Wednesday, December 19, 2007

G for Gordy

G for Gordy (mp3) (pdf)

The annual Burning Bright holiday concert occurred last Saturday at the Decorah United Methodist Church. Two performances of lovely and unusual seasonal music were presented by a wonderfully talented cast of local musicians under the direction of Kathy Reed-Maxfield and Otter Dreaming. Erik Sessions and I are usually invited to perform a set of tunes and this year we played a medley of two tunes that have appeared in this blog, Harvest Stomp and Raccoon in the Bird Feeder.

During the 2006 Burning Bright concert Erik and I, along with our friend Beth Rotto on piano, played a new waltz of mine that I titled "G for Gordy." The recording here is from that concert. Both the tune and the performance are dedicated to the memory of our friend Gordy MacMasters who passed away in 2006. I won't pretend to give Gordy his due here but there wasn't a nicer guy in the world and I suspect that no one has ever played the saw with more emotion than he did. The tune's title comes from Gordy's habit of calling out the key of a tune. "C for Charlie" he'd say with that big smile.

This entry will be the last one for 2007 and I plan on taking a few weeks off before starting to post in 2008. More tunes to come...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Jigs, pt. 1

Donaldson's Woods (mp3)
The Least Resistance (mp3)
Donaldson/Least (pdf)
Knee High in December (mp3) (pdf)

I've had some trouble trying to decide how to present jigs in this blog. I have a bunch that I like but I never seem to choose them for recording. This week, however, I purchased a copy of Paul Kelly's excellent collection 110 Irish Mandolin Tunes, vol. 1 and found a solution. Mr. Kelly presents recordings of all 110 tunes on two CDs that come with the book and each tune is played once through. Duh, what a concept! This simple idea got me over the hump with jigs and I recorded several today. Here are the first three.

Donaldson Woods Nature Preserve in Indiana's Spring Mill State Park contains a beautiful stand of virgin timber. This particular jig was written while staying at the park lodge in the summer of 2005.

"The Least Resistance" title is a mystery to me now. I probably had something in mind when I named the tune but no longer. "Knee High in December" is presented in pdf form along with its friend "Puddle Jumper" from the Contratopia Tunebook. The latter tune appears on our Smitten CD but "Knee High" has yet to be recorded, even though we've played it now for a number of years. We usually play it first as a jig and then as a reel and, if we have time, we'll sometimes go back and forth playing the A section in 4/4 and the B section in 6/8. The title, of course, refers to snowfall in northeast Iowa.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Harvest Stomp

Harvest Stomp (mp3) (pdf)

On Saturday, Sept. 29 Erik, Jim, Bill and I (as Bear Creek Bluegrass) played at our local food coop's harvest festival and barn dance. The dance was held in the Beard Barn, a beautiful old structure with a great dance floor. Next morning this tune popped up.

Two nights ago (that'd be Friday Oct. 26) Erik and I rejoined our Contratopia partners, Pat and Patrice, for our first dance in nearly six months. Held in the Armory at Northfield, MN it was aptly titled the Harvest Stomp!

Being a new tune for everyone but me we didn't play it for an official dance, but we did give it a good run down during what passed for a sound check. Recorded this morning on the now trusty Zoom H4.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

St. Francis and the Birds

St. Francis and the Birds (mp3) (pdf)

October 4 is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, one of my favorite people. This year I had the honor of being invited to play some music at a morning chapel service on the Luther College campus that included a "blessing of the animals" ceremony.

I was given the opportunity to play this tune of mine as part of the service with the excellent assistance of two of my mates in the Western Home String Band, pastor Mike Blair on guitar and Ehler Orngard on pennywhistle. The weather was perfect, the music was clear and the pets (several dogs and one fish) were very attentive.

The chapel talk that day was given by Robert Belá Wilhelm, a gifted storyteller with a real feeling for St. Francis. The actual story of Francis and the birds is nicely told here in this excerpt from Jorgensen's biography of the saint, freely available for download courtesy of Google Book Search.

My little tune was written down over 20 years ago and is rarely played, partly because of its AABCC format. The print version that I present here is taken from the Contratopia Tunebook, a collection of over 50 tunes written by myself and Erik Sessions, which is available from me for $11 postpaid. I recorded it last night using an old Gibson mandolin that was built around 1917, not long after Jorgensen's biography of Francis was written.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Old Clarksville

Old Clarksville (mp3) (pdf)

I grew up in Clarksville, Indiana long after Meriwether Lewis & William Clark met at the Clarksville cabin of George Rogers Clark to begin their expedition. In my youth "old" Clarksville was that part of town that had existed before World War II. The part where my father had lived in his youth and my parents had lived when they were newlyweds. The town swimming pool and Andy and John's grocery store were there.

