Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Deer Track, December 26, 2013

Deer Track, December 26, 2013 (mp3) (pdf)

Since this has been the Year of the Deer Track for me I thought I would post one more here on New Year's Eve. I wrote most of this one during a quiet morning on the Feast of St. Stephen, while our house was full of family and friends. I tinkered with some on the following days and recorded it on the 29th. It may not be completely finished but, for now, I'm happy with it.

This will be the 46th entry in this blog in 2013, nearly double any other year since I began in January of 2007. I've already got something prepared for the first entry of 2014. We'll see what comes after that.

Thanks to everyone for listening, especially for all the encouragement and support with the Deer Tracks project, and have a Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Singing in a Dark Place (for recorder quartet)

Singing in a Dark Place (mp3, performed by Dames' Rocket) (score and parts on request)

I was honored to be asked by my friends in Decorah's premier recorder quartet, Dames' Rocket, to compose a piece for them to play at our annual community holiday/solstice/Christmas concert, Burning Bright (wonderfully organized and conducted by Otter Dreaming and Kathy Reed). The quartet's members are Ellen Macdonald, Suzanne Ernst, Beth Lynch, and Elyse Hawthorn and they were a pleasure to work with. 

The recording above is a rehearsal tape from the afternoon of the concert (Saturday, December 21, 2013) so you can hear a voice or two and some pages turning but I really like the sound of the group in this performance. Many thanks to Dames' Rocket for allowing me to share it here.

The title of the piece is from the last line of an early poem by Wendell Berry, simply titled "A Music", which features a blind mandolin player. The music came first, there is no intentional correlation between the poem and the notes, I just like the title. 

It was especially fun for me to write a piece for musicians that I know and admire, knowing exactly where it would be performed while knowing that many of my friends and local community members would hear it in the context of a larger concert of mostly choral music.

It's been a busy holiday season but I wanted to get this recording posted before the end of the year. I haven't included the score and parts but, if you are interested, you can contact me through the comments. I hope you enjoy the music!

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Deer Track, May 30, 2013

Deer Track, May 30, 2013 (mp3) (pdf)

Light snow is falling here in Decorah today and we may have our first measurable snowfall by tonight. The temperature has fallen below zero (Fahrenheit) the last couple of nights.

Somehow this bit of winter brought me back into the world of Deer Tracks this morning and I decided to record one of the many pieces that I wrote last spring that didn't make it onto the official Deer Tracks CD.

I began this piece on Thursday, May 30, 2013 and I recall that most of it was finished that day. I remember doing a little touch up work later and it was definitely in the running to be on the CD but, in the end, it didn't make the cut.

I should point out, in the commercial spirit of the season (not to be confused with the real spirit), that there are still a few physical copies of the Deer Tracks CD available from CD Baby. You can also purchase mp3 downloads of all the tracks from CD Baby, Amazon, iTunes, etc.

However, this May 30, 2013 Deer Track is not for sale anywhere. You can only find this recording right here, no charge. Hope you enjoy it.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Sock Thief

The Sock Thief (mp3) (pdf)

I usually find some time over the Thanksgiving weekend to work on music. This year I came up with (among other things) a waltz that I'm calling "The Sock Thief."

This tune is at least partially inspired by the great new book Timeless: the music of John Abercrombie (with commentary by the composer), a collection of original tunes by one of my favorite musicians. I've been a big fan of Abercrombie ever since I bought the first Gateway album (his trio with Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette) back in the Seventies. I have dozens of recordings of him, either as a leader or a co-conspirator. I especially love the two duo records he made with Ralph Towner (another of my favorite musicians and composers)  and I have a great memory of seeing/hearing the two of them in concert long ago in Louisville. His playing is awesome and his tunes are always interesting. So I love this book.

Time after time in his commentary Abercrombie talks about one of his tunes as being "simple." I have no doubt that he sees these tunes that way but, for me, they are beautifully complex. On Thursday morning I sat down on the bed with my mandolin and, after playing bits of some of the tunes in the Timeless book, I set out to write a simple, but interesting, tune.

Simple is not usually a problem for me and this one started out nicely. I turned off my inner editor ("Oh please, not another A minor arpeggio!") and had a lot of fun. Trouble was that I pretty quickly veered off into multiple sections and lots of notes. Over the course of the next couple of days I whittled most of that away until "The Sock Thief" is now about where I like it. Hope you enjoy it too.

On the technical side, if you sometimes suffer from the "other" MAS (in this case "microphone acquisition syndrome", rather than the more common "mandolin acquisition syndrome") you might be interested to know that I used a brand new MXL 991 mic to record my old Gibson (still with the same Thomastik strings I put on back in September). I purchased it this week as part of holiday special sale, together with the larger MXL 990, from Musician's Friend for only $70 for the pair. They aren't Neumanns but the 991 seems to be a fine mic for only $35. (No commercial interest on my part.) I haven't even plugged the 990 in yet, so I can't vouch for it.

Anyway, give "The Sock Thief" a spin and see what you think.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cake On Fire - Waiting (On a Train) - Walk On Dry Leaves

Cake On Fire - Waiting (On a Train) - Walk On Dry Leaves (mp3) (pdf1) (pdf2)

Preparing for a rehearsal day with my friends in Contratopia on Monday I have been looking at recent and older tunes. I put this set of three together this morning as a demo for Patrice, Pat and Erik and then figured I might as well use it here as well.

