Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mandolin Orchestras Coast to Coast

The Pittsburgh Mandolin Orchestra
Easter Waltz (mp3)(pdf)
Highlandville May 14, 2004 (mp3)(pdf)

Last month, just as I was preparing to head to Seattle for the CMSA convention, I received an email from Kirk Morrison of the Pittsburgh Mandolin Orchestra. Kirk's message included these recordings of the group, under the direction of the esteemed Charley Rappaport, performing these short arrangements of two of my tunes for mandolin orchestra at a concert in early October. These are great field recordings of a real American mandolin orchestra (nearly 40 members strong) at play. I'm very pleased that the PMO is willing to share these performances. If you live in the Pittsburgh region, especially if you play mandolin, guitar or bass, you should look them up and see about joining in on the fun.

You can find the orchestra parts for these pieces under the collective title Another Late Spring in Iowa at my Mandotopia website, along with a brief descriptive note. "Solo" versions of each tune have also appeared in this blog and you can find them using the alphabetical list for this site.

Today there are dozens of mandolin orchestras in the U.S. and Canada. One of the best is the Seattle Mandolin Orchestra which took on the exhausting task of hosting the 2010 CMSA convention. One of the highlights of the convention for me was the chance to sit in with the orchestra during the Friday night concert when they performed my Heavens On Earth suite.

Earlier that afternoon I had learned that the group would be without a guitarist for the evening show and I volunteered to play the guitar part on my piece. Even though I had never actually played that part with a group before I was pretty sure I could manage it. So I borrowed a fine old Gibson guitar from the good folks at the Greg Boyd booth and went up to my hotel room to practice. The Seattle folks were willing to take a chance on me and we had a brief rehearsal that went well. I was a little surprised when I realized that each of the three movements of the piece begins with the guitar setting the tempo but, with the help of excellent conducting, things went very well indeed.

As "composer in residence" of the Seattle convention I gave a brief workshop on my background and adventures as a mandolin orchestra composer and, best of all, I had the honor of hearing the convention En Masse Orchestra rehearse and perform my new piece Antonina (dedicated to CMSA founding member Antonina "Toni" Nigrelli). It was a tremendous pleasure hearing the piece come together over the course of four days and equally fun participating as a member of the 2nd mandolin section. The premier performance of the piece at the Saturday night concert was wonderful. Everyone in the orchestra played their hearts out and I think the audience enjoyed it too. A million thanks to my old friend, conductor Jim Bates, for all of his work in getting the orchestra to play so well.

Thanks again to the Pittsburgh Mandolin Orchestra for sharing their performances!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Midwestern Mandolin Duos

Six Duettinos, Summer 2006, no. 2 (mp3)(pdf)

As mentioned in my last post, I've been working for a while on a new book. This time a collection of duos for two mandolins. After some pretty terrible title ideas I've settled on Midwestern Mandolin Duos, 29 easy to intermediate pieces for two mandolins.

The book contains 50 pages of music in standard notation and the music falls into three general categories. One group of around ten tunes are simple arrangements of some of my waltzes and fiddle tunes, these pieces include chord symbols as well. The book also contains a number of pieces that I think of as either medieval or 18th century in style. These include the Six Duettinos, Summer 2006 which have long been available from my Mandotopia website. The final category includes pieces that are a little more formal and "classical" in nature. I will have a few of these books in Seattle at the Classical Mandolin Society of America annual convention this week and I would love to not have to bring them all home with me.

If you will be at CMSA be sure and check them out. I will also have a few copies of my 31 Waltzes for sale. If you won't be in Seattle this week and you would like to purchase a copy of the new book ($12, postage paid in the US, or $5 for a PDF via PayPal) just send me an email or comment and we'll work something out.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

September 2010-2 (Palmer's House)

Palmer's House (mp3)(pdf)

I've been working on a new book, tentatively titled Mandolin Duos: 28 easy to intermediate pieces for two mandolins, with a goal of having it ready in time for the Classical Mandolin Society of America's annual convention that is being held Oct.13-17 in Seattle. "Palmer's House" is one of the pieces that I intend to include in the book.

The 2010 CMSA convention promises to be a great one. We'll have the amazing Mike Marshall as one of our featured performers and workshop presenters. He will be joined by young mando wizard Josh Pinkham during his two concert appearances. Classical and jazz virtuoso Chris Acquavella and his guitarist partner Nate Jarrell will be featured in concert as Duo LaRe. Chris and Nate will also be presenting workshops. The always amazing Evan Marshall will be a third featured performer and he and CMSA stalwart Marilynn Mair will present still more high quality workshops.

