Monday, December 29, 2008

December 2008

Snow Drifter (mp3)(pdf)
Pocket Change (mp3)(pdf)
Waitin' On the Julia Belle (mp3)(pdf)

This entry marks the end of the second year of So Many Tunes. I've chosen three tunes from my 2005 backlog to round off the year and a quick count of the entries at the alphabetical listing page tells me that I've managed to record 60 tunes in that time.

Back in January 2007 when I started this project I imagined that I would add a tune or two every week or so. That quickly became more work than I expected and the pace has slowed since those first few months. What began as a fun idea has sometimes become a chore as I try and find the time to record and edit tunes and printed music according to a self-imposed timetable.

So, beginning in 2009 I declare myself (to myself) free of any obligation to add tunes to this blog with any regularity. When I feel like adding something (and I find the time) I will do so. It might be next week, it might be next summer. We'll see what develops.

"Snow Drifter" is a waltz that languished in the key of Am for years before finding new life in a new key. I know a lot of fine guitar players who are a little intimidated by the half-diminished or m7b5 chord but it's really a very useful chord once you get to know it. Nothing else quite like it.

"Pocket Change" is a fun slip jig and feels good to play once you get it under your fingers (at least on the mandolin).

"Waitin' On the Julia Belle" is another of those tunes inspired by the brilliant compositions of Norman and Nancy Blake. I was delighted when we moved to Iowa to discover that the Julia Belle Swain makes its home in nearby La Crosse, Wisconsin. I always looked forward to seeing it during the Great Steamboat Race every year in Louisville, just before Kentucky Derby weekend, but I only thought of it as a boat somewhere on the Mississippi. Now I see it several times a year and can take a short cruise during the season if I want. It's easy to picture John Hartford in his prime just by seeing her on the water.

Happy New Year, more tunes to come.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

November 2008

Canny Crow (mp3)(pdf)
Why Not Here, Why Not Now / Share the Road (mp3)
(Why Not pdf)(Share the Road pdf)

Maybe these are old-time tunes, maybe not. We have lots of crows here in Decorah and they have lots of personality. I don't remember what clever act inspired this tune's title but it was only one of many I have seen.

The road above and below, in Palisades Park, is one that I have "shared" many times with walkers, runners, dogs, bicyclists and the inhabitants of large, sometimes speeding, motorized vehicles. The June 2008 flood and torrential rains caused a stretch of this road to collapse and rendered it impassable for automobiles.

The city road crews had higher priorities for repair work which kept the road closed all summer and fall. This was great for pedestrians but a disappointment to those who were unable to drive up the steep road to enjoy the view. I expect that next spring (the road is always closed in the winter to motorized traffic) the road will be repaired and I'll once again be on the lookout for my four-wheeled friends as I walk along.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Beautiful Days

The Beautiful Days (mp3)(pdf)
1837 Turnpike Road (mp3)(pdf)
A Fresh Start (mp3)(pdf)

A season has passed since the last post to this blog. In northeast Iowa the beautiful days of autumn are gone. The photo above was taken during a stroll on October 8th in Decorah's lovely Palisades Park. The Beautiful Days waltz was written on September 17th and recorded (along with the other tunes in this post) a couple of weeks ago.

Back in August we were lucky to spend a day and a night at Shakertown, Pleasant Hill, Kentucky. In the afternoon I had the chance take a short hike that included a stretch along the 1837 Turnpike Road on the village grounds. I was listening to Norman and Nancy Blake on my mp3 player and wrote this four part tune not long after.

A Fresh Start was written early in the morning (well, early for me at least) on the first day of the fall term at Luther College. I should have been getting ready for work but this friendly schottische insisted that summer wasn't yet over.

Winter won't be long in coming now. Winter tunes will follow.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

July 2008

St. Anthony and the Fishes (mp3)(pdf)
Woodhaven (mp3)(pdf)

I came across a reference to St. Anthony and his sermon to the fishes in Alberto Manguel's wonderful book The Library at Night (p.216) during the time that this four part tune was looking for a title. The mention of Anthony reminded me of my "St. Francis and the Birds" tune which has a similar form. This is another of those tunes that I almost didn't write down because much of it is so clearly derivative of other, better, tunes. In spite of that, I did pick up the pen and then I enjoyed playing it over and over. So here it is.

