Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Riff City

Contratopia: Riff City

Contratopia's new CD, Riff City, is now available. This, along with the recently completed annual convention of the Classical Mandolin Society of America in Portland, Oregon, and a family wedding, serves as my excuse for missing the month of October in this blog.

It's taken us around 10 years to finally get a new CD together and I'm quite pleased with the result. Riff City includes 14 of my tunes, many of which have been featured on this blog over the years. We did the actual recording back in February and March but it took forever for us to get around to the final mixing and mastering process.

The beautiful artwork, by Maria Nicklin Collins ( was well worth the wait. We couldn't be happier with the way that Maria has given the CD a visual identity. Complete credits and notes on the tunes are available at the CD Baby site above.

We are playing a dance at the Tapestry Folkdance Center in Minneapolis on Saturday night (Nov. 8) and we'll have plenty of copies available for sale. Hope to see you there.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Deer Tracks for Solo Mandolin, free streaming

Deer Tracks (for solo mandolin) free streaming at CD Baby (

Suzie says, "Check out free streaming for John's Deer Tracks CD at CD Baby, starting today!" (Or something like that.)

CD Baby has started offering their customers the option of streaming full tracks from their recordings and, in honor of the upcoming first anniversary of the Deer Tracks CD release, I am making the whole CD available to anyone who wants to stream the individual tracks.

You may already be the user of a music service that allows streaming of this music but, if not, you can now do so through the CD Baby site.

Deer Tracks was never meant to be a money maker. Thanks to my Kickstarter friends it cost me almost nothing to record and produce. I am, however, always pleased when someone wants to own a copy of this music, either on disc or via download. Now you can hear the whole thing before you decide whether to plunk down your hard-earned money.

I have also enabled full track streaming for the tunes on my Mandolin Tunes CD. These tracks were all originally presented here on this blog anyway so I'm just making it easier for non-readers of So Many Tunes to hear whole tracks as well.

I hope you enjoy this new development. Share with your friends if you think they might enjoy some of this mandolin music. Suzie thanks you too.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Deer Track, June 8, 2013

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

Here's another Deer Track piece from the official CD. This one was "commissioned by Ron Cleveland and dedicated to Serena (Casey) Cole" as part of the Kickstarter project and is a great example of music that would not exist without the support of the Kickstarter participants. I could have done any number of things last year on June 8 but, because of Ron's generosity, I was motivated to write this music.

I really like this photo as well. It was taken, as were the preceding three photos, just a few weeks ago while walking the dog near our house. It appears to be some remote location but actually there is quite a large town just out of the frame to the left. We do see deer frequently in this field but their pathways are harder to spot than the trails they create in the forest off to the right of the photo.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Deer Track, May 8-9, 2012

Deer Track, May 8-9, 2012 (mp3) (pdf)

 Almost exactly a year ago, on August 19-20, 2013, I drove up to Minneapolis and recorded my Deer Tracks (for solo mandolin) CD at Wild Sound Studio. Even occasional readers of this blog are probably tired of hearing about the Deer Tracks Kickstarter project and the generous support that allowed me to compose new music and record and produce these solo mandolin pieces, but this anniversary still needs to be noted.

While many Deer Tracks pieces have been presented in this blog I realize that there are still many from the official CD that have not been featured here. So, in celebration of this anniversary, I intend to add a few more of those pieces in the coming weeks.

Today's special is the May 8-9, 2012 piece, one of my many favorites. This is the piece that I chose to send to the Mandolin Cafe for their MP3 page when the CD was officially released in September 2013. In case you aren't a Mandolin Cafe regular you should know that there are many hours of free (and legal) mp3s available for download there from dozens of mandolinists featuring music from nearly every genre imaginable.

Finally, if you are interested in having a physical copy of the Deer Tracks CD you should know that I have dropped the price at CD Baby to only $5 as an anniversary special. I only have a few left so "Take Advantage of this Special Offer While Supplies Last!"

