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Music, Quebecois Music

Fiddle practice, now with added winds

Just to check in on the whole fiddle practice thing, here, have a post about that, y’all!

Today my practice actually also involved winds, because I determined that I need to practice my arpeggios on my wind instruments as well as the fiddle. There are two goals here. One is to get better at recognizing those patterns in general, and the other is to get better at reproducing them quickly on my wind instruments, since those are the ones I’m most likely to be playing in session right now.

My main scales for fiddle practice, and their related arpeggios, are G, D, and A. These map easiest to fiddle strings tuning (G-D-A-E), and also, the vast majority of tunes at our session are in these keys. So they’re the ones I practice in the most.

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Quebecois Music

Fun with tunes and whistles

Dusty Strings is a dangerous place!

Any acoustically-oriented musician in the Seattle probably already knows this, of course–and I myself have mentioned this before. But it was driven home to me again this past weekend, when Dara and I went in to get her a proper shoulder strap for the Godin A5 fretless bass we finally got her as a late Solstice present!

This is a sexy, sexy bass, you guys. But also surprisingly heavy! So we wanted to make sure to get a strap that could support its weight and not kill Dara’s shoulder while she plays it. We fully expected Dusty Strings would provide, and they did indeed. We got her a nice leather strap with a padded section for her shoulder.

But what I did not expect was that a blackwood whistle made by Sweetheart would leap into my fingers and go “HI I’M COMING HOME WITH YOU.”
One of these, specifically. Dusty Strings had two of them, one in rosewood and one in blackwood, and since I’ve been more interested in whistles lately I started playing around with them while Dara experimented with straps.

The rosewood didn’t seize me. But the blackwood did, with some surprising clarity and power to its tone. And wow, it carried well in Dusty String’s instrument room. I could see this being an instrument I could use to make myself heard in a room full of fiddlers and accordion players. Maybe not a session cannon–I’m not that powerful a player–but perhaps a session pistol.

For shots of what the instrument looks like, side by side in a couple of them with my carbon fiber whistle for comparison, hop over to the Blackwood Whistle gallery on!

And here’s what the instrument sounds like. I did a few snippets of recording with my phone last night, playing around with bits of “Ciel d’Automne”, one of my favorite tunes by André Brunet, who as I’ve said before writes lovely flute-friendly tunes.

First, this is me doing the tune on my small D carbon fiber flute. Because while I am having fun learning whistles, I’m still way more comfortable on a flute. And I wanted to show this for a comparison of tonality as well.

Second, this is my carbon fiber D whistle.

Last but not least, here’s the blackwood whistle! There’s better clarity here than on the carbon fiber whistle–possibly because this thing is a bit heavier as well as being wider in diameter. So the feel of it in my hands is closer to what I expect with a flute, and I don’t have to work as hard to figure out what amount of air to put through it.

So this is all fun and I’m going to greatly look forward to bringing this new whistle to a session!

And if you want to hear “Ciel d’Automne” in all its full La Bottine Souriante glory, go find their album Xième, which was also released in the States under the name Rock and Reel. This has the distinction of being the first André Brunet tune I ever fell in love with, so it’s got a special place in my heart!

EDITING TO ADD 12/27/2018: Since I had to remove the whistle pics from Flickr, I have edited this old post to point at the gallery of the same pics I made on Previous references to the Flickr versions of the pics have been removed.


My thoughts on flutes, let me show you them

Today my friend Aron pinged me on Facebook to ask me my thoughts on flutes, since he’s thinking of getting himself one. He’s a newbie to flute playing as well as to playing tunes in general, but is taking well to whistle and likes flute as well, and wanted to know what my thoughts were on his getting a keyed flute.

BOY HOWDY do I have thoughts on this! (And it was rather a relief to see that I was coherent enough to present a cohesive opinion on the topic. Yay, medical recovery!)

Maybe you’re brand new to instruments and don’t know which one to pick. Or maybe you’re like me, and you’re coming out of a school band background, but you’ve found trad music and you want to see if you can take your previous school flute experience and apply it to playing trad tunes.

Here’s the thing though–that flute you played in school band is perfectly capable of producing tunes. It is not, however, exactly a traditional instrument. And if your eventual goal is to play in a session environment, your chances of getting frowned at if you show up with a Boehm-system keyed flute are sadly pretty good. Your mileage on this will vary depending on the session; some sessions may be more amenable to flexibility in instrument choices. But don’t rely on that. You should default in favor of choosing an instrument which will get you taken seriously if you show up at a session with it.

