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Some tunes practice tonight

Rossignolet is rapidly becoming my practice flute of choice–at least, as long as I’m not trying to play along with any recording that isn’t actually in A. If I pretend I’m playing a D flute and ignore how I’m actually a fourth up, this flute’s responsiveness is wonderful for just trying to get fingering patterns down into my muscle memory.

Plus, I just love the way Rossignolet sounds. I posted these to Facebook but for giggles and grins and posterity, here are sound samples of me playing Swallowtail Jig on my three primary flutes of the moment, including the new one!

Anna Plays Swallowtail Jig on New Flute (Rossignolet in A)

Anna Plays Swallowtail Jig on Norouet (Big Flute in D)

Anna Plays Swallowtail Jig on Shine (Piccolo in D)

Tonight, I went through all seven of the Quebec tunes I know so far and then through most of the non-Quebec ones, including Swallowtail. I didn’t hit Si Bheag Si Mhor or Da Slockit Light, but only because my embouchure started getting a bit wibbly and I wanted to work on Pigeon on the Gate, which I need for the Bone Walker soundtrack.

Fun observation of the evening #1: on Rossignolet, trying the embouchure exercise described in Grey Larsen’s Irish Flute and Whistle book, I was able to get three octaves of A as well as the intermediate E between the second and third A’s. That’s hard, people. And leaves me a bit swimmy-headed in a way I rather clearly remember from when I was first learning how to play piccolo!

Fun observation of the evening #2: TunePal can play tunes for you if you bring up the sheet music for one in it. You tap the play button and it’ll start playing through the tune on the screen in MIDI piano, and you can adjust the tempo too. So I fired up Pigeon on the Gate and went through it slowly several times, trying to follow the sheet music. Then I did it a few times more with my eyes closed, to see if I had it in muscle memory yet and if I could play along by ear. Then, I shut up TunePal entirely and tried to play it through slowly by myself.

This actually appeared to work. I cannot play this tune at speed yet but it may actually be getting into my fingers. Even though it’ll take me a bit to polish it up, just because those jumps in the first couple of measures from B down to E then up to D and down to E again are a bit of a bitch on the flute.


So apparently my brain wants to write tunes now!

Those of you who roleplayed with me back in the day on AetherMUSH may remember that Faanshi wrote a song called “Ride Upon the Wyvern” in memory of her lost first love, Lyre Talespinner. Not only did I have lyrics for that, I also had a melody, even though I never actually wrote it down or generated chords for it.

Last night the melody to that song bubbled up from the back of my brain and said to me, “Hi, you’re going to make me be a tune now.”

And I went WAIT WAIT WHUT? And promptly had what I’m thinking is going to be called “Talespinner’s Reel” or perhaps “Le reel du raconteur” pop into my head. It’s in G. It can be played either as a straight-up reel OR as a hornpipe, and as soon as I have the notes down, I am totally transcribing this thing and sharing it with you all.

But that wasn’t even it with the part of my brain that’s suddenly up and decided that learning tunes isn’t sufficient–apparently I’m going to have to write them now! Because my AetherMUSH buds will doubtless also remember another aspect of Faanshi’s roleplay that never made it into Valor of the Healer: i.e., her great big dog Kosha, the hundred-pound guard dog who was fiercely loyal to Faanshi and who had the heart of a puppy. Kosha is still in my brain and he is now totally demanding his own reel. The Big Dog Reel, or perhaps Le reel du grand chien. Because there are call-and-response turlutte bits in this thing, because it’s all about Faanshi trying to teach the dog and he’s having none of this because he TOTALLY wants to play. And there is absolutely a very steady podorythmie component to this, to capture that rhythm of a happy dog trotting along, which I was known to try to put into words when I RPed that dog on the game: dog dog dog doggie dog dog dog!

