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session reports


Starting to feel like a proper piccolo player again

When I play piccolo in session, I typically hang out in my lower octave–which, for those of you who are musically inclined, is notated at starting at D above middle C on the staff, i.e., the D just below the bottom of the staff. BUT: that’s actually an octave up from a flute playing the same octave, because a piccolo’s pitched an octave up from a standard concert C flute. So if I’m hitting what’s written out as a D above middle C, I’m actually hitting a D that’s an octave up from that.

Because it’s been so long since I regularly played piccolo, I’ve been staying in that octave for a couple of reasons. One, I haven’t yet regained my old ability to not get louder if I get higher–and a piccolo playing higher notes is pretty damned high. Two, my embouchure also hasn’t been steady enough to not only hit those notes, but hit them cleanly and purely, which is vital on the piccolo. I hit a higher note wrong, you will be able to tell. And the last thing I want to do in session is be the person hitting the obvious high, squeaky notes. *^_^*;;

But this is starting to change. Thanks to regularly going to session–and, more importantly, regularly practicing at home every few days–I’m starting to get my proper piccolo embouchure back. We finished up last night with “Da Slockit Light”, which gets up into what’s written out as my middle octave (which is the third octave on a flute). I was quite happy to get some good notes out up in the neighborhood of G and A! I did notice I was slightly flatter in that octave than I am in the lower one, though. Not sure yet whether this is because I still need to improve that embouchure or if my piccolo needs some tuneup work, or both.

Meanwhile, a fiddle player I hadn’t met yet (I don’t know if she’s new to the Renton session or if she just hadn’t been there when I’ve been before) gave me an awesome pointer. I told her I was learning several tunes off of sheet music since that’s where my background is, and I’m not as solid learning things by ear. She recommended I record myself playing various tunes I’m interested in, reading off of sheet music if need be, and then work on learning the tunes just by listening to myself play. Which sounds like an awesome idea, and I’m going to have to try that!

Note also: “Da Slockit Light” is a gorgeous little tune, and I’m going to have to learn it properly. It’s also got a bit of “aww” with its origin. It was written by Tom Anderson, and according to that Wikipedia page, “Slockit” means “extinguished”, and the title is a reference to people moving away from the area where he grew up.

Also noted from last night’s session: “Dunmore Lasses”, “Out on the Ocean”, and “Kid on the Mountain” are my latest additions to TunePal. Once I get a better handle on more of the tunes in Matt’s PDF, I’m going to start burning through the TunePal set as well!


Zouk practice!

As of this weekend I can say that I can reliably more or less play, without PDF assistance, five tunes: Banish Misfortune, Road to Lisdoonvarna, Swallow’s Tail Jig, Morrison’s Jig, and Si Bheag Si Mhor. I’ve spent some time on Shine specifically trying to play through Lisdoonvarna and Swallow’s Tail and Morrison’s, since Matt likes to link those up in a set at session.

But! I’ve also broken out my bouzouki for the first time in a while. For a variety of reasons!

For one thing, this gorgeous fellow over here is enough to make any amateur bouzouki player go YES I’d like to do that, please!

Simon Beaudry

For another, and more importantly, I’ve wanted to actually learn proper fingerwork on the bouzouki and big mand for YEARS NOW, and Session is finally giving me motivation to do so. I look at the musicians who know what they’re actually doing at session, and note how they’re able to switch happily off between this instrument and that. I want to do that. I HAVE THE INSTRUMENTS. So I clearly need to practice these tunes on multiple ones. Because if I have the instruments, I should be PLAYING them.

My friend userinfobrightbeak said something to me on Facebook as well which really resonated with me: i.e., how it seems to her that I have found “the heartbeat that nurtures your soul”. Irish/Celtic trad, especially the branch of it in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, is exactly that. It’s exactly the same reaction I had when I first saw Great Big Sea way back when and something in me said THAT! I WANT TO PLAY THAT!

It nurtures my soul indeed to be reminded of this. \0/

And this, by way, is my bouzouki! Her name is Spring. Say hi, Spring!

Spring Says *TWANG*

Spring Says *TWANG*

So today, in addition to practicing the aforementioned five tunes on Shine, I got out Spring as well and staggered my way through Banish Misfortune. I’ve got a mandolin fakebook with a whole lot of tunes in it, and since Spring and my big mand Autumn are both tuned to GDAE, I can use the fakebook to slowly pluck out the tunes on them both. I’ve already used that fakebook once to try to learn Swallow’s Tail REEL on Spring–and now it’ll be wonderful to start finding more of the tunes we play in session, too. I’m not sure yet whether Spring or Autumn will wind up being my stringed instrument of choice in session, we’ll have to see–another person showed up last time with the same model mand that Autumn is (a Trinity College), so I think I’ll favor Spring for a while. Spring’s got more responsive strings anyway!


