Mullindhu: an ambiguous tune

September’s workshop looked at a version of Mullindhu, which translates as The Black Mill. A Scottish tune with Highland origins, there are a few different versions and spellings about in the main collections (Skye, Fraser and Athole are ones I regularly refer to). A reel in A Dorian, our version is slow and stately, more like a march, and was recorded by Jock Tamson’s Bairns.

Resources for this and the two other tunes we looked at (PDF, ABC and MP3 formats) have been added to the Resources Page.

Alba Low whistle in D (c) Gordon Turnbull

The story I originally heard about this melody from Edinburgh fiddler Doug Patience (now in County Clare) was that the mill in question stood on disputed land between two rival families and was burnt down by one of the sides. The composer was local and diplomatically wrote a tune that could be seen as either celebratory or in lament, depending on the point of view of the listener.

On The Session.org, a discussion on the tune quotes a story from Cape Breton Island about the Mill as a clandestine rendezvous for romance that similarly divides opinion:

Apparently, on Cape Breton Island the tune/song was not allowed to be played in certain parts because it was so closely associated with the MacDougalls of Margaree, who apparently were extremely touchy about hearing it played within their earshot! It appears that one line of a stanza of the puirt a beul set to the melody goes “Tha nead circe fraoiche ‘s a’ mhuilean dubh.” (In the black mill is the heather-hen’s nest). The offense to the Margaree MacDougalls was due to a joke that was told about hens at the expense of the clan, and they were so sensitive to any reference to the joke that they could not tolerate mention of poultry of any kind, and took the playing of the tune to be a veiled insult against the clan.

More on the tune background and stories can be found at the Fiddler’s Companion, including one story that includes devilish dealings.

I was pleasantly surprised that a bit of playing about with the tune reveals it to be a version of The Oyster Wives’ Rant, a reel I have known for many years but not often played. We also had a look at this in the workshop. The Fiddler’s Companion informs us that the earliest printed version is in Bremner’s Collection of 1775 and that it is part of a family of tunes and variants from Scotland to England and Ireland — so our Mullin Dhu connection is no surprise.

In searching about for a possible companion piece, I came across the distinctively titled An Oidhche Bha Na Gabhair Againn (The Night We Had the Goats) in the Athole Collection, a book which handily orders the tunes by key. This is in the relatively rare G major and I have adapted it slightly to my playing style. We didn’t have time to look at it properly, but it bounces nicely off the Ds and Gs and lends itself to short sharp spiky rolls. Interestingly, it resolves on to A, which lends it a whistful, inconclusive feel to my ears.

While it is described as a pipe tune, and printed versions may go back to 1795, the origins may be in puirt-à-beul. The odd title might be explained by another translation, The Night the Goats Came Home.

Here’s a version played a few years ago by then 17 year olds Hannah Stockley and Brad Murphy at the Gaelic Society in Sydney, Cape Breton.

After the workshop, myself and Malcolm Reavell rounded off the day by walking along to the Dalriada in Joppa and joined in the regular Saturday afternoon session for a couple of hours. Thanks to Sean Paul Newman (guitar) and Robert Chalmers (concertina) for their hospitality.

Reminder: FluteFling workshops take a break in October, but goes on the road in November with a big Aberdeen weekend featuring tutors Davy Maguire, Sharon Creasey, with a concert and sessions. And to keep the momentum going, regular Edinburgh workshops resume in November and December.

FluteFling Autumn Workshops 2017

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)
  • October: no workshop
  • Friday-Sunday  02-05 Nov FluteFling 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

FluteFling Summer news roundup

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.

FluteFling Traditional Flute Concert 16 June 2017

FluteFling Traditional Flute Concert 2017

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.

The concert on 16 June kicks off the 4th FluteFling Scottish Flute Weekend in Edinburgh and is in aid of Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH).

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.

Confirmed so far:

Venue and tickets

The FluteFling Traditional Flute Concert 2017 will take place at

City of Edinburgh Methodist Church
25 Nicolson Square, Edinburgh EH8 9BX
7.30 – 9.30 pm (doors open 7pm)
16 June 2017

Tickets £10/ £8 (concessions) online in advance* OR £12/ £10 (concessions) on the door. Online discount available with a workshop ticket bought in advance

Buy tickets from Brown Paper Tickets http://fluteflingconcertjune2017.bpt.me/
24 hour tickets hotline: 0800 4118881

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.

SAMH

SAMH logoProceeds 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.

March workshop roundup: A look at John McKenna and the North Connaught flute style

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, from Musical Traditions web siteJohn 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.

From County Leitrim, his style energetic with a strong pulse, which typifies the Sligo-Leitrim-Roscommon style. I have written more about different styles on The Flow website. Do also check out Josie McDermott, Catherine McEvoy (lots of other interviews on Brad Hurley’s excellent site) and John Wynne. I also mentioned Conal O Grada (here is the introduction to The Raw Bar Collective) I encourage everyone to use these links as a springboard for further exploring — YouTube has a wealth of footage, many from archives.

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.

Repertoire

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.

Technique

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.

Forthcoming dates

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.