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE. Not to be outdone by fictional animals, the real animals in my life, Fred and George, apparently are going to eventually have to get their own entire set. It will be called We Are Such Good Cats. The first tune will be Run Around Go Crazy Time, the second tune will be No YOU’RE a Butthead, and the last one, We Didn’t Do That That Was Other Cats. This set will involve a great deal of interplay between whatever instrument represents George and whatever one represents Fred as they chase each other around the house. There will be slower rhythms for George because he’s bigger, and defter, higher-pitched stuff for Fred. And LOTS of stomping to represent all the things they’re knocking off counters!

So um YEAH. Who turned on this part of my brain? Did I just hit some sort of critical mass what with going to session and trying to learn a bunch of other people’s tunes, so that I want to start writing ones of my own?


Musical adventures at Folklife!

Those of you local to the Seattle area know that Memorial Day weekend is Folklife, and userinfosolarbird and I being well, us, of course we’re hitting the festival as much as possible this weekend!

Yesterday’s adventures started off with an Irish session, apparently the first one at Folklife in four years, and which turned out to be hosted by a flute player named Ming Chen. (He was an excellent flute player, it must be noted.) I saw oodles of flute players besides him as well, and each and every one of them had more Serious Business flutes than my Norouet–which only strengthens my resolve to save up for a Serious Business flute from Casey Burns.

Ming described the session as being intended to welcome newbies who aren’t necessarily brave enough to lead a tune in session, and/or who know only a few tunes, in which category I definitely qualify. So I said HI I’M ANNA and told everybody I knew “Blarney Pilgrim” and “Morrison’s” and “Swallowtail”, and got encouraged to try to play something. So I started playing, which was all very well and good except for the part where I was aiming for “Blarney Pilgrim” and what popped out of my fingers instead was “6/8 d’André Alain”! Because um hi yeah, guess what tune’s stuck at the top of my queue of Jigs I Know In D. *^_^*;;

I went “oh shit sorry” and everybody was understanding (Ming found me later on Facebook and said ‘yeah this happens to all of us’, hee, which is reassuring), and I asked for somebody else to start “Blarney” since I was sure I’d remember it once I heard it. Which I did. “Morrison’s” was also played, which I kept up with more or less. And “Swallowtail Jig”, which I also knew. We did NOT do a couple of the other tunes I know–“Road to Lisdoonvarna” or “Banish Misfortune”. But I did more or less recognize “Butterfly Jig” from it having been played in the now-defunct Renton session. And I tried to actively listen to unfamiliar tunes as well to see if I could at least TRY to piece together any of them by ear. It was hard since everybody blazed through about eighty million tunes.

Several familiar faces were in attendance as well, Jason and Miki and Marilyn from the Renton session as well as Valerie and her husband from the current Quebec session I was going to. Saying hi to all of them was definitely satisfying!

And speaking of my Quebec session crowd, there was later on the great satisfaction of seeing La Famille Leger perform, immediately followed by a group called Podorythmie–which contains no fewer than four of the session crowd. Between both performances there were four, count ’em, four different stepdancers (Dejah with her family, and the three others with the Podorythmie group), and Podorythmie brought along a crankie as well since Sue Truman and Dejah both are really big into those. (If you don’t know what a crankie is, click over to The Crankie Factory, where Sue Truman will tell you all about this old art form!)

Today, Dara and I actually opted to go down for the evening on the grounds that our aforementioned session pal Miki has joined Piper Stock Hill (Facebook link–they don’t have an off-Facebook or off-Myspace website), Seattle’s only band dedicated to the music of Newfoundland. It pleases me DEEPLY that we have such a band, and so Dara and I kinda had to make a point to stop and see them.

Plus, we’d never been down to Folklife during the evening and we wanted to see what it was like. Survey says: a bit more relaxed and groovy, with a thinner crowd. Dara and I scoped out the various craft tents to kill time, at which point we came across a booth FULL OF FLUTES AND WHISTLES. I immediately had to stop, because I’d been highly curious about whether I could play a better whistle, well, better, than the cheap toy one I have now. This particular flute maker had flutes and whistles made out of carbon fiber, in fact, and ZOMG they were pretty.

