Wednesday, December 30, 2015


Bygones (mp3) (pdf)

Last tune for 2015, written sometime around Easter. This marks the end of nine years for So Many Tunes. We'll see what comes in 2016. There are certainly plenty of tunes waiting for their turn.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Green to Brown, All Over Town

Green to Brown, All Over Town (mp3) (pdf)

Back in September, thanks to our friends at the Vesterheim museum, Decorah hosted the great band Baltic Crossing for a workshop and a concert. It was a great day, culminating in an outdoor, acoustic, concert encore outside the Bethania Church beneath a lunar eclipse.

I was able to take part in the afternoon workshop and one of the tunes that the group taught to us was a traditional march with a title that translate into English as "The Green Skirt." (You can hear it yourself on their excellent Firetour CD.) We workshop participants were then privileged to perform the tune with the group during the evening show. As often happens after an encounter with great Scandinavian musicians I was inspired to write something vaguely in the same style. Today's tune is one of those.

I'm posting this tune today partly because I will be playing "The Green Skirt" as part of the Wall of Fiddles portion of this year's Burning Bright holiday concert this Saturday (Dec. 19) in Decorah. I won't be playing fiddle but I will be part of the rhythm section, playing octave mandolin along with my Foot-Notes band-mate, guitarist Jon Rotto. Tickets are going fast but it's not too late to get yours at the Oneota Community Co-op.

The photo is from an overlook in the Clark State Forest, near Henryville, Indiana, during a trip back home in September 2013.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Ingraham Gardens (King's Landing, NB)

Ingraham Gardens (mp3) (pdf)

Here's a pretty tune, an air titled after the lovely gardens you will find in front of the Ingraham House at the King's Landing historical settlement near Fredericton, New Brunswick. The photo is from August of 2009, my last chance to visit the site. Hopefully we'll get there again next summer.

It took me a while to settle on the G (add 9) chord in the B section. I'm playing it G-B-D-A(2nd fret G string)-D-G. You're welcome to improve on that. Let me know if you find a different chord you like as an alternate.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Tolley's Jig No. 2

Tolley's Jig No. 2 (mp3) (pdf) (pdf harmony)

Another short jig brought to you courtesy of Tolley the cat.

Technical note: After several years of recording straight to my computer I recorded this tune using a now obsolete Tascam DP-008 Pocket Studio that I used for a number of recordings back in 2012-2013. AKG Perception 170 mic, old Gibson A mandolin.

Photo from Forestville State Park in Minnesota, August 2015.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Whalen Cabin Waltz (June 5, 2011)

Whalen Cabin Waltz (mp3) (pdf)

It's a mystery to me but I've been suffering from a sort of "recording block" the last few months. So rather than record something new today I went back to the vault and dug out something from a few years ago.

In early June 2011 Erik Sessions and I played for a couple of high school graduation parties. We knew the graduates (fine young musicians all) and the parents and we had a great time playing tunes while folks enjoyed the beautiful weather and the company of friends.

At one of the parties, the one held at the Whalen Cabin in Phelps Park, Decorah, I hooked up the old Zoom H4 to our little PA system and recorded the two of us using aux outs. It's a nice document of what the two of us sound like in a relaxed setting.

Until today this tune has been titled "May 29, 2011" which tells me that I wrote it only a few days before this recording was made and that this was almost certainly a world premiere. I suspect that Erik was sight-reading the tune (unless we had run through it earlier, which would be pretty unusual), something not uncommon for us to do in a low-key setting like this.

I remember that Erik and I (on mandolin that time) played the tune along with Ehler Orngard on guitar and, maybe, Rob Hervey on bass the next day but we didn't record that gig. Erik and I have played the tune once or twice since but not in a while. So maybe having an official title now will give it new life.

In any event I hope you enjoy the piece. It's a nice chord workout for you guitar players :)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Tolley's Jig No. 1

Tolley's Jig No. 1 (mp3) (pdf)

Lots of tunes played, practiced and written in the last few weeks but little time for this blog. I recorded this little jig a couple of weeks ago. I haven't decided on what chords might work best so I'm leaving that up to you for now.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Loaves and Fishes-Too Many Goats-Fourth and Walnut live

Contratopia from Behind The Mic™ on Vimeo.

Loaves and Fishes/Too Many Goats/Fourth and Walnut (pdf)
A couple of weeks ago our Contratopia band performed a full length concert on a perfect summer evening in downtown Decorah. You can read a little more about that over at the Contratopia 2.0 blog.

This video, courtesy of Al and Behind the Mic Productions (with special support from Patrice), is the first to surface from that show. I checked and was surprised to see that none of the three tunes featured here have been included in this blog before now.