"Waiting" has a long story behind it, ask me about it sometime. It also has me making a few mistakes in the repeat of the first A section. You can think of them as variations if you want.

"Walk On Dry Leaves" has appeared in this blog before, in October of 2012. It's played faster here and I've changed the melody to make that easier to do.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Brush Pile Birds

Brush Pile Birds (mp3) (pdf)

A tune from a month or so ago. I've already forgotten how I chose the title but I can easily picture the brush pile in our backyard a couple of years ago with a gaggle of little birds waiting their turn at the feeder.

If you are in the Decorah vicinity I will be playing the mandolin as the guest of pianist Tom Bourcier this coming Tuesday (the 19th) from around 6:00-8:00 in the lobby of the Hotel Winneshiek. We actually rehearsed some the other night and we may play a couple of my waltzes as part of our set on Tuesday.

Stop in if you are downtown that night. The music is free and promises to be fun.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Smitten, once again

Smitten (pdf lead sheet)

Above is a video of Mark Davis and myself playing my waltz "Smitten" at the end of the Saturday afternoon open mic session during the 2013 Classical Mandolin Society of America convention in Regina, Saskatchewan. Michael Tognetti has done a great job of making a whole series of videos from the convention available. You can find them (along with dozens of excellent photos by Kelly Paul) here: http://www.classicalmandolinsociety.org/content/conventions/2013-photo-selector.asp

This particular performance came about because Col Bernau & Lea O'Brien came all the way from Australia to the Regina convention. When I met them Lea reminded me that, years ago, they had contacted me about using "Smitten" and my "Wedding March Set" as part of their wedding festivities in Oz.

Late on Thursday of the convention I was playing some music in a group that included Mark Davis and it occurred to me that Mark would make an ideal guitar partner for a duo performance of "Smitten", and that we could possibly surprise Col and Lea at some point during the convention.

So, I asked Mark and I pulled up the lead sheet of the tune from the Contratopia Tunebook on my tablet for him to look at. We ran through the tune once that night and it was fun. I then signed us up to perform at the Saturday open mic.

Things don't always go smoothly and a larger than usual number of groups wanted to perform on Saturday. Time was short and I told Mark and Jonathan Rudie (who was managing the lineup and keeping time) that we could skip our piece and play it for Col and Lea in a less public forum later.

At the last minute Mark (who was playing in the final group of the concert) suggested we quickly do "Smitten" as the very last piece. So what you see on video begins as a fairly hurried performance (remember Mark had only seen the music once before a couple of days earlier) but settles into something pretty nice.

"Smitten" is a tune I've played hundreds of times with Contratopia but always on guitar. I almost never get to play the melody on mandolin. So this version is fun for me to hear too. I'm usually pretty critical of recordings of myself, especially video, but I quite like this one. I hope you do also. (btw, Lea and Col were in the front row and I think they were pleasantly surprised as well.)

Historical note: Long time readers of this blog (all five of you) might recall that "Smitten" appeared back in June, 2007 in a different youtube video. That one featured a performance of my mandolin orchestra arrangement of the piece by my English friends the Fretful Federation Mandolin Orchestra. The original link to that video seems to have been disabled but I believe you can still view it here:

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Belle from the Bridge

The Belle from the Bridge (mp3) (pdf)

Here's a jig from a few weeks ago, recorded this morning. The title comes from a brief trip last week back home to Clarksville, Indiana. We took a walk on Sunday afternoon across the former Big Four railroad bridge, recently converted to a pedestrian and bicycle path across the Ohio River between Louisville, KY and Jeffersonville.

While walking we had the pleasure of watching the Belle of Louisville paddle under us on her Sunday afternoon cruise. Following the nostalgic theme of my previous post, seeing the Belle reminded me that it was the site of my first public performance in a band, sometime in late 1964 or early 1965, as a member of the awesome Sir James and the Squires. We were allowed to play a 3 or 4 song set during a sockhop on board while the real band took a break. Pretty exciting stuff for a humble Squire!

I'm pretty sure that this was the night when I learned that the same song could be played in any key. I had learned the Kingsmen's classic version of Barret Strong's "Money" (as opposed to the Beatles' copy of the original) in the key of E. Our guitar player (the amazing Tommy Campbell), singer ("Sir James" himself, Jimmy Parks) and drummer (now Dr. Joe Jacobi) played the song, I believe, in G. I think a member of the other band kindly explained to me that we had played the song simultaneously in two different keys, without mentioning bi-tonality or Ornette Coleman. Being a minor third apart the two keys actually made a pretty cool sound but I was amazed at the concept and, ever after, I have endeavored, when playing with other musicians, to play in the same key as everyone else, whenever possible. (Ed. note: I should have mentioned above that I'm playing electric bass in this story. This allows the bi-tonality to "work" a little better than if Tom and I had both been playing full chords a minor third apart.)

Today's jig is squarely in the key of C, with nary a hint of Deer Tracks influence.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Port William Hornpipe / Cracks in the Sidewalk (1984)

Port William Hornpipe / Cracks in the Sidewalk (mp3)(pdf)

It's been a busy few weeks -- weddings, mandolin conventions, the release of Deer Tracks (for solo mandolin) -- and So Many Tunes has had a well-earned vacation. Today's re-entry is a blast from the past.

Mark Davis (who I had a chance to play some music with two weeks ago in Regina, Saskatchewan) mentioned the great author Wendell Berry on Facebook yesterday and that set me off looking for this old recording.

