Tunes, lyrics, Hogg and Burns: a late January update

The January workshop couldn’t have taken place without a nod to Robert Burns and it turned out that much of the music we covered had lyrics or associations with words.

Gordon demonstrates how to engage the diaphragm while playing the flute. Photo (c) Oonagh O’Brien

We also tried out some different flutes and whistles and explored learning to use the diaphragm.

When playing while lying down, the diaphragm has to be engaged. The sensation is then recreated when resuming a vertical position in order to better support the breath.

Other technique covered included rolls, cuts and strikes and longer phrasing.

Leaving Lismore

We began with Leaving Lismore as a slower piece to warm up. A retreat march in D by Mrs. Martin Hardie (of which nothing seems to be known), there is a harmony for fiddle by Christine Martin from Breakish, Isle of Skye that I have adapted for flutes and whistle. There are some good opportunities for simple decoration and space to concentrate on tone and breath support.

Once we had the slow waltz feel down, we tried introducing the harmonies to good effect, with the whistles adding to the range of sound. While I have taught this tune before, it was new to the group and is one of a few pieces that might be suitable for working on as an ensemble.

Kye Comes Hame

A strathspey I have never heard others play but is undoubtedly related to When the Kye Comes Hame, a song written with James Hogg (“The Ettrick Shepherd”) and first published in 1822 in his novel The Three Perils of Man. There’s a good historical overview of the song at the National Library of Scotland web site which suggests that the tune may have already been well known.

I learned my version many years ago via Kerr’s Merrie Melodies and I think it was the lyricism of the tune that appealed to me at the time, although I was unaware of the song at that point. Being aware of the lyrics can often help with phrasing and is often recommended for slow airs that derive from songs. However, without the words, the opportunity opens to emphasise the rhythm and bounce of the tune.

In D, this tune goes well with Leaving Lismore.

Here are the Tannahill Weavers with their version of the song:

Green Grow the Rashes

Green Grow the Rashes O is a poem of 1787 by Robert Burns with a very long and detailed history. Some information here from the Scottish Country Dancing perspective and also some lyrics analysis from this website, which says there were three other pre-existing versions that Burns took as inspiration.

However the Traditional Tune Archive has more on the melody that can be traced back to 17th Century lute collections and became known in a different format as Grant’s Rant. As the Grants were traditionally in the Rothiemurcus area, this might suggest it is from the heart of strathspey country.

I had thought that the version we learned is based on one from Donegal, but listening back to my sources which have some of the Scotch snaps shaved off, I think that other influences may have overridden it. Our version is more like a Highland or west coast strathspey, in its bounce and punch and certainly not at all like Dougie McLean’s wistful version of the song, which shows how versatile a melody it is.

Our version is in G and sits on flutes and whistles nicely, with opportunities for typically Scottish short rolls on the G in particular. This tune goes well after Kye Comes Hame.

Flutes at this afternoon’s workshop. @tribeporty

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Och Is Duine Truagh Mi

While looking through some teaching material that Rebecca Knorr gave to me a few years ago, I came across the west coast pipe reel/ port a beul Och Is Duine Truagh Mi (Alas I am a forlorn man). It’s a lovely tune that was recorded by the influential Ossian a good few years back, with Iain McDonald on pipes, flute and whistles.

Rebecca’s version is in G to sit on the whistle more readily, which is how we did it, but I also provided music and a recording of it in A, which is how it would normally be played. The version in G features long G rolls and follows nicely out of Green Grow the Rashes, keeping the key but changing the rhythm.

It’s a really useful skill to know a tune in more than one key, particularly if you know it well. It’s like seeing someone in different clothes in that it brings out different parts of the personality. However, it also builds up technical skills in terms of fingering and anticipation. Neither the A version nor the G version are particularly difficult on flute or whistle, but if you try it out you will have to think of different fingering and phrasing transitions which is useful.

Niall Kenny on The Session says he got this from Allan McDonald (Iain’s brother, who with Dr Angus McDonald make up the three piping brothers of Glenuig ) and that it may originally hail from Scalpay.

There are some lyrics to the reel and I have found a couple of intriguing versions, one with pipe variations. This first one has a slightly different title, but features whistles as well as pipes played by Seoanaidh MacIntyre with Ross B. Wilson on keyboards. There are two variations on each part, effectively making it a six part tune. The video includes the sheet music:

The second version is by fiddle and harp duo Jenna Moynihan & Mairi Chaimbeul:

Dhomhnuill a Dhomhnuill

Dhomhnuill a Dhomhnuill is a piece of mouth music (port a beul) from the isle of Skye that I learned from Gaelic singer Michel Byrne. This was part of the repertoire for The Big Squeeze Ceilidh Band for many years when we both played in it together. We didn’t spend much time with it, but it would go well after Och Is Duine Truagh Mi in either key. I taught this reel a couple of years ago and at the time wrote about it here.