Back to the eight-stringed path

This post starts, like many of my days do, with the Handsomest of Marketboys yakkin’ at me the other day on my morning walk through the market. I was, I believe, telling him about my forthcoming furlough, in which I shall be not only taking time off from work but also from the Internet–so it’ll be me, my writing, my userinfosolarbird, and my guitar. He told me by way of reply that if I ever wanted a thousand-dollar Stratocaster, I should let him know.

Now this gave me pause for a couple of reasons. One, I already kinda knew that the HofM seemed to have a bit of musical inclination; I’ve heard him sing a time or two off the top of his head. Two, Jesus Jumping Christ on a pogostick, if you’ve got a thousand-dollar Strat sitting around and you’re not playing it, you are doing it a sore injustice. (Said the owner of a near-thousand-dollar Taylor 210, who is very conscious of the General STERNLY awaiting her return to him.)

So I told him I had no need of another guitar, since I had two, and he should be playing his!

Which of course sent me down the path of remembering I haven’t been playing my guitar much lately–not out of lack of interest, but because of change in focus at session. In the back of my brain, though, I’ve been pondering that I’ve got all these other songbooks and things, and other instruments, and it’d be nice to bring at least one other instrument with me to session that I could pair up with the piccolo to trade off between. Maybe not the General since the General’s too much instrument when I’m really playing him and he’s really more of a I WANT TO COMMAND THE RHYTHM LINE instrument anyway, at least in my hands. Which is not what I want to use the General for when I’m in a session.

Bring in Le Monsieur Beaudry and his bouzouki. As I’m looking through Le Vent du Nord’s site gallery tonight, I’m thinking–y’know what, I’ve got a goddamn bouzouki myself. AND an octave mandolin, neither of which have been played much in the last few years. So I tuned up both Autumn and Spring tonight, and looked in my mandolin fakebook, and lo and behold, there is “Banish Misfortune” waiting for me to start playing with it. It’s a slightly different arrangement than what we’ve been doing in session, but that is entirely okay. This is where my fledgling “pay attention to what my fellow session players are doing” powers can start activating!

Tried playing both Autumn and Spring tonight and realized that right now, Autumn’s fret spacing feels more comfortable to me, possibly because I’ve been more used to the General lately so I’ve been used to a narrower neck. So when Dara and I have our off-weeks for session practice, I’m going to start spending time on Autumn as well as with Shine, who will remain my primary session instrument for the time being.

I feel very good about this plan. \0/


I’ll get the hang of this yet!

userinfosolarbird and I have been doing this thing for the last several weeks where we go to session only every other week–and use the off-week as a practice night. Meanwhile, I’ve shifted from taking the General to session to taking my piccolo instead, and focusing on learning the actual melody lines for various tunes.

This is working out pretty well! I can only play five or six tunes semi-reliably–by which I mean, I can actually play “Si Bheag Si Mhor” by heart, and about five others if I’m reading the sheet music at the time. I ALMOST have “Banish Misfortune” down by heart but the C part is still eluding me. What this tells me though is that by practicing, I CAN learn these things. And it gets noticed in session, too! Once you start showing up and being able to play the tunes, you get significantly more cred, even if you’re still pretty much a newbie like me.

Right now I’m focusing my efforts on the handy dandy PDF session leader Matt gave me, with about 25 tunes he’s fond of and considers a good introduction to sessions in general. From that, I’ve been working on “Banish Misfortune”, “Road to Lisdoonvarna”, “Morrison’s Jig”, and a bit of “Blarney Pilgrim”. Although I haven’t actively practiced them yet, I can also whip through “Kesh Jig” and “Foggy Dew” if I’m reading the PDF.

Meanwhile, I’ve got TunePal on the iPad and I spend a good chunk of session these days just listening to what the others are doing–and seeing if TunePal can figure out what the tunes are so I can save ’em for later exploration. Half the time, the app has a pretty good idea of what it’s hearing. If it wibbles and has no goddamn idea, I’ll just ask! Then I can look it up manually. And once you have a tune in the app, you can make it play it for you, adjusting the tempo if you need to. It’s a GREAT learning/reference tool for session newbies. Highly, highly recommended if you have an iPad.

Last night’s session in particular was relaxed and groovy, with just me, Dara, Matt, and a couple new folks Dara and I hadn’t met before, a woman who played fiddle and mandolin and a guy who played guitar and bodhran, and from them I picked up a couple more tunes to add to TunePal for later investigation: “The Yellow Tinker” and “The Frieze Breeches”. Plus, I had to giggle and giggle at one particular wibble TunePal had trying to identify tunes–when it offered me “Whiskey Makes You a Lunatic”. Which had NOT A GODDAMN THING to do with what was actually being played, but the title alone made me LOL, so I had to add it to my list.