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Bagatelle for Solo Mandolin, no. 5

Bagatelle for Solo Mandolin, no. 5 (mp3) (pdf)

Another Bagatelle came together this week. Parts of this one have been around for a while but I like the way the old stuff and the new bits arranged themselves in the last few days. See what you think.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Deer Track, May 25, 2013

Deer Track, May 25, 2013 (mp3) (pdf)

Here's another one of the many Deer Tracks that didn't get recorded for the official CD last summer. It's been nearly a year since the recording sessions and I am still reaping huge rewards from the generosity of the folks who supported my project, either through Kickstarter or in other ways. This one is only a minute long but I enjoy following its path.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Spring Street Hornpipe Duo

Spring Street Hornpipe (mp3) (pdf)

Another tune that began its life in 2005, now revisited and improved for a digital debut as a mandolin duo in 2014. Searching for a title I had the idea of naming it after another street that I lived on long ago in New Albany, Indiana. This may signal a series of "New Albany Hornpipes" since it is related to my earlier tune Ekin Ave. Hornpipe (also composed in 2005) that first appeared here in the third entry of this blog (January 22, 2007) and later became the opening track of my Mandolin Tunes CD.

Spring Street is a main drag in New Albany and was almost always the way that I entered town during my youth. Many adventures began with me crossing the old Silver Creek bridge (either on my bicycle or, later, in a car) and heading down that big, wide avenue. Home to music and record shops, Frisch's Big Boy, White Castle and more. In the mid-70s I lived for a time in the 1200 block of Spring St. in a run-down old 2 story house, next to a funeral home, with great friends, music and books. But enough nostalgia...

Hope you enjoy the tune, ideally with a friend.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Jig, March 15, 2005 Duo

Jig, March 15, 2005 Duo (mp3) (mp3 slow) (pdf)

This week we have another tune from 2005 rendered in mandolin duo form. I recorded it at a slowish tempo a couple of weeks ago and then at a more standard jig tempo this week. I actually forgot that I had recorded the slow version until after I recorded the faster one and was trying to save it.

The photo is of lovely Sebec Lake, just north of Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, taken in May of this year.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Crooked June

Crooked June (mp3) (pdf)

This tune was mostly written on June 24th but has been smoothed out a little since then. I took the photo in June of 2013 while gathering photos for my Deer Tracks project.

I also spent a couple of hours this weekend bringing the Alphabetical list of tunes page up to date, adding entries for all of the tunes I've presented here since back in October of 2013. Of course now it's out of date again, but that's OK.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

July 27, 2005 Duo

July 27, 2005 Duo (mp3) (pdf)

Another in my summer project to uncover, rework, record and share some short pieces from the past as friendly mandolin duos. Hope you enjoy today's installment.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Jig, July 11, 2011

Jig, July 11, 2011 (mp3) (pdf)

I came across this recording from 2011 tonight while looking for something else. I had forgotten all about this tune. I probably thought it wasn't quite up to snuff when I recorded it on July 13, 2011 but it sounds fine to me now, almost three years later. The recording is old enough now that I can't tell what guitar I'm playing but I suspect the mandolin is my faithful old Gibson A.

This tune is a bit unusual in having a half-diminished chord in the harmony of the B section. I suspect that fewer than one percent of all jigs from the folk tradition intentionally contain such a chord but, as always, I could be wrong. If you know of other jigs with mb7 chords I'd love to hear about them.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Sand Island (1984)

Sand Island (1984) (mp3) (pdf)

Back in April 2008 (that's a long time ago in Blog Years) I posted a recording of one of my oldest tunes, "Sand Island." It was a then-recent recording made at Patrice Pakiz's house in Minneapolis by Contratopia (minus Patrice) while fooling around on a Saturday morning. We have played this tune in Contratopia throughout the life of the band, we keep moving it around from set to set because it "plays well with others" in the context of medleys of dance tunes.

This morning, while working on one of my instruments, I was listening to old recordings from 1984 and this early version of the tune caught my ear. This comes from the same cassette tape that I produced in my apartment with my old Fostex 4-track machine and that I talked about at some length back in a post from Oct. 12, 2013. If you haven't read that one you might enjoy some of my ramblings about future rock and pop stars who lived and played in my old Bloomington, Indiana neighborhood in those days.

Today's recording is notable to me because it begins with a flourish from a long-forgotten 12-string guitar that I used to own. I had an awful acoustic Kent 12-string in the mid-60s when I was just learning to play. (It was great for strengthening my hand although I was never able to exert enough force to sound all 12 strings while playing an F major bar chord at the 1st fret.) I also, for a few weeks, had an electric Hagstrom 12-string (a Rickenbacker was out of the question financially) but it fell apart under the strain of being tuned to pitch and played with teenage energy. It was returned for the Hagstrom 6-string that is still here with me. Finally, I purchased a Takamine 12-string in the early 80s that I kept for a few years. This, I think, is the guitar on this tape.