Much later I learned of the even older Clarksville that had been founded in 1783 near the Falls of the Ohio and settled by George Rogers Clark and his former comrades in arms. In recent years much has been done to uncover some of that history and visitors can now visit the Falls of the Ohio State Park and the Old Clarksville Site for a glimpse of the past.

This tune was written in March of 2003 as a solo mandolin piece and that's how it is presented, warts and all, here. I could pretend that the missed bass note near the end of the piece was an artistic choice but, really, I just missed it. Contratopia has also played this piece, without a title, a couple of times as a waltz at dances.

Friday, August 31, 2007

The Company You Keep

The Company You Keep (mp3) (pdf)

Here's a waltz I wrote in 2002 and recorded in 2003 on a Korg D1600 machine. Both the electric guitar (my old Hagstrom) and my Rigel mandolin were recorded direct. You might have noticed I'm a big fan of wooden instruments recorded by microphones but, as time goes by, this particular electric recording continues to sound better to me. I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Graveyard Owl

Graveyard Owl (mp3) (pdf)

Early in August we visited Ocracoke Island for the first time. I hope there will be many more visits to come. There are a number of small family cemeteries on the island and we heard more than one owl hooting as we walked from one end of the village to the other.

The tune itself was mostly written on a fine old Gibson oval hole mandolin in Carrboro, NC the night before we drove to Swan Quarter to catch the ferry to Ocracoke. Recorded here in Decorah on a very warm night last week.

I lifted this graveyard photo from Philip Howard's excellent Ocracoke Island Journal blog. We stopped at his Village Craftsmen shop during our visit and came away with a first rate CD by the island's house band, Molasses Creek.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Open Church / Dunn Meadow

Open Church (mp3) (pdf)
Dunn Meadow (mp3) (pdf)

A busy summer so far. Here are a couple of older tunes titled for places real and imaginary.

On a recent trip back from a visit to the old homestead we stopped for a couple of hours at one of my favorite places, New Harmony, Indiana. A place full of history and spirit, I always find it inspiring.

I rarely wake from a dream with a tune in my head but Open Church was an exception. It even had its title in the dream. Later I remembered the Roofless Church in New Harmony. It's a slightly quirky waltz because the first strain has only six measures.

Dunn Meadow on the Indiana University campus in Bloomington is where I spent many happy hours in the 1970s. I heard a lot of great music there in the meadow and even more in the IU Memorial Union that sits next to it. Amazing local musicians like Mark Bingham, Caroline Peyton, Bill Schwartz and Bob Lucas played frequently. I heard the original New Grass Revival in 1972 in the Union and I'm pretty sure I heard Ali Akbar Khan in the same room a few years later. Woody Shaw played a great concert there sometime in the 80s as well.

I hesitated to call this tune Dunn Meadow because I was sure someone must have already written a really great tune with this title. I confess I didn't write the tune while actually sitting near the tiny creek known as the Jordan River. Instead I was in a motel room out on the bypass but this title came immediately to mind. To me it seems like a very English tune.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Wedding March Set

Wedding March Set (mp3) (pdf scores and parts)

I heard on the radio a week or so ago that July 7, 2007 is supposed to be an especially auspicious day for a wedding. Something to do with 07-07-07 I think. That report led me to dust off this piece for mandolin quartet (or mandolin orchestra) that I put together in 2002 by combining two short wedding marches that I had written long ago. See the score and parts webpage for a little more background.

It's a potentially fun piece for mandolin ensemble and I encourage you to give it a try. It can be played by full mandolin orchestra or mandolin quartet. The first mandolin part can even be played solo or with simple guitar chord accompaniment.

The recording leaves much room for improvement but I settled for getting most of the notes correct. I just tried to give a reasonable idea of how the piece might sound. I played guitar for the bass line and octave mandolin for the mandola part. I tried capoing the octave at the 7th fret but the mental gymnastics presented by the capo were more difficult than the physical gymnastics of playing the part without it.

I don't recommend this arrangement for use as an actual wedding march because it would be too long for all but the larger cathedrals. It would work fine as pre or post ceremony music and could certainly fit into a program of background music at a reception. Let me know if you find an interesting use for the piece.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Raccoon in the Bird Feeder

Raccoon in the Bird Feeder (mp3) (pdf)

Had a fun time playing for "John's Send-off Shindig" at the River Bend Nature Center in Faribault, MN a couple of weeks ago. Near the end of the event some of the kids pointed out to us that there was an apparently ravenous raccoon happily sitting in the large bird feeder behind us. Knowing that I'm always on the lookout for tune titles, several of my band-mates suggested I could do something with this. I've failed to come up with anything clever or poetic and have settled on this literal title.