With that in mind, how should you choose an instrument to play?

Suppose you say to yourself, “Okay, I like having keys. I’m comfortable with those. Good clear accidentals are my friend!” Should you try looking at Irish flutes with keys?

Here’s the problem with that–Irish flutes with keys are super expensive. The reason for this, based on my own research across different makers, is because the keys get made out of silver. And that can run you up a pretty hefty price tag with each additional key you put on there. As a concrete example, Casey Burns sells his basic keyless D flutes for $700 each. And each additional key runs you up another $450.

Do the math, and that means a flute with several keys on it, capable of producing whatever accidentals you may need in whatever key you may want to play in, is going to run you a lot of money really fast. This right here will be THE reason I don’t have a proper Irish flute of my own with keys on it yet. That kind of money is up there with the most expensive Apple laptops!

At this point you may now be boggling and wondering what the hell that kind of pricing is based upon, if you’re coming out of a background like mine–wherein you may have paid a couple hundred bucks at most for a flute played in school. It’s very important to keep in mind though that the vast majority of Boehm-system keyed flutes, the kinds of flutes that do get played in schools, are a) mass-produced, and b) specifically targeted for the student market. By contrast, if you’re looking at Irish flutes, the makers of those are not making mass-produced instruments, and they’re not targeting students with them. They’re putting more individual care in the quality of instrument produced, and they’re going to be working with better materials, all with the goal of producing serious sound.

And if it helps lessen the sticker shock, think of it this way–you wouldn’t want to play that flute you played in school if you were joining a serious orchestra, either. If you wanted to be a professional-level player in, say, the Seattle Symphony or something of that scale, you’d be going for concert-grade instruments. And those are going to be running up the price tag considerably as well. I can assure you that I boggled quite a bit at the pricing on some of the concert-grade piccolos I’ve looked at over the years!

In short, if you want to get into playing trad music, go keyless first. The Casey Burns Folk Flute I have is an excellent starter flute, and he sells them for $375. Similarly, I am VERY happy with the carbon fiber flutes I’ve recently acquired from Carbony Celtic Winds. The big D flute I got from them clocks in at $455, and the two smaller flutes I have from them are proportionally less pricy than that. The carbon fibers have great voices on them, and I’d recommend them as a viable alternative to wood if you have concerns about where the wood in a flute may have come from. Also of important note, I’ve been very happy with the exchanges I’ve had with Rob from Carbony, who was very helpful working with me to get a big D flute suited for the reach of my hands and was willing to do custom hole placements for me if need be.

One more maker you might check out is Sweetheart, who also came highly recommended when I started poking around for session-class flutes for myself. I have one of their Renaissance fifes in high D, which was really cheap at $49, which is pretty awesome for a starter-grade instrument.

You can get by in a session with something in D, either a big flute or a fife-sized instrument, as long as you can get good clear sound out of it in a couple of octaves. That’ll do you fine for a large number of tunes–you can do stuff in D, G, E minor, or E dorian without much effort at all, and with only having to half-hole or cross-finger the C. If you want to get a bit more ambitious, you might consider a large D with a smaller backup instrument in a different key, if you want to increase the range of stuff you can play in a session. (Which is why I got myself the A.)

But if you’re just starting out, you should definitely go for a starter-grade instrument, just to make sure that you don’t sink a couple K into an instrument you might ultimately decide you don’t want to play after all. If you keep at it, you can always upgrade to a more serious instrument later. And hi, this’ll be me eventually wanting to commission a serious instrument with keys from Mr. Burns.

Any other flute maker recs out there people want to share? Drop ’em in the comments!

About Me

Fun things that showed up in the mail yesterday

We received not one, not two, but three packages yesterday, all of which deserve some shoutouts.

First of all, thank you to Scott in Kentucky who sent Dara and me a couple of pretty necklaces that he got from a vendor at a flea market local to him. The stones, he tells us, are unakite, and according to the vendor’s usual pagan/New-Age customers, they are intended for healing. Dara and I could use some healing, and this was a very sweet gesture on Scott’s part.

Unakite Necklace

Unakite Necklace

Secondly, Tiny!Flute has arrived! I am chagrined to discover that the current state of my healing abdomen pretty much dictates that I can’t carry coherent notes more than a few measures at a time so I can’t actually reasonably play this little guy yet. But quick experimentation suggests that he’s got a REAL nice voice on him. Dara tried him as well and smiled and said that he sounds like Popcorn. (Popcorn, y’all may remember, is the bamboo flute Dara lost when we lost her backpack on the way down to Oregon.)

