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It’s Never Too Late

Nice little article that discusses some of the advantages of learning to play an instrument as an adult. One thing is sure, we certainly have so many more resources available to us than we did when I was growing up thanks to the Internet. It is good to also mention, that whether you are young or old, learning an instrument does take time, passion, and perseverance. But, at least in my opinion, it is well worth it!

4 myths about learning an instrument as an adult

The Session as Antidote

During this past year especially, I’ve found myself gravitating to sessions and playing more music with friends. I think one reason is that somewhere deep down, my body and soul know it is good for me, that it provides a better model for life than most of the other ones we’re presented with on a daily basis. Let me propose that for a small group of us, the session may represent an antidote for the challenges of modern life. I think there are other antidotes out there, and my hope is that each of you will find the antidote that works for you. However, since this blog is about Irish music, let me put forward a few of the reasons that I think the the best sessions have many elements that our souls crave.

  • We’re present
  • We’re in a circle, face to face
  • We listen to each other
  • We coordinate with others
  • We share what we know and lead when we can, but it’s more enjoyable when we’re not playing solo
  • We find common ground and a way to contribute
  • More do, less talk (but some talk is important)
  • We learn from history and the songs we sing speak of the human condition (love, war, loss)
  • Sessions improve with diversity of instruments and influences
  • We invite people in from outside our community and welcome their new tunes
  • We play quietly and try to learn when we don’t the tune

London Sessions

Some great footage from the 80s scene in London in this mini-documentary. Gotta love the hair too!

Also a short interview with Brendan Mulkere in part 2, who I recall seeing at last year’s Ennis Trad Fest when Claire Egan had her CD release show.

And here are some clips from 2013-2014 sessions. Maybe the more things change, the more they stay the same. Well, except for the hair.

Connie O’Connell

This fabulous resource just showed up in my Facebook feed today and wanted to share it with folks. Connie is regarded as one of the finest present-day exponents of Sliabh Luachra style of playing and his teaching has been at the heart of traditional music studies at University College Cork for nearly forty years. In his acknowledgements on the project, Connie states, “Composing tunes is one thing, but without a listening audience and a community of musicians to ‘adopt’ the tunes the practice of composing is pointless.” So, with those words in mind, please spend some time exploring his website / project via the link below.

Connie O’Connell’s UCC Project – “Original Compositions from a Master Fiddle Player”

The first thing that jumped out at me was that he had composed one of my favorite reels – Torn Jacket. I’ve been playing it for years and had no idea it was his composition. My guess is that Tes brought it back from one of her trips to Ireland and it snuck into our local repertoire. It was, I believe, one of the first reels that Sophie and I taught in our inaugural Session Class at BRIMS.

Personal note: I had the pleasure of meeting Connie on one of the BRIMS trips years ago in Ballyvourney when Sue Tansey and I took a fiddle lesson with him. Connie immediately sensed Sue’s passion for the fiddle, but had little hope for me. I say that with a good deal of respect for his opinion as he could tell I wasn’t playing fiddle much and let me know in no uncertain terms that my approach to learning fiddle would not work. He was kind about it, but clear. He was also right! My on again, off again relationship with the fiddle was not going to work in Trad and he wanted to make sure I knew that. He helped me understand that I had a decision to make – either find the passion for the fiddle or let it go. I can’t help but think of Connie whenever I see Trad musicians who are in that beginner/intermediate stage of learning. Do they (we) have that passion for their instrument and Irish Trad music or not? Because it really takes dedication to get to that next level of playing. To know the tunes and to be able to play them in the style they deserve. I’m still working on getting there, and, if you know me, it isn’t on fiddle. But it is still my favorite instrument to listen to, especially in the hands of people who have the passion to play it.