Back in 1984 I put together a cassette recording of some of my original music, both songs and instrumental tunes. I recorded everything on a then state-of-the-art Fostex four track cassette recorder. A few years ago I made a digital copy of the master cassette of those multi-track recordings. This is all pretty low-fi by today's standards but it was what I had at the time. Once you get past the initial shock of "different" sound there is still some fun music in there.

"Port William Hornpipe" was always titled "Wendell Berry's Hornpipe" in my head but I figured that was too grand a title to use officially (although now I've blabbed it on the internet) so I used Berry's fictional Port William, Kentucky as a title instead. If you know Berry's work you know that most of his fiction revolves around characters connected to Port William (located not far from where the Kentucky River flows into the Ohio, roughly 50 miles or so from where I was raised). If you haven't read much by Wendell Berry you owe it to yourself to spend some time with his poetry, essays, novels and short stories.

The actual recording from 1984 has me playing all the parts. It sounds to me like guitar (probably my old Harmony Sovereign from the mid-60s), mandolin (the same Gibson that I just used this summer for my Deer Tracks CD), octave mandolin (my old Flatiron, in 1984 it was only two or three years old, it's sitting six feet away from me today as I write) and an inexpensive electric bass (long gone). Lord only knows what kind of microphone I used but it would have needed a 1/4 in. plug, not an XLR. The bass I would have run directly into the deck, very carefully.

I know that I used the Fostex X-15 (pretty new at the time) to record and I suppose that I mixed the 4 tracks down to stereo using a second cassette deck. The actual recording would probably have taken place in the kitchen of my small apartment in the 700 block of E. 2nd St. in Bloomington, Indiana.

For weeks that summer I had the pleasure of hearing (whether I wanted to or not) an amazing band rehearse in the house across the street.  Kilo was fronted by the amazing Crystal Taliefero (still a college student then, just before she joined John Mellencamp's band) and featured a number of now well-known musicians like bassist Robert Hurst, trumpeter Chris Botti and drummer Shawn Pelton. The now legendary Kenny Aronoff (Mellencamp's drummer at the time) would often sit in as well. A great band.

I didn't know about the Chris Botti connection until this morning as I was writing this. But I have a vivid memory of crossing the street one night after midnight, after band rehearsal was over, to get a closer listen to an unknown trumpeter playing a beautiful version of "Someday, My Prince Will Come". I realize now that it was probably a very young Mr. Botti working through his Miles Davis influence. I think I'll take another look at his body of work, now that I see we are old buddies.

So, from E. 2nd St. in Bloomington, 1984 to So Many Tunes, 2013 here's "Wendell Berry's Hornpipe."

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Deer Tracks (for solo mandolin) has arrived!

Deer Track, July 8, 2013 (mp3) (pdf)

I'm very pleased to say that I now have a box of Deer Tracks CDs in my possession and tonight I'll celebrate a little by sharing the final track from the new CD. Unlike almost everything I post on this blog this track was recorded in a real studio (Wild Sound in Minneapolis) with high end mics and mastered through some very fancy processors.

The recording sessions are a little bit blurry but I think this is one of the tracks where I actually played the piece straight through, without punching in a bit here or there to help things along.

Those of you who enjoy the sheet music will note that I have rendered this piece in both standard notation and mandolin tablature. The tab should serve to simplify the performance of the piece by revealing the patterns that I use when fingering the notes. I will be publishing the music to all 21 of the Deer Tracks on this CD in both standard notation and tab for this reason.

I have lots to do tonight but I wanted to get this track onto the blog first. I will write more about the CD and its availability later. I hope you enjoy this short piece.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Walnut Dog

Walnut Dog (mp3) (pdf)

Taking a short break from all things Deer Tracks to record and post a fun tune from a little over a week ago. More Deer Tracks to come.

Music tip of the week: check this excellent interview (and performance video) with Julian Lage and Chris Eldridge from the folks at Fretboard Journal. I highly recommend the great EP from this duo, available here.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Deer Tracks Season #7

Deer Track, September 6, 2009 (mp3) (pdf)

Today was a big one. Thanks to the timely help of Pat O'Loughlin (who also took the photo above), Braham Ketcham and Steve Kaul, I sent the finished Deer Tracks (for solo mandolin) master recording and graphics files off to the folks at Oasis CD manufacturing.

With luck I should have the finished "product" in my hands before I head up to Regina, Saskatchewan for this year's Classical Mandolin Society of America convention. A number of my Kickstarter supporters will be there so I will be able to give them the result of my summer project in person.

Today's recording is another of the unexpected positive results of the Deer Tracks Kickstarter project. This piece was written back in September 2009 but was significantly altered as I was reviewing and preparing for the studio sessions. In the end I decided not to record it in the studio but I did record it here at home last week.

Even though I have completed the initial task that I set for myself the Kickstarter gift will keep on giving for some time as I continue to make home recordings of the many Deer Tracks that didn't make it to the official recording. I hope you find this one interesting.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Lost Summer

Lost Summer (mp3) (pdf)

I noticed earlier this week that my tune Lost Summer had yet to make an appearance in this blog. It was first printed in the Contratopia Tunebook and later recorded (around a decade ago) as the final piece on our Smitten CD as a duet between me on guitar and Pat O'Loughlin on English concertina. More recently I published the piece again in my Midwestern Mandolin Duos book and it is that arrangement that I recorded this week.