I think of Woodhaven as a medieval tune, a ductia maybe? In any event I've had it around a long time. I think it would also work nicely as an S/A recorder duet if the alto player transposes the bottom line.

Monday, June 30, 2008

June 2008

Quarry Hill Road (mp3) (pdf)
Our Own Way (mp3) (pdf)
Off to Minnesota (mp3) (pdf)

It's been quite a month. The above photo (taken by Paul Scott of is a view from the levee less than a hundred yards from our house, probably on the day (June 9) that we were ordered to evacuate our neighborhood. All ended well for us but many of our neighbors suffered substantial basement flooding during this unprecedented event. Many more photos of the swollen Upper Iowa River can be found at the decorahnews site and some of the best shots are to be found at the Inspire(d) Media blog.

I've been assured that my One Hundred Year Flood tune had nothing to do with this 500 year flood but I don't think I'll be using that kind of title anytime soon.

This month's first tune is titled for the road that leads up to the local quarry if you cross the bridge in the distance in the photo above. For a couple of days it was the only way for regular folks (non-emergency personnel) to get from the east side of Decorah to the west side. It's not a very good road, made of gravel and steep, but it was the only way to head North from our side of town.

The second tune is a simple waltz that I finally got around to recording and the third is a relative (pale imitation, etc.) of the venerable "Off to California." I think of it as a hornpipe but Erik and I have used it successfully as a schottische more than once.

Hope you enjoy them.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

May 2008

Friday Night Tailgate (mp3) (pdf)
Goslings Afloat (mp3) (pdf)
Fifty-Three (mp3) (pdf)

Sometimes after the Glen Echo Friday night contra dance a small tailgate party can be found at the edge of the park. Snacks, beverages and good conversation are shared and this tune came into being shortly after Contratopia enjoyed the party on a cool November night in 2006.

Just this afternoon, while walking along the mighty Upper Iowa River, I spied two geese and a gaggle of goslings floating by. The tune itself is from last summer but waited until today for a title.

I celebrated a birthday a few days ago which reminded me of this four part tune that I wrote on my 53rd birthday a while back. I think of this one as another in a long line of attempts to emulate the great mandolin tunes of Norman and Nancy Blake. "Attempt" is the key word in that sentence.

As usual these were all recorded using my now trusty Zoom H4 recorder.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

April 2008

(Photo by Pat O'Loughlin, Shepherdstown, WV, with one of my favorite authors.)

All Fall Down (mp3) (pdf)
Bob's Angels (mp3) (pdf)
Sand Island (mp3) (pdf)

This posting has more of a Contratopia theme than most. Partly because we've had a pretty active month of playing and touring.

Bob's Angels is a waltz titled for our friend and Tapestry
board member Bob Anholt and all of his "angels" who helped make it possible for us to play a Mostly Waltz afternoon at Tapestry back in March. The band played the tune that day but this recording is the home demo that I recorded and sent to Erik, Pat and Patrice a few days before the gig. It probably should go a little faster.

The other two tunes were recorded by Erik, Pat and myself at Patrice's house on a Saturday afternoon while she was off earning a living.

Sand Island
is possibly the first fiddle tune I ever wrote. I remember my old friend and excellent guitarist Henry Austin complimenting me on the tune back in Louisville sometime in the 80s. That bit of encouragement really meant a lot to me at the time. I see, thanks to Google, that he's currently playing with an Irish band called My Darling Asleep.

Contratopia has been playing this tune for a number of years and I almost never play guitar on it, but the guitar was in my hands that afternoon. If we ever officially record
Sand Island it will certainly be more polished than this version (especially with Patrice adding her talents) but this is a good example of how the basic tune might go.

This version of
All Fall Down is really Erik and I playing through the tune so Pat can work out an approach on the banjo. Pat would say he didn't really know the piece at this point but I think he sounds just fine. The band has just recently added this tune into a new medley and we played it a couple of times on the tour out east.

I wrote the music the day after travelling a fair distance to hear the brilliant Liz Carroll and John Doyle play at Wisconsin's Folklore Village. If only I could write a tune half as good as anything they played that night....