Jerry Crilly

A few weeks back at the Paddy Keenan show, my friends Kevin Donleavy and Alex Davis were invited up on the stage to play a few tunes and they introduced the audience to a tune that Kevin wrote in honor of his friend, Jerry Crilly, whom Paddy also knew. Since Paddy has asked Kevin to send him a recording of the tune, it seemed like an interesting idea for a blog post, so I asked Kevin to provide a little background on Jerry and the tune. Here’s what he had to say:

“In the early 1970s, among the best-known ballad singers in Dublin town were Lenny Duff, Eric Fleming, and Jerry Crilly. They often performed together in venues like Slattery’s or Toner’s or the Labour Club. They hooked me on the poignancy and power of Irish trad music, both the songs and the tunes.

Among the songs that I learned from Jerry were such fine ballads as “Where Is Our James Connolly,” “The Streets of Derry,” “Avondale,” “Bridget O’Reilly,” “No-Man’s Land,” “Admiral Nelson” (written by fellow Dub, Joe Dolan), ” and “Only Our Rivers Run Free.” Jerry’s first wife Betty sang along as these fellas gave forth, and she was one to prod me whenever I missed a line or two; her favorites were “Avondale” and “Where is Our James Connolly.”

I wrote this jig in the early 2000s as a way to honor Jerry for his commitment to the music and for his kindnesses to me. Paddy Keenan and Jerry have known each other in Dublin from the 1970s. With luck, Paddy and others in Ireland and the States can help popularize this wee jig in honor Jerry Crilly.”

A little more background on Jerry w/picture

Jerry singing the ballad, “Blood Upon the Grass”

Kevin (on right with whistle) and Alex (fiddle) playing Kevin’s tune, Jerry Crilly’s Jig with Paddy Keenan

Paddy Keenan

I had the rare opportunity to back renowned piper, Paddy Keenan, last weekend in Charlottesville. As I’m sure the 5 people who follow this blog know, he was a founding member of the Bothy Band, one of the Irish Trad Supergroups from a few years back now. Definitely one of the musical highlights of my life, and though I would have loved the opportunity to work with the tunes before playing it live in front of an audience, there is something wonderful about being in the moment with Irish trad music. Anyway, here are a couple of videos from the show and thanks again to Paddy for the opportunity to accompany him.


I should also add how much I’m enjoying my new backing instrument of choice – a fabulous bouzouki made by my friend Gil Draper of Knoxville, TN. I’ve been having such fun with it – thanks Gil!!

Trip to Sligo by Bernard Flaherty

When I first joined King Golden Banshee, the guys in the band were kind enough to give me a copy of an out of print book they used as a source of many of their tunes called, Trip to Sligo. Just learned that it has been reissued and is available from Custy’s in Ennis.

Trip to Sligo

Really nice resource (though quite a few tunes are marked “unknown” – then again, tune names don’t seem to be as important in Ireland as in the States). However, found a link to a list of all the corrections / additions thanks to the hard work of Philippe Varlet back in 1999.

Philippe Varlet filling in the gaps

Session I Class – Fall 2016

Week 10

I thought that as we enter the home stretch (2 classes left), I’d teach one of my favorite jigs, and one that we learned from Breda and Claire Keville on one of the BRIMS trips to Ireland. Here’s me taking a stab at it on mandolin with a very even rhythm… remember to make it more jig-like when you play it!!

And since I’m so late posting the recording, it only seems right that I should also post a bonus recording. So here are Claire and Breda playing a couple of tunes to help you get a sense of their relaxed style.

Week 9

Okay, I’m back from Ennis, and Thanksgiving is behind us now, so I guess it is time to get back to the task at hand. Feels like a long time since I’ve met with you, so I’m looking forward to a really solid evening of tune practice on Tuesday evening.

First of all, here’s a recording of Alex playing our tune for this week, Joe Bane’s Barndance, which will go very nicely with Gypsy Princess! Wow, 3 barndances in one semester. That’s more barndances than I knew going into this Fall! I think most of you recorded it last class from Alex, but in case you didn’t (or for those following along at home), here it is!

See you Tuesday! I’m leaning toward teaching Tommy Mulhair’s Jig next, but if you have a hankering for a 4 part jig or reel instead, just let me know 😉

Week 8

While I’m over in Ennis, Alex will be teaching you Gypsy Princess, a beautiful barndance. Here’s Alex playing it:

I also found this recording of my friend Connor playing it at Swannanoa in 2014. Slightly different version, but on accordion (for you Holly!)

