Thursday, July 11, 2019

Postcards From the Crater at Bandcamp

If you look back at some blogposts in the Fall of 2016 you will find me sharing pieces of what became my Postcards From the Crater sheet music book. Along with the sheet music I included some hastily recorded, low quality mp3 recordings. I have long intended to do proper, CD quality, recordings of the Postcards and, this past spring, I finally got around to it.

In fact, I recorded them all twice. After I did the first round I decided I didn't like the new recordings well enough so I did them all a second time. This last time I used a recent Collings MTO mandolin equipped with Thomastik strings and I'm quite pleased with the results.

If you are interested you can click on the Bandcamp player embedded above and stream the whole thing for free. There's also a page on my Mandotopia site with more info about the project and links to ordering the sheet music.

I resisted the urge to write long, flowery descriptions and post photos of all of the beautiful places referenced in these pieces. If you are familiar with Decorah no introductions are necessary. If you have never visited Dunning's Spring or the Dug Road you can probably find photos of most of these spots by searching online for those terms; or Ice Cave Road or the Decorah Prairie, etc.

It's a lovely place where we live and well worth a visit sometime.

I hope you check out these new recordings of the Postcards and enjoy them.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Robert Owen's Quickstep

Robert Owen's Quickstep (mp3) (pdf)

This tune was mostly written on May 14, the birthday of Robert Owen (1771-1858), who, among other things, is remembered for financing and engineering the creation of the memorable utopian communal experiment at New Harmony, Indiana in the 1820s. I have long been inspired by the history and physical beauty of New Harmony and I hope to visit there again soon.

The tune itself, while quickly written, has been repeatedly revised during the last few weeks. I think it is a little improved over the original but at some point things get a little blurry and it's time to stop.

On a technical note, this is the first tune appearing in this blog that has been recorded using the Izotope Spire Studio device that I recently purchased. It's a fun gizmo and I'm enjoying playing around with it. In this instance I used a nice condenser mic of my own rather than the built in Spire mic and I did some final tweaking using Audacity but, overall, the Spire was very easy to work with.

I hope you enjoy the result.

Monday, June 10, 2019


Matildaville (mp3) (pdf)

This winter's brief travels with Contratopia yielded some fun tunes. I've already shared The Blue Basket that came from our trip to Bozeman in January. Today I'm presenting a stripped-down, solo mandolin version of Matildaville, from our visit to Great Falls National Park on the Potomac in March.

There is a nice blog article that goes into the checkered history of the Matildaville site in some detail. When we visited in March it was a lovely, early spring day; not too crowded, just right for some tired musicians to stretch their legs.

Hope you enjoy the tune!

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Land of Living Skies

Land of Living Skies (pdf score) (parts available on request)

Back on May 20th the wonderful Regina Mandolin Orchestra (Saskatchewan) gave their first performance of a piece they commissioned from me last November at the Classical Mandolin Society of America's annual convention in Santa Rosa, CA. The RMO is celebrating their 30th anniversary in 2019 and I was honored to be chosen to write them a celebratory piece.

Saskatchewan is known as the Land of Living Skies and I was asked to use that as a title. It was understood that I would not be attempting to paint pictures in sound (not my strong suite) but the title was inspirational anyway. I especially had fun writing for this ensemble because they regularly include some violins and flutes along with the standard plucked string orchestra instrumentation. They also often perform with a fine percussionist.

I've never actually written a notated part for percussion before so I told the RMO Music Director, Natalia Osypenko, that she should feel free to arrange whatever percussion might work with the piece. I take no credit for the cool stuff that is going on in the percussion section.

While not trying to paint the living skies I did find myself being reminded of a couple of my favorite musicians, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, as the piece unfolded. Both Joni and Neil spent significant time in their youth on the Canadian prairie, in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, respectively. There is one section in the piece where I intended to invoke a bit of Neil's work with Buffalo Springfield and there are a couple of places that remind me of Joni's early songs as well. Pale imitations at best but they still work well in the piece.

I truly enjoyed writing this piece and working with Natalia and the great folks in Regina. I'm so pleased that they seem to enjoy the music and they intend to perform it a few more times during their anniversary year. Hopefully you will enjoy it too!

