Some quick FluteFling news to let you know of some trad flute workshop dates coming up between September and Christmas, including a minifest in Aberdeen in November.
The Aberdeen minifest is an exciting chance to take the flutes on the road and is a smaller version of the main annual weekend in Edinburgh. It will be great to catch up with the many flute players who visit Edinburgh and play some tunes with them on their home turf for a change.
The regular monthly workshops in Edinburgh will continue, but September and October see some changes due to diary clashes.
Saturday 23 Sep 1-4pm at Tribe Porty in Portobello (4th Saturday of month)
Friday-Sunday 02-05 NovFluteFling goes to Aberdeen: Sessions Fri, Sat, Sun; all-day Saturday workshops with Sharon Creasey and Gordon Turnbull with special guest speaker and concert. Details, including tickets, to be announced very soon.
Saturday 18 Nov 1-4pm at Tribe Porty in Portobello (3rd Saturday of month)
Saturday 16 Dec 1-4pm at Tribe Porty in Portobello (3rd Saturday of month)
Tickets for these will go on sale very soon with limited places. Signing up to the newsletter ensures you get to hear about it first. I hope you can make it and look forward to seeing you on one of the dates.
Photo:Órlaith MacAuliffe, Sharon Creasey, Cathal McConnell and Laura MacKenzie at Jeanie Deans Tryste session during the 4th FluteFling Weekend, Edinburgh June 2017 (c) Gordon Turnbull
Thanks to everyone who contributed to the 4th FluteFling weekend in June. An amazing weekend of traditional music on the flute, topped by workshops and performances from Órlaith McAuliffe, Niall Kenny and Elizabeth Ford in addition to those of regulars Sharon Creasey and Kenny Hadden.
With people traveling from Tain, Oban, Newcastle, Lancashire, Aberdeen, Moffat, Galloway and Minnesota USA, we all continue to be impressed with how committed people are to coming to the weekend and being part of things.
I have been without my laptop since then and am only now beginning to catch up, but I will be adding some photos and videos as I get a chance to sort through them.
Aberdeen FluteFling weekend November
While the dust is still settling, a special FluteFling weekend is being planned for Aberdeen so please pencil in 3-5th November in your diaries as we go on the road. More details to follow, but this is an exciting trip back to where it all began in 2001.
Quite a few flute players in Aberdeen regularly travel to Edinburgh for events and this is not only a chance to visit them on their home turf, but also to meet up with the many others who play in the area.
Edinburgh monthly workshops
Monthly workshops will resume in Edinburgh in September, with dates to be confirmed very soon.
A charity evening of unforgettable traditional flute music, featuring Irish Young Traditional Musician of the Year Órlaith McAuliffe with supporting guests including Niall Kenny, Elizabeth Ford, Sharon Creasey, Kenny Hadden and Gordon Turnbull, more to be announced.
This is a rare Edinburgh opportunity to hear Órlaith, who at the age of just 22 has been crowned All Ireland Champion no fewer than 19 times, including on both flute and whistle in 2011. Órlaith is the current holder of the title of Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2016 from the TG4 Gradam Ceoil Awards. As well as being a highly accomplished performer, Órlaith is also an original and prolific composer many of whose distinctive compositions feature in the sets of CrossHarbour, with whom she also plays.
Órlaith will be teaching at this years FluteFling Scottish Flute Weekend, which takes place on Saturday 17th June. She will be supported by the other tutors and others are to be confirmed.
Please note there is no alcohol allowed on the premises. A cafe is available & there are lots of pubs nearby!
There will be a free session at Jeanie Deans Tryst afterwards and you are welcome to attend.
Proceeds from the event will go towards supporting the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH), an important charity dedicated to mental health and well-being for all. Given that 1 in 4 people are affected by mental health problems at some point in their lives, this is an issue that touches the lives of us all.