The recording has me playing the tune first on mandolin (my old Gibson, also here with me in the room today), then on my Flatiron octave (also still here), then with both instruments together. Then I play improvised choruses on each instrument, followed by a closing statement of the melody. (I was thinking in jazz even though the tune is a simple reel.) Somewhere in there I also added an electric bass track.

My recollection is that I didn't do lots of takes of the solos. I settled for what came out the first or second time, so they have a certain rough quality. Charming if you are being kind, sloppy if you take the other approach.

In any event, here's another step back in time. It's fun to hear my old self going at it. I've got a few more from this era that I'll post eventually.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

November 25, 2005

November 25, 2005 (mp3) (pdf)

Another tune from 2005 with a second part added. I believe that this tune was performed as a mandolin trio at the annual Burning Bright holiday concert in Decorah back in 2005. (Not actually in the concert, but during the pre-show music.) I dug out the earlier two part version and made some significant improvements to the second part for this version.

I also recorded a basic guitar track as a kind of continuo (and click track) for the mandolins in this recording. I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

August 28, 2005 Duo

August 28, 2005 Duo (mp3) (pdf)

Here's another tune from 2005 that I've turned into a duo. There may be a few more of these before I get tired of digging through the tune archives.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

May 3, 2005 Duo

May 3, 2005 Duo (mp3) (pdf)

I've been thinking about creating a series of short duos using some tunes and melodies I have stockpiled over the years. Like some of the shorter pieces in my Midwestern Mandolin Duos book.

Today I had a little time to indulge in that sort of thing and I had fun playing around with this piece from May 2005. I played the tune using the melody only on the first pass and then added the harmony part on the second time through. See what you think.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day

Mother's Day (mp3 - live version) (pdf)

I noticed today, Mother's Day 2014, that my waltz, Mother's Day, hasn't yet appeared in this blog. Contratopia recorded the tune as the opening track of our Ballroom Echoes waltz CD over a decade ago and we've played it many times since. Often we have used it as the opening tune of an all waltz session.

I believe this recording was made on the Sunday morning of the Spring Dance Romance weekend in April of 2003 and I believe it was the first tune we played that morning. So it's a little ragged as we settle into our seats and loosen up our hands but it's a nice example of Contratopia at play in a relaxed mode. Somewhere in the middle I play the tune in the upper octave of my mandolin and there are a few humorous moments where I am clearly trying to figure out where the next note might be in that less familiar region of the fingerboard. Still, the good notes make up for the bad.

The Triangle Country Dancers hired us to play for their great weekend which was held that year at Camp Sertoma, near Danbury, North Carolina. I remember the whole weekend as being great fun.

Since this tune was recorded back in 2003 important mothers in my life have passed away and, very recently, new children have been born, creating new mothers in the process. This tune received its title without much thought but I think it has grown, over time, into something worthy. The pdf here also contains the music to Rose Island, another nostalgic waltz, because it is printed on the same page in our Contratopia Tunebook.

Hope you enjoy Erik, Patrice and Pat making my tune sound good. Best wishes to mothers everywhere.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Easter Waltz (for mandolin orchestra) in Italy

Easter Waltz (mp3 at SoundCloud) (pdf score)

Today marks the 3rd time my Easter Waltz has appeared in this blog, the second time in its arrangement for mandolin orchestra. In March 2009 I posted a violin and guitar recording of the basic tune that Erik Sessions and I apparently made at Patrice Pakiz's house in Minneapolis. This blog post also features one of my all-time favorite photos from So Many Tunes, taken in New Harmony, Indiana.

Then in November of 2010 I shared a fine recording made by my friends in the Pittsburgh Mandolin Orchestra. They, by the way, have a big concert coming up next weekend featuring special guests Carlo Aonzo and Rene Izquierdo.