I took the photo above a little while ago. It depicts Tolly, our elder cat, wondering "where did Summer 2013 go?" from the shelter of her garden/playground.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Wyandotte Woods

Wyandotte Woods (mp3) (pdf)

Wyandotte Woods State Recreation Area (known now as O'Bannon Woods State Park) is not far from my home territory in southern Indiana. I have many good memories of visits (concerts, hiking, camping) there and so I used this title back in 2000 for this duet. Having spent so much time this summer with my Deer Tracks pieces I can see now that this was a sort of precursor of the Deer Tracks to come. I published the sheet music for this in my Midwestern Mandolin Duos book a couple of years ago but I believe this is the first recording.

Speaking of Deer Tracks, thanks to the help of Steve Kaul and Pat O'Loughlin I had a very successful pair of recording sessions a few days ago at Wild Sound in Minneapolis. I think I'm pretty close to a finished CD of those pieces now. I'll be writing an update on my Kickstarter site soon and if you are interested you'll be able to learn more about the sessions there.

Spending time at a great studio like Wild Sound inspired me to take another look at my home recording setup. Today's track was recorded using the free sample version of something called Mixcraft 6 and I was very pleased with how easy it was to use. I'll try it for a few more things and then decide if I want to go ahead and pay the very reasonable price to register the software. If you are looking for something simple but with lots of features you might want to check it out.

Finally, my Blogger control panel tells me that sometime today, probably, this blog will experience page visit number 10,000. Now I know that's nothing in the world of viral video cats but I'm pleased that so many folks have spent some time over the last few years checking out these little audio tracks of mine. Thanks for listening!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

August 2, 2013

August 2, 2013 (mp3) (pdf)

A hornpipe in A minor from a couple of weeks ago. I'll probably give it a real title someday. The curious push-pull effect between the guitar and the mandolin is the result of recording the melody first and then adding the guitar chords after.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Six Duettinos, Summer 2006, no. 6

Six Duettinos, Summer 2006, no. 6 (mp3) (pdf)

Taking a short break from Deer Tracks practice this morning I thought I would finally record the last of my 6 Duettinos from the summer of 2006. The recording was easy (although not perfect) but I took this opportunity to change the metronome markings on nos. 1,2,4,5,6 of the set. Then, of course, I had to go and change the score, create new pdfs of both the set and my Midwestern Mandolin Duos book and update various web pages. I think I've got those all corrected now.

The photo above is from the backyard of the ancestral home in Clarksville, Indiana, taken during the summer of 2007.

This blog will take a hiatus next weekend, interrupting my record-shattering, once-a-week string of posts that began last fall. But I expect to post something new in two weeks, just before I head to the studio to do the official Deer Tracks recordings.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Deer Tracks Season #6

Deer Track, August 16, 2006 (mp3) (pdf)

One of the many positive outcomes of my Kickstarter Deer Tracks project (thanks once again to my Kickstarter supporters!) has been the chance to revisit my older Deer Tracks pieces and tidy some of them up for their "official" recordings. In addition, by going through some old notebooks, I re-discovered some pieces that never made it from my hand-scrawled manuscripts into legible computer-generated sheet music. Today's short piece falls into that category.

Digging out the old notebook it looks like we made one of our trips to Maine, via Canada, during August of 2006. I have a sketch (dated 8/11) of a reel with the note "Manistique" that is now known as "Two Days to Maine" (I had already used the title "Manistique" for a different tune, written in the same town on an earlier trip) and appears on the CD Notes from the Farm, recorded with Erik Sessions in 2011. It appeared in this blog back in early May of this year as well.

The next day's sketch has "Cornwall" written in the margin. We often have stayed overnight in Cornwall, Ontario on our drive. This is followed by one tune each on the 13th and 14th and three tunes on the 15th. This piece from the 16th is the last in the series.

Enough said. It's short and, to me, a nice example of a fun Deer Track tune. I'll be making studio recordings of Deer Tracks next month and it will be interesting to me to see if this one makes the final list.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Suzie's Landing

Suzie's Landing (mp3) (pdf)

This photo of the barn at Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah is unrelated to today's tune but at this time last night (Sat., July 20, 2013) I was playing with Erik Sessions and Rob Hervey (caller, Bill Deutsch) in the band for the barn dance held there as part of the 33rd annual Seed Savers Conference and Campout. We've played this dance for a number of years now and it's always a good time. Last night might have been the best ever, it was certainly the first time we've ever had three full lines of contra dancers in the space.

Suzie's Landing is the landing on our staircase where Suzie sometimes like to sleep. A fitting title for a sleepy little tune.

Friday, July 12, 2013

All She Wrote

All She Wrote (mp3) (pdf)

A no-frills, straight ahead tune in Dm. What can I say? That's all she wrote.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Waiting in the Wood

Waiting in the Wood (mp3) (pdf)

This simple waltz arrived last weekend as I was playing a lovely Martin 00-15M guitar for what proved to be the last time. I was practicing for a wedding the next day with a capo on the 2nd fret and this little tune insisted on a hearing.

Later that day I took the guitar in to Dave's Guitars (a great shop) in La Crosse, WI to compare it with some other 00s that they had in stock. I came away with a new 00-18, leaving the 00-15 behind in trade. (It looks like it might already have sold, I don't see it listed on their site.) A fine guitar but I like the 00-18 even more. You can hear it on this track.

