FluteFling goes on the road this November as traditional flute playing in Scotland focuses on Aberdeen. Following 4 years in Edinburgh, the successful format of weekend workshops, concert and informal sessions over 3-5 November will give you and your music a boost ahead of the winter months. Come and join us on the excursion to the first FluteFling Aberdeen Weekend and be part of the traditional flute revival in Scotland!
The weekend’s tutors will be Davy Maguire from Belfast and Sharon Creasey from Dumbarton. Davy has a wealth of music from Ireland, including the northern tunes that cross over into Scotland and music from the distinctive Breton tradition.
Davy is in great demand as a teacher, from Belfast to Brittany and Italy — he will arrive immediately after teaching and playing in Brittany — while Sharon is one of the foremost exponents of traditional music on the Boehm flute in Scotland and returns with her Fermanagh, Irish and Scottish repertoire. Regardless of the type of flute you play, you will be in excellent hands.
A concert on the Saturday evening will be headlined by Davy Maguire with support from many others including Kenny Hadden, Sharon Creasey, Malcolm Reavell and Gordon Turnbull. And there will be plenty more music too with sessions on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday — a great opportunity to let your hair down and catch up with everyone. We hope to see you there.
Tickets for the weekend and the concert will go on sale in the next day or two. The event’s web page has further details, including links to tickets.
Davy Maguire has taught with Belfast Trad since its inception and teaches and performs regularly both in Ireland and abroad with various groups and as a solo performer. A frequent visitor to Brittany, Davy has toured and played at the Festival Interceltic de Lorient and the Festival de Cornouaille in Quimper with several different line-ups, including Dealán Dartha and Commonalty as well as in duo with Jamie McMenemy. In Ireland he has been adjudicator for several county Fleadhanna Cheoil and has recorded a CD of music for traditional set dancing along with the cream of Northern musicians.
As a taster, here he is (extreme right hand side) with Harry Bradley, Michael Clarkson, Tara Diamond and Brendan O’Hare at the Gradam Ceoil Irish Traditional Musician of the Year Award 2014:
The FluteFling January workshop explored some of the issues around decoration, looking at cuts and strikes, their combining into rolls and the construction of crans. Techniques for finger decoration are the same on flutes and whistles alike.
We focused on Irish music as this generally lends itself to decoration more readily than the Scottish repertoire, there are more examples and anything gleaned can then be applied to a Scottish context.
A method for cuts, strikes and rolls
We began by familiarising ourselves with Breton flute player Sylvain Barou and his method for practicing cuts, strikes and rolls that he demonstrated at a flute weekend at Wiston Lodge a good few years back now. While this isn’t a hard and fast rule (more on that below), this serves as a useful foundation and hopefully allows people to experiment with confidence.
The method is based on scales, applying initially a single cut to each note of the scale as it is played. A cut is a very quick decoration from above, played by momentarily raising a single finger to sound the decorating note; other fingers remain in position, so making the note imperfect. This is because the point is a quick interruption of the note being decorated, not to play a separate note.
The best way to work with these is to think of them as finger actions or movements. For the bottom hand notes, cut using the G finger (sounding a notional A); for upper hand notes, cut using the B finger (sounding a notional C).
A parallel exercise is to try this with strikes as grace notes. A single grace note, the finger below the played note is struck, or bounced quickly to sound the note below. A strikes is also referred to as a tap, pat or bounce. Of course you can’t do this on D, although it could be possible if using keys, however I have never seen it done.
Rolls consist of a cut followed by a strike, so the next exercise is to combine these elements following the methods already explored. By doing so, a five note combination is created. For example, with grace notes in brackets, a roll on A would become:
A roll on D or d is not possible, but a cran is. Borrowed from uilleann piping, the cran consists of three cuts from above. There is more than one way of playing these:
D-(A)-D-(F#)-D-(G)-D (my version, also June McCormack)
We looked at working in the lower register, but of course you can try this out using the full scale and octave jumps too. Arpeggios and other note combinations are possible ways of extending and building upon these exercises. When working on these, try them slowly at first and then build up speed as your fingers get used to the actions.
When learning tunes, consider applying cuts as grace notes as a way of building up to rolls. You can add the strikes at a later point.
Rolls and decoration should be used as appropriate. It’s a matter of taste and it is also possible to lose the tune or timing in a flurry of notes. Micho Russell, Conal O Grada and Harry Bradley (see below) are examples of flute players who don’t use very much decoration or if so, simpler decoration.
Taste too, dictates which notes are used to perform these decorations. I learned with a note above and a note below, for example. However a greater contrast (and thereby definition) can be found using high cuts and low strikes. Most people will use a variety.
Double cut, casadh, condensed rolls, shortened condensed rolls, shortened crans and others are all variations on these techniques and worthy of some time in forthcoming workshops.
You probably also need to check out Roger Millington’s excellent Brother Steve’s Tin Whistle Pages, in particular the “dah-blah-blah” method. Be sure to explore the site, including the recordings of various recitals and sessions.
I suggested that the Irish repertoire is a better place to pick up many of the rudiments than Scottish music. Flutes have a friend in the uillean pipes and share a common decoration language. Of course such spaces do exist in Scottish music, but they are less abundant.