The tune itself appeared a day or two later. Clearly, at least to me, a relative of the "Red-Haired Boy" I almost didn't write it down. I recorded it while still fresh using my old black Gibson A model, melody first and then the backup.

I've always loved the sound of two mandolin family instruments playing together. One of my absolute favorite examples is found on the Norman Blake/Peter Ostroushko CD Meeting On Southern Soil where they play "Muddy Creek" on mando and mandola. I only wish they had repeated the tune four or five more times.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Smitten (for mandolin orchestra)

Smitten (YouTube performance) (pdf score and parts)

I was delighted today to receive a link to a video of The Fretful Federation Mandolin Orchestra performing my mandolin orchestra arrangement of Smitten a few days ago at the Shoreham Airport as part of the Adur Festival 2007.

Granted that the recorded sound is fairly lo-fi it still sounds great to me. The performance is excellent and the audience (except for the ones who seem to be nodding off) seem to be enjoying it. This mando orchestra version was premiered at the 2006 Classical Mandolin Society of America convention by the Atlanta Mandolin Orchestra and I was able to join them in that performance. The AMO did a great job as well, despite my presence on stage.

The tune has been played as a waltz many, many times by Contratopia and is the title track of our third CD. We attempted to record it on our first CD as part of an overly complicated medley and gave up. We intended for it to be an important number on our second CD, the all-waltz collection Ballroom Echoes and succeeded in recording a now-legendary "perfect first take". Unfortunately, at the end of a long day, one of us (no need to name names) made the fatal mistake of unplugging our digital audio workstation before the track was saved.

We finally captured a lovely version of the tune at the sessions for our third CD although I nearly ruined that one by bringing the tune to an end a little earlier than everyone expected. Thanks to Matthew Zimmerman (owner/operator of Wild Sound in Minneapolis) and the magic of digital editing the track survived that small train wreck and finally made it onto disc.

Let me offer my heartfelt thanks to Jacky, Ian and all the gang from the Fretful Federation for producing such a beautiful performance of my piece and for sharing their performance via YouTube.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Clifty Falls, Stonehead

Clifty Falls (mp3) (pdf)
Stonehead (mp3) (pdf)

Here are two simple duets for two mandolins (or any other instruments with similar ranges) that I wrote down sometime around 1980. Clifty Falls is a lovely Indiana state park not far from my hometown. Stonehead gets its title from the memorable stone marker that you will encounter at the juncture of Ind. 135 and Bellesville Pike if you turn south off of Ind. highway 46 between Nashville and Columbus.

Both of these pieces were written during one of the two summers that I spent living in southeastern Brown County, IN, allegedly helping out at a Catholic summer camp. One of those summers I was a part time dishwasher at Rudi's Country Kitchen in Nashville and my route back to camp involved a left turn at the Stonehead intersection.

The recordings were done a few years ago for the second volume of the CoMando Sessions project of the CoMando listserv and this version of Clifty Falls appears on the second disc of that set.

The challenge in playing these short tunes is to keep them from sounding mechanical and to allow them to breathe a little. Both pieces are also suitable for recorder with soprano playing the top line and alto (transposed up an octave) playing the bottom.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Highlandville, May 14, 2004

Highlandville, May 14, 2004 (mp3) (pdf)

The photograph above was taken by Pat O'Loughlin in early May 2006 but May 14, 2004 was a night very much like it. I had driven out to the Highlandville schoolhouse to sit in with my friends in the wonderful Norwegian-American old-time band Foot-Notes at one of their regular dances.

The dance was well underway and I parked just where the cars are in the right hand side of the photo. I thought I would tune my old Flatiron octave mandolin in the car before I went into the noisy hall but a little snatch of melody fell out in the process. I decided to see where it led and I closed the car up so that I could see the dancers inside but couldn't hear the music from the band.

After a minute I thought (as you might when you hear the tune) "oh, it's just another pale imitation of Soldier's Joy" but I put that devil behind me. Before the band took their break I packed up the octave and went in and spent the rest of the night playing the wonderful polkas, schottisches, waltzes and two steps that are the soundtrack to the Highlandville Dance.

A day or two later I went back to this tune and decided I liked it, pale imitation that it is. It's been played off and on by Contratopia and I've arranged it for mandolin orchestra also as part of my piece Another Late Spring in Iowa, which has been performed by both the Minnesota Mandolin Orchestra and the Pittsburgh Mandolin Orchestra.

