Music Software, Notation and Midi Files

I have been working on 2 variations of tunes from the book “The Day It Daws”. By writing out the notation from the book onto “Finale” music notation programme I can hear what it sounds like before I memorize it. The midi file also helps me to memorize the tune by converting it into an mp3 and listening to it via a player.

The 2 variations I am working on at the moment are “The Day Dawes” and “The Day it Dawes” I think both tunes are in the 1500s, but it is a bit confusing in the book to know which tune is being written about, but they are believed to be tunes played by the town pipers.

The other tune is called “Hunts Up” there are 3 variations I am trying out are “”Hunts Up”, “Honsup” and “The Scoth Huntes Suppe” there is another version I will notate also “Scottish Huntsupe”.

These 2 tunes were supposed to be played by the town pipers, the titles are mentioned in literary sources dating from the 16th centuries.

I have notated a few piping books in this way: Dixon’s, Bewick, Peacock, Over the Hills and Far Away. Also parts of the Northumbrian pipers 3rd tune book and the Charlton Memorial Tune book; as well as other music notation from various countries and sources. I put the midi files onto a CD and play them like a music CD, in time the tunes stay in the mind… aids memorization.

It has given me a good insight on how to play these tunes, also for enjoyment. It is an aid to learning passages too as some of the more difficult passages can be broken down and repeated with correct rhythm.

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"The Session" and organic environment

I heard many years ago, in Limerick/Ireland, that “a session is an organic environment”. It changes; it comes and goes, it grows and depletes in size, it has highs and lows, with acoustic dynamics.

I experienced that in the Monaive Festival last weekend. It is hard to pin point all the changes. But there are ‘rules’ to a session, unspoken (mostly) yet evident. These rules are sometimes broken, but generally every one learns the rules and those that don’t find a corner somewhere to play in, alone or with likeminded people, and a different type off session begins… where strangely enough, the same rules apply but under different leadership. Is there a leader in a session? I think there is a general leadership, someone might suggest a rule in the beginning of it, saying who goes next, or what rules are to be used e.g. “we will go in a clockwise rotation of performers”) or, in a instrumental session there is often someone who leads a few sets then is over taken by someone else… and so it continues.

We entered a session in a back room at Monaive, it was in progress with guitars, singers, whistles etc. it was relaxed, with breaks between songs/tunes. We sat on the outside of the circle and waited and listened, after 5 minutes there was time to understand ‘the rules’ and we started to play when there was a pause. It went down ok, then the main group started up again, and so it continued.

A short time later one of the new comers started to tune his drones half way through their set of melodies… the players/group stopped automatically, a pregnant pause occurred, the “rule had been broken”, politely they had stopped to let the newcomer do his thing even though they were into their set (politeness is a rule) but since the new comer was new to “the session” (it was his first festival) how was he to know the rule? No one had told him, no one corrected him (except me). He learned his mistake, seemed apologetic, then a new melody started (the same melody did not continue).

After a while some more people joined the session, pipers, like us. They hung around for a while, listened, learned the rules… and joined in. it was going good, the session had grown, had changed its acoustic dynamic, more original performers still had their inner circle but the newcomers had join and had harmonized.

Then a mass migration happened, a group of new musicians entered, they did not stand and listen, they did not feel what the rules were, they changed the session completely by moving chairs to the bottom of the room, physically moving people down there by persuasion (“it will be better down there for everyone”) the movement occurred while one of the performers was playing a melody, I saw him still playing while he was herded to the bottom of the room, I saw him moving down to the “inner sanctum” of the new “temple” of the newcomers, with themselves as the high priests dictating to the congregation, constructed by themselves. It was no longer an organic session, but a constructed session, a creation with a core of leaders.

The original session had now disbanded, some packed up and left others hung around, watched, talked… I left.

I had seen this happen once before in Newcastleton Folk Festival. Interestingly they played the same type of music too… their type…and you either played it their way or you did not play, there was no room for anything other than themselves. You joined in their session or you were not included.

No one said anything, about this break up, was it accepted as normal? Musicians tolerate… even when the noise levels increase by the “listeners” as more beer is poured down their throats, musicians, singers say nothing… sometimes there is a “shshshs” from a listener to the room, but a few seconds later the noise increases. It is not surprising the festivals are changing, few musicians are going, fewer musicians are camping at festivals… they are changing.

I think ‘the session’ is a microcosm of a society, whether it is in some ones house, or in a bar, or a festival it shows the humanity and the lack of humanity in people.

To Record or Not to Record… that is the question?

Talking to Liz (the organizer of the Newcastleton Folk Club) we discussed the pros and cons of recording the folk club session. This prompted me to write my thoughts on recording music in public, whether it is a session, concert or festival.

Personally, I do not have a problem with it. I have been recorded, videoed etc. before, some have asked permission, some have not. It is always nicer to ask, not for the permission, but to make contact with the performer. Some occasions do not permit this (concerts, festivals) others do (buskers). The microphone placed in front of someone changes the dynamic of the performance. It puts a ‘barrier’ between you and the performer and it put the performer under a certain ‘obligation’ to ‘perform, thus creating a ‘false’ situation, and it can often take away the true, honest, heartfelt performance one is after in the first place!

