Saturday, December 29, 2012

Snow to Come

Snow to Come (mp3)(pdf)

Back in November, before Thanksgiving, I found this very simple waltz waiting for me. Like many of the simplest tunes, I suspect it may have more borrowed parts than most. If someone recognizes the main theme please let me know where I found it.

There was no snow when I wrote the tune but we have had a few inches here in December. The photo is from outside our back door, looking toward the street, taken just a few minutes ago.

Last week, thanks to some encouragement from my mandolin friend (and fellow CMSA Board member) Barbara Conrad, I took the time to update my Alphabetical list of tunes page. I took a moment to count and I can say that there are now (drum roll, please) over 100 tunes listed. On one hand that sounds like a lot but, on the other hand, it has taken me nearly six years to reach that plateau. I'll see if I can't reach the 200 mark in a little less time.

Thanks for listening, see you in 2013.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Six Duettinos, Summer 2006 no. 1

Six Duettinos, Summer 2006 no. 1 (mp3)(pdf)

From the text on my Six Duettinos, Summer 2006 page:

"I composed these simple duets for 2 mandolins in early June 2006 as I was completing the work of transcribing the Eighteen Duettinos for Two Guittars; Two French Horns or Two Clarinetts" that were published by William Bates around 1770 in London. As I was playing his charming little pieces I thought it might be fun to write a piece or two of my own in the same spirit. I ended up with six in quick succession.

Bates' duettinos are all very limited in scope, mine are only slightly more adventurous. My goal was to keep the music simple (not usually a big problem for me), to limit each piece to one page of paper in my notebook and to have the first mandolin part carry the whole melody with the second part supplying basic harmonies with lots of thirds. These are all characteristics of the pieces in the Bates set."

I also have a page that links to my transcription of the Bates collection. You can find it here.

Back in October of 2010, as part of the announcement of my Midwestern Mandolin Duos collection, I posted a recording of the second of these 6 short pieces. I've been meaning to get around to recording the others ever since. So here's no. 1 of the set. Although written as duos, the top line of all of these pieces work fine as short solos. Also, the pdf link takes you to the sheet music for the full set of six pieces.

Number 3 will be posted sometime soon.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Lemon Water

Lemon Water (mp3)(pdf)

June 2011, a trip to New Orleans, lemon water in the hotel lobby. I recorded this maybe a year ago and forgot that I had done it. Tonight, while waiting for our winter solstice blizzard to begin, I found the recording. Until tonight it was just called "June 26, 2011 Waltz". If I waited until tomorrow to give the tune a title it probably would include something about snow shoveling.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Sonata in L(ou)

Sonata in L(ou) - score (pdf)
Sonata in L(ou) - Andante (mp3)
Sonata in L(ou) - Grave (mp3)
Sonata in L(ou) - Allegretto (mp3)

Back in the summer of 2010 I received an email from Vicki Chouinard, wife of Lou Chouinard (my friend and President of the Classical Mandolin Society of America), offering to commission me to write a short piece as a surprise for Lou's birthday in October. That birthday would coincide with the annual convention of the CMSA to be held in Seattle.

While I write a lot of music for mandolin, I tend to write either dance tunes or pieces for mandolin/guitar ensemble. I don't often write for solo mandolin in a "classical" context, although my ongoing series of Deer Tracks pieces are the exception to that rule. My first reaction to Vicki's request was to say "no thanks", partly because I had a couple of other unfinished commissions on my plate and partly because of my insecurity about solo mandolin composition.

Before I said no, however, I slept on the idea and I found the next day that some musical ideas popped up that might fit the bill. So the project went forward and I was happy to present my Sonata in L(ou) to Lou at the Seattle convention. I've been intending to share it more widely ever since (how time flies) and here it is.

Part of my insecurity is that my "composer mind" is missing the "write virtuosic music" piece. I'm partly contained by my own limitations as a player, and that's OK with me. Sometimes, though, I'll come up with something that's a little beyond what I can do personally. I truly envy and admire those composers who write music that requires already brilliant musicians to stretch themselves, that just isn't in my current toolbox. Maybe when I mature....