The recording here was hastily done last Saturday morning while preparing to play a contra dance at the schoolhouse with Contratopia. I used the Flatiron octave (early 80's, pre-Gibson) and my Pomeroy.

If you haven't been to Highlandville it's well worth a visit. Especially if you can make it when Foot-Notes is holding court at a Saturday night dance.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

July 23, 2004

July 23, 2004 (mp3) (pdf)

It was probably warm and muggy that morning, the Friday of the 2004 Nordic Fest celebration. Our band, Bear Creek Bluegrass (myself, Erik, Jim & Jody) would have played in the Sabor Latino courtyard until 11 or 12 the night before, what has become a traditional Nordic Fest Thursday gig.

We would be looking forward to two one hour performances that afternoon in one of the several entertainment tents on Water Street followed by an additional two slots on Saturday the 24th. Jim and Jody both had additional festival gigs, Jody with his father and brothers and Jim with Foot-Notes.

I imagine I had a free hour or two before lunch and I must have written this tune down sometime before the first afternoon show. I remember that the guys did a fine job of sight-reading the music there on Water St. and the ever tolerant Nordic Fest audience enjoyed our antics. I wrote the harmony part sometime later and I don't think it has ever been played live. Maybe this summer we'll take another shot at the tune and we can add the second part.

This is one of those tunes that thwart all my efforts to come up with a reasonable title. If you have any suggestions just let me know.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Hamlet to High Point

Hamlet to High Point (mp3) (pdf)

John Coltrane was born in Hamlet, North Carolina on September 23, 1926 and grew up in High Point. This tune is an attempt to write a fun contra dance number that incorporates some elements of Coltrane's approach to harmony during his "Giant Steps" period.

(Hamlet, photo by John Myers)

Contratopia has played through this piece a few times during sound checks and rehearsals but, I don't believe, we've ever played it for a group of dancers. The recording here is at a comfortable tempo but still contains no attempt to improvise over the chord changes.

(High Point)

Many players record tunes using some form of these "Coltrane changes". One of my favorites is titled "Passos" by Fritz Pauer. It appears on Will Patton's superb 2002 CD Peripherique and features an excellent mandolin solo by Will.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Coast is Clear

The Coast is Clear (mp3) (pdf)

A friendly hornpipe in D from September of 2005.

Early Fall is always beautiful here in Winneshiek county (except when it's muddy). I'm pretending that the sun was shining and the trails were dry on the day I wrote this tune.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

First Snow

First Snow (mp3) (pdf)

Another waltz from another January. The nineteenth day of 2004 to be exact.

I remember running through the tune with Patrice and Erik a couple of years back while we were setting up in Shepherdstown, WV but I don't think we've ever actually played it during a dance. Maybe someday...

The guitar chords are all played out of standard tuning but I let the high E and B strings ring open most of the time.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


Backbone (mp3) (pdf)

Back in June of 2005 we spent a couple of nights at a pleasant cabin in Iowa's Backbone State Park. This tune came from that visit. I probably was thinking, as I often do, of the wonderful mandolin instrumentals composed and recorded over the years by Norman and Nancy Blake. Especially the nearly perfect tunes that appeared on the LP Original Underground Music from the Mysterious South in 1983.

It's been two weeks since the last entry but it's been a busy two weeks. Lots of snow shovelling in particular. Plus a fun Contratopia dance (the Winter Stomp) in Northfield, MN last weekend. I recorded four tunes yesterday so I've got some stuff "in the (digital) can" and that should help me stay on track for at least the next couple of weeks.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Wedding Broom

The Wedding Broom (mp3) (pdf)

This is a simple tune that I've played to myself many times over the last couple of years. It falls under the hand easily on the mandolin and has a certain haunting quality for me. It's never been played out in public. I was quite surprised when I looked it up in an old notebook from 2005 and saw that it was dated February 18.

I only had one pass at recording the guitar track because ten seconds after I finished it our neighbor fired up his snowblower. It hasn't snowed here for a couple of days and his sidewalk is as clean as a whistle. I was tempted to give the tune a title related to that annoyance but instead settled on a title in honor of our old broom that we bought decades ago at Shakertown in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky. We've got a newer one now but this one has character. Kind of like our neighbor I suppose.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Sebec Fair, Smalltown Downtown

Sebec Fair (mp3) (pdf)
Smalltown Downtown (mp3) (pdf)

Summer 2003 during our visit to Maine we spent an idyllic afternoon at a fair in the village of Sebec. We heard some lovely music (the band played in the gazebo in the photo) while relaxing in the sun and this tune followed a day or two later. I wrote it to be played at a relaxed pace but yesterday I recorded it at more of a contra dance tempo. Probably because I just played at our local dance the night before.