I am especially honored at being chosen this year's "composer in residence" and the convention en masse orchestra will rehearse and perform my new piece "Antonina" as well. It's going to be a great time. If you are in the neighborhood you should stop by and check it out. 

"Palmer's House" was written a few years ago while I was attending a conference in Chicago and staying at the modern Palmer House hotel. As presented here the music is AA,BB,CC in form. However, if you try to follow the music while the recording plays you will catch me reverting to the original form of the tune during the second time through. In keeping with my "demo concept" approach to the recordings on this site I decided not to spend this afternoon creating a more perfect version. You can play it in any form you want!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

September 2010-1 (Jaunty Ted)

Jaunty Ted (mp3)(pdf)

September already? Where does the time go?

This jig was written on Friday, recorded Saturday morning and posted today. See what you think...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

May 2010-1 (May Frost)

May Frost (mp3) (pdf)

A busy last few weeks, highlighted by a visit to Texas last weekend to hear my Louisville Suite performed by the Dutch mandolin orchestra ONI+. My new friends from the Netherlands did a wonderful job of playing my piece and even allowed me to sit in on mandola for one performance. I was also treated to an impromptu acappella rendition of the theme from the "Shakertown" movement of my Heavens On Earth suite as we were riding in the van late one night.

Another recent highlight is the award that my friend Tom Bourcier received on May 1 from the Iowa Motion Picture Association for "Best Original Music Score". Violinist Paul Docken, Tom and I, under Tom's direction, created some improvised source music that Tom then used to craft the score for this fine film. You can read about Tom's "Iowa Oscar" here.

"May Frost" was begun back in September but was only finished a couple of weeks ago, not long before our final hard freeze of the so-called Spring. We actually had a very mild April this year which made the recent cold, rainy weather all the more unpleasant. I've included the harmony part I made up today so you can play this with your friends!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

April 2010-3 (Quack the Goose)

Quack the Goose (mp3) (pdf)

Suzy the dog has a toy goose that, when squeezed in just the right way, emits a friendly quack. Here she is proudly showing us all who's the boss.

In any event this is a fun tune to play. It's written out here as a 16 bar tune but it is perfectly OK to make it an AABB tune instead. The recording features the first use of my new bottom-of-the-line Taylor guitar. It sounds good to me and is a real pleasure to play.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

April 2010-2 (Deer Track, December 26, 2008)

Deer Track, December 26, 2008 (mp3) (pdf)

On the day after Christmas in 2008 I found the time to follow this particular crooked musical path. It could be called a Gigue I suppose. "St. Stephen's Gigue" perhaps? I played the piece a long time before I got around to recording it and I've always enjoyed the playing. Give it a try yourself.

Friday, April 02, 2010

April 2010-1 (King's Landing)

King's Landing (mp3) (pdf)

King's Landing Historical Settlement in New Brunswick is one of my favorite places. Whenever we travel to Maine we try to work in a visit up to this beautiful spot on the St. John River. The photo below was taken in August 2009 in the garden of the large white house in the picture above.

If you find yourself anywhere near Fredericton, NB, especially during the summer, you really should pay a visit, maybe even have a bite to eat in the King's Head Inn.

This particular tune is at least 10 years old and I found the recording on a CD of demos and such from an old multi-track recorder that I no longer own. It's meant to go pretty slow.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

March 2010-1 (Seed Savers Waltz)

(Contratopia at Glen Echo Park, photo by Margie O'Loughlin)

Seed Savers Waltz (mp3) (pdf)

Two weeks ago Contratopia was enjoying a short weekend tour out East. On Sunday March 7 we played the afternoon Waltz Time dance, always one of our favorite gigs. Near the end of the dance Patrice, Erik and I played a recent tune of mine that I've titled the "Seed Savers Waltz." (Pat was taking a brief dancing break.)

This is a simple tune but Patrice had never played it before, she is sight-reading on this recording. There is a moment in the first few seconds when I repeat the first A section without warning her in advance and she quickly moves from the B minor chord that is written at measure 17 back to the A major chord of measure 1. She proceeds to give a beautiful demonstration of how to accompany a barn dance waltz on the piano along with a nod to the playing of the legendary Floyd Cramer.