February workshop

The next workshop will take place on Saturday 24th February and will be taken by Sharon Creasey. It’s a rare chance to spend some time with Sharon, who plays Boehm system flute as well as whistle.

Scotch Mary and Peter Pan

A danger of running an event on the third weekend of the month is that eventually you get to December and meet Christmas head-on. When that happens, it’s hard to know what to expect. So when Kenny Hadden said he would come down that weekend, I jumped at the chance to get him to also do some teaching alongside me and it became something bigger than usual.

Flutes at The Dalriada: (l-r) John Corbett, Malcolm Reavell, Sean Paul Newman, Kenny Hadden, John Crawford. (c) Gordon Turnbull

John Crawford and Malcolm Reavell were also there, also from Aberdeen, and we went for a flutey session afterwards at The Dalriada with Sean Paul Newman welcoming as usual and providing accompaniment. Later that evening Sharon Creasey came along with Cathal McConnell  to play at The Captain’s Bar. All in all a bit of a mini flute festival.

Sharon Creasey and Cathal McConnell at The Captain’s Bar, Edinburgh

The workshop began with a slow tune to warm up: Caol Muile (The Sound of Mull), the air to a Gaelic song (Youtube link to a version sung at Plockton School). I have a version with some harmony parts and added another myself, so we had some fun trying them out. Grace notes and breathing came up as we added expression.

I followed this up with a reel that seems to be from Donegal and presented problems in pinning down a definitive version. We had one for the day and Kenny and I also had some variations. Scotch Mary can be found in various collections and with various titles. Irish Molly is one, Ireland Green is a title given by PJ Hayes and Martin Hayes too. Flute players John Skelton and Kieran O’Hare recorded it on whistles on their great CD Double Barrelled (link has a clip of the music).

The tune actually exists in three main versions, as two parts: A+B, B+C or three parts: A+B+C. To confuse things, the A and C parts are similar, there are different changes in other versions and key shifts too. The version I taught includes elements of these. Here’s a closely related Donegal version on Youtube played by Paddy, Seamus and Kevin Glackin. It’s the second tune in the set.

Kenny Hadden with others walking and feeling the rhythm while playing at the December FluteFling workshop.

Kenny took over after the break and kept the festive theme by teaching and sharing some tunes by Johnny Cunningham that were originally for a musical theatre performance on Peter Pan. Johnny and brother Phil studied at local Portobello High School so it was doubly apt for the location.

The first tune, Two is the Beginning of the End, not only had a strange title, but was in an enigmatic scale that served as a useful warm-up piece to get the ears tuned in. As it has actually been a good while since I found myself learning a tune by ear in a workshop, it was good to have the tables turned and be reminded of the experience.

The second tune Kenny introduced was more traditional, but recorded by Johnny Cunningham. The Celtic Society’s Quickstep (music and background can be round at the Traditional Tune Archive) is a dance tune first published in Kerr’s Merrie Melodies of the 1880s, but in existence since at least 1820. A delightful tune with some interesting jumps and straightforward runs that can be played with some bounce. It doesn’t seem to be played very much and could benefit from more exposure.

Resources for the tunes are to be found on the resources page for 2017. Two is the Beginning of the End doesn’t feature for copyright reasons, but those who attended will have something to work with. I will add The Celtic Society’s Quickstep very shortly.

Here’s Johnny’s version of The Celtic Society’s Quickstep, as recorded on Fair Warning:

Kenny has a YouTube channel with some rare archive video and TV footage, particularly of music from Scotland, that is worth exploring.

Finally, a wee plug for the Scottish Flute channel on YouTube, which has evolved out of the FluteFling workshops and sessions. Set up and run by volunteers and supporters in the Aberdeen area, there is some footage from the Aberdeen weekend in November and more can expected both from the archive and as more events occur.


Workshop dates Winter 2018

FluteFling trad flute and whistle workshops will continue with dates now fixed for January to March 2018. Tickets are not yet on sale, but will include discounts for multiple workshops.

The workshops are usually on the third Saturday of each month*:

  • Saturday 20th January 1-4pm
  • Saturday 24th February 1-4pm*
  • Saturday 17th March 1-4pm

(*Update: The February workshop is now on the 4th Saturday of the month)

The team are meeting after the December 16 workshop (still some spaces!) to decide on dates for the next Edinburgh Scottish Flute Weekend. After the success of last month’s Aberdeen event, there will be another one in November 2018.

Into the slip jigs

Bog cotton on Owenreagh Hill - - 201316

Davy Maguire included the slip jig Na Ceannabháin Bhána in his concert set in Aberdeen and this became the inspiration for looking at this and other slip jigs at the FluteFling November workshop.