In any event, Sonata in L(ou) is a fun piece for me to play. For a long time I played it almost every day. It's a good warm-up piece and you can treat it different ways. The recording attached here is just the demo I made to show Vicki and Lou one way it might sound. I encourage each of you to mess around with it. In particular, feel free to skip the repeats if you want. I do about half of the time.

A Note about Commssions

Sonata in L(ou) only exists because Vicki had the great idea to ask someone to write a piece for Lou. I'm going write music whether anyone asks me to or not, but when someone commissions a piece I love the idea that I'm going to write something that will definitely be played by someone besides just me.

If you've never considered asking someone to compose a piece of music for you, I encourage you to think about it. It doesn't hurt to ask. While it's always nice when a commission involves monetary compensation, there are no rules about that. Just by asking you put the thought in the composer's head. In the case of Vicki and Lou my first impulse was to say no, money wasn't part of the equation. But the idea was in my head and the piece had a life of its own.

So, if you think you'd like me to write a piece for you or your group, just ask. If not me ask another composer. Maybe a famous one, maybe a college student you know who's studying composition. Put the idea in their head and see what comes out!

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Lazy Susan

Lazy Susan (mp3)(pdf)

Last weekend, while going through a pile of notebooks and loose music paper, I came across a stack of some of my earliest tunes. Most of the tunes I would try and write down in the 70s and 80s are long gone but I have kept a few. "Lazy Susan" is one. I'm pretty sure it was written in the mid-late 70s and it's rarely, if ever, been performed in public. So, here's the way I remembered it last weekend.

By chance, a few days after I recorded this tune, the remarkable guitarist Mickey Baker passed away in France, age 87. I learned most of the chord shapes that I used when I wrote my little tune from his book, Mickey Baker's Complete Course in Jazz Guitar (v.1). The first lessons in that book, one of the few you could buy on the subject back in the 70s, have helped me over and over again in the last 40 years. Further evidence of synchronicity at work is the fact that Mr. Baker was born in Louisville, Kentucky, where I almost certainly would have purchased the book. Thanks, Mickey.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Emory's Crossing

Emory's Crossing (mp3)(pdf)

This week's tune is a fairly straightforward reel in Am. The title is intended to refer to a crooked old road that runs between the oldest part of my hometown of Clarksville, Indiana ( that is, the foot of Harrison Ave. at the Falls of the Ohio, where George Rogers Clark built a cabin home and the Lewis and Clark expedition began) and the old highway from modern Clarksville into New Albany, Indiana. As a boy this stretch of road (properly named Emery Crossing) was a little piece of near wilderness, certainly not a place to go after dark.

I've had the tune for a few years and it's been played, off and on, by Contratopia during that time. Currently it's without a spot on our setlist so I thought I'd give it a little airtime here. Recorded in short order with just guitar and mandolin last Saturday.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Shenandoah Bound

Shenandoah Bound (mp3)(pdf)

Without looking it up in old notebooks this title suggests to me that I must have written this tune while riding on the Capitol Limited train somewhere near Harper's Ferry, WV. (Thanks to photographer Mark Fickett for generously sharing this panorama under a Creative Commons license.) Crossing the railroad bridge on the right side of this photo, where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers meet, is always one of the high points of the trip for me.

The tune itself, a country kind of waltz with a little blues in the B section, was recorded last weekend. I only used guitar on this one and I indulged in a little improvisation the second time through the tune. You can hear that I was enjoying myself so much that I forgot to smoothly segue from improv to melody when going back to the head. We had one of our regular Decorah contra dances last Saturday night so I brought the tune in for the Western Home String Band to play and I think it went pretty well.

See if it works for you.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Not an Option

Not an Option (mp3)(pdf)

This entry marks the 5th weekend in a row that I have posted a tune to this blog. A rare, if not unprecedented, event in the history of So Many Tunes. Our tune of the week is also rare in that it was composed and recorded, I believe, on the same day last weekend. (Usually tunes sit around for months or years before I decide to use them here.)

The title was a problem (see last week's entry). I had given this tune a completely different title last weekend but I made the mistake of checking this morning to see if that title had been used for other things. It turns out there are songs, albums, books, even movies, using the other title so I figured I should try something else. "Not an Option" is a commonly used phrase, which is good, but it doesn't appear to be used as a title for songs or tunes that often. So, for now, this little jig has this name.