Erik plays an inspired solo during the fourth time through the tune after putting up with my sloppy tremelo chords earlier in the piece. The mandolin in question is my old Gibson A and the remarkable Jamie Platt gets it to sound just the way I like it. The recording itself is Jamie's soundboard recording and we thank him for generously sharing it with us. If you are looking for high quality sound reinforcement Jamie is the man.

Every summer Decorah's world famous Seed Saver's Exchange holds a mid-July Annual Conference and Campout. On Saturday night there is a barn dance and Erik and I have played for this dance the last several years. This waltz was mostly written while noodling around before the dance last year.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

February 2010-4 (Deer Track February 2009)

(Palisades Park, Decorah, Feb. 26, 2010)

Deer Track, February, 2009 (mp3) (pdf)

This has got to be one of my favorite Deer Tracks ever. It's a little harder for me to play than most of them and I've recorded it several times trying to get a version that is good enough to share. Some have been slower, some faster. They all have little mistakes.

I even played this piece during a short lunch hour performance at the Classical Mandolin Society of America's annual convention in Dayton last October. I remember I stopped in the middle to back up and play one of the higher passages better. (You can do that kind of thing at the CMSA lunch performances, everyone is very forgiving there.) That performance will probably eventually appear on the "members only" section of the CMSA website someday. It's a great resource for many hours of live mandolin performance.

On a separate note, my friends in Louisville's Keltricity have recorded a studio version of their jig set that includes my tunes "Books and Ladders" and "Why Ted Flies". You can hear it on their MySpace site. Or you can go hear them live at several Kentucky and Indiana venues in the coming months.

Next weekend, weather permitting, I'll be playing several dances with my buddies in Contratopia out in the DC area (Glenside, PA on Thurs., Glen Echo Park, MD on Friday and Sunday, Shepherdstown, WV on Sat. night). I'll have the great pleasure of hearing, and playing, many of my tunes for large groups of excellent dancers. I'll also have some Contratopia Tunebooks and copies of my 31 Waltzes collection, if you are in the market.

Please stop and say hello if you are at one of the dances.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

February 2010-3 (Deep Pockets)

Deep Pockets (mp3) (pdf)

I'm dipping pretty far back in the old tunebag for this week's entry. The copyright notice says 1999 but I'm thinking that this tune was around for a few years before that. It's a fresh recording though, from yesterday morning. Just two mandolin tracks, inspired partly by the beautiful playing on David Surrette's recent CD, The Green Mandolin.

Contratopia has played "Deep Pockets" a few times over the years but it really doesn't seem to work that well as a faster tune. For a while we included it as a third tune in our half-speed "Cement Donkey" set, but then it was too slow. You can play it at any speed you choose.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

February 2010-2 (Something about a Queen)

Something about a Queen (mp3) (pdf)

I was back home in Clarksville, Ind. for a week last June visiting family and friends, including my old buddies in the Louisville Mandolin Orchestra. One night during the visit I watched a great documentary on Neil Young, titled "Don't Be Denied." Shortly after that I found myself playing this week's tune and I decided to use a Neil Young lyric reference for a title. (I also have a quirky Neil Young type waltz that Erik and I have played a few times that I call "Everybody Wins, Everybody Loses.")

I considered making a big multi-track production of this piece but opted instead for a simpler take. Kind of an "On the Beach" approach rather than a "Broken Arrow" version.

Speaking of Louisville, a couple of my old music friends, Joe Burch and Henry Austin, are in a fine band called Keltricity. Here's a live YouTube video of the group playing a set of tunes that begins with my jig "Books and Ladders", followed by my "Why Ted Flies" and the amazing Pete Sutherland's tune "Old Man Winter":

A little closer to home, here's a video from last Sunday's recital by the violin students of Erik Sessions. Every year I have the great pleasure of accompanying several of Erik's students while they play fiddle tunes in addition to their classical pieces. Sometimes a student will choose to work on one of my tunes. This year a group of Erik's high school students formed a band and performed a set of waltzes that begins with a version of my "Aubrey and Andrew's Wedding", followed by the "Ashokan Farewell" and "Goodnight Irene." I think this version of "Aubrey and Andrew's" sounds great with the cool fiddle parts.