Here is a pic of the new Tiny!Flute next to Rossignolet, for size comparison. Rossignolet is 15 5/8″ in length; the new one is 12 5/8″. Put another way, Rossignolet is just a bit longer than my forearm, while the new flute is just a bit shorter.

Little Flute, Littler Flute

Little Flute, Littler Flute

Last but most assuredly not least, my sister’s little girl made a special point of picking out a stuffed animal from her very own personal collection and sent it to Dara and me, after learning from her mommy that we’d both been not feeling very well lately! This is hands down the most adorable thing that has happened to me all year, and so I made a point of asking my sister to ask her daughter what the giraffe’s name was. Because if you’re going to have a giraffe come to live with you in your house, it’s VERY IMPORTANT to address the giraffe by the proper name!

And so, Internets, I’d like to introduce you all to Fluffy the Giraffe, now joining the Murkworks household.



About Me

One week surgery recovery report

So far so good.

I’ve been very sleepy a lot for the past seven days, as you’d expect with a lot of Percocet in my system. Percocet also kicks my ass harder than Vicodin does–for a lot of my previous medical crap I’ve had, I’ve had Vicodin rather than Percocet, and I’m pretty sure I have to go clear back to when I broke my arm for the last time I was on Percocet. This stuff makes me have very weird, very intense dreams, and sometimes sensory hallucinations as well. I get into a half-dreaming state dozing off, and imagine things like people coughing outside, or somebody tapping my shoulder, or the cats making prolonged, siren-like whining noises.

The dreams have been weird, too. This morning’s involved my dreaming I was Liv Tyler, the actress who played Arwen in The Lord of the Rings, only this was on the set of The Hobbit. (Note: Liv Tyler is not actually in the Hobbit movies, but this was dream logic at work here.) Dream-me (as Liv) was on my way to a scene, only I came across one of the actors playing one of the hobbits in the movie. Somebody had attacked him and stuffed him into the bottom of a remote-controlled barrel on wheels that was out of control on the set. I had to retrieve the poor guy–he was a little person, actually hobbit-sized, as opposed to a more typically-sized actor being shrunk down via CGI for the role–and get him to security. And then get to my scene.

I remember that the set was laid out bizarrely like a cross between a theme park and bits of the Harrison Hot Springs resort that we were in this past July. And that I had to work my way back around to the front of the grounds and go through a VIP line to show them my credentials and demonstrate that I was, in fact, one of the cast. Which is the last thing I remember before I woke up.

So hi yeah, this is my brain on Percocet.

Not too much pain to deal with, thankfully. I’m sure most of this has to do with the aforementioned Percocet, though there are bits of me suggesting that they’re still tender enough that once I slack off on the painkillers, they’re going to be crankier at me. Which suggests that I’m probably going to need at least one more round of pain meds to finish up recovering; this is consistent with my recovery patterns with previous medical adventures.

Also, working from home was the exact correct plan here. I’m getting coherent enough that I can actually accomplish stuff on the computer but I am not physically up to my usual commute patterns of bus + four miles of walking in a day. I’m barely managing to make it through a full day without needing a long nap in mid-afternoon, and even with a long nap, I’m going to bed rather earlier than is normal for me as well.

Still not letting George on the lap, either, which bemuses the poor kitty. But he’s 14 pounds of cat and periodically pointy on five of his six ends, so if he gets on the lap at all right now, it’s with the buffer of the largest pillow we have in the house.

I have at least gotten to the point where I can work from home and will be working on automation updates for my team this week. And I’ve also managed to do a lot of operating system upgrades on my personal computers as well as on my work laptop. Put Mavericks on my main Mac laptop, and it did not explode, so I figure this is an accomplishment on my part.

Session happened this past Wednesday and my session peeps actually played a song for me. (heart) They did “La Fée des Dents”, which I’ve posted about before, being partial to that one as one of the ones I can actually play. Looking forward to having enough physical strength back so I can actually stand to play my various flutes. Not too sanguine about wanting to strain my stomach with necessary breath control quite yet. But I do have the small carbon fiber flute on the way! Hope to be able to show y’all pics of that real soon.