And to tie back to my French Canadian fangirling post, I’ve also decided I have designs on learning “The Jig of Slurs”, “Irish Washerwoman”, and “Atholl Highlander”, which make up the “Fortierville” set that’s track one on La Volee d’Castors’ kickass live album. It’ll be approximately oh, I dunno, EIGHT YEARS before I’m able to play that set nearly as fast as they do, but TunePal helpfully provided me the sheet music to each. I’m armed. I’m dangerous. I HAVE A PICCOLO. BRING IT.


On better notes (several, actually)

I continue to be somewhat intimidated by the Serious Business(TM) level of musicians that show up for the sessions at A Terrible Beauty. We had two more show up last night, one lady named Beth who’s a local harpist and flautist, who has taught harp in Ireland, and who has played with a local folk band, and another lady (whose name I have sadly forgotten) who had a pretty awesome looking instrument that was either a mandobanjo or a banjolin (userinfosolarbird said ‘mandobanjo’; all I know is, it was pretty cool).

The intimidating part for me here was that both of them very, VERY clearly knew what they were doing and could hear the places where I was screwing up. On the other hand, they were also very kind about cluing me in as to when we all went into a key I had a hard time recognizing by ear, or when chord changes I hadn’t quite grasped were happening. I had the strange reaction to this of being simultaneously prickly and grateful for it–a feeling I think any of my fellow authors will recognize when somebody offers you beta reading advice you’re not entirely convinced you need, and then you get over it and realize that actually, yeah, you did kinda need that. I’m here to tell y’all, it applies to music, too. *^_^*;;

That said, it was good to finally have some of the pieces Matt and Annie like to get into identified as having parts in the key of B minor. This is NOT a key I’ve played in before that I can recall, at all, even with a capo on and faking it by doing the base chords of G or A. The good part of this was, though, that I have enough chord exposure now that I could pick out the base chords I needed once the key was identified. I.e., a lot of B minor and A, with occasional D’s and E’s and F# minors thrown in for good measure, all of which are chords I can play at this point. The tricky part is just being able to recognize that key by ear when I hear it.

It was also vaguely intimidating to see the newcomers clearly not quite knowing what to make of me and Dara belting out our version of “Old Black Rum”. This is what we get for the songs we know being either GBS, GBS-influenced in style, or Dara’s very own unique concoctions, none of which are exactly “Irish”. I continue to be very grateful to Matt and Annie for indulging us periodically and inviting us to sing, and at least it gave me another chance to make the “well, Newfoundland is NEAR Ireland” joke. 😉 Also, it gave Dara and me a chance to show off singing in harmony, which we’ve actually been practicing a bit, and which I feel works for us!

Still though I must start learning some songs (and I specifically mean ‘songs’ as opposed to ‘tunes’, i.e., stuff with words) that would fit better in a session environment. I’ve already mentioned the ones I’m interested in, I think–I just need to allocate practice time for them, in between rehearsing with Dara on her stuff so that I can play support for her at Norwescon. To wit: *gulp*. Yeah, I know, I’ve already been playing the guitar in public for a while thanks to these sessions, but being part of a formal set with Dara is not the same thing. *^_^*;; Playing at a session is ‘hanging out with fellow musicians and learning from them’. Playing a formal set is performing.

Meanwhile though I was very grateful as well to Annie for giving me a listening ear before we got started–as well as for introducing me to a drink called the Irish Truffle, which is Guinness mixed with raspberry lambic! I’ve tried Guinness before and hadn’t cared for it, but if you mix it up with raspberry lambic I suddenly find it quite drinkable. Those of you who have been following my ongoing admiration of the Lovely and Talented Pike Place Marketboys will be familiar with my affection for raspberry-related things. This has now been expanded to include ‘booze’.

Giggles as well to userinfosolcita, who made cracks about how we’d better be careful if we wanted to set an empty chair in the session circle in honor of GBS–because I’d still hyperventilate even for Imaginary Alan Doyle. She is, of course, entirely correct, given that it is scientifically proven that I hyperventilate for real Alan Doyle.

(This has led today on Facebook to userinfofredpdx making cracks about how, given that I’m a proud owner of the Alan Doyle Action Figure, complete with bouzouki and Hair Tossing Action, I’d be over the whole hyperventilating thing by now. Which made me LOL. And also made me really, REALLY wish that there was in fact an Alan Doyle Action Figure. Because you know I’d BUY IT.)

So yeah. Session homework for me: figure out how the hell to play and sing “As I Roved Out”, in whatever key I can manage. So I can have something a bit more Irish on hand next time Matt asks me to sing!

And also, for those of you who may be interested, the aforementioned Beth is Beth Kollé, and she was in a Seattle-based folk band called Crookshank a couple years back. They have an EP on iTunes, and I may just have to check it out.


