Thursday, September 13, 2018

Waitin' On the Julia Belle

Waitin' On the Julia Belle (mandolin orchestra score and parts)
                 (mp3 recording of the basic tune on mandolin and guitar)

Attention mandolin orchestra directors and members:

This summer I decided to finally create a mandolin orchestra version of a tune I had written a few years earlier, "Waitin' On the Julia Belle" (that is, the Julia Belle Swain riverboat). This arrangement is the result.

Being from the Indiana side of the Ohio River near Louisville, Kentucky, I first encountered the Julia Belle Swain in the mid-1970s as a participant in the annual Great Steamboat Race that was held as part of the Kentucky Derby festivities. I remember standing on the riverbank and being amazed at how the smaller boat was holding her own against the larger Belle of Louisville and Delta Queen as they came down the home stretch. The Julia Belle only ran in 1975 and 1976, but she won that second year.

Later, when we moved to Northeast Iowa in the mid-1990s I was delighted to discover that the Julia Belle was now operating out of La Crosse, Wisconsin, only 65 miles away. It was always good to see her docked downtown and to know that she was available for a short cruise on the Mississippi. The Julia Belle Swain was retired in 2009, a casulty of the Great Recession of 2008. Serious attempts have been made to refurbish the boat and she may still have another life on the river.

Musically, the Julia Belle Swain had a long association with the late, great John Hartford. He would sometimes pilot the boat and he mentioned her in some of his songs, especially "The Julia Belle Swain" ("with a bunch of old hippies for a crew"). My simple tune is, hopefully, a reflection of both the pleasure of riding on the Julia Belle Swain and the many hours I have spent being inspired by the music and life of John Hartford.

I have decided to make PDF copies of the score and parts for Waitin' On the Julia Belle freely available for download here under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Generic License found on the site linked above. Feel free to make as many copies of the score and parts as are necessary for your orchestra.

If you find Waitin' On the Julia Belle to be a good addition to your repertoire and you feel inclined to make a donation in support of my work you can use the PayPal Donation button on my site. Again, this is not required, I just hope that you enjoy the music. I would, however, love to hear about any performances of the piece. PDF copies of concert programs are especially appreciated.

I decided not to include a computerized "recording" of this piece. If you want to hear how it can sound convince your local mandolin orchestra to give it a shot. You could also gather a smaller group of musicians who play mandolin family instruments, plus a guitar and a bass, and read through the music for fun. If someone does give it a play I would love to hear a recording of a rehearsal or performance.

(Update: thanks to a comment on FB from Ben Hippen I realized that I did have a simple recording of the basic tune from back in 2008. I have added that link above. You can see that I've added a bit to the original tune but that I haven't changed its fundamental character.)

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Deer Track, February 27, 2014

Deer Track, February 27, 2014 (mp3) (pdf)

Going through an old music notebook from early 2014 this week I came across a couple of not-quite-finished deer tracks pieces. Looking back I remember that this was around the time that Contratopia was busy trying to record what became our Riff City CD and I imagine that I was more focused on that project.

So today I've finished up the piece that was started on February 27, 2014. It's mostly as I scribbled it down but I changed a note here and there. I know these pieces sound pretty random but I actually spend some time making choices about pitches and durations. That's a lot of the fun for me.

If you prefer something a little more conventional you can always drop back to last week's tune, Blevins March, and enjoy some good old D major.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Blevins March

Blevins March (mp3) (pdf)

Two nights ago I was honored to be part of a beautiful community fundraiser that was created to help one of Decorah's most generous and giving people, Mike Blevins. Among many other gifts and talents, Mike is one of the those who people who supports musicians by really listening to what we do and helping us remember why we do it.

I wrote a tune that Erik Sessions and I could play during our set and we premiered it that night. Today I'm posting my usual home recording of the tune but maybe a live version will surface some day.

Depending on where you live you may or may not recognize all or some of the names on the MikeFest poster but I can attest that each and every one played an amazing set. Along with my set with Erik (which went over really well), I was privileged to accompany Joshua Vorvick on one of his fine songs and I had a great time backing up the wonderful Bonnie Koloc on her classic tune "Roll Me On the Water" during her set. The audience was perfect, relaxed and supportive the whole time.