This month’s workshop fell on St Patrick’s Day weekend and it seemed a good opportunity to explore influential flute player John McKenna, his style and repertoire. We learned just one of the many tunes that he popularised, but spent a good deal of time exploring pulse and ornamentation. A few of us then joined Bev Whelan for a session, where we played some of McKenna’s music.
John McKenna’s legacy
John McKenna was one of a number of Irish musicians who made their name by recording on the early cylinders and 78s in America in the early-mid 20th Century. You can find out more about him on Wikipedia and Musical Traditions, there are recordings on YouTube, a society in his honour and much more if you wish to Google him.
Packie Duignan was one of many who followed in John McKenna’s footsteps and it is possible to speculate that he may have been an inspiration for the punchy Belfast or wider Northern Irish style after he visited the city with Cathal McConnell. Harry Bradley and Michael Clarkson are just two exponents of this Northern style, but there are many others. These two recorded together on The Pleasures of Hope.
For a short introduction to Northern Irish flute traditions, this video has some notable voices.
John McKenna not only influenced people in his playing style, but also in his repertoire. Many of the sets of tunes he recorded are still played today and often referred to as McKenna’s Reels or McKenna’s Polkas despite recording a good number of different ones.
We looked at just one tune, Colonel Rodger’s Favourite, the first of a pair of reels known as McKenna’s No. 1 and McKenna’s No. 2, or simply, McKenna’s. We exploring it in some depth, taking the time to look at ornaments, revisit and . The other tunes I had prepared were the second of these reels, The Happy Days of Youth and two of the polkas he is associated with — Farewell to Whiskey (a polka version of Niel Gow’s air Farewell to Whisky) and The Dark Girl Dressed in Blue.
Such widely played tunes naturally have a number of settings and mine have been added to the current repertoire playlist and I have uploaded the notation too.
As well as exploring the ideas behind Sylvain Barou‘s method for learning cuts, strikes and rolls (see previous posts), we had a look at creating a pulse using glottal stops supported by the diaphragm. The pulse, like decoration, occurs on the beat and is useful when playing with others or for dancers in order to emphasise the rhythm and keep everyone together musically.
This is the basis of the older style of traditional flute playing in Ireland and there is much to suggest that it is also applicable to at least parts of the Scottish repertoire. Some Irish polkas are linked to Scottish marches, for example, and strathspeys also require a pronounced rhythm.
Calum Stewart uses this as part of a wide range of techniques that includes tonguing to produce a distinctive and dynamic performance.
Like Tom Oakes, who also has a broad palette of tonal colour, Calum Stewart uses the “Dirty D”, mentioned in this interview with John Skelton, which takes us right back to Packie Duignan, John McKenna and the Leitrim/ Northern Irish sound.
We tried this out by playing a low D and then overblowing to the point where it begins to break into the next octave, but doesn’t quite. Like the spluttering candle flame exercise, it requires some control, not the lack of it as it may appear. Some flutes will do this more readily than others but the exploration of these tonal boundaries on a foundation note of the flute will promote better tone and volume over the instrument as a whole.
The monthly workshops will take a break in April and return in May (tickets on sale soon). The June one will be given over to the 4th annual FluteFling weekend. Monthly workshops may continue in July if there is enough interest.
We looked at two tunes, both of which can be found in Kerr’s Merry Melodies for the Violin. Published in the 1870s, they have proved to be an enduring a source for a variety of Scottish, Irish and other tunes common at the time — including popular airs from opera. These tunes would have been an important part of the repertoire of most performing musicians when they were published.
Our tunes were the Schottische/ barndance A Winter’s Night Schottische and the strathspey Gloomy Winter. I also included a reel, Feargan and one of my own compositions, The Slipway.
Recordings of the tunes are below and can be downloaded. I encourage you to listen to them and other versions of the tunes as much as possible to help internalise them.