We sometimes say that tunes are stored up in particular instruments just waiting to be uncovered. That's my claim for this one. Nothing fancy, just a sweet little tune. Old Gibson A mandolin and a recent Weber Gallatin mandola on the second time through.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Night Train Waltz

The Night Train Waltz (mp3) (pdf)

Heading east of out of Chicago on the Capitol Limited, Feb. 28, 2013, written in my cozy Superliner roomette. Recorded yesterday using a Martin 00-18V and my old Gibson A model mandolin.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Rollin' Through the Gap

Rollin' Through the Gap (mp3) (pdf)

We're taking a little break today from the world of Deer Tracks following the successful conclusion of my Kickstarter project. Here's a little tune written on the train while returning from D.C. this winter. Hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Deer Tracks Season #5

Deer Track, June 12, 2013 (mp3)

Suzie (above) wants to remind you that there are only 3 days left until my Kickstarter project closes. After Wednesday at 7:00 pm, central time it will be too late to sign on as a supporter.

Today's track is an example of a recently composed Deer Track piece. I have written a dozen or so since the project started, this one came last Wednesday. I'm not posting sheet music because it is still likely that I will change a note or two before I consider it completely finished.

Next week we may return to regularly scheduled programming, we'll see.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Deer Tracks Season #4

Deer Track, April 8, 2004 (mp3) (pdf)
Deer Track, September 7, 2003 (mp3) (pdf)

I guess I'll be keeping the Deer Tracks theme for another couple of weeks. My Kickstarter project has 10 days to go so it's all Deer Tracks, almost all of the time here at So Many Tunes Central these days. I'm really enjoying the effect that my Kickstarter supporters have had on my compositional activity. I've been turning out little pieces at an amazing (for me) rate and I'm having a ball doing it.

So, here are two more short pieces from the past that haven't appeared in this blog before. Hope you enjoy them.

The photo is one I took last Saturday in what is officially known here as Ice Cave Hill Park. I think of it as "up on the ridge." This was one of the few days this so-called spring when it hasn't been raining and I was able to get some good shots of a number of deer trails while walking the dog.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Deer Tracks Season #3

Deer Track, June 27, 2003 (mp3) (pdf)
Deer Tracks, June 2, 2004 (mp3) (pdf)

I'm sticking with the Deer Tracks theme this week as I approach the halfway mark in my Deer Tracks for Solo Mandolin Kickstarter campaign. I'm so pleased that a few more folks have added their weight to the kick that is propelling me towards the goal of recording these pieces. I have written eight new Deer Tracks pieces since April 28 and four of those came in the last week! Clearly the prospect of a select audience for this music is inspiring me to write some more music in the same vein.

So take a listen to a couple more of these "classic" Deer Tracks and I'll get back to working on some more new ones.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Deer Tracks Season #2

Deer Track, June 25, 2003 (mp3) (pdf)
Deer Track, July 2, 2003 (mp3) (pdf)

Here are two more older Deer Tracks that have never appeared in this blog. You might recall that last week I had just submitted my Deer Tracks for Solo Mandolin project to Kickstarter for approval. On Monday the 20th the project was approved and I launched the site on Monday evening around 7:00 p.m.

The response has exceeded my wildest expectations. I mentioned the project on Facebook and in the classical mandolin forum of the Mandolin Cafe and I received almost immediate positive response. Tuesday was my birthday and the generous pledges kept arriving. By bedtime on Tuesday, less than 28 hours after the project launch, I had met my fund-raising goal. As of this morning the project has 25 backers and they have pledged 175% of my original target. More important than the fund-raising though is the fact that over two dozen people have shown their interest in this non-mainstream music by pledging their support.

This show of support has had the desired effect of kickstarting me towards the completion of this project to make proper studio recordings of these already existing pieces and to compose some new pieces in the series. In particular I am now committed to compose at least 4 new pieces that have been commissioned by four very generous individuals through the Kickstarter site.

The Deer Tracks project is live through June 19. At that point the money that has been pledged by the backers of the project will be charged to their accounts and will become available to me. I have already started the process of booking studio time in August. If you haven't seen the site yet I encourage you to visit and consider adding your support. Also, it would be wonderful if you would share the site link with any of your friends who you think might find the project interesting. If nothing else you might enjoy the short video that I made to introduce the project.

I hope you enjoy the two older Deer Tracks above. I'm looking forward to recording them in a nice studio with some really great microphones later this summer.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Deer Tracks Season #1

Deer Track, August 18, 2002 (mp3) (pdf)
Deer Track, August 2002 (mp3) (pdf)

This post marks the start of what I hope will be a "Deer Tracks Season" for me. I have submitted a project for approval to the folks at Kickstarter that will attempt to attract some support that will "kickstart" me into doing a proper studio recording of these short, quirky pieces that I have been writing for solo mandolin for more than a decade. If the project is approved I will be talking more about it next week.

I have had a Deer Tracks website up since 2005 but I haven't featured all of the pieces from that site here yet. So today I'm highlighting two of the first Deer Tracks pieces.

I can clearly remember sitting in my hotel room in Fredericton and playing the first notes of "August 18". It was a pretty warm day for New Brunswick and I had taken a relaxing walk after a full day at a workshop. I had just been listening to Amaryllis, the beautiful CD that Marilyn Crispell had recently recorded with Gary Peacock and Paul Motian. I picked up the mandolin with the idea of trying to play something simple but fresh...