 Most of the musicians perform with some regularity at Java John's Coffeehouse in Decorah and we were all happy to contribute our time and talent to this event. I have especially appreciated Mike's active listening to my solo mandolin shows over the last few years and I look forward to playing for him again once he is up and around.

If you are interested in helping Mike out there is a Go Fund Me site set up to help him with his medical expenses. Here's the link:

Speaking of Java John's, I am putting together my setlist for another solo mandolin evening this coming Wednesday, August 22. If you are in Decorah and interested then stop in anytime from 7 to 9, no cover. I'll be playing the usual mix of Baroque era pieces, fiddle tunes and original stuff.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

St. Francis and the Birds - mandolin quartet or ensemble

St. Francis and the Birds (for mandolin quartet or ensemble) (PDF music and mp3 here)

Back in May I posted an arrangement for SATB recorder quartet of this old tune of mine. You can read more about that, if you want, at this link.

Shortly after posting the recorder arrangement I heard from a mandolin friend in England wondering if he could adapt it for mandolins. I said "sure" but that set me to thinking about what that might look like and I came up with this version.

This is similar to July's James Oswald on the Ohio arrangement in that it is intended to be playable by 3 mandolins and an octave mandolin (or mandocello or guitar), or two mandolins, a CGDA mandola and octave mandolin, mandocello or guitar. If you have four plucked string instruments you can probably make it work.

I made the recording this afternoon despite a neighbor's lawn mower in the distance and some traffic noise. I think I hit most of the notes in the right places.

I'm using the above photo, even though it has appeared a few times in this blog already. It was taken in lovely New Harmony, Indiana a few years ago and I'm always happy to see it again.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

May Frost: 64 Original Mandolin Tunes (with harmony parts and guitar chords)

May Frost tunebook, download free PDF (donations encouraged) or purchase print copy at this Mandotopia page:

May Frost is a collection of mandolin tunes written mostly between 2003-2013, most of which first appeared in this blog. In putting this collection together I wrote harmony parts for the tunes that didn't already have them. I also corrected a few errors and made a few improvements.

In most cases you can look up each tune in this blog using the alphabetical index and play along. Better yet you can find a friend or two and play them as duos and/or trios at whatever tempo you prefer.

I've also included a short section at the end with brief notes on the tunes.

I hope you find some of these tunes fun and useful. Ideally they will add pleasure to your playing and to the people who encounter them.

Here's the title tune, "May Frost", as it was presented back in May of 2010 (mp3) (pdf)

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

James Oswald on the Ohio (for mandolin quartet or ensemble)

James Oswald on the Ohio (for mandolin quartet or ensemble) (PDF music and MP3 here)

Today's posted link will take you to a web page on my Mandotopia site that includes information about this new piece, along with the usual links to PDF music and a recording.

I explain the title in more detail there but the piece itself is another in a long line of pieces and tunes that I have written over the years inspired by the work of Scottish composer James Oswald (1710-1769). I am also trying to add to my supply of pieces composed for smaller groups of mandolin family players who don't have easy access to a large mandolin orchestra.

On this Independence Day I hope that you will enjoy a piece that makes fictional reference to our colonial past (although the artwork above probably depicts a slightly later time period).

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Ten Easy Duos, no. 5

Ten Easy Duos, no. 5 (mp3) (pdf)

Just over a month ago Martin Jonas posted recordings of Duos no. 2 & 3 in this series over at the Mandolin Cafe as part of his John Goodin Mandolin Duets thread. He gently reminded me that only Duos 1-3 of the supposed 10 have actually appeared.

That sent me looking back and I found the beginning of no. 4, which will need considerable work, and two versions of no. 5. I had the original version of no. 5 ready to go back in December 2017 but, apparently, decided it wasn't finished and I made it longer sometime after that.

So here is no. 5, recorded on Sunday using a 1920 or 1921 Gibson A-2 mandolin.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

St. Francis and the Birds - recorder quartet

St. Francis and the Birds (recorder quartet) (computer mp3) (pdf score)

This is the third appearance of this tune since 2007 when So Many Tunes first appeared. As best as I can remember I probably first wrote it down somewhere in the mid 1980s. It's published as a melody with chords in the Contratopia Tunebook and it originally appeared here in October of 2007.

Then in 2012 I wrote a fun second part for the tune and posted it again in this blog. That time I let my computer "play" the tune.

