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.

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