Most of the Deer Tracks that have followed come from the same place. The process is as important as the note choices and I'm always surprised to see where the trail will lead. I'm hoping that the Kickstarter project will let me visit that place a bit more than usual this coming summer.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mother's Day

Mother's Day (mp3) (pdf)

It's Mother's Day weekend so I'm offering a live recording of Contratopia playing my tune "Mother's Day" at the April 2003 Spring Dance Romance weekend in North Carolina. We've played this tune a lot over the years, it's hard to believe that this recording is over 10 years old! (My own Mom was still alive at this time, although she was losing her battle with tobacco-induced lung cancer.)

My memory is that this was a Sunday morning waltz session, after a delicious big breakfast. None of us had slept very much the two previous nights but we were really playing well together that morning. This may have been the first tune of the session. We had recently released our waltz CD, Ballroom Echoes, and this was the first track on that. The pdf also includes my "Rose Island" from the same page of the Contratopia Tunebook, also on the waltz CD.

If you like this live recording feel free to download and share it with your own or any other mother that you know. Compliments of Contratopia from 2003.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Ain't Broke - Two Days to Maine

Ain't Broke/Two Days to Maine (mp3) (pdf)

This recording, I believe, is an alternate take of a set of tunes from our 2012 Notes From the Farm CD. Erik and I played this same set, a little faster, a little louder, at T-Bocks Sports Bar & Grill for a great audience last Sunday night. We were the Featured Artists for the monthly open stage event and we had a great time.

I'm in DC this weekend with Contratopia, playing a series of dances at Glen Echo Park and a Saturday dance in Shepherdstown, WV. So I'm writing this post a little in advance. I'll see if I can save it and post it on Saturday or Sunday from Takoma Park.

Thanks, as always, to a true artist, photographer David Cavagnaro for permission to use his beautiful photo for our CD cover.

(Sorry for the repeat on this one. I was changing some links and the page re-published itself. Couldn't have been my fault. I would never hit the wrong key :))

Sunday, May 05, 2013

May Jigs

Let the Steamboats Run (mp3) (pdf)
Not in My Ground Water (mp3) (pdf)

A pair of jigs in a medley.

Record amounts of snow for the month of May were recorded across a wide swath of southern Minnesota this past week, over a foot in many places. Luckily, Decorah experienced mostly rain. On May 1 I was working on a different piece of music when a new jig took over my fingers. As always, finding a title was a problem when I recorded it yesterday.

The first of May (already the title of a great tune) offers many opportunities for titles because of its significance in many countries and cultures. I settled on a reminder of home, the Great Steamboat Race that occurs every year on the Wednesday (May 1 this year) before the Kentucky Derby. Years ago I used to love to go down to the Ohio river and watch the Belle of Louisville and the Delta Queen battle it out for the Golden Antlers. I especially enjoyed the years when the Julia Belle Swain was added to the field.

A week ago last Saturday Erik Sessions and I (with the help of our friends Pat O'Loughlin and Ehler Orngard) presented a benefit concert to help raise funds for a lawsuit that hopes to improve the air quality near the North Winneshiek school site. This second recently composed jig was paired with Erik's own new "Pig Jig" in a set of tunes, even though the issue at hand was air quality and not water. Things are related, as we all know, and environments are being stressed everywhere. Frac sand mining is a big issue in our region as well. Tune titles are small things but sometimes they can prompt a bit of thinking. Charles Mingus was a great one for this. My favorite example is "Remember Rockefeller at Attica."

When you click on the links above this week you will be pulling files from my new mandotopia.com website. I am slowly moving old files from the Contratopia site over to this new one and this is the first week that I have loaded the new files directly to the new host. If you have any problems please let me know.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Six Duettinos, Summer 2006, no. 5

Six Duettinos, Summer 2006, no.5 (mp3) (pdf)

Continuing the process of finally recording all six of my little "duettinos", which you can read about in an earlier post from December 2012. Number 5 is one that I recorded back in February and then forgot to press the save button on my machine, so I played it again this afternoon and managed to save my work this time.

Getting ready for a fun concert tonight with Erik Sessions and special guests Pat O'Loughlin and Ehler Orngard. It's a benefit to raise funds for a lawsuit aiming to force the EPA to regulate livestock feedlot emissions that are affecting local air quality. Read about the suit here and the concert here.

The music will be fun and will feature some new tunes along with music our Notes From the Farm CD and sets of tunes from Contraopia CDs as well. We may even be joined by lawyer/mandolinist Wally Taylor for a tune or two.

If you are in town come on out to Good Shepherd church tonight to hear a couple of world premieres. We promise no long speeches, just good tunes.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Off to Minnesota with the Providence Mandolin Orchestra (Post #100)

Off to Minnesota (mp3) (pdf score, parts available on request)

According to the Blogger internal counting algorithm today's post is number 100 since I created this blog back at the start of 2007. You can see from the archive that I have been a little inconsistent over the years; 25 posts in 2007 but only 3 in 2009. Lately though I have found a rhythm and I believe that this is the 28th consecutive week that I have posted a piece of music here. (I have nothing for next week yet but we'll see what the coming week brings.)

I'm especially pleased with this week's "tune" because it features the remarkable Providence Mandolin Orchestra performing my arrangement of my simple tune "Off to Minnesota" (really just a variation on the classic tune "Off to California"), which I originally made up in 2007. It appeared here in its basic form, with guitar and mandolin, in June 2008. A little later I created the mandolin orchestra version and gave it to my good friends in the Minnesota Mandolin Orchestra.

The MMO has performed this piece many times in recent years and I have had the honor to join them on occasion. We performed the piece in Minneapolis during a concert at the annual Classical Mandolin Society of America convention last fall and Mark Davis, director of the Providence Mandolin Orchestra, liked the piece enough to ask me for the music. This resulted in the performance I'm sharing today.