The tunes we explored are below. A PDF of the written music is here:
I find that this is a good tune for getting the fingers going. There are a few ways of playing it, but at some point you will play ascending rolls. It’s the middle tune here:
Rolls – the long, short and middle of it
As promised, here is a link to Niall Keegan’s paper on The Parameters of Style in Irish Music, which has a particular lean towards flutes. Published in Inbhear, The Journal of Irish Music and Dance, it’s a long read with plenty of clips of Niall illustrating the points he makes.
As emerged at the workshop, there is more than one way of playing and writing out rolls and part of it is to do with their duration: are they long or short? If so, where does the emphasis lie? For my money, a long roll tends to have a lead-in or lead-out note, which a short roll does not. I suspect that short rolls may feature more than long rolls in the Scottish repertoire.
If you really wish to explore this further in reading, parts of Gray Larson’s book can be found in this link.
An old new jig: Jane Craggs
The second tune we learned was one of my own, named for a friend on her birthday in 1987 and so 30 years old this year as was pointed out. I had included the jig for reference but somehow it caught people’s interest. It was picked up by a few people, including Tom McKean of the American band Dun Creagan:
When I play the tune today I tend to use rolls on the long B and F# notes but initially didn’t do so very much as they were still a challenge, especially on the flute due to hand positions. So feel free to play them either way. The high B jump also presents a little technical challenge.
I have included music and recordings for two Irish jigs, The Legacy and Sonny Brogan’s, and The Green Mountain, an Irish reel I learned from Skye-based uillean piper Duncan MacInnes.
Other resources and inspiration
We mentioned a few interesting people. I have included links, but it is worth googling them to find out so much more:
FluteFling returns to Edinburgh this Autumn with a series of three workshops on traditional flute and whistle playing led by Gordon Turnbull. The afternoon workshops will take place at Tribe Porty in Portobello and evolve out of both the successful regular fortnightly classes that had previously taken place up to 2015 and the popular ongoing all-day annual Scottish Flute Day events that will return in 2017.
The workshops will take place on:
Saturday 8 October
Saturday 19 November
Saturday 17 December
There will continue to be a relaxed, supportive and informal style to the teaching, which will not only help develop repertoire from Scotland, Ireland and beyond, but also focus on aspects of technique. As before, the workshops are open to adults already playing whistle, low whistle or wooden flute in D as well as metal classical flutes (Boehm sytem).
Musicians returning to the instrument after a break are most welcome, but the workshops are unfortunately not suitable for complete beginners at this stage.
You can find out more about the workshops on the dedicated page of the reorganised web site, including online booking details.
I hope to be able to accommodate beginners in the near future; if interested, please get in touch and also sign up to the FluteFling Newsletter
Classes for traditional flute and whistle in Portobello, Edinburgh are set to return this Autumn but details are currently on hold until September.
I am looking into options for resuming flute and whistle classes in Portobello, Edinburgh this coming Autumn but this continues to be tricky due to personal circumstances, albeit different ones from the past year. I expect this to become clearer over the coming few weeks so will have more news in September.
Regular group sessions
I am currently considering monthly Saturday workshops or fortnightly evening classes (as before) and while I have a venue in mind, will need to confirm this.
Unfortunately I am unable to offer individual tuition at this stage. This is purely due to time.
This week we consolidated the two tunes that Amble Skuse taught the class while I was away. She focused on examples that are built on the pentatonic scale, illustrating with the Shetland reel Spootiskerry and the march/ rant/ polka Salmon Tails Up the Water.
Spootiskerry is so well known that it is easy to forget that it is a modern tune, written by Ian Burns from Shetland and named after his farm. A skerry is a shoal of jaggy rocks usually found offshore protruding out of the water (from the Old Norse language and also found in Gaelic), while a spoot is a razor shell, which can be found and harvested on beaches.
The reel fits the flute and whistle very readiily and has some syncopated phrases that are quite distinctive. My version is a little different from Amble’s, and it may be one that I have developed in order to emphasise that rhythmic play. However, the version that I have recorded is Amble’s.
Amble’s other tune, Salmon Tails Up The Water, I am less familiar with to play, but I have been aware of it for many years and should have known it. It is one of at least two tunes going by this title and this version is also known as The Banks of Inverness. I have seen it in Scottish collections, (but possibly the other tune with this title) and it feels to me like a march, but I see online it is claimed by Northumberian pipers as a rant, written in the 18thC by piper Jimmy Allen, who sounds like a colourful character.
There is once more some decent discussion on The Session, where it has also been associated with Irish singer and mandolinist Andy Irvine, once of the influential Planxty. It seems that the tune may be part of The Siege of Ennis set of Irish ceili tunes, probably as a polka. Good tunes tend to stick around and gain acceptance in other traditions.
We consolidated the tune and explored a couple of settings of it, one as taught by Amble, the other published by Nigel Gatherer in one of his many fine tune books. I have recorded and provided music for both of these, as well as music for Spootiskerry, on the Resources page for this year. Thanks are due to Amble for teaching these fine tunes and to Sarah and Adelheid for joining me on the recording.
Photo: Salmon Jumping by Karen Miller, some rights reserved.