Recorded quickly and simply with just two mandolin tracks using the built-in mics of the DP-008.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Return to Dream Acres

Return to Dream Acres (mp3)(pdf)

Where do the titles come from? People sometimes ask this question, often referring to a particular tune or piece of music. I also sometimes wonder what, if anything, the composer means when they give a name to a musical composition. Many of us like to think that a certain place, person or event was instrumental (pun intended) in the creation of the music.

In my case, most of the time, the title is chosen shortly before the music is shared with other musicians. "Return to Dream Acres" is a typical example. Above is a copy of what this tune looked like when it was first written down in my music notebook. The 11/26 in the upper right hand corner is not an interesting time signature but an indication of the day when I wrote down the notes below it. I know it was November 26, 2009 because it's in a notebook that covers that time period.

The GL (shorthand for Great Lakes) in the upper left hand corner tells me that, at some point, I was considering using this tune as part of a mandolin orchestra piece I was working on for the Kalamazoo Mandolin and Guitar Orchestra. At the time (and this is the exception that proves the rule under discussion) we were using a working title of "Great Lakes Suite" for this piece in progress. (In the end the Kalamazoo commission was titled "The Pleasant Peninsula" and the notes above were not part of that piece.)

I probably wrote the whole tune on the same day although sometimes I come back at a later date to finish or improve tunes. At some point this tune would have been entered into my Sibelius music notation software and I would have given it the title "November 26, 2009." I may or may not have printed it out and shared it with other musicians between then and summer 2012. (My bandmates in Contratopia have stacks of my tunes with dates for titles. This often causes confusion.)

Finally, this summer I had a gig playing for a wedding dance up at Dream Acres farm in Minnesota, a special place that I've been fortunate to visit a number of times over the years. I was gathering some tunes to distribute to the first-rate band for the evening (Bill Deutsch, Rob Hervey & Ehler Orngard) and I decided to use "November 26, 2009." Since I would literally be returning to Dream Acres for the dance, I gave this jig that title.

The recording offered here is from last weekend. As I was recording it I started thinking "this is almost more of a tarantella than a jig." Dance however you wish.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

From Artist's Point

From Artist's Point (mp3)(pdf)

We had a chance to spend a few days at Grand Marais, MN, up on the western, North Shore coast of Lake Superior this past August. We stayed at a modestly priced motel right on the beach and this tune got its start while sitting on the balcony looking out at the water. Later, after a windy, rainy morning we walked out to Artist's Point and enjoyed watching the waves beat up against the rocks.

The recording here is another attempt to adapt to the new Tascam DP-008 recorder. This time I used an AKG C1000-S mic instead of the built Tascam mics.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Walk On Dry Leaves

Walk On Dry Leaves (mp3)(pdf)

This little tune was written a week ago, on Sat. Oct. 13, sitting in the same chair I'm sitting in right now. In my mind it's a clear imitation of the kind of tune that I mentioned in the previous post; something that Norman and Nancy Blake and Peter Ostroushko might have played through once or twice at a long ago session.

I recorded the tune on a new Tascam DP-008 recorder using the built in mics. Instruments were an old Gibson oval A mandolin and a recent Martin OO-15M guitar. The tempo is comfortable but the tune is also fun played at a dance tempo. Contratopia played this last night at our dance in Northfield, MN at a much faster speed and it worked fine that way as well.

Hope you enjoy it.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Bighorn River Sunset meets Mandolin for Dummies

Bighorn River Sunset (mp3, from Contratopia's Smitten CD)(pdf)

In January 2003 Contratopia played at the Wintergreen dance weekend in Bozeman, MT. Erik Sessions & I decided to drive from Decorah to Bozeman and back and, along the way, we saw some beautiful scenery. We left Bozeman for home on Sunday afternoon and for a long stretch, after Billings, we were driving south along I-90 while a spectacular sunset unfolded in the west. Later I wrote this little piece.

This is another of those tunes that I almost didn't write down because the melody is so very simple. I'm glad I did because it turns out that lots of people like the tune and it gets played quite a bit. Since it only uses a few notes it is also a good tune for teaching. The Contratopia recording, linked above, is really pretty. Patrice plays a beautiful introduction and, later, a perfect little solo. The string section is not some synthesizer, it's Erik doing a multi-track string arrangement. The whole thing, in my memory at least, was really easy.