The PMO is, by any standard, one of the premiere plectral ensembles in North America. They are especially well known for focusing on the performance of recently composed music for mandolin orchestra. In January 2013 the orchestra played a concert as part of the Music at Lily Pads series in Peace Dale, RI that featured a program of all original music for mandolin and guitars, including some recent award-winning pieces. I was extremely honored that Mark and the group chose to perform Off to Minnesota as their encore that afternoon.

Thanks to the hard work work of PMO member David Miller, and the generosity of Mark and the group, I have permission to share that performance here. It's an especially appropriate choice for today's post because I just returned last night from my second of two trips this weekend "off the Minnesota" to play tunes with buddies in Contratopia. I hope you enjoy the fine playing of the folks in the PMO!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Wintry Mix

Wintry Mix (mp3) (pdf)

I wrote this tune a month or so ago while returning from Washington D.C. on Amtrak's Capitol Limited train. At the time I did not imagine that I would be watching, and listening, to such weather in mid-April here in Decorah. But this morning there was fresh, slushy ice on the car parked out front and nearly frozen rain is still falling from the sky at 11:00 a.m. Enough already.

The tune is a simple jig that lays nicely under the fingers.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Late Breakfast

Late Breakfast (mp3) (pdf)

I picked up the mandolin first thing this morning and a little snatch of melody was waiting. Rather than go downstairs for breakfast I played along until a whole tune emerged. Following my late breakfast I tuned up the guitar and plugged in a mic, then I recorded the music while it was still fresh.

Usually it's a good idea to wait a while and see if new and better ideas come along to improve a piece but I decided to go ahead and share this tune while it was new. Hope that's OK.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter Jigs 2004

Easter Jigs 2004 (mp3) (pdf score) (pdf M1) (pdf M2)

Easter weekend often, but not always, offers me a chance to write a tune or two. According to my notebooks these two simple jigs were written on or around Easter in 2004. Checking our Contratopia History page I see that the month leading up to Easter that year (April 11) was a particularly busy period for the band. We were featured at the Spring Breakdown in Jefferson City, MO from March 19-21 and, the following weekend, we played for the Vernals Dance Weekend in Florida. I believe this is the only time that Contratopia has played back-to-back dance weekends. We were all so young back then!

I mention this history to suggest that I was probably ready for some down time when Easter rolled around in 2004. So these two jigs, still individually unnamed, popped out while my head was still full of dance weekend music. A few weeks ago I came across them and thought I would write a second part for each and then put them together. Hence today's Easter Jigs.

Find a mando or fiddle playing friend and give them a try. Guitar chords are included too.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Deer Track March 10-11, 2013

Deer Track March 10-11, 2013 (mp3) (pdf)

Another addition to my ongoing series of short Deer Tracks solo mandolin pieces, from a couple of weeks ago. This one came about because I had read a review of a recent CD by saxophonist Jeremy Udden, titled folk art, in DownBeat magazine (the online edition).

I was sitting here at this computer and looked up the Amazon page for the CD with sound clips. The reviewer had made it clear I would probably like the CD (it includes several tracks featuring Brandon Seabrook on banjo, in a non-bluegrass style). I had my mandolin in my lap as I listened to the samples and spontaneously started to play along.

If I had been in the room with the band while they were recording what I was playing would have been wholly inappropriate but it suited me at the time. Before long I played what is now the first phrase of this week's tune. I reached out and stopped the CD samples, picked up a pen and started writing. Most of the piece followed pretty quickly. I improved it some the next day and then recorded it. (I then ordered the CD and I highly recommend it.)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Antonina from the Gravenstein Mandolin Ensemble

Antonina (pdf score)(parts available on request)

Here's an excellent video recording of a performance of my mandolin orchestra composition Antonina taken from a concert given by the Gravenstein Mandolin Ensemble (directed by Gus Garelick) at a church in Petaluma, CA on January 25, 2013. I'm always delighted when groups post videos of themselves playing one of my pieces and this is an especially fine performance. My thanks to Gus and the group for putting so much work into making my music sound good!

Particular thanks goes to the group's percussionist and whoever (Gus?) created the percussion part. My original score doesn't call for percussion but this is a fine addition to the piece.

I have written a number of pieces for mandolin orchestra and other types of mandolin-based ensembles over the last 25 years and they have been played and recorded by groups around the world. A few of these pieces can be found on the Compositions for mandolin orchestra or other mandolin ensembles page of my Mandotopia website. Antonina and several others haven't been posted there yet but I hope to get to that soon.

As Gus mentions in his introduction, Antonina was written for the en masse orchestra of the 2010 convention of the Classical Mandolin Society of America, held in Seattle. I had the honor of being named Composer in Residence that year and I had a great time hearing the 100+ member group work on the music. The piece is dedicated to the wonderful Antonina (Toni) Nigrelli, one of the earliest members of the CMSA, a former President of the organization and all-around champion of the classical mandolin in North America.

I hope you enjoy the music.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

The Old White House

The Old White House (mp3) (pdf) (pdf2014revision)

Early last Saturday morning Erik, Pat, Ted, Lynn and I enjoyed a pleasant visit to the old White House. Sadly, Patrice Pakiz (who organized the tour) was left at the gate, having temporarily lost her driver's license. It was before 9:00 a.m. and we had been up pretty late the night before playing at the Glen Echo Friday Night Dance but we still enjoyed seeing a few historic rooms.