Friday, May 17, 2019

Dug Road Rag

Dug Road Rag (mp3) (pdf)

A little over a month ago (around April 10th according to the image above) I was enjoying playing some ragtime tunes from the excellent book Ragtime for Fiddle & Mandolin by Stephen C. Parker, edited by Alan Davis. After playing a number of tunes from the book I found myself playing a "new" tune that is clearly an imitation of the work of the masters of the ragtime era. Some bits of it are borrowed from those masters but a few of the phrases are mine.

The image above from my notebook shows how the tune began and the pdf of the resulting sheet music shows where it ended up. (I almost always write music with a pen, partly because I change my mind a lot. If I use a pencil and then erase things as I go along I find that, later, I wish for the ideas that I erased.)

The recording is a no frills statement of the melody on the mandolin without accompaniment.

The Dug Road in Decorah was once an actual road but today is one of the most beautiful parts of the Trout Run Trail.

Hope you enjoy the tune!

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Two for Texas, pt. 2 (live from CMSA Santa Rosa, November 17, 2018)

Two for Texas, pt. 2 (mp3) (pdf score)

Last month I posted an audio recording of a performance from the Saturday Open Mic session of the 2018 Classical Mandolin Society of America convention in Santa Rosa, CA. This month we have video evidence featuring a chamber group of plucked string instruments (including me in a ball cap playing a very fine Collings MT-O mandolin), augmented by a trio of recorders, from the same lunchtime session. I'm also including links to an mp3 recording of the performance and a pdf of the score.

I was greatly honored to have so many of my CMSA friends (plus a couple of folks I didn't know before this who were doing this for their friends) spend the time to work on the music in advance of our only rehearsal. That rehearsal had occurred around 11:00 the night before. Despite our lack of practice together I think you will find very few mistakes if you follow the score.

Two for Texas was commissioned in 2012 by the Dutch mandolin orchestra ONI (led by Cor Roozendaal) and the Rio Brazos Recorder Trio. This came following a big fun weekend in May of 2010 traveling around the Dallas-Fort Worth area with ONI+ and the Rio Brazos trio. I had this opportunity thanks to Alice Derbyshire, Alberdina Markus-Gronefeld and Cor Roozendaal. ONI+ was playing my Louisville Suite on this tour and thought it would be fun to meet me. We all had a terrific time. 

The performance here, by a stellar group of CMSA convention attendees recruited and organized by Alice Derbyshire, was the North American premiere of the piece. We only played the second part of the piece, due to time constraints.

I've written a few pieces for recorders over the years but this was the first time I was ever asked to write for mandolin orchestra and recorder trio. I had a lot of fun adding a "horn section" to the plucked string ensemble sound. 

Special thanks to Sue Weber for agreeing to conduct this group and for doing such a fine job, with minimal rehearsal, of pulling us together. Thanks also to Authentic Audio & Sound and especially to Michael Tognetti for capturing the moment and preparing this video.

The enthusiastic applause at the end was very gratifying and is indicative of the spirit that prevails throughout the CMSA conventions, especially during the Open Mic sessions.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

What Hears Follows (2019 solo version)

What Hears Follows (2019 solo version) (mp3) (pdf)

Today's piece, recorded this morning, began with the title May 30, 2007. Sometime before the publication of my Midwestern Mandolin Duos book in 2010 I added a second part and called it "What Hears Follows."

I have played around with extracting a newer solo version from the duo more than once since 2010 but, recently, I settled on this version. There are some new notes but the piece is more or less the same as the original from May of 2007.

It's a comfortable piece to play on the mandolin and, if you choose, can be a good exercise in playing in the second position with brief movements up to third position.

I performed the duo version of this piece at least once at Luther College years ago with the brilliant flutist Carol Hester. I also performed the piece at the 2012 Classical Mandolin Society of America's annual convention in Minneapolis. This performance was part of a short set with Robert Margo, my partner in the Duo Oswald. You can find an mp3 of this performance on this page by scrolling down to Thursday Night Open Mic in the right hand column.

The title What Hears Follows is another phrase borrowed from the poetry of Wendell Berry. It appears in a poem titled "The Strait" from his 1982 collection The Wheel. The hummingbird figures in this poem as well.

I hope you enjoy this little piece. It's a lovely spring day here in Decorah.
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