Be another couple weeks before I can start pulling words out of my brain again, but starting in December, come hell or high water, I will be editing Bone Walker. And also starting planning for Victory of the Hawk. Somewhere in there will be a copyedit round on Vengeance of the Hunter, and hopefully soon I’ll be able to show y’all some cover art for that.

More news as it happens, and as I continue to get my brain back.


New big carbon fiber flute!

The first of my two new flutes has arrived from Carbony Celtic Winds! This is the bigger one in D, since they aren’t going to send me the fife in D until next month. But that’s TOTALLY okay, since this one will be fun to play with until then.

The new flute is just about 23 inches in length, about 58.4 centimeters–just a scooch longer than Norouet, my wooden flute in D. I can’t weigh them both but unsurprisingly, the carbon fiber one feels slightly lighter than Norouet does. Norouet has a slightly wider inner diameter, at just over half an inch; new!flute is just about half an inch.

However, and this is a big however–the spacing on the holes, at least for my left hand, is a bit wider than I’m used to. Not out of the question, but it’s a bit of a stretch; I’m going to play around with it for a few more days and see whether I can comfortably play this instrument. But there are concerns here, I think. I’m okay on this instrument if I try to play something slow, like, say, “La Fée des Dents”. But if I go to something fast, like “Manteau d’hiver”, I start missing holes because I have to stretch to hit them and my hand may not be able to do that for long. This will require some experimentation.

The nice gentleman at Carbony who acknowledged my order in email says that they have another model in D with holes slightly closer together, but which sacrifices a bit of power. So worst case scenario is, I send this one back and he sends me the replacement when he sends me up the fife.

Check out the hole spacing in this comparison pic. This is the new carbon fiber next to Norouet.

Fingerholes on Flutes

Fingerholes on Flutes

This is, I suppose, the risk I take when ordering instruments online–I couldn’t have handled this particular flute beforehand, so I had no way of knowing until it got here if I was going to be able to play it. But hopefully this will be a solvable problem. I’ve sent the above pic to the guy at Carbony and asked him to tell me what the hole spacing is like on the other D model they have. It’d be a shame to lose power but that’s an acceptable tradeoff if it means I don’t risk my hand cramping up when I’m trying to play.

(The tone’s REAL nice on this one, though. Somebody with bigger hands than me could probably rock the hell out of this flute! And even given the uncomfortable hand stretch for me, I can get a cleaner and crisper tone out of it than I can out of Norouet.)


Things I really didn’t need to know about my student instruments

Back in the day, there was Mystery Science Theater 3000. And when MST3K was no more, lo, there came unto us RiffTrax, but also Cinematic Titanic! And the brains behind RiffTrax (all hallowed be the name of Mike Nelson) said unto the people, “We shall have a Kickstarter, for lo, Twilight in an unriffed state makes us sore afraid.” And the people looked upon this Kickstarter and gave unto it their moneys, and even though they could not riff Twilight and had to riff Starship Troopers instead, they pronounced it GOOD.

And now, RiffTrax has started handing out the shiny rewards for the Kickstarter backers. Among these is a brand new riff treatment of “Mr. B Natural”–which is a short all you diehard MST3K fans out there should remember (and shudder at). I cannot provide you the pointer to the riffed version of this, because hey, it’s a Kickstarter reward and I donated good money for that. 😉 But I CAN point you at this–the entirely uncut, unriffed, 26-minute-long original version of the short. Brace yourselves, people.

What’s REALLY scary about this (well, aside from the androgynous music demon appearing in a 12-year-old boy’s room, that is) is that Dara started googling around for the music instrument company so prominently plugged all throughout this thing. She determined that they are the originators of a whole bunch of various brands of student-grade band and orchestra instruments, and from that, we learned that my original flute (the Yamaha that I played from fourth grade clear up into high school), my current silver flute (the Artley that I got at a pawn shop in college), and my piccolo (an Armstrong) are all brands originated by these people.


I would also like to note categorically and for the record that at no point in fourth grade, when I was deciding to be a flute player, did this chick appear to me. I make no guarantees however about the boys who were in my school’s music classes at the time.

And here’s another thing that never happened to me when I was in band, either! In the uncut short you can see the band teacher consulting a chart to try to figure out what instrument Buzz should play. Dara and I both boggled at that, so Dara googled for that too and found this thing, which is apparently a later iteration of the same chart.

Me, I just got handed a checklist and was told to tick off my first, second, and third choices of instruments! One presumes we were not actually a Conn-Selmer school. On the whole, though, I think I still came out ahead.