So what are our motives for recording at all? Most who record will probably not listen to their recordings. Some might occasionally listen to them, and some will record for a reason. Very few we imagine record to make any commercial profit from it. Most will up load a few pieces of music on to Soundcloud, or Youtube… and others might listen to it in their own homes.

So why are people not willing to be recorded, or are ‘afraid’ of being recorded? Are they afraid of the internet? Are they afraid of being ‘used’? Is the material that they are singing or playing really ‘theirs’ in the first place? When we are playing/singing a particular tradition (folk, traditional, world, ethnic) we are passing on what we have learned and loved. Why should not we pass it on to a bigger audience? If someone thinks you are good enough to be recorded and put up on the internet then is that so bad? Perhaps we give too much importance to social media, it is just a video after all… it is only a recording?

As an ethnomusicologist I have recorded in many situations, solo performers, festivals, official paid recordings, ‘secret under the table’ recordings… etc. I have recorded for years, I have always recorded music. My first experiences of Newcastleton Folk Festival in the 1980s have been recorded, and I recorded others who are now dead and gone. This is the main reason why I record as events and people pass away, and styles change and repertoire change. I find it very interesting to listen to my recordings years later; I find it very interesting to other peoples recordings, the early bagpipers of the 1900s recorded on wax cylinders for example.

Of course there are ethics to do this… but if your intension is to record your event, to capture your experiences then one should do it. So how should we do it? If I had a Folk Club I would make it known that occasionally these events will be recorded and photographed… not all the time, not to put people off… and occasionally it will be uploaded with the person’s permission… when it is ok to do so for the performer for the context of the occasion.  If this is known to all then they can choose to say “I do not want my recording publicized” and that is fine, end of story. It is cutesy to be asked but if the performance is in the public domain (pub, festival, concert) then I think it is ok to record that event, to archive it for history.

If anyone is really interested in music then who would not want to know what traditional music sounded like in 1733 or in 1843? I know I would, how would a Half-long bagpipe sound in 1733 playing the Dixon manuscript? For them it would have been normal but today, we have no idea what that tradition really sounded like? Today we have an opportunity to tell future generations what it sounded like, why loose that opportunity? You might think “the BBC and Virgin are recording it all” but that is not the point, they are not recording everything and they are not making it ‘yours’ by physically recording you are making it personal, you are a part of it all.. You are adding to a tradition, helping it, preserving it.

Bellows Piping at Newcastleton Folk Club

It is only the 2nd time I have attended the Newcastleton Folk Club, but the piping there is increasing each time, last Tuesday evening there was Irish bellows-blown pipes and 2 sets of Scottish Small pipes. I feel it is important to include the titles of the tunes as we do not often record what we play and this can be of interest to future researchers.

Each person played or sang in turn, when it was my turn I played “Frisky” and later I played a Minuet both pieces were from the Peacock manuscript, which is a manuscript written especially for the Northumbrian small pipes, dated 1800.

As my time came around again I did a duet with David (who was also playing bellows small pipes) the tune was called “Noble Squire Dacre” with 6 variations and this was followed by the Scottish version of “Buy Broom Besoms” from the manuscript “O’er the Hills and Far Away”, a compilation of tunes from the Scottish Borders.

Later I played “Green Bracken” a melody with 3 parts, and later again I played “Kelso Lasses” next to “The Wedding O’Blyth” both tunes are from the “O’er the Hills and Far Away” manuscript.

 David played pipes and sang which is something I love to hear, but I do not know the title, the Irish piper played some beautiful Airs and reels, some I knew but again I do not know the titles.

Home Recording Distrbution

I started a new page of Facebook called “Home Recording distribution”, it is a page to help artists like myself who are fed up with multinationals distributing music at inflated prices, and over loading us with their narrow choice of musical genre. 
Everything is ‘packaged’ from the CD to the recording, even the type of reverb they use on the final mix; there is nothing original they can offer. We are so used to it, to get the plastic wrapper in a plastic CD cover which is given to us in a plastic bag!
A new ‘Cottage Industry’ that once had so much promise and hope – the internet has been high jacked. To produce one’s own music and getting it ‘out there’ to the world, either for profit or for interest is not easy. Controls are everywhere. 
I listen to people/music I know, people who have spent their time and energy composing, writing, learning, producing, recording, editing, re-editing, designing their CD; so much time and effort for what? For it not to be listened too? For it to be put away while people just go to the multinationals and buy something that they have ‘heard before’. I do not think I have bought a CD from a shop in years.
I have made my own recordings for years, I sold them on the streets, I have sent them through the post….it works! I also listen to recordings I made of other people, ‘field-recordings’, ethno recordings, of local bands, people, in the UK and around the world. They have more life and originality; they have new ideas and passion than any mass-produced run-of-the-mill factory production. 
Today I listened to a Cumbrian flute player called Rob Rynn, who produced his own CD with his own money by paying studio time, and working on his own CD design etc. it is good, it is original, sometimes it is not accurate in tempo, sometimes it is like a live recording…but it is good and it is different and it stays in my mind…it is personal. I encourage people to record and upload their music to the Facebook “Home Recording Distribution” page, and try to sell your work, or interest people in it. Here is the link and logo:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Home-Recording-Distribution/117782875075397