I was quite impressed by the D whistle they had, and did in fact note that I was able to play it significantly more cleanly than the toy one I’ve got. And I might well have walked off with that whistle as a purchase if I hadn’t then picked up their A flute. Which immediately informed me HI I WANT TO BE YOUR NEW SECONDARY SESSION INSTRUMENT SO YOU CAN PLAY THINGS IN A.

So I went “OKAY!” and promptly bought it. Internets, meet my new flute, shown next to my piccolo for scale!

I Do Not In Fact Have Enough Flutes Yet

I Do Not In Fact Have Enough Flutes Yet

After that, Dara and I wandered around some more and wound up finding another bouzouki player–which necessitated stopping to say hi, because HOLY CRAP SOMEBODY ELSE IN SEATTLE WHO KNOWS WHAT A BOUZOUKI IS. And, like we do because we’re US, we wound up improv-busking a bit of Great Big Sea. I destroyed not one but TWO different thin picks banging on Ti-Jéan, reminding myself to my chagrin that when playing ANYTHING by Great Big Sea, um, yeah, I need the medium picks. I think we can declare this guitar well and throughly broken in now, anyway. And that set us up with the perfect frame of mind to go see Piper Stock Hill have their act!

Last but not least, there was Piper Stock Hill! We’d seen them perform at Folklife before, but this time they had Miki! And this time we stopped to say hi to their leader singer after, so that a) I could buy their CD, and b) I could identify myself and Dara as raving Great Big Sea fangirls. We had a lovely conversation with said lead singer and his wife, and his wife particularly charmed me when she was trying to remember Alan Doyle’s name and couldn’t, so she did a hair flip instead. Because OH MY YES, that’s a gesture universally understood by ALL raving Great Big Sea fans. ;D

So all in all, a great time at Folklife so far! We’re going back down tomorrow for the French-Canadian jam/session that the Legers will be hosting. Maybe we’ll see some of you there!

Bone Walker

Music transcription is hard!

My new task to contribute to the soundtrack for Faerie Blood and Bone Walker: transcribing some of the more challenging sets that Dara’s putting together! In particular, the one that goes along with the fight scene in Chapter 7 of Bone Walker. That’s got some fun, fun Japanese stuff going on in it along with a heavily mutated version of “Road to Lisdoonvarna”–and Dara’s also doing some fun almost orchestral things here as well, with interlocking themes representing Christopher and Kendis fighting with the nogitsune.

It sounds really bitchin’ cool in Dara’s work track, especially given the drums she’s laid in!

But Dara doesn’t read sheet music; she learns music by ear. I am pretty much exactly the opposite. I’ve been trying to improve my ability to learn by ear, but I am still very, very much better at learning something if there’s sheet music for it in front of me. That said? It was challenging and FUN to take Dara’s track, slow it down to half speed in my Tempo Slow app, and try to get all the notes and rhythms right on my piccolo so that I could transcribe them into actual musical notation.

My head is very full of notes now and I cannot brain any more tonight. I’m here to tell ya, it’s almost easier writing the book. Well, almost! ;D Not to mention that this is only the first part of the fun with this piece–now I have to actually learn to play it properly. And I’m actually going to have to break out my seldom-played flute with keys, since I don’t have a proper Irish flute with keys on it yet, and this bastard is changing keys WAY too often and into way too annoying keys for me to handle on Norouet at my skill level. (Read: my generally sucking at half-holing.) The piccolo’s too high and perky for this, so it’ll have to be the flute.

I’ve flung the PDF as well as the original Finale Songwriter file over to the others who’ll be playing on the soundtrack with us, and have shared the PDF with the Kickstarter backers as well. Really looking forward to doing my part for the recording–even if it means YIKES Dara’s going to record me! This won’t be the first time my flute playing’s been recorded; there are still the old MP3s from our Three Good Measures days. But this’ll definitely be the first time for something as formal as a soundtrack album, with studio work on it and everything! YIKES! *^_^*;;


Reading Grey Larsen's Essential Guide to Irish Flute and Tin Whistle…

… and even though I’m only into Chapter 1 thus far, already I’m finding this thing highly informative.

