Monday, June 10, 2019


Matildaville (mp3) (pdf)

This winter's brief travels with Contratopia yielded some fun tunes. I've already shared The Blue Basket that came from our trip to Bozeman in January. Today I'm presenting a stripped-down, solo mandolin version of Matildaville, from our visit to Great Falls National Park on the Potomac in March.

There is a nice blog article that goes into the checkered history of the Matildaville site in some detail. When we visited in March it was a lovely, early spring day; not too crowded, just right for some tired musicians to stretch their legs.

Hope you enjoy the tune!

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Land of Living Skies

Land of Living Skies (pdf score) (parts available on request)

Back on May 20th the wonderful Regina Mandolin Orchestra (Saskatchewan) gave their first performance of a piece they commissioned from me last November at the Classical Mandolin Society of America's annual convention in Santa Rosa, CA. The RMO is celebrating their 30th anniversary in 2019 and I was honored to be chosen to write them a celebratory piece.

Saskatchewan is known as the Land of Living Skies and I was asked to use that as a title. It was understood that I would not be attempting to paint pictures in sound (not my strong suite) but the title was inspirational anyway. I especially had fun writing for this ensemble because they regularly include some violins and flutes along with the standard plucked string orchestra instrumentation. They also often perform with a fine percussionist.

I've never actually written a notated part for percussion before so I told the RMO Music Director, Natalia Osypenko, that she should feel free to arrange whatever percussion might work with the piece. I take no credit for the cool stuff that is going on in the percussion section.

While not trying to paint the living skies I did find myself being reminded of a couple of my favorite musicians, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, as the piece unfolded. Both Joni and Neil spent significant time in their youth on the Canadian prairie, in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, respectively. There is one section in the piece where I intended to invoke a bit of Neil's work with Buffalo Springfield and there are a couple of places that remind me of Joni's early songs as well. Pale imitations at best but they still work well in the piece.

I truly enjoyed writing this piece and working with Natalia and the great folks in Regina. I'm so pleased that they seem to enjoy the music and they intend to perform it a few more times during their anniversary year. Hopefully you will enjoy it too!

Friday, May 17, 2019

Dug Road Rag

Dug Road Rag (mp3) (pdf)

A little over a month ago (around April 10th according to the image above) I was enjoying playing some ragtime tunes from the excellent book Ragtime for Fiddle & Mandolin by Stephen C. Parker, edited by Alan Davis. After playing a number of tunes from the book I found myself playing a "new" tune that is clearly an imitation of the work of the masters of the ragtime era. Some bits of it are borrowed from those masters but a few of the phrases are mine.

The image above from my notebook shows how the tune began and the pdf of the resulting sheet music shows where it ended up. (I almost always write music with a pen, partly because I change my mind a lot. If I use a pencil and then erase things as I go along I find that, later, I wish for the ideas that I erased.)

The recording is a no frills statement of the melody on the mandolin without accompaniment.

The Dug Road in Decorah was once an actual road but today is one of the most beautiful parts of the Trout Run Trail.

Hope you enjoy the tune!

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Two for Texas, pt. 2 (live from CMSA Santa Rosa, November 17, 2018)

Two for Texas, pt. 2 (mp3) (pdf score)

Last month I posted an audio recording of a performance from the Saturday Open Mic session of the 2018 Classical Mandolin Society of America convention in Santa Rosa, CA. This month we have video evidence featuring a chamber group of plucked string instruments (including me in a ball cap playing a very fine Collings MT-O mandolin), augmented by a trio of recorders, from the same lunchtime session. I'm also including links to an mp3 recording of the performance and a pdf of the score.

I was greatly honored to have so many of my CMSA friends (plus a couple of folks I didn't know before this who were doing this for their friends) spend the time to work on the music in advance of our only rehearsal. That rehearsal had occurred around 11:00 the night before. Despite our lack of practice together I think you will find very few mistakes if you follow the score.