My friend Don Julin has just published a wonderful book, Mandolin for Dummies. He has done me the honor of including his chord melody arrangement of "Bighorn River Sunset" in the book (p.147) and he's recorded that arrangement as well. I highly recommend Don's book, dummy or no, because it's full (nearly 400 pages) of good ideas and musical examples. Every mandolin player can learn something from this tome and it's fun to boot.

This time last week I was immersed in the wonderful world of the annual Classical Mandolin Society of America convention. This year it was held in Minneapolis (well, Minnetonka to be exact) and that meant that both Don Julin and one of my other favorite players, Peter Oshtroushko were in attendance.

Peter O. is fundamental to the existence of this blog and the music that I create. Three of my favorite composers for the mandolin are Peter and Norman and Nancy Blake. Many of the best tunes that I have written, some that have appeared in this blog, have started out as an attempt to write one like Norman, Nancy or Peter. The work they did together on the Blakes' Original Underground Music From The Mysterious South is still some of the best mandolin music ever recorded. 

It was a great pleasure and inspiration for me to be able to watch Peter play at close hand informally, in workshops, and in concert with the great Dean Magraw. As usual, I returned home from the CMSA convention with lots of ideas for tunes and projects.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

St. Francis and the Birds, duet

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

This tune probably was written sometime in the 1980s and appeared in this blog as a single melody line with chords back in October 2007. Following last week's resurrection of St. Anthony and the Fishes as a duo I am including a two-part arrangement of St. Francis today.

Once again I'm letting a computer-generated duo of flute and English horn play the tune. This time there are definitely no notes in the top line that go below middle C.

If you are not familiar with the story you can read a nice version of the tale from the Johannes Jorgensen biography of St. Francis here, courtesy of Google Books.

My partner Erik Sessions and I (don't forget to check out our recent CD, Notes from the Farm at CD Baby, iTunes, etc.) have a couple of church music gigs coming up and I though we might want to consider playing these saints-related tunes. We'll see if that happens or not. In any event I now have these nice duos to share.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

St. Anthony returns

St. Anthony and the Fishes Duo (computer mp3)(pdf)

This tune first appeared in this blog back in the summer of 2008. It returns today with a newly written second part suitable for any two treble clef instruments, so long as one of those instruments can play down to G below middle C. This would be fine for two mandolins, mandolin and alto mandola, two violins, flute or soprano recorder [except for the low Bb in measure 29 of the top part - thanks Ellen!] and violin or mandolin, etc. Guitar would sound good on the bottom line also.

The computer generated recording (which sounds pretty good to me) features imitation flute and English horn.

I enjoyed writing out this second part and I can imagine it being included in a sequel to my Midwestern Mandolin Duos book. Find a friend and see what you think.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Riff City in Portland

Riff City (pdf from
Badlands All Night / Riff City (pdf from Contratopia Tunebook)

When Erik Sessions and I started playing music together, first around Decorah and then joining up with Pat and Patrice in Contratopia, I was suitably impressed that Erik had a tune (the killer "It Ain't the Heat, It's the Humidity") published in the first Portland Collection book. Portland 1 and, later, Portland 2 are almost always in the bag of necessities that I carry to every contra dance gig.

So I was very pleased to receive an email from Susan Songer a while back reporting that the Portland Megaband had recently enjoyed playing my tune "Riff City" and asking my permission to include a copy of the tune on her New Contra Dance Tunes webpage. Of course I said yes. While not the same as being printed in a Portland Collection book this is a big honor for me and I'm happy to hear that the Megaband folks thought the tune was fun to play.

I'm also including a copy of "Riff City" as it appears in our Contratopia Tunebook. Since it's on the same page with my tune "Badlands All Night" (a combination of two of my favorite Springsteen song titles, "Badlands" and "Prove It All Night"), I'm including that also. One thing to note about "Badlands" is that Contratopia has been playing the A section up a fifth in the key of D for the last few years. It seems to work fine either way.

