Friday, July 29, 2011

The Old Basement Piano

The Old Basement Piano (mp3)(pdf)(harmony pdf)

Most of my life there was an old upright piano in the basement of my parents' house. It was very much like the one pictured above, although it was painted a different color. I was always told that it had been waterlogged in the historic 1937 Louisville, Kentucky Ohio River flood and that, as a result, it was not very good. But it sounded great to me.

I never spent much time trying to learn how to play piano, I was too much under the spell of the guitar after the Beatles, but I certainly spent many hours picking out little tunes and learning how chords are made. One of the pieces of sheet music that was always on that piano was a simple version of "Sugartime", composed by Charles Phillips and Odis Echols.

The opening measures of this new tune of mine are very similar to the tune of "Sugartime." I noticed this almost as soon as I started to play the melody but I thought I would go ahead and see where it led. I'm glad I did because I've enjoyed playing this new tune quite a bit. The 8th notes are meant to be bouncy and not straight as you can hear on the recording.

I don't know where that old piano is now but I sure hope that it's bringing pleasure to another generation of budding musicians. Maybe that tattered sheet music is still with it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Northern Exposure

A Northern Exposure (mp3)(pdf)(harmony pdf)

Back on June 15 we here in Decorah were treated to a visit from the new Finnish-American duo Kaivama and their Finnish touring partner, the legendary Arto Jarvela. A brief "northern exposure."

In the afternoon Arto led a workshop for about 20 fiddlers, mandoliners, guitarists, bassists and a pennywhistler. Being a big fan of Arto's work, both as a player and a composer, I was very happy for this opportunity. It was, as I expected, both educational and inspirational.

After a short dinner break Kaivama and Arto presented a great concert with some solos, some duos and some trios. They even invited the workshop participants to come up and play one of the tunes we had worked on that afternoon! This was my first chance to hear Arto play in person and he was great. I was also very pleased with Sara and Jonathan. They featured great playing, beautiful tunes and expert arrangements. The trios with Mr. Jarvela were especially strong. I highly recommend the new Kaivama CD and Arto's new Cross-tuned CD as well.

The highlight of the night for me was when Arto played my old blacktop Gibson mandolin on one number during the show. I've never heard it played better.

I will benefit from this exposure for years to come in terms of inspiration but the immediate payoff came the next morning when today's featured tune popped out of wherever tunes come from into my fingers as I played my mandolin. I'm guessing maybe Arto left it behind when he played it?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Waterloo Polka

Waterloo Polka (mp3)(pdf)

This tune comes from a train ride back in March of 2010. I decided to treat myself to sleeping car accommodations on the Capitol Limited from Chicago to D.C. to join up with Contratopia for a short weekend tour. It was my first time on an overnight train and I discovered that train rides are great tune generators. This one appears in my notebook with "Waterloo" scribbled beside it so it must have been at least partly written while we made a brief stop in Waterloo, Indiana.

The mandolin featured here is an old Gibson snakehead A-jr. and the guitar is a recently made Martin 000-15M.
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