And Alex asked me to pass on these two YouTube videos which I’m pretty sure have the same source.

Colin Botts

Jack Talty and Cormac Begley – will be seeing Jack at his CD release show this weekend in Ennis!

Listening to these recordings cheered me up some and I was glad to be playing tunes with dear friends as the returns came in on Tuesday. Music, art and poetry share our spirits and heal our souls. Make time for them.

Week 7

This coming week we’ll be learning a 3 part jig that I first learned from Pio Ryan, but it is a classic piping tune often played at breakneck speed. We won’t do that in class 🙂 The first and 3rd parts are really just variations on a simple theme, so the B part is where you’ll likely spend most of your practice time.

Here’s me playing Paddy O’Rafferty’s at learning speed.

Week 6

We’ll stick with the Paddy Taylor theme for this week before adding in the 3rd Paddy. Seems to be the right theme with Paddy Keenan coming to C’ville Coffee this weekend. As I mentioned in class, these will be the two most challenging tunes we’ll do this semester – they are fairly notey, and have some rhythmic variation and a couple of tricky little bits that keep tripping me up. But both are really fabulous tunes and I’d love to see them pop up in future Charlottesville sessions.

Here’s me playing Paddy Taylor #2 at learning speed.

Week 6 Bonus Track… some classic Bothy Band featuring frequent Charlottesville performers Paddy Keenan and Kevin Burke.

Week 5

Time to switch over to jigs for a few weeks. As I mentioned in class, Kayla and I learned the Paddy Taylor jig set this summer from Marla and they are really a lovely set of jigs. But, I don’t want to just repeat that without adding a little something different, so I’d like to suggest throwing Paddy O’Rafferty’s Jig in between the two. I’ve wanted to teach that tune for a few years, so I think this will be the time to do it. It is also a 3 part tune, and we haven’t yet crossed that chasm. Plus, way we can have the Paddy Set 🙂

Here’s me playing Paddy Taylor #1 at learning speed.

Here’s a recording from a session (in Japan?) of Paddy Taylor’s 1 & 2 together.

It is usually about this time that it can start getting a little harder to pick up the new tune and practice all the old ones. At first, it seemed like a tune a week would be a piece of cake but now maybe that B part of Morning Star isn’t getting the same attention that it would have if it had been the first tune we learned. This is when I think we have to be more intentional about practice. Don’t divide up your time evenly among the tunes and the parts, but instead spend additional time on those parts where you stumble. Maybe one day, you play all the tunes as a set, but the next day you really focus in on those odd little passages in Thadelo’s until you feel like you have it. Main thing is to be intentional about practice… however that translates to your situation!

Week 5 Bonus!

Was working on a tune I used to know, Andy deJarlis, and came upon this lovely set by Altan that starts with it. Enjoy!

Week 4

Quick turnaround for week 4’s tune – Thadelo’s – that Alex learned from Rose Flanagan and Laura Byrne’s excellent CD, Forget Me Not. Here’s a version played by Matt Cranitch, who came through Charlottesville about a year ago with Jackie Daly. When it comes a couple of great trad tune shows, the Laura / Rose and Matt / Jackie shows were both fantastic. Catch them if you ever have the chance! And without further ado, here’s the tune.

And here’s Alex playing it a bit slower for learning:

Keep practicing the 3 reels and note the difference in rhythms / feel of the tunes. Try the two variations in Morning Star in the A part. Don’t forget trying a few ornaments from time to time to add interest. Have a great week and hope to see you on Tuesday if my flights get in on time!

Bonus for week 4 – check out the livestream of Celtic Colors – some Liz Dougherty this evening!! One of my favorite Irish fiddlers

Week 3

Super impressed with everyone’s playing this week in class. Great job on Lafferty’s and High Reel. Hope you like the tunes so far!