April, May, June, it's July already. You'd think I would have found a few minutes to write a blog post sometime during the last three months but I didn't. I'm not including a recording of "Riff City" this time as an experiment to see if I find it easier to add new tunes if I only include the printed music. We'll see how that works out.

Hope you enjoy the tunes!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Summer's End, 2005

Summer's End, 2005 (mp3)(pdf)

Before heading out this morning on a journey to see the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. (and play a few dances this weekend) I thought I would post this slightly quirky waltz. As the title reveals, it was written a few years ago and never really had a title until recently. I'm not sure I would recommend playing it at a dance but it's a satisfying exercise on the mandolin and could make for a relaxing listening piece.

If you are in the Philadelphia area on Thursday night (March 22) and feel like dancing, our band, Contratopia, will be playing for the Thursday Night Contra in Glenside. Similarly you can find a good dance with Contratopia and caller Ted Hodapp at Glen Echo Park on Friday and Sunday and in Frederick, MD on Saturday night. Here's a link to our schedule page that it includes links to more info on each of those dances. Stop by and say hello.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Yazoo Ramble

Yazoo Ramble (mp3)(pdf)

Riding on the City of New Orleans last June, with a mandolin in hand, I discovered a bunch of tunes. Many, maybe most of them, seemed familiar. Here's a simple blues in fiddle tune form, captured somewhere not far from the Yazoo City train stop.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cumberland Mission

Cumberland Mission (mp3)(pdf)

The Amtrak Capitol Limited passes through Cumberland, MD around 9:30 in the morning on the way into DC and around 7:15 p.m. on the trip back west. It always stops for a few minutes and this tune was mostly composed there during one of my trips in 2011. I'm looking forward to riding through Cumberland again next month on my way to a series of Contratopia dances in Glenside, PA, and Glen Echo and Frederick, MD between March 22-25.

I recorded this tune a few days ago which is notable to me because it was the first time I had gotten around to recording anything new for So Many Tunes since last August. Since then I've done a couple more. We'll see if this is a trend or an anomaly.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Rainy Island Sunday

Rainy Island Sunday (mp3)(pdf)

It's neither rainy nor a Sunday today and I'm not on an island. But back in June 2011 I had just returned from a few hours on lovely Madeline Island, in the rain, on a Sunday, when I wrote this little tune. It's clearly related in key and feel to "Trailer in the High Grass" that I featured back in August. I had forgotten that I recorded this one also around that time and just re-discovered it this morning.

Further evidence of my lack of originality can be found on the first track of our Notes from the Farm CD. The second tune there, "Cold Market Morning", is another mid-tempo tune in Em with some real similarities. Maybe someday I should record a whole CD full of E minor tunes? Maybe not.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Notes from the Farm

 (photo courtesy of David Cavagnaro)

The Kitchen Waltz (mp3)(pdf)

Following production of the Mandolin Tunes CD my Contratopia colleague Erik Sessions and I got together in December to record our first duo CD, Notes from the Farm. This was done very much in the spirit of this blog, recorded in a very simple way with no overdubs and fancy digital editing. We set up a couple of mics in Erik's living room, turned down the furnace for quiet, and played a bunch of tunes. Some we have been playing together for years and some were relatively new to us.

There are 15 tracks with 23 tunes. Seven tunes by Goodin, three by Sessions, two by the great James Oswald (a mandolin/violin duet version of The Junquill from his Airs for the Seasons) and eleven traditional. As you can imagine we are both excited to have completed this project and we encourage you to check out our page at CD Baby for more information.

Erik Sessions & John Goodin: Notes From the Farm

In addition to being available from CD Baby the new CD should also be for sale soon at the iTunes store, emusic, Rhapsody, Napster and the other usual suspects.

The Kitchen Waltz has been around for a few years now and we often play it with Contratopia. I wrote it on the guitar but in the band I usually play it on mandolin while Patrice Pakiz does her piano magic. So this recording is a rare opportunity for me to play it on guitar. It's one of the tunes that I almost didn't write down because it seems so simple but, over the years, it has developed more character. The mp3 here is the version that appears on the new CD.

Speaking of Contratopia, we'll be playing at the Tapestry Folkdance Center tonight for a contra dance. Stop by if you have the chance. We'll have plenty of copies of Notes from the Farm available.
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