Recordings and sheet music for the workshop can be found on the Resources page. This includes music in ABC notation. For more information on this, see the ABC Notation web site.

Na Ceannabháin Bhána

Na Ceannabháin Bhána (roughly, “na kan-a-van won-ya”) is in G (“The people’s key!” – Davy Maguire) and so fits nicely onto the flute. The title translates as The Bog Cotton, but is often erroneously referred to as The Fair Young Cannavanssee a discussion on The Session. As with many slip jigs there are words associated with the melody and these are to be found in that link as well.

We looked at ways of varying the breath, tonguing issues, use of diaphragm, glottal stops, vibrato (or not), flattement (or “ghost trills” as I call them) and simple decoration on the beat, accompanied by a little more air to help accentuate the rhythm.

I mentioned the Irish band Cran and here is their version of the song alongside other slip jigs:

A Fig for a Kiss

A Fig for a Kiss is a fairly well-known tune that can be found in many collections but the version I play has come out of playing it with Absolutely Legless Irish Dancers for many years. I first heard it on a cassette of music by Leeds fiddler and box player Des Hurley. It has evolved to be a little different, but the two versions can be played alongside each other with no significant issue. To compare, again see The Session.

Another flute-friendly tune, it lends itself to variations, particularly in the first part and these were demonstrated in the workshop. Some of these were melodic, but others were rhythmic and produced by varying the breath — punchy and staccato one time round, subtle and legato another.

It needn’t take very much to explore and bring out interest in a melody. Playing a tune many many times over was also a theme and something that Davy mentioned in Aberdeen. Let’s drop the play it twice and move on thinking and instead do the music some service. Three times is good, but why not four times or even five or six? It builds up the rhythm, lets you explore the tune and others then get a chance to pick it up.

Slip jig variants

We had a digression in which I talked about and demonstrated 9/8 slip jigs, which of course feature in the Scottish tradition, hop jigs and other variants, such as Barney Brallaghan. Also there was a look at 3/2 hornpipes, common in the Scottish Borders and Northumbrian traditions (and occurring elsewhere in England), as are 9/8 tunes. Malcolm and I duetted on Aly Anderson’s Dog Leap Stairs and I played Go to Berwick, Johnny (3/2) and The Berwick Jockey (9/8) side by side for comparison.

The 3/2 hornpipe is clearly an old form, which Händel famously used for the Alla Hornpipe in his Water Music of 1717.

James Byrnes’ Slip Jig

In the sessions I tend to play at, (Monday nights, Sandy Bells — less often recently due to work; Captain’s Bar, third Saturday of the month), Donegal and Scottish influences feature and we tend to follow A Fig for a Kiss with James Byrnes’ Slip Jig.

We didn’t have time to look at this, but I demonstrated a breathing variation in the second part, which emerged out of playing in sessions (we occasionally go under the name of Cauldstane Slap; Facebook page here). Here again, a relatively simple melodic part can be enhanced through breathing — in this case leaping octaves to create a counter rhythm. I have included this in the resources and then remembered that The Mooncoin Jig features something similar in the last part and may have been part of the inspiration.

December workshop

Next month’s workshop will take place on Saturday 16 December and there are plans for Kenny Hadden to come from Aberdeen to co-teach. We may make the Dalriada session afterwards (ends at 6) and then the Captain’s Bar in the evening and you are welcome to join us.

If you made the November workshop, you should have a discount code for the next one. If not, please get in touch. I am currently looking at dates for January-March 2018 and will announce these first in the FluteFling Newsletter.

Autumn news roundup

It may be the Edinburgh Fiddle Festival this weekend, but there is also something for flute and whistle players as Saturday 18th November sees an afternoon workshop at Tribe Porty in Portobello 1-4pm.

Davy and Alice in Ma Cameron’s, Aberdeen, November 2017

Inspired by Davy Maguire’s performance at the FluteFling Aberdeen Weekend earlier in the month, the focus will be on Irish slip jigs, breathing and phrasing.

So if you fancy a break from the strings for a few hours and maybe a stroll by the sea, this could be for you. More details are on the Workshops page. There are still spaces left, so you can let me know if you plan to come but online booking has closed.

I’ll be writing up the FluteFling Aberdeen Weekend very soon, but there was a great turnout and thanks to everyone involved who helped make it so memorable. We will certainly be doing it again and are already beginning to think about the Edinburgh one in 2018.

Saturday 16th Dec will be a jointly taught workshop by Kenny Hadden and myself. Kenny teaches regularly in Aberdeen and while we collaborate on the FluteFling Weekends together with Sharon Creasey, we rarely teach together, so this will be one not to be missed.

Sharon Creasey and Kenny Hadden leading the set #fluteflingaberdeen

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