Contratopia has been playing these tunes of mine since the early days of the band and we have often used this set for the first dance of the evening. This is also the starting set of tunes on our Smitten CD. Al's video captures us trying to bring the set down from its usual 10-13 minute length to something closer to what we did on the CD.

In case you are wondering, my buddy Pat O'Loughlin isn't trying to come up with a fancy introduction to Loaves and Fishes, he just starts playing a different tune altogether. Same key, same tempo, easy to do. We've all done this in the band and you can see that no one misses a beat. That's because we are a dance band and missing the beat is the only real mistake we can make.

The sheet music supplied (sorry no tab this time) is straight from our Contratopia Tunebook, pages 6 & 7. Still available from the link above, only $6 for a PDF copy.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Alice's Garden duo

Alice's Garden duo (mp3) (pdf) (pdf-tab)

A little blast from the past, 2008, this time. This is the mandolin duo version of a waltz that I wrote back then and recorded with guitar and mandolin in March 2008. This duo arrangement is the first piece in my Midwestern Mandolin Duos book that I published in 2010.

Once again I've created a mandolin tablature version of the score in addition to the standard notation. I haven't taken the time to make a tablature version of the whole Duos book, but maybe I will someday.

In March 2008 I said: "Alice's Garden was a roadside produce stand that was located up Highway 52 near the Minnesota state line when we first moved to northeast Iowa. The stand is still there but hasn't been open for many years."

Sadly, the stand is also gone now and I couldn't even spot a trace of it the last couple of times I've looked while driving by. But I made this tune and you can play it if you want.

It's a fine, much-needed rainy day today but I am expecting beautiful mild weather on Friday when Contratopia presents an outdoor concert in the ArtHaus courtyard. Hope to see you there, 7:00 p.m., Water Street, Decorah.

If you can't catch the full band on Friday night it looks like Erik and I will be joined by Pat O'Loughlin the next morning at the Decorah Farmer's Market. Fiddle tunes and vegetables, who could ask for more?

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Eight More Miles to India

Eight More Miles to India (mp3) (pdf) (pdf-tab)

Another great summer weekend. I'm honored to be playing, along with Erik Sessions, for an outdoor wedding ceremony this afternoon at the Decorah Fish Hatchery. The weather will be a little on the warm side but, fingers crossed, there is no rain in the forecast.

Later tonight I get to play polkas, schottisches, waltzes and two-steps with my Foot-Notes friends at the Highlandville schoolhouse. This will be our first public dance since the World's Largest Schottische event at Nordic Fest. You can view a fine short video about the WLS event, produced by Bailey Mulholland, at this link: (It even has a brief shot of me smiling for the camera!)

Today's tune was written back in April as I was preparing for a presentation on John Coltrane for a jazz history class at Luther College. I've given this talk a few times and I always start by explaining my own introduction to Coltrane's music via the Byrds' recording of their tune "Eight Miles High."

At the beginning of his introductory solo Roger McGuinn quotes a four-note theme directly from Coltrane's tune "India." I play the Byrds' recording first (these days no one in the class can even identify the song) and then the intro to "India."

So back in April I was toying with the idea of bringing a mandolin to class to demonstrate the quote and I ended up writing this dance tune instead. I've played it at a couple of contra dances since then and it seems to work fine. Try it yourself and see what you think.

The recording is at a slower tempo than you might want to use for contra dancing. I also got out my old Flatiron octave mandolin to double the melody and add a little harmony in the B section. And I created a tab version of the sheet music.

I couldn't resist being clever with the title (a little too clever you might justifiably think), combining the Byrds and Coltrane titles with a nod to my hometown anthem "Eight More Miles to Louisville." Also I should point out that last week's tune "Lily's Stars" uses the same four note theme throughout it's melody. It's just a coincidence, though, that these tunes are back to back in this blog.

The photo shows a small island in the Upper Iowa River not far from our house.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Lily's Stars

Lily's Stars (mp3) (pdf) (pdf-tab)

It's been a busy couple of weeks but I finally got around to recording and uploading the first actual new tune of 2015. I have a bunch of tunes written but I chose this one, "Lily's Stars", because it is fairly simple and I like the title. I have also included a mandolin tablature version of the tune.

I actually wrote the tune in mid-June but the title came as the result of a short overnight visit to the camper cabin named Lily at Forestville State Park in Minnesota this week. The weather was perfect and the stars that night were extraordinary.

It's hard to believe that it's already been two weeks since I played two dances at Nordic Fest with Foot-Notes. The second dance featured over 1800 people dancing to Beth Rotto's tune "World's Largest Schottische" (stream the studio recording here, or purchase a download at CD Baby or iTunes), more than double the number needed to best the World's Largest Polka record recognized by Guinness. (The Guinness folks are reluctant to create a new category for schottische and prefer to consider it a form of polka; go figure.)

