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Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Fiddle Songbook

Latest addition to my repertory is "Billy in the Lowground," which I've been wanting to learn ever since I saw the Ether Frolic Mob playing it. Here are two takes:

Billy in the Lowground

by The Modesto Kid

Billy in the Lowground (alternate take)

by The Modesto Kid

Here, in no particular order, are the songs I know well enough to think of them as my repertory (excluding numerous songs like "Crawdad Hole" and "Uncle Joe, Uncle Joe" which, while I can play a pretty nice instrumental version, I think of as songs to sing. These are just the songs that I identify primarily as fiddle tunes.) Criteria for this list is, I have to know the melody by heart (after maybe a glance at the music) and be able to play it easily with improvisation over the melody and be able to cover up for myself ifwhen I make a mistake.

  • The Red-Haired Boy
  • The Sailor's Hornipe
  • The Devil's Dream
  • Bill Cheetham
  • The Halting March
  • Harvest Home
  • The Boys of Bluehill
  • The Growling Old Man and the Carping Old Woman
  • The Road to Lisdoonvarna
  • The Irish Washerwoman
  • The Swallowtail Jig
  • East Tennessee Blues
  • Billy in the Lowground
  • Soldier's Joy
  • Whiskey Before Breakfast
  • The Modesto Kid
  • Jeremy's Breakdown
  • Drowsy Maggie
  • Bonaparte's Retreate/ Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine/ Bonaparte Crossing the Rocky Mountains

Two new songs to learn, that I printed out music for today: "St. Anne's Reel" and "Ragtime Annie".

posted morning of April 29th, 2012: Respond
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Saturday, February 6th, 2010

Progress

John and I played for a couple of hours this afternoon -- it seems to me like we're getting better, more in sync with each other, a good deal faster than I expected/hoped we would. Of the songbook tunes we played, every one was just right -- sounded like I hoped it would sound in front of an audience -- except for "California Stars", which was the first song we played and sounded like we had not warmed up yet.

Two songs are ready to upgrade from "songs we're working on" to our songbook, namely "Preying Mantis" and "One of These Days"; and two songs which we played for the first time today -- "Pack up Your Sorrows," by Richard Fariña, and "On My Way Back to the Old Home," by Bill Monroe -- seemed like they could be included in the songbook straight off by virtue of how natural they were for us to play.

We played "Shady Grove" for the second time, and I was happy and excited to realize that this is the source for the melody of my song Fair Elaine -- it has been nagging at me for a couple of years now to figure out where that came from.

posted afternoon of February 6th, 2010: 1 response
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Sunday, January 31st, 2010

Étude/Song

I spent a lot of time practicing my fiddle tunes yesterday. These tunes -- generally Irish or Appalachian tunes, mostly in 4/4 time, mostly with two sections of 8 or 16 bars each -- I mostly play as a sort of étude, just getting used to playing the violin fast and clear and with a constant beat; something nice can happen when I have played a tune enough times, become familiar enough with it, that it will metamorphose from a practice tune into an actual song... when this happens it is as if I start hearing actual expressed meaning in the notes rather than just the bouncing melody. That transformation took place yesterday with the Irish song "The Boys of Blue Hill" -- suddenly that song is a part of my consciousness, not just a melody in my ear. Here are the fiddle tunes I feel familiar enough with that I think of them as songs:

  • Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine
  • Bonaparte Crossing the Rocky Mountain
  • Bonaparte's Retreat (almost -- I still don't totally understand the B section)
  • Old Joe Clark
  • The Irish Washerwoman (the odd man out -- this song is a jig, in 3/4 time)
  • The Growling Old Man and the Carping Old Woman
  • The Boys of Blue Hill
The transition from étude to song seems to have a lot to do with rhythm -- when I am playing a tune for practice I am very focussed on playing it straight, with beats falling at the correct place and durations of notes accurate, etc. When I am playing a song there is more room for syncopation and swinging.

I am thinking I should try and build a songbook of fiddle tunes, similar to what John and I are doing with our songs. (I am wanting to do recordings of some of these, hopefully before to long I will upload some mp3's.) Below the fold, a list (in no particular order) of songs I am working on, that are getting close to inclusion in the songbook.

posted morning of January 31st, 2010: 3 responses
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Sunday, January 24th, 2010

Songbook

In emails last week, John and I have been talking about how to approach our weekly rehearsals, with the thought in mind that we'd like to have a good enough sound to play some shows before too long, and make recordings. What we eventually came up with was a two-pronged approach: if we start with a small group of songs that we think of as our book, and spend some time on those songs every week trying to get them to sound really polished, then we can also spend some time each week playing new songs, songs we haven't tried and are thinking about, or songs we enjoy that occur to one of us on the spur of the moment... So that's how we did it on Saturday and it worked out pretty well. The songs we are beginning with as our book are:

  • Jockey Full of Bourbon
  • Bonaparte medley
  • Louisville Burglar
  • Man of Constant Sorrow
  • California Stars
  • Meet Me in the Morning
  • Walk Right In
  • St. James Infirmary
  • Angel From Montgomery

This is a nice mix of musical styles and of songs he sings with songs I sing. We played every one of these (except St. James I think) on Saturday, and they are in general really starting to come together. And we had time left over to fool around -- we did a couple of Dylan songs, one by George Harrison, one or two by Neil Young; also "Praying Mantis" by Don Dixon, which we've done before and which might be a candidate for the "book" list...

posted evening of January 24th, 2010: Respond

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