Two for Texas was commissioned in 2012 by the Dutch mandolin orchestra ONI (led by Cor Roozendaal) and the Rio Brazos Recorder Trio. This came following a big fun weekend in May of 2010 traveling around the Dallas-Fort Worth area with ONI+ and the Rio Brazos trio. I had this opportunity thanks to Alice Derbyshire, Alberdina Markus-Gronefeld and Cor Roozendaal. ONI+ was playing my Louisville Suite on this tour and thought it would be fun to meet me. We all had a terrific time. 

The performance here, by a stellar group of CMSA convention attendees recruited and organized by Alice Derbyshire, was the North American premiere of the piece. We only played the second part of the piece, due to time constraints.

I've written a few pieces for recorders over the years but this was the first time I was ever asked to write for mandolin orchestra and recorder trio. I had a lot of fun adding a "horn section" to the plucked string ensemble sound. 

Special thanks to Sue Weber for agreeing to conduct this group and for doing such a fine job, with minimal rehearsal, of pulling us together. Thanks also to Authentic Audio & Sound and especially to Michael Tognetti for capturing the moment and preparing this video.

The enthusiastic applause at the end was very gratifying and is indicative of the spirit that prevails throughout the CMSA conventions, especially during the Open Mic sessions.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

What Hears Follows (2019 solo version)

What Hears Follows (2019 solo version) (mp3) (pdf)

Today's piece, recorded this morning, began with the title May 30, 2007. Sometime before the publication of my Midwestern Mandolin Duos book in 2010 I added a second part and called it "What Hears Follows."

I have played around with extracting a newer solo version from the duo more than once since 2010 but, recently, I settled on this version. There are some new notes but the piece is more or less the same as the original from May of 2007.

It's a comfortable piece to play on the mandolin and, if you choose, can be a good exercise in playing in the second position with brief movements up to third position.

I performed the duo version of this piece at least once at Luther College years ago with the brilliant flutist Carol Hester. I also performed the piece at the 2012 Classical Mandolin Society of America's annual convention in Minneapolis. This performance was part of a short set with Robert Margo, my partner in the Duo Oswald. You can find an mp3 of this performance on this page by scrolling down to Thursday Night Open Mic in the right hand column.

The title What Hears Follows is another phrase borrowed from the poetry of Wendell Berry. It appears in a poem titled "The Strait" from his 1982 collection The Wheel. The hummingbird figures in this poem as well.

I hope you enjoy this little piece. It's a lovely spring day here in Decorah.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Clark's Ramble (live from CMSA Santa Rosa, November 2018)

Clark's Ramble (mp3) (pdf score) (pdf M1) (pdf M2)

Last November I had a great time attending the annual Classical Mandolin Society of America convention in Santa Rosa, CA. One of the highlights for me was presenting the world premiere (with the artful assistance of Dr. Robert Margo, appearing in our guise as Duo Oswald) of a piece now titled "Clark's Ramble."

This piece began back in the 1980s (I think) as an exercise when I was working through William Russo's excellent text Composing Music: A New Approach, a book I highly recommend. It went from a single melody to a three part piece over the years. Planning for the CMSA open mic performance I had the idea to take this old piece and turn it into a duo, while adding a new section at the beginning.

While written for two mandolins, Dr. Margo suggested playing the second mandolin part on an octave mandolin at our performance and the recording that I'm sharing here is of that version. The score and parts are the original two mandolin arrangement but an octave mandolin works fine on the second part.

If anyone sits down with the score and compares it to the recording she or he will quickly discover slight alterations in our rendering of the score. We had rehearsed a couple of times and had practiced in advance but the fun of actually playing it for an appreciative audience (watch your volume control at the end) allowed us to take a few liberties (mostly unintentional) with the written music. At one point I believe we even fall out of sync for a few measures, resulting in some fun new music. I hope you enjoy this piece as much as we did.

The portrait above is of George Rogers Clark, the founder of my hometown of Clarksville, Indiana. A good case can be made that, without his determination and leadership, the United States of America might never have extended its reach beyond the Appalachian mountains. Following that alternate historical line Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, etc. might today be provinces of Canada. Just a thought.