Every year about this time I have the pleasure of accompanying several of Erik Sessions' violin students during their student recital. We have a rehearsal at the studio where Erik teaches which is on the second floor above Kephart's music store in the heart of downtown Decorah.

Two or three years ago I wrote a waltz (now titled "Aubrey and Andrew's Wedding") during the breaks between students at this rehearsal while looking out of the window down onto Water Street. This year another waltz popped up which I'm calling "Smalltown Downtown".

Both of these tunes were recorded on Sunday morning, Feb. 11 using my Pomeroy mandolin.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Two Lieutenants, Sledding at Walnut Ridge, The Madison Road

Two Lieutenants (mp3 medley) (pdf)
Sledding at Walnut Ridge
The Madison Road (pdf)

Three tunes in a set that I recorded a couple of years ago for my bandmates in Contratopia. We've played this set some since then, although lately we've substituted a different tune for Madison.

Two Lieutenants gets its title from one of my Dad's favorite World War II stories involving his work as an MP with the V Corps in Europe and his encounter with two inebriated officers.

The lovely Walnut Ridge Cememtery in Jeffersonville, Indiana was our favorite sledding site when we were little kids. There were a couple of very nice unpopulated slopes and it was always quiet.

The Madison Road runs from Decorah to just outside of Ridgeway and is one of several possible ways to begin a journey to Cresco. It's really a very pleasant drive.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Rocks in the Sun

Rocks in the Sun (mp3) (pdf)

This week's tune comes from a trip out to Maine in the Summer of 2003. Acadia National Park is one of my favorite places and we always try to spend at least a few hours on Mount Desert Island whenever we can.

We usually fight the traffic into Bar Harbor and visit the Song of the Sea music shop. Then we drive up Cadillac Mountain for the incredible view and follow that with a leisurely spin around the Park Loop Road.

Near the Gorham Mountain Trailhead is a long stretch of rock-lined coast where you can sit on boulders and watch the Atlantic Ocean tide come and go. When the sun is out this is a very pleasant place to perch and pretend that you're a gull or a seal.

The actual tune that we have here was composed a day or two after our 2003 visit to these rocks and was originally known by a different title that my Contratopia bandmates were reluctant to embrace, so "Rocks in the Sun" it is.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Ekin Avenue

One tune this week:

Ekin Avenue (mp3)(pdf)(harmony pdf)

My grandparents on my mother's side lived on Ekin Avenue in New Albany when I was a boy. Just a lot away from the cross street (13th?) with a railroad track in the middle. I watched many a long train go by at very slow speed sitting on the curb there.

Years later, in the late 1970s, friends Paul Moffett (now editor/publisher of the Louisville Music News) and Ray Major hosted mighty jam sessions at their Ekin Ave. villa on Monday nights. Lots of good music happened in that big front room.

This tune was written, apparently, on Feb. 22, 2005 and was recorded sometime in the last year. I've used the Ekin Ave. title for a couple of different hornpipes in the last few years so if you have another tune from me with the same title scratch it out and call it something else.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Winter Leaves, New Blanket

Here are two more tunes:

Winter Leaves (mp3) (pdf)
New Blanket (mp3) (pdf)

Winter Leaves is a tune from about a year ago that in some way reminds me of the great tunes composed by Arto Jarvela and Timo Alakotila for the brilliant Finnish band JPP.

New Blanket is a waltz that has had a couple of other titles before this. Titles are often the hardest part but I think this one will stick.

A couple of people have asked what I'm using to do this. These first tunes have all been recorded on a recently purchased Zoom H4 Handy Digital Recorder. I want to keep this project simple so I've been using the built in condenser mics with no effects or EQ. I'm recording here at home so you might sometimes hear cars going by or household sounds. I download the mixed tunes to my computer and chop off the intro noises using an old version of SoundForge and save to mp3.

I'm pleased that I managed to get this next entry added just a week after the first. We'll see how often I manage that in the future. Let me know if you have any problems with the files.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Shelter Dogs, Needle in the Sawdust

Here are two tunes:

Shelter Dogs (mp3) (pdf)
Needle in the Sawdust (mp3) (pdf)

I write a lot of tunes. Along with tunes that get played at contra dances or by mandolin orchestras I have a big backlog of things that only exist in notebooks or that have been played once or twice for various occasions. Plus I keep writing new ones. My plan is to post a tune or two to this journal once a week or so. I'll see if doing this gives me the sensation of working through this backlog.

Unless stated otherwise, all music posted here is composed by John Goodin and, while under copyright, is offered to all visitors under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivs 2.5 license.

Please let me know if something doesn't work or if you have a question about the music.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.