This coming week we’ll be working on Morning Star which will provide an excellent example of variations in versions. I recorded Alex playing it on Tuesday and realized his version was different from what I learned (and what will be passed out as notation). But I really like his variation on it. I then spent some time listening to various versions on the web and it is pretty clear there isn’t a standard version. I was talking with Lindsay a little after class about how we both “struggle” with the mindset that a tune is a single, standard version (a la classical music). Whereas, in Irish music (and folk music in general), a tune is a recognizable frame of reference based on some ordered notes and rhythm, but that much can be left to the musician as to how best to interpret it. Triplets and ornamentation are one example, but one can go beyond that. So, we might try to work a little this week on variations and I found this excellent example of two masters of variation playing Morning Star on fiddle!

Also came across this group from Sweden playing several different sets. The recording below has Morning Star as the 2nd reel in the set. Listen and watch how the energy lifts when they start the 2nd tune. Also a great reminder that a) Irish music is played around the world, b) that it is really fun to play with a group of friends, and c) Ian – rock on that guitar!

Here’s Alex and and I playing our respective versions at a learning pace.

Morning Star Reel in G

Bonus for week 3 – check out this amazing mandolin playing by David Benedict. While it isn’t an Irish tune, per se, I’m sharing it as a reminder to us string players the importance of keeping those fingers planted when possible. It is one of the many techniques David uses to make his playing smooth (and fast). So many great examples in this particular piece. Btw, David is one of the nicest folks you’ll ever meet. Hope he meanders through Charlottesville one of these days!

Week 2

Nice playing in class this week! It was interesting to get some of the tune lists (John and Sandy, hint hint) and realize that, especially with people coming from different experiences (e.g. not the Charlottesville crowd), it will be more challenging to find overlap with tunes. But, we’ll alternate our way around the group which will be good ear practice for those who don’t know the tunes, or know a somewhat different version. And, as we learn more tunes in common, there will be plenty to play / practice as the class moves forward.

For this week, practice Lafferty’s at least to the point where you can play it through on your own with only minor oopes (oopsies?) and listen to the High Reel. Also, try playing Lafferty’s with another reel you know and get comfortable starting it from memory as either a first or 2nd tune in a set.

I wasn’t able to find an ideal version of the High Reel to share, but the version below is pretty clean and also has the Ivy Leaf, another tune for us to consider learning. As I mentioned in class, mainly focus on listening and getting the High Reel in your head. Maybe learn the first few notes and see if others fall out of your fingers without trying too hard. We’ll cover it in class using a similar approach to what we did with Lafferty’s.

Here’s me playing it more at a learning pace, and I believe this version matches the sheet music I handed out. I learned it slightly differently, but tried to modify it so it would match. Will do my best to stick with this approach in class.

High Reel in Amix

Week 1

Alex and I are really excited about the group. Really nice balance of instruments and interests and I believe, everyone is in a similar range of playing ability – all of which will be great for class chemistry. Again, from here on out, it will be primarily playing tunes and sets rather than listening to me drone on, but I hope you’ll think about listening and practicing actively and with purpose. Remember about Jackie Coleman’s and the repeats / difficulty issues – how does that apply to the tune we’re working on this week? What parts of Lafferty’s sound tricky and will require more practice? What tunes do I know that would work well with Lafferty’s in a set? (hint, hint)

So here’s that lovely version of Lafferty’s (aka Crane’s Leg) that Alex and I were referencing in class. Hope the link works – a mutual friend of ours posted it and I’m never quite sure how accessible videos and pictures are via Facebook. Regardless, Yvonne plays it with such a light touch and with such feeling – totally different from the way I often hear it played in sessions and by local bands. Almost a completely different tune, even though it is the same notes. It can also be a really hard driving reel which is also a blast to play (and how I normally hear it). Another good practice technique is playing tunes at different speeds and with different beat emphasis.