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Up River Road on YouTube

My old friend Joe Burch in Louisville has recently uploaded this video to YouTube. It's taken from a concert titled "Mando Magnificat" that we were involved in as members of the Louisville Mandolin Orchestra back in the summer of 1989. The concert was part of the Lonesome Pine Special series and was a sequel to a similar concert that we had been a part of in 1988.

That earlier concert had been the public debut of the LMO and led to us being invited to perform, along with many of the finest mandolinists in the country, in a second "Magnificat", this time to be filmed for public television.

Shortly after the LMO began rehearsing in 1988 I brought in a short piece that I had attempted to arrange for mandolin orchestra instruments. Conductor Jim Bates looked it over and offered a couple of suggestions. I returned with an improved version that I called "Up River Road". The members of the LMO enthusiastically made the piece something special for all of us.

I have a videotape of the original TV broadcast which I haven't seen in a long time. This YouTube clip reveals that the group really had the piece ready to perform. Everybody in the group, especially Mike Schroeder in the first chair, is playing like a pro.

With the encouragement of the LMO and, especially, Jim Bates and Keith Harris "Up River Road" became the first part of my "Louisville Suite". The suite was published by Trekel Musik Verlag in Hamburg and has been performed by many mandolin orchestras around the world.

Since moving to Iowa in 1994 I've greatly missed playing in the LMO but they are still going strong. Along with their original website, linked above, you can also find them on MySpace and, now, on YouTube as well.

I've made a couple of small changes to this blog this week. One that might be of use to you is the addition of the Feedblitz email subscription widget in the Links sidebar. If you don't use a feed reader but you'd like to know when I add new entries, you can sign up to receive an email notification this way. It seems to work well but let me know if you have any problems.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

March 2008

One Hundred Year Flood (mp3) (pdf)
Alice's Garden (mp3) (pdf)
Last Call at Hawley-Cooke (mp3) (pdf)
Spring Forward (mp3) (pdf)

Three waltzes and a reel.

The snow is finally melting around here and thoughts turn to flooding. Above is a photo from Louisville, Kentucky during the 1937 flood. My folks both remembered that flood well.

Alice's Garden was a roadside produce stand that was located up Highway 52 near the Minnesota state line when we first moved to northeast Iowa. The stand is still there but hasn't been open for many years.

The Hawley-Cooke bookstores were the best bookstores in the Louisville area for over 25 years. I was frequently there at closing time still trying to decide which bargain to buy.

Spring Forward refers to last week's time change. It's a really simple tune but it works for me.

All three waltzes are fairly recent and "Flood" only dates back to last May. Contratopia tried out "Alice's" and "Last Call" at Tapestry a couple of weeks ago. I imagine we'll play them again at our mostly waltz afternoon this weekend along with a couple more new ones. Try them yourself and see what you think.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

February 2008

March 12, 2005 (slow reel) (mp3)(pdf)
January 22, 2005 (duo in 3/4) (mp3) (pdf) (retitled "Halfway Home" in Midwestern Mandolin Duos)
May 30, 2007 (slow duo) (mp3)(pdf)

Well a few weeks turned into a couple of months. Busy, cold, snowy months. Walking with the dog up on the trails that overlook Decorah I have thought of this painting many times.

Three pieces of music with dates for titles. Titles are often the hardest part for me. If you have suggestions let me know.

Contratopia has played the first tune once or twice as part of our half-speed set that is built around Pat O'Loughlin's great tune "Cement Donkey". It was even slower in that context but we've since dropped it from the set.

"January 22" is a waltz of sorts but I thought it would be fun to add a moving second part. Inspired partly, I guess, by long hours that I've spent recently transcribing some minuets by Telemann.

"May 30, 2007" was actually performed by myself and Luther College's extraordinary flautist Carol Hester in June of 2007 at a kind of faculty variety show for students attending one of the Dorian Music Camps sponsored by the College. It sounds especially nice when the top line is played by someone as good as Carol.

These three pieces were all recorded this morning with cold winds blowing outside. The sun was shining but the wind chills were in the -30 Farenheit range. The temperature should rise above zero tomorrow but there's some more snow on the way.

My thinking at this point is to aim for posting at least one entry per month in 2008. We'll see how that goes. Hope you enjoy the music.
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