A couple of weeks ago I came across a partially completed arrangement of the tune for recorder quartet from a few years ago. This had required me to change the original key to better fit the range of an SATB group of recorders. I spent some time finishing that arrangement and I'm presenting it here.

Once again I'm letting my computer recorder players "perform" the piece. They certainly get all of the pitches just right and their tempo never wavers. I'm sure if I spent several hours tinkering I could coax the computer to sound a little more human but I think it sounds OK for my purpose here.

I'm also linking to a pdf copy of the new quartet score. I'll be happy to send copies of the parts to anyone who asks. Just email me at

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Easter Fool - Winter Window Sun

Easter Fool (mp3) (pdf)
Winter Window Sun (mp3) (pdf)

It's been quite some April. The photo above was taken on the morning of April 18 from our front porch. Normally you would see the bit of yard and a sidewalk that is visible in the photo from my previous post. You would also be able to clearly see the street from here. This was just the beginning of a record April snowfall for us. At our house we had 10-11 inches by late afternoon.

Easter Fool was mostly written on Easter Sunday / April Fool's Day. Winter Window Sun came along a couple of weeks earlier. We have enjoyed a full week of spring-like weather and we have every reason to believe that we are done with the snow until at least next October. Time will tell.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

No Show Snow

No Show Snow (mp3) (pdf)

The photo above tells the tale. Going to sleep on Friday evening we were under a Winter Storm Warning and we expected to see anywhere from 3 to 10 inches of fresh snow, depending on the wind and temperature changes.

Saturday morning showed us no snow. Fifty miles to the west, Osage, Iowa received up to 16 inches. New Hampton, just 35 miles southwest of here saw 11 inches. Here we didn't see even a flurry.

I have been the owner of a beautiful Flatiron Octave Mandolin (or octave mandola, if you prefer) since around 1981. I believe I am the original owner. In recent years, however, I have played it less and less, primarily due to the long scale length of the instrument and the toll it takes on my aging hands. When I do play it (heard on several tunes from this blog last year) I have been using a capo to shorten the scale length but I haven't been pleased with the results.

I read about the new MDO-305 Octave Mandolins now being produced by Eastman Guitars for a modest price and decided to give one a try. They are shorter scale (21") instruments. I received mine a couple of weeks ago and, so far, I have enjoyed it quite a bit.

Today's tune was written yesterday on the new octave mandolin and recorded using it along with a fine old Gibson mandolin. I imagined that the snow had fallen and I was finished with the shoveling, looking out my window at the fresh powder.

Even though I sound disappointed about the No Show Snow, I am perfectly fine with waiting until next winter to see any more.

I've enjoyed taking a couple of months off from feeding this blog but rest assured that I've been writing tunes all along. I hope you enjoy today's piece.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Grandview Ridge

Grandview Ridge (mp3) (pdf)

This first post of a new year presents one of the oldest tunes that I can remember writing. After 10-15 years of writing songs I figured out sometime in the mid-70s that I really enjoyed just writing music more.

I first recorded an early version of this tune on a TEAC A-1340 reel to reel tape deck that I then mixed down to a cassette. I'm estimating that this was sometime around 1979-1980. I remember going to the bank to take out a loan to buy the TEAC, it was my first chance to record sound-on-sound outside of a recording studio. I recently came across a digitized version of a cassette that included this tune a couple of weeks ago.

I may have written the music during one of the summers that I spent at the old CYO Camp Christina in southeastern Brown County, Indiana. The camp was just off of Grandview Ridge road. I have great memories of the two summers I lived there, sometimes helping out with the chores and sometimes washing dishes in Nashville at Rudy's Country Kitchen.

I know that there is a lead sheet somewhere that I used for that original recording but after an hour or so of searching I figured it would be easier to just transcribe my own playing from the shaky cassette evidence. I made a few small changes and re-recorded it here yesterday.

I found the photo above thanks to my old Clarksville friend Tim Buckman. Apparently my dear Mother spotted him wrestling with the unusual snowfall and came out on our front porch to capture it on film. This was decades ago of course. I had never seen this picture until Tim posted it on FB and I'm very grateful for this glimpse of winter in southern Indiana.

This was our family home on the corner of Carter Ave. and Fairbanks in Clarksville. If I didn't write today's tune in Brown County I may well have written it in the upstairs of this house. It was all a long time ago.
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