Yvonne Casey playing Lafferty’s

Lafferty’s (aka Crane’s Leg) in Em

This week’s bonus: Here’s a link to a blog that I’ve followed on and off since my trip to Ennis last year. Some great entries. I found it searching a bit more about Yvonne because I was so taken by her playing and stumbled upon this lovely quote from the blog author and Yvonne, “Of great value to me were the words of Yvonne Casey, “Love every note; feel every note”. And that has become my mantra.” Might be a good mantra for our class too! Anyway, please check out the post – some great pictures from this year’s Fleadh as well as another person’s attempt at the stages of learning and playing tunes. Timely after my droning 🙂

Fleadh in Ennis and The Path to Becoming a Better Fiddler

Class Description and Potential Tunes

Welcome to the BRIMS Fall Session class webpage. Each week we’ll post a synopsis of what we cover in class, provide some resources for the tunes we’re learning, and other miscellaneous musings to amuse you. So, if you miss a week, this webpage will be a good place to start so you don’t miss too much.

Before further ado – a couple of important announcements! First, is that Alex Davis will be co-teaching the class with me. If you don’t already know Alex, he’s a fabulous fiddle and concertina player and was one of the original members of BRIMS back at the turn of the century. Alex will also be leading Trad this term, so he’ll be a very familiar face soon enough. Second, we’re starting class one week late. So first class will be Tues, Sept 20th at 6pm. But fear not, we have three homework assignments for you. Don’t worry, they are kind of fun, although, if you know me, I do have a strange idea of fun sometimes.

First, please bring your tune list to class. Everyone has a different idea of what a tune list should be. At a minimum, it should be the names of tunes you know or are learning. Some people also have some notation to help them remember how a tune goes. I also note the rhythm (reel, jig, hornpipe, etc.) and the key and I store mine in Excel for easy sorting (by name, rhythm, key, etc.). In addition, I have mine broken down in 3 columns – tunes I know, tunes I want to learn, and tunes I used to know, but have forgotten. I’m also thinking about adding a fourth column – tunes I can lead (in other words, tunes I play well). It’s really easy to get a tune list together when you’re first starting, and 10 years later, it is a really helpful practice tune to keep your repertoire up to date.

Second, think of two tunes you’d really like to learn and bring those to class or email me. We have twelve weeks of class, so I’m aiming to learn / teach about 8-10 tunes, so if there are some that you’d like us to focus on, please let me know.

Third (and this is the fun part), here are some videos of tunes that I’m considering teaching. Listen to them over the next week. See which ones you find yourself humming later. Note which ones you’d like to learn. Maybe look up other versions on youtube. We are so lucky to be learning tunes at this point in our history. So many more resources – almost overwhelming!

Jackie Coleman’s Reel

The Morning Star Reel

The Ivy Leaf Reel


The High Reel

Paddy O’Rafferty’s Jig

Paddy Taylor’s 1 and 2 (Jigs)

Boys of the Town

Tommy Mulhaire’s Jig

Cock and the Hen Slip Jig

Ryan’s Slip Jig

Murieanne’s Jig

Langstrom’s Pony (Jig)

Jig of Slurs / Atholl Highlanders (this video is too much fun not to include)

Marla Fibish Interview

Those of us fortunate enough to have had mandolin class with Marla (aka a Marla-holic) know what a fabulous teacher and player she is. Well, she’s all over the news today, so if you’re a mandolin player, do yourself a favor and check these links out just in time for St. Paddy’s. Be sure to watch the videos in the interview. I’ve also posted a link to her new course offered at Peghead Nation. If it is anything like her live classes, it will be well worth your time! Enjoy!

Marla Fibish Article

Marla’s Mandolin course at Peghead Nation

Session II Class – Spring 2016

Week 4

Greetings from the left coast. In my mad rush to get projects finished before leaving the house, I forgot that I hadn’t recorded Doyle’s Castle, but remembered literally 20 minutes before walking out the door to catch my plane. So here is me playing it (I believe) pretty much as written with the music I passed out last class.

Doyle’s Castle (2 part jig in G major or Ionian mode)

For those of you on whistle and/or flute, here are two alternatives for the A part where it goes below D. The first one is fairly simple, just play it an octave higher in the first phrase and then switch for the second phrase. The second alternative is to harmonize on several notes in the first phrase (basically playing the 3rd above the melody note). Try out both and see which you prefer.

Doyle’s Castle (1st Alternative for A phrase)
Doyle’s Castle (2nd Alternative for A phrase)

Remember to also practice the G scale exercises! A little trickier than the first set, but also a little more interesting to play!