This particular tune emerged on the day that Patrice let us know we had our request for a tour approved. I started out writing a variation on the classic tune "White House Blues" but ended up closer to "Cindy". In fact at one point I thought I was finished and then realized that I had accidentally re-composed the A section of "Cindy" almost note for note.

Contratopia has played this tune a couple of times now and it works as a nice mid-tempo marching kind of dance. See what you think.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Oneota Stomp

The Oneota Stomp (mp3) (pdf)

Re-worked slightly in 2012, this tune has been around for a few years. I believe that we played it at least once, sometime in the past, in its earlier form with the now legendary Bear Creek Bluegrass Band in the Cafe Deluxe (later Sabor Latino) courtyard on a warm summer's night. It didn't catch on with the band then (neither did my searing rendition of Stonewall Jackson's "Waterloo") but now here it is again.

The photo is of the Upper Iowa (Oneota) River taken over a century ago by Professor Samuel Calvin. You can find it, and many more beautiful images, in the Calvin Photographic Collection hosted by the University of Iowa.

I like the recording here but I have to mention that the ending is a bit of a train wreck. I fumbled putting a tag on the original rhythm track and then compounded it by adding competing tags to the additional guitar and mandolin tracks, thinking I would "fix it in the mix". In the end the train wreck sounds more fun, so I left them all on.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The New Henrietta

The New Henrietta (mp3) (pdf)

"The New Henrietta" is a rare example of a case where I intentionally take some music (in this case one and a half measures) from an existing tune and use it verbatim in my own piece. (Lord knows I unintentionally takes bits and phrases from old tunes all the time.) A tune titled "Henrietta - Hornpipe" appears on page 139 of Patrick Sky's Mel Bay edition of Ryan's Mammoth Collection, a wonderful gathering of music first printed in the 19th century. 

I was reading tunes at random one day from this book and found that the first two bars of the B section of "Henrietta" were especially fun. The rest of the tune didn't do much for me so I wrote a new tune around the measures that I liked. Those notes still appear as the first measure and a half of the new B section.

Erik Sessions and I recorded "The New Henrietta" paired with Erik's excellent "Kohlrabi Stomp" on our Notes From the Farm CD last year. We only played "Henrietta" one and a half times through on the CD so I thought I would give it twice as much exposure today.

Recorded this morning, Gibson mandolin, Martin guitar. The chords in parentheses are the ones I play with the capo on the third fret.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Six Duettinos, Summer 2006, no. 4

Six Duettinos, Summer 2006, no. 4 (mp3) (pdf)

Continuing my project to finally record all six of these simple pieces. You can read more about them in my post from last December.

I sat down this morning and recorded both no. 4 and no. 5. Unfortunately, I neglected to save the recording of no. 5 and it disappeared when I unplugged my Tascam pocketstudio. I'll have to do it again later. No. 4, presented here, goes a bit faster than the tempo indicated in the sheet music (although I have corrected this in my Midwestern Mandolin Duos book) and I played a few unintended notes at the start of the final A section. No harm, no foul.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Groundhog Special

Groundhog Special (mp3) (pdf)

Written, recorded and set into Finale this morning. Edited with my ancient Sound Forge software and uploaded to my website just after lunch. This is an unusual example of the whole process happening in just a few hours.

You might properly and politely point out that's it's usually better to wait a while before sharing something on the internet. I suppose I might decide tomorrow, or the next day, to remove this post but I doubt it. The tune and the performance seem to be well within the loose guidelines of what's acceptable here. (Clearly no click track was involved.) Hope you enjoy it.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

We're Heading South

We're Heading South (mp3) (pdf)

Waltz. Mostly written on January 15, 2013, recorded last weekend. World premiere with guitar, violin and oboe, by Contratopia last Saturday night (the 19th) during a dance at the Decorah Elks Lodge.

The temperature was above 40 degrees Fahrenheit last Saturday afternoon, still in the thirties at five when we met for dinner and down to the single digits by 9 pm, with a fierce wind bringing the chill well below zero. Heading South was a very attractive prospect.

The photo is a view of the old mill at Spring Mill Park in southern Indiana, taken in March 2009. The tune offers a good chance to practice your half-diminished chords.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Coulda Been a Log

Coulda Been a Log (mp3) (pdf)

A simple uptempo tune in C. Recorded a year or so ago, I just came across the recording again this past week. Who knows, maybe we'll play it with Contratopia at the Elks Club tonight?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

September Last

September Last (mp3) (pdf)

This tune emerged on or about September 16, 2012 and received its only (to date) public performance at the Steyer Opera House, here in Decorah, on September 21 as part of the "Coming Home Again" concert presented by the Water Street Music Series featuring the quartet of Ellen Rockne, Kathy Reed, Erik Sessions and myself. That performance featured Kathy on harpsichord, Erik on fiddle and me on mandolin.

The photo was taken (according to our camera) on Sept. 8, just a few days before the music came.

The recording is from this morning. It's nice to remember the warmth of September on a cold January morning.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Six Duettinos, Summer 2006, no. 3

Six Duettinos, Summer 2006, no. 3 (mp3)(pdf)

As promised a couple of weeks ago, here's no. 3 of the set. Only three more of these to go. A simple, sunny start to the new year.

See the earlier post for more info on this music.

Incredibly, to me, this marks the 13th week in a row that I've managed to post something here.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.