Some of what he’s going over in the first chapter is familiar to me–basic stuff about how time signatures work, for example. And the difference between a tongued note and a slurred one. I remember these things from my years in band in middle and high school.

What I never had to deal with before, though, was modes. When I started playing again in my adulthood and started hearing about modes of tunes–especially at session, before our Renton session imploded–I had a bit of time trying to bend my brain around what the hell a mode actually is, and what the difference between it and a key is, for a tune. Larsen’s book explains this beautifully and simply. I’d kind of already bent my brain around this a bit, but to have it clearly spelled out is very, very helpful.

(For the curious who may not know–if you know how a basic scale works, do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do, and assuming you’re doing it in a major key, that’s actually what’s called Ionian mode. You can change modes if you take that exact same scale and just start it on a different note! So the key is still the same, but the resulting base note for whatever tune you may be dealing with is NOT.)

Here’s another thing that was incredibly helpful to have spelled out, since I DO come from a background that’s more or less “classical”, even if I only bounced briefly off of that in Symphonic Band and in Wind Ensemble my freshman year (mmmmm Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony Finale mmmmmmm). To quote Mr. Larsen:

The classical wind player is taught that all notes are to be tongued unless there is an indication in the notated music, such as a slur, to do otherwise. Most Irish players use tonguing and throating intuitively as an expressive device against a general backdrop of slurring.

Speaking as somebody coming out of a more or less classical background, I read that bit and went WHOA. Because he’s right–I was totally taught that I was to clearly articulate every note unless the music said to do otherwise. But here’s the fun thing–when I’ve been playing Irish or Quebec tunes, I’ve totally found myself, by habit, mostly slurring stuff! It was always easier to me, and I never really thought about it.

So yeah, that suddenly made something just click HARD in my brain.

And if this book’s doing that to me in the very first chapter, I can’t wait to get to the more complex stuff–and especially to see if I can learn from this text some of the more complicated tonguing tricks I was never able to learn well in school. One could argue that if I’m in my 40’s, it’s probably too late for me to REALLY pick this stuff up properly… but screw it, I don’t care, it’s the journey that’s fun. Learning how to improve my flute playing AND learning a whole shiny new language exercises my brain! And my fingers!

This is going to be fun, you guys!


Fun with reels and podorythmie!

It was inevitable, O Internets, that when I fell in love with the podorythmie in Quebec music, I would of course eventually have to try it myself. Those of you who have seen me post about the monthly Quebec music sessions I’ve been going to know that I’ve already tried it a time or two at those. The REAL fun, though, is if you can do it while simultaneously either singing or playing an instrument!

As I am not only a neophyte at Quebec trad but still fairly heavily out of practice on my flute in general, I ain’t expecting to get this down right out of the gate. Tonight, though, while playing with Gigue du Père Mathias, I HAD to try it. Just to see if I could.

So far what I’ve observed about podorythmie is that it’s generally done with reels (or gigues, or stuff that’s generally in 4-based time signatures). I have maybe one or two recordings where the tunes being played are clearly jigs, yet simple podo is happening underneath them–most of it, though, it’s 4-based stuff. And the very simplest rhythm I’ve been able to note thus far is a ta-ga-DAP pattern. The DAP falls on each downbeat, with the ta-ga leading into it as pickup notes (sixteenths, if you break ’em down).

Getting the pattern down with my feet is pretty easy, with the caveat of my having neither proper board nor proper shoes, so I cannot actually hear myself making the satisfying rhythm that I get in so many of the tracks I’ve got in my collection now! (Note: getting proper shoes IS an eventual goal, but I want to see if I can learn this first! ;D ) I can, however, at least get down the rhythm and the motions, and I can feel each strike of my foot against the floor even if it’s muffled.