Update 3 March:A PDF of the tunes has now been uploaded after the server errors were been ironed out. There was some discussion about ABC music notation, an open source music notation system for traditional instruments and repertoire. An ABC version of our tunes has also been uploaded as a .TXT file that ABC apps can read. If you click on the link you should see it in your browser. Find out more about ABC notation here.
A Winter’s Night Schottische I first came across and learned as a barndance from Hammy Hamilton’s recording Moneymusk, where he duetted with a young Paul McGrattan. Hammy Hamilton is a flute player and maker from Northern Ireland, now long resident in Co. Cork. His flutes are excellent but can take some filling and he has both written a guide to the Irish flute and runs Cruinniú na bhFliúit (Flutemeet) every April (some spaces still available at time of writing). Flutemeet was one of the inspirations for our annual FluteFling Scottish flute weekends.
Flute session in Sandy Bell’s, Edinburgh, November 2016: Cathal McConnell, Sharon Creasey, Rebecca Knorr, John Crawford and Kenny Hadden. (c) Gordon Turnbull
The repertoire or Northern Ireland has many examples of Scottish links and there are a host of strathspeys, for example, that are played as Highlands or barndances. A Winter’s Night Schottische is known in Ireland as Eddie Duffy’s Barndance, Eddie Duffy being a fiddle player from County Fermanagh, honoured in the annual Derrygonnely Festival. I was reminded of this tune after the November workshop when it was played in Sandy Bell’s by Sharon Creasey and Cathal McConnell. Sharon worked with Cathal on the Hidden Fermanagh project and it was Cathal who helped to spread the music of Fermanagh into the wider world. A version of the tune appears in Kerr’s with our title.
The tune has a heavily dotted but regular rhythm, very much akin to a hornpipe and similar to a barndance. There is a fluidity to some of the definitions of these tune types but the dances for them are distinct. Using glottal stops to pulse the breath and push the beat along, there are opportunities to decorate sparsely in the main, but with some variation possible too. We focused on the phrasing to help bring out the overarching structure of the tune.
I came across Gloomy Winterin Kerr’s while looking for a companion piece for the schottische. It’s actually a strathspey setting of Robert Tannahill’s 1808 song Gloomy Winter’s Noo Awa’, but should perhaps be more accurately called Lord Balgonie’s Favourite, since that was the original tune that the words were set to. The excellent Sangstories web site has an account of the story behind it. The old tune books have many examples of song airs put to dance tunes.
There are a few settings and titles for this tune, which featured in Michael Nyman’s score for The Piano:
An attraction about the Kerr’s setting in A minor is in the challenges is presents to the flute and whistle. It doesn’t sit neatly under the fingers, drops below the range of the instruments, both holds and pulses on the weaker c’ that also requires tricky articulation. However, this can be used to bring out a sense of vulnerability in the melody, something that Dougie MacLean does with the downward inflections in the phrasing of his version of the song and served as a model for thinking about the phrasing on the flute:
And finally, here’s The Tannahill Weavers playing the song, with Phil Smillie on flute and Lorne MacDougall on whistle:
We also looked at a couple of ways of articulating C natural in particular, leading to a digression that included demonstrations of The Bibble (as played by Ruairidh Morrison and also Munro Gauld) and The Wipe (as played by Phil Smillie and Malcolm Reavell on the whistle)
While looking for final tune to go with these tunes, I came across Feargan (a pet name for Fearghus), a simple but hypnotic reel with a sense of port-a-beul about it. I can’t find much about it at all. As well as being in Kerr’s (1870s), it’s also in the Athole Collection of 1884. Something about the structure of it and the possible meaning of the name makes me think it may be a west coast or Highlands tune originally.
Feargan could go well out of Gloomy Winter as they share the same key. Consider playing it at a slower than usual pace for a reel or possibly even as a strathspey first, then as a reel.
Finally, a bonus tune that we didn’t look at is The Slipway, a kind of slip jig I wrote while playing about with rhythms. I hope you have fun with it.