Left to right the guys are Sam Beard, Parker Beard, Axel Snow, Lucas Blekeberg, Gabe Smith and Michael Eastwood.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

February 2010-1 (Old Books in Motion)

Old Books in Motion (mp3) (pdf)

Here's a recent waltz that reminds me of another tune I can't quite put my finger on. If you recognize it as really being someone else's tune please let me know. I used a capo at the 2nd fret on the guitar.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

January 2010-5 (Hold That Thought)

Hold That Thought (mp3) (pdf)

Here's a tune from March of 2008 that I recorded today as a slower reel. You can certainly play it faster if you want. I used a recently acquired old Gibson A Jr. mandolin, which has some intonation and tuning issues but sounds really good, to my ears, on this track.

The photo is of the restored Harmonist labyrinth at New Harmony, Indiana, taken in March of 2009.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

January 2010-4 (Deer Track, Jan. 29, 2009)

Deer Track, January 29, 2009 (mp3)(pdf)

Back in 2005 I built a web page that contained links to recordings and music for a number of short solo mandolin pieces that I titled Deer Tracks. I have continued composing these short pieces from time to time and here is one that was written nearly a year ago on January 29, 2009.

I really enjoy working on these pieces, following their trails to see where they lead. Sometimes I have to double back and try a different path but usually they wind around to a familiar place for me.

If you approach these as a player my clue to you is that these pieces are usually easier than they appear. Often a simple fingering pattern will produce seemingly odd results. My goal is not to create something "different" or "original" (this is obvious to the serious composers out there), I'm just following certain pathways to see where they go.

If you are interested in some really cool, recently composed music for solo mandolin let me recommend the two books of Caprices that composer David Loeb has generously made freely available through the Mandolin Cafe website this past week. You can find them by following the links in this discussion thread. The great mandolinist Joe Brent deserves much thanks for sharing this new music.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

January 2010-3

Wintergreen Waltz (mp3) (pdf) (photo by Pat O'Loughlin)

It's nearly time for Wintergreen 2010, a dance weekend in Bozeman, Montana that is near and dear to our hearts in the Contratopia band. We've been honored to play three times at this great January event and, while we won't be there this year, it looks like it will be a great time again. It appears that there may be a few spots left so Bozeman is the place to be if you are looking for a great dance event next weekend. Music by Crowfoot and our friends Weatherwood, calling by Asheville's Adina Gordon and sound by Mitchell Frey.

Last year on the Sunday afternoon following the last dance our long-suffering hosts, Rab and Mitch, took Erik, Patrice and Pat to a local hot spring for a good soak. I was too beat even for that so I stayed at the house by the fire with the dog. Before I fell asleep I started writing a waltz using Rab's fine guitar but I painted myself into a musical corner and let it go.

Sometime later I took a fresh look at the tune and turned it into what you see here as the Wintergreen Waltz. I'll see if I can get the Western Home String Band to play it next Saturday at our dance here in Decorah in honor of our friends out west.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

January 2010-2

Shepherd's Purse (mp3) (pdf)

A tune from March 2009, vaguely Scottish. In my mind related to the wonderful tunes that James Oswald collected and composed in the first half of the 18th century. The title, as far as I can tell, is not one that he used for any of his 96 Airs for the Seasons sonatas which I have spent many hours enjoying.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

January 2010-1

Lawn Chair Night (mp3) (pdf)

OK, so 2009 was really So Few Tunes. But it's a New Year and we'll see how Many Tunes make it to this blog in 2010. There certainly are plenty of tunes laying about, it's just the Process that takes time.

Here in lovely Decorah there is a summertime tradition of free concerts every Thursday evening at the courthouse square. These Lawn Chair Night shows are always entertaining and I've often had the privilege of performing there as a member of one band or another.

The first group I became a member of after moving to Iowa went by the somewhat ill-considered name of Just Four Guys. There were in fact (at least at the start) just four of us, and we were all guys. By the end of our short career we often had five or even six members and we sometimes included non-guys as well.

Our first Lawn Chair Night performance was particularly memorable because of a typo on the poster advertising the summer roster of performers. Rather than Four Guys we became, unfortunately, Just For Guys. Lord only knows what the faithful Lawn Chair Night audience expected that evening but I remember that there were plenty of females in the audience despite our forbidding name.

Rumor has it that Just Four Guys may reunite in 2010 for a few select gigs and, if so, I hope to convince the now older and wiser gentlemen in the band to include this tune in our set. Chord-playing musicians will note that the parenthetical chords in the B section of the tune are meant to be played on the repeat of the B section only.

The photo is a reminder of warmer days. In fact an afternoon in the 90s (farenheit) spent last August at beautiful King's Landing in New Brunswick. It was well below zero here last night in Decorah but the sun is out this morning.
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