Then comes the tricky part–trying to work in the tune to play on top of it. Since Gigue du Père Mathias is a tune I’ve now managed to memorize (and is actually the first 4-based fast tune I’ve picked up, the rest I know are all jigs so far, or waltzes, or Da Slockit Light which is I believe an air), I thought I’d try to layer that in on top of the root rhythm. I had to try it very, VERY slowly. But I thought maybe I could apply the same principle I do to trying to sing while playing guitar–i.e., don’t think about ‘your hands have to do this’ vs. ‘your feet have to do this’, but instead, get into a sort of zen space where all parts of you are uniting to make the song happen.

I think this might actually work! I tried just vocalizing the tune over my feet, and that worked okay. Then I tried actually playing it–and it took me a few tries before I got the hang of it–but I was eventually able to do the whole A part! Also, paradoxically, I did it a little better once I speeded things up a bit.

I can already tell though that this is going to be super-extra-bonus fun for a wind player. By which I mean, “oh god oh god where the hell am I going to breathe?!” It’s amusing enough to be a flute player trying to tear your way through a reel at top speed without making your legs go at the same time!

But WOW this is going to be fun. And hard. But FUN. The challenge is ON!

(STILL need a proper podorythmie icon. Must find a proper picture. And the caption will have to read ‘my fandom wears the Smiling Boots’!)


An evening of flute practice

As y’all know I’m a writer first and a musician second, but Musician!Anna is really only a few steps behind Writer!Anna, and if the instruments yell loud enough I have to pick them up. No questions asked and no quarter given. Tonight, the instruments yelled loud enough. So I grabbed Norouet and Shine for some tunes practice! (For those of you who may just be tuning in, Norouet is my current main wooden flute, and Shine is my piccolo, my oldest working instrument, from way back in my days of middle school.)

It’s been too long, so my fingers found Norouet a bit big and awkward to deal with (which of course means I damn well need to play Norouet more). So I mostly punted over to Shine instead just to review all the various tunes I know.

Started off with Road to Lisdoonvarna, including the variation I’m trying to play with. And by variation, I mostly just mean, several little additional twiddles I’m throwing in there, just to vary up the rhythm a bit and make it more interesting to listen to when I swing back around for a third repetition. Along with this, since I still typically play ’em in a set even though our Renton session imploded, I did Swallowtail Jig and Morrison’s. Morrison’s STILL gives me fits. I can’t play it at speed without losing my breath control. Augh.

Also stumbled my way through Banish Misfortune, Blarney Pilgrim, and Si Bheag Si Mhor, the other tunes from the Renton session I am still more or less able to play without having to consult sheet music.

After that, though, I jumped from Ireland over to Quebec, to practice the two tunes I was taught by Genticorum’s flute player! These tunes, y’all may or may not recall, are 6/8 de André Alain and Gigue du Père Mathias. Playing with these tonight, I determined that 6/8 de Andre Alain is more or less in my fingers. The Gigue, not so much. This is probably pretty much a direct result of how I was working with Alexandre de Grosbois-Garand on the first tune for most of our lesson, and we barely bounced off the second one.

That said, I DO have a phone recording of him playing through both of the tunes. And I have just determined that I was more or less able to follow what he was playing, at least in the slow bit of the recording. The fast bit where he kicks into full, proper tempo? Um, yeah. I gotta work on that part. *^_^*;;

The real, important takeaway here though is that yes, I apparently can learn tunes by ear if I have an opportunity to work through them a few times–either with a suitably slow recording, or with somebody with an instrument sitting with me who’s willing to fling me a few measures at a time until I can reliably echo what’s being played. And let me clarify–I can do this on the flute. And specifically on Shine, since that’s the instrument that goes back clear to my formative years, so it’s the one whose fingerings I don’t have to think about. I don’t have that level of comfort yet with flutes that don’t have keys.

(And the other takeaway here is that holy hopping gods Alexandre can play him some flute. Y’all go buy Nagez Rameurs for a proper demonstration of this! Did I mention the part where that album’s up for an award, and going head to head with Le Vent’s latest AND La Bottine’s latest as well? BEST AWARD NOMINATION LINEUP EVER. <3 )