Last week I received an email from the Orchestra a Plettro Sanvitese (pictured above) letting me know about a recent concert recording of the piece. I believe they are playing it again today, along with my Highlandville, May 14, 2004 and Cathedral Hill. If you follow the mp3 link above you will find yourself at the Orchestra's SoundCloud page which includes links to other concert recordings of these pieces as well.

I am so honored that musicians around the world continue to choose to play my pieces, whether in groups or as individuals. If you are a member of a mandolin ensemble and haven't yet checked out the mandolin orchestra music page at my Mandotopia site, please take a look. I have several more recent pieces that I need to add to the list but there may be something there that you and your friends would enjoy playing. Help yourself!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Suit Yourself

Suit Yourself (mp3) (pdf)

I pulled this tune from 2011 out of the stack this morning and spent a little time adding a few notes and subtracting others. Maybe I improved it, maybe not. See what you think.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Ice Wagon Cometh

The Ice Wagon Cometh (mp3) (pdf) (pdf-harmony)

Written on a cold day near the end of 2013, this schottische-like tune led me to a memory of my father. Once in a while my Dad would mention that his father (who died not long after I was born) had driven an ice wagon back in the 1920s. He had fond memories of sometimes riding along with him.

The photo above is from the Harry Lemen Historic Photo Collection, housed at the Madison-Jefferson County Public Library (Madison, Indiana). Madison is only an hour or so upriver from Clarksville and the wagon in the photo might have been very similar to the one that my father would have known.

Recorded today, a cold, rainy day in April with a Martin guitar and a Lafferty mandolin. I'm also including a harmony part suitable for a second mandolin, violin or any other treble clef instrument.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Deer Track, June 5, 2013

Deer Track, June 5, 2013 (mp3) (pdf)

Another previously unrecorded Deer Track from last summer's Kickstarter project. I had real fun writing this one and it was nice to revisit it again last night.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Deer Track, June 17, 2013

Deer Track, June 17, 2013 (mp3) (pdf)

Last summer I was writing a new Deer Tracks piece nearly every day. Last weekend I took some time and collected all of the Deer Tracks pieces that either didn't make onto the the official Deer Tracks CD or haven't yet been featured in So Many Tunes. There are about fifteen of those.

This one was written on June 17, 2013, although I changed at least one note later in the summer.

For anyone keeping score I can say that today's recording, and pretty much everything since "Snow Crow Shadow" in mid-January, was recorded using my recently acquired Lafferty LA-5 mandolin. I'm really enjoying playing this fine mandolin. You can read more about this in a thread at the Mandolin Cafe started by Orrin Star after he had a chance to play my Lafferty a few weeks ago.

The weather is saying we might get a little spring snowfall tomorrow but it was plenty warm when I wrote today's tune. Spring will come eventually.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Rockville Blues

Rockville Blues (mp3) (pdf)

Contratopia was out East last weekend, the photo above is from the Saturday night dance in Shepherdstown, WV (courtesy Ted Hodapp, with Pat O'Loughlin's camera). The DC area received a modest snowfall on Monday, prompting the shutdown of the federal government and the DCA airport.

Amtrak, however, was running just fine and I was settled into my cozy roomette and heading west a little after 4:00 in the afternoon. Rolling out of Union Station I pulled out my mandolin and today's tune popped right out. It was pretty much finished by the time we stopped at Rockville.

I've learned recently that Amtrak is offering some free rides to writers on long haul trains. This is a great idea. I (and I'm sure many, many other folks) have been writing on trains for years. I love the peacefulness of the ride and the ever-fascinating display of people and places going by my window. I particularly enjoy the community seating at meals. For an introvert this is a great way to meet new and interesting people within a clearly defined set of expectations.

A number of tunes that have appeared in this blog were written while riding on an Amtrak train, usually on the Capitol Limited. Check the alphabetical list for "Cumberland Mission", "The Night Train Waltz", "Rollin' Through the Gap", and "Shenandoah Bound" for examples, but there are many more tunes in my notebooks from various train rides that haven't made it to this blog yet.

So, maybe I'll apply for a ride as part of the Residency program and see if the Amtrak folks consider the composition of tunes to be a valid form of writing. They would have to be careful though. There are many instruments that would tend to disrupt the peace and quiet of the train. The mandolin has the advantage of being nearly silent when played with the fingers.

In any event, I hope you enjoy this relaxing little number from room no. 2 of car 2901.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Under the Snow

Under the Snow (mp3) (pdf)

There's a lot of action under the snow from a canine perspective.

