? Plays fantastically, in tune and manages to dance energetically through it all too. I really enjoy the mix of songs and tunes and came home inspired.
Also went to Duncan Chisholm's film Kin on Sunday. A wonderful record of life in the Highlands and Islands through a number of musicians' kin. Lovely old photos, and tape recordings of life around the late 19th and early 20 century. The soundtrack was played live by Duncan Chisholm - lovely. My daughter is a keen film maker and she was very interested.
Oh I love the Fringe! So lucky that I live in Edinburgh. I went out to the Royal Oak tonight (brilliant folk venue) to see Jim Malcolm. What a voice and also fantastic acoustic guitar and mouthie playing! Looking forward to seeing Rona Wilkie & Marit Fällt tomorrow night.
Just back from the Durham gathering. Had a really great time there with great musicians.
Performed on Friday and Saturday. It was warm and sunny and there was a great programme of all the Folkworks groups.
Here I am playing with band mates and Catriona MacDonald (photo taken by Jane Harrison).
Late night sessions, dancing, singing, and playing. What could be better? A wonderful week.