This past Wednesday's session

Writing this now since I haven’t had a chance or the brain to blog about it until this afternoon, but here we go!

There were a couple of extra fiddlers at this past Wednesday’s session at A Terrible Beauty–people who turned out to be stunningly awesome, a couple of professional performers, Andrea Beaton and Glenn Graham. What really sold me on Andrea and Glenn’s playing was its liveliness and the excellent foot-stomping rhythm they had going at the same time–very, very familiar to me from all the listening I’ve been doing to La Volee d’Castors and La Bottine Souriante and Le Vent du Nord. It turned out that the reason their music resonated so strongly with me was because they are in fact Canadian, Cape Breton specifically, so no wonder. 😀

I’d already been pleasantly challenged trying to keep up with Matt and Annie, as I’ve written before–but trying to keep up with Andrea and Glenn? WHOA. WHOA AND DAMN, people. I’m just this fortysomething chick who likes to noodle around on her guitar in her living room, y’know? And there I am in the session trying to provide a decent rhythm line underneath two hardcore fiddle players, who, I might add, proceeded just last night to go perform with Matt at Benaroya Hall for the Mastery of Scottish Arts concert.

I have been in sessions now with people who have performed in Benaroya Hall, people!

Only by focusing with laser-guided intensity on every motion of Glenn and Andrea’s bows was I able to keep up, and more than once, I lost track of their key changes. But I was at least able to come back around when they jumped back to a key I could recognize. A lot of what I’ve been doing at the sessions so far has just been playing the same six or seven chords in different keys and strum patterns, just trying to be decent rhythm backup for all the people who actually know the tunes. But these two took it up a whole extra order of magnitude for me, and I haven’t had so much fun on a guitar in ages.

Afterwards a couple of older gentlemen came over to say hi to Dara and me, and to admire the General! I got asked what kind of Taylor it was, and I was happy to say it was a 210, and I thanked the gents nicely for the kind things they said about my playing. I also went over to Andrea to make a point of telling her how awesome their playing was, and she was very gracious too.

I am so, SO outclassed at these sessions, it’s kind of scary! But in a good and exciting way, one which is making me go OH SHIT I’d better practice. So this afternoon I whipped out the piccolo, worked my way through an octave of scales, and then tried to stumble my way through “Road to Lisdoonvarna”, “Morrison’s Jig”, and “Drowsy Maggie”. I made it through the first two, more or less, before my embouchure fell over and started sending me “you haven’t played piccolo in a long goddamned time, have you?” signals.

I’ve also gone through my songbook and yoinked out the little sheet music bits of the various tunes GBS have used as bridges on their songs, in the hopes that I can then track down fuller versions, and use those for practice fodder. I have “Si Bheag Si Mhor” too, along with “Fisherman’s Frolic”, which those of you who read the TGM Jam Reports may remember as our outro to “Acres of Clams”. I have a LOT of source material to learn from. And it’s awesome to be able to have a reason to use it.

ETA: OO OO OO and I forgot to mention that when called upon to do a song by Matt, I stood up and did GBS’ arrangement of “The Night Pat Murphy Died”. *^_^*;; I cannot roar it like Séan McCann does and I really need to learn to project, but at least I managed to go through the whole thing without falling over. And when I went DARA, Dara whipped into the bridge on cue; she’s been practicing the Bitchin’ Bouzouki Solo.

Another practice assignment I want to do is to see if I can whip up a proper version of “As I Roved Out”; the arrangement I’m most familiar with is the one by the Fables, but I can’t sing it in their key so I’ll need to finagle it some.


Chibi session tonight

It’s kind of lulzy that userinfotechnoshaman, userinfosolarbird, and I made a point of doing a bit of session practice this weekend–because it turned out that the session tonight was just us and Annie! Our usual session leader was off busy playing with these guys at the Tractor Tavern tonight, so we had to make do with just us four!

But it was all good. Annie was technically our session leader but we took it really casually and just took turns picking things to play. This wound up meaning that Annie, being the one who knew various actual tunes, focused on those while Dara, Glenn, and I mostly chose the GBS ditties we knew and a couple of the other non-GBS things from Jam as well: “Elf Glade” and “Pirate Bill and Squidly”. The biggest reaction we got from the crowd in the bar though was the last thing we did: “Last Saskatchewan Pirate”. That got a big ol’ roar of approval, and that was very cool. 😀

Y’all remember though how I said that at last week’s session, the guys at the bar let me have one of my drinks for free?

This time they let Dara and me eat for free, so I only had to fork over for my two Irish creams. Dara and I have been paid for making public music with tasty foods! WOO!

Hopefully next time we’ll be back up to a more normal size of group, but in the meantime I’m clearly going to have to check out Matt’s band. See previous commentary re: that dude can PLAY.