This photo is actually from last winter but our yard looks much the same right now. (Only this year's snow is a little deeper.)

The tune, however, is very fresh. Hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Bagatelle for Solo Mandolin, no. 3

Bagatelle for Solo Mandolin, no. 3 (mp3) (pdf)

I started this one a couple of weeks ago and I think it has settled into its final form. I suppose time will tell.

It's worth noting that last Sunday, February 9th, marked the 50th anniversary of the single most important event in my musical life; the first appearance of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. I can't imagine what my life would have been like if I hadn't watched that show, it's best not to try.

The music that I present here, for better or worse, is all the result of a process that was put into motion that night. One bit of music leading to another, backwards and forward in time, "Ancient to the Future" (to borrow the motto of the Art Ensemble of Chicago).

Thanks for listening.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Family Valentine

Family Valentine (mp3) (pdf)

This tune comes from back in 2003 but the recording is from tonight. A simple waltz probably played at a family Valentine's Day event that year and rarely played since. The pdf is the version that appears in my 31 Waltzes tunebook. More info on the book is here:

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Bagatelle for Solo Mandolin, no. 2

Bagatelle for Solo Mandolin, no. 2 (mp3) (pdf)

And yet another short piece for solo mandolin. This one recorded last weekend.

Last week's tune, "Snow Crow Shadow", had a world premier a week ago at a performance for a select group of special listeners. Erik Sessions and I played the tune on mando and fiddle. Just last night we played the tune as part of a medley during a contra dance with our full Contratopia band. It seemed to work well in both contexts.

Snow, wind, cold; this is our January.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Snow Crow Shadow

Snow Crow Shadow (mp3) (pdf)

Believe it or not, I try not to write every tune in either D major or A minor/modal. This one wouldn't be denied so I let it come. Standing at the window I heard a crow outside and saw his/her shadow flit by on the snow as he/she passed overhead. (Thanks to the anonymous photographer, and crow, for the royalty free stock photo above.)

Friday, January 10, 2014

Bagatelle for Solo Mandolin, no. 1

Bagatelle for Solo Mandolin, no. 1 (mp3) (pdf)

2013 was, for me, the Year of the Deer Track. So much so that I have grown tired of that naming convention. On the first day of the new year I composed another Deer Track piece and it appears here today with a new kind of title. We'll see if a Bagatelle no. 2 comes along or if I revert to the old ways.

In any event I like this one. It's fun to play and pleasing to my ear. Hope you enjoy it also.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

December Jigs 2013

December Jigs 2013 (mp3) (pdf-1) (pdf-2)

Here we are at the start of the 8th year of So Many Tunes. A couple of those years were pretty quiet, only 3 posts in 2009 for instance, but I've been fairly active starting in 2012. I haven't counted lately but I know that well over 100 tunes are now freely available here as mp3 recordings and in standard notation.

Occasionally I will hear from someone who has enjoyed playing some of these tunes and I think that's great. The main purpose for this blog, however, continues to be the same. This is primarily a way for me to document at least some of the music that I write in a simple, demo-style format. Audio sketches if you will.

If you've sampled more than a few of these tunes you can hear that they are mostly bare bones recordings. I want you to get an idea of how the tune might go in case you want to try it yourself. Today's recordings are as bare as it gets, one mandolin playing simple melody lines. The only slight difference here is that, instead of playing each tune twice in a row, I play each tune only once and then go back and play them each once again. Pretty fancy arrangement. None of these tunes have titles yet but I decided to not let that stop me.

On New Year's Eve I received an email from Lucy in Brittany letting me know about a very nice blog entry she had written for her box elder blog. The post is titled Smitten, as ever was and is a model for what a good blog entry can be. In the middle of the post Lucy says some lovely things about our Contratopia band and our recording of my tune "Smitten" (recently featured once again in So Many Tunes). I encourage everyone to check it out.

Special thanks also to Reed and Ardys for the beautiful photo of snow-covered Decorah taken last week from the overlook at Palisades Park! It reminds me a lot of Bruegel's "Hunters in the Snow," one of my favorite paintings. It's bitter cold today in Northeast Iowa but I hope you enjoy these tunes whatever the temperature, wherever you are.

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