I’m not sure we’ll have time to do the next tune, but here’s the one I’m considering – Have a Drink with Me. Another G jig. I think it is also known as the first of the Harry Potter Jigs from one of the movies. The version below is part of a set with several other common jigs that would make sense to learn if you don’t yet know them as they are played locally fairly often.

Extra credit – if you search the youtube videos, you may find Joe Basconi who used to live in Charlottesville playing the full “Harry Potter Set”. You’ll note his version is slightly different from what I posted. Actually, if you listen to several of the videos of the tune, you’ll find quite a few variations on how to play it. The way I’ve heard it is more similar to the first set, but good to listen to all the versions! Folk music, not set in stone!

Week 3

We seem to have a revolving student list – which keeps things interesting! So, over this weekend work on the following:

  • Practice Cup of Tea – Play it before and after some of your favorite reels and work on smooth transitions.
  • Learn Virginia Reel – We’ll focus on this one next week and perhaps I won’t get it confused with the tune that shall not be named!
  • Work on the D scale exercise I passed out in class. Keep it smooth and when you feel confident, increase the speed by 10% or so. Repeat, but always make sure you are confident in your playing. When it starts to break down, take note of where and perhaps practice that part a bit more. Try playing the same exercise in a D mixolydian scale if you are feeling really confident!
  • As I mentioned in class, next up will be a jig in G major (ionian). I was lucky enough to see Sheila and Elaine in Ennis last November at their CD release of Shores of Lough Breda. Loved their playing as well. As it turned out, almost all the tunes were written by Paddy O’Donoghue from Tulla in East Clare and Sheila and Elaine have made it their mission to spread these tunes “all over the world”. I promised to do my part and teach one of the tunes in my next session class. So here it is – Doyle’s Castle. Flutes and whistles will need to play one of the phrases in the A part high (or, perhaps create a nice 3rd note harmony with the melody). Anyway, for now, just listen and get the tune in your head (stage 1 of learning a tune!!).

    Hope to see some of you at tonight’s Dervish / Kevin Burke concert. How lucky can we be??

    P.S. For extra credit, see if you can figure out the root / tonic and the mode / modes for the 2nd tune in the set.

    Week 2

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Great to play with everyone this week. Fun to have some new faces and thanks to Augie for sitting in and offering some flutish hints (like how to play Bb on the flute!)

    So, our tune for next week will be the Virginia Reel. Here’s a group playing it – how can one resist a group named “Ferrets of the Mall”. Anyway, some very nice guitar chords and a little old timey, especially with the clawhammer banjo, but a nice rendition and enjoyable to listen to in order to get the tune in your head.

    Here’s me playing the Virginia Reel more slowly. It’s not quite the same as the notation in the, but closer to how I’ve heard it played in our group over the years.

    Virginia Reel (2 part reel in D major or Ionian mode)

    Speaking of modes, here is a recording of the D Scale in the 4 modes used in Irish music (Ionian, Mixolydian, Dorian, and Aeolian). For now, practice the two major scales – Ionian and Mixolydian, but understand how the 4 scales are created for a key (major scale, then drop the 7th for Mixolydian, then drop the 3rd for Dorian, then drop the 6th for Aeolian). We’ll keep building on this theory stuff each week so you’ll be confused at a higher level by the end of 6 weeks!

    D Scales – 4 Modes

    Week 1

    We had a small, but dedicated, group last night and I look forward to working with all of you for these 6 weeks. We’ll continue to learn new tunes in Session II, but we’ll also explore some additional topics each week.

    Top Tunes (and count) from the Tuesday Tin Whistle Session in Charlottesville
    Top 200 Session Tunes from as of March 2016

    New tune for next week – Cup of Tea (not to be confused with Ladies Cup of Tea which is a completely different tune). Here are a few recordings to listen to. First one is me. Second one (youtube video) is quite a bit zippier. I’ve added in a few triplets that you may use or ignore as you wish.

    Cup of Tea (3 part reel in Em/D)

    Just for fun reading

    Traditional Irish Music Musings and Tune Learning Resource