I also played a 2 hour show with Erik Sessions at Nordic Fest to a great afternoon crowd and then we played a shorter concert the following Thursday for the Decorah Lawn Chair Night audience. This is my first weekend without a gig since the 4th of July, a nice break, but I've got several things coming up soon.

Next weekend, on August 15th, I'll join Foot-Notes at the Highlandville schoolhouse for a dance and then the following Friday, the 21st, Pat and Patrice are coming to town for an outdoor Contratopia concert at ArtHaus. If you are in the area come check us out.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Nordic Fest 2015 (July 23, 2004 w/mandolin tab)

July 23, 2004 (mp3) (pdf with mandolin tab)

Tonight marks the beginning of the 2015 Decorah Nordic Fest and I have a couple of busy days ahead. The opening ceremonies were this evening but I was busy rehearsing with Erik Sessions for our 2 hour performance on Water Street Saturday afternoon from 1:00-3:00.

Jon & Beth Rotto and Bill Musser, the founders (along with my friend Jim Skurdall) of the great Scandinavian-American dance band Foot-Notes, were honored tonight and I will have the honor of joining them in the Nordic Fest parade on Saturday morning.

I'll also be playing the mandolin with the band on both Friday and Saturday nights, including providing music for the World's Largest Schottische on Saturday night. You can stream a recording of us playing Beth's fine tune of the same name at this CD Baby link. If you are in the Decorah area you can come and be a part of dance history at 8:50 p.m. in front of Kephart's music store on Water Street.

I'll be ready for some rest on Sunday but Erik and I will be back on the street, this time in front of the Winneshiek County courthouse, on Thursday night as part of the Lawn Chair Night concert series.

Today's tune is a reprise of a tune that I wrote on, you guessed it, July 23, 2004, just in time to perform at the 2004 Nordic Fest with my friends in the old Bear Creek Bluegrass band. I still like this recording a lot. It shows a little of the influence of the some of the great Finnish and Swedish musicians that I've been listening to for a long time, especially Arto and Timo from JPP.

Continuing the tablature theme that I began last week I have created a PDF of the sheet music in both standard notation and mandolin tablature. See what you think.

The photo was taken this week while walking Suzie the dog at the Decorah Community Prairie.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Summer Projects - Tablature for Mandolin (31 Waltzes)

31 Waltzes now available in Mandolin and Guitar tab editions

I learned to read standard music notation around 50 years ago, right when I was starting to play guitar, and I generally haven't had much use for guitar or mandolin tablature. My most efficient way to learn new music is to read the notes. I can learn by ear also but I am slower than many. My main gripe with tablature is that I like to figure out for myself where to put my fingers to make the sound that I like best. But that's just me.

I have learned over the years that many fine mandolinists and guitarists, for a variety of reasons, prefer to use tablature as a way to learn new music. So I've decided to spend some time this summer converting some of my notated music into tab as an experiment in reaching out to those players.

My first experiment has been to intabulate (I do like that word) my 31 Waltzes book in versions for both mandolin and guitar (links are to sample pages). You can see that I have chosen to add the tab below standard notation, because that makes sense to me, and that makes a few tunes expand from one page to two. Then I needed to add a couple of blank pages to avoid page turns. If you click on the link you will go to a web page that includes some text and a table of contents with further links to recorded versions of most of the waltzes, many from appearances in this blog.

Of course I want to sell huge quantities of these new editions and the page linked above will offer you the chance to Buy Now using PayPal (no membership necessary).

I should also mention that as I was working on the guitar tab versions I realized that guitarists need to understand that the book does not contain full chord-melody arrangements, only the basic melodies.

I intend to continue with this tab experiment as time allows this summer. We'll see how that goes.

I'll be playing a couple of fun gigs this week also, both on Saturday. In the morning I'll be playing with Erik Sessions at the Winneshiek Farmers Market as part of the "Saturday on the Street" special event. I'll probably play some solo stuff while Erik is busy at his farm stand and then the two of us will play some tunes together. We need to practice up some for our upcoming shows at Decorah's Nordic Fest (July 25) and Lawn Chair Night (July 30).

Saturday night Erik and I will join our friends Rob Hervey (on bass) and dance caller Bill Deutsch to play for the barn dance at the annual Seed Savers Exchange Conference & Campout. We've been doing this for a decade or so and it's always a high point of the summer.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Hiatus - Check Back Summer 2015

Well it's been a couple of months since the last post, we're into a new year, and I've decided to make the de facto hiatus Official. I expect to resume adding tunes to this blog sometime in Summer 2015. So mark your calendars and check back then.

Or, you can come back whenever you want and rediscover a tune from years past. There are still over a hundred to choose from.

I just went back to the first post, January 1, 2007, and enjoyed once again "Shelter Dogs" and "Needle in the Sawdust." Jeez, I was just a young guy in my fifties then and Suzie was just a pup.
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