Many thanks to Michael Tognetti for capturing this performance. There's video too but I haven't figured out how to stream it.

Special thanks to my Duo Oswald partner Bob Margo for adding his talents to this recording and for encouraging my composing in many ways.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Water Flowing Under Ice

Water Flowing Under Ice (mp3) (pdf)

Earlier this month Luther College Campus Pastor Mike Blair invited Erik Sessions and me to play some music at a campus chapel service. Mike mentioned in an email that he might read a poem by Wendell Berry between hymns and tunes. I immediately thought of an older tune of mine that I titled "Water Flowing Under Ice", taken from a line in the great Berry poem "Zero." Mike decided to use Zero as his poem and we all played my little tune after it.

A few days ago I finally got around to recording it and here it is played on two mandolins. (Well actually just one mandolin, overdubbed.) I encourage you to seek out the poem and read it. It appears in Berry's collection The Country of Marriage and I believe that it's in his Collected Poems as well. It's a very fitting response to the kind of winter we experienced here in northeast Iowa this year.

In other news, I had a wonderful solo mandolin evening at Java John's a couple of days ago. Today's tune was included, along with a number of "world premieres", including the music from the last two blog posts here. The audience was extraordinary.

I also had a great time traveling with Contratopia to the Washington, DC region to play dances over the St. Patrick's Day weekend. We were grateful for enthusiastic dancers and great weather on Friday and Sunday at Glen Echo Park and on Saturday in Annapolis, MD.

I have a bunch of new tunes ready but not yet recorded, I hope to get to them soon.

I hope you enjoy today's tune.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Winter Suite, February 2019

Winter Suite, February 2019 (stream and/or download for free at Bandcamp)
(Octave Mandolin version pdf) (Octave Mandolin version pdf w/tab)
(Mandocello version pdf) (Mandocello version pdf w/tab)

1. Walking Tune (mp3)
2. Hornpipe (mp3)
3. Saraband (mp3)
4. Reel (mp3)
5. Air (mp3)
6. Jig (mp3)

The larger members of the mandolin family, the mandocello (CGDA) and the octave mandolin (GDAE), don't always receive the attention they deserve. This short and not too difficult Suite was written on the octave mandolin with the mandocello also in mind. I was conscious of the longer stretches required on these instruments and the extra resonance supplied by their open strings. If you are a player of one of these low-voiced mandolins download the sheet music (I've created both standard notation only and notation with tab versions for both instruments) and see what you think.

If you really enjoy playing the piece you are always welcome to make a small donation, using the Paypal donation button, through my Mandotopia site but that's completely optional. I have also added my recording of the piece, on octave mandolin, to my Bandcamp site where it is free to stream or download. Or you can listen and download the individual parts of the piece here, as usual.

I purchased a beautiful Flatiron octave mandolin in the early 1980s but I used a recent Eastman MDO 305 octave, with a shorter scale, while writing and recording this piece. I've never owned a mandocello but I have enjoyed playing several over the years and I'm confident that this Suite can be comfortably played by the cello as well. I'd love to hear a recording of such if anyone feels like sharing.

The photo above was taken about a week ago, before a significant blizzard that we had last weekend. Depending on how much snow falls today we may well break the all-time record for February snow in Decorah this year. The snow has been compounded by the unusually cold weather this month including a couple of nights where the temperature was in the -30 degrees Fahrenheit range, with wind chills around -60. It has been a trying winter so far with no relief in sight.

The idea for a Winter Suite came as I was reading the excellent biography of Lou Harrison recently written by Bill Alves and Brett Campbell. It's a fascinating and inspiring story of a great American composer. Harrison would often write short pieces using the suite format and, while reading during breakfast a couple of weeks ago, I had the idea to do something similar aimed at mandocello and octave mandolin players.

Finally, I should mention, if it hasn't already occurred to my mandolin playing friends, that the octave mandolin music (including the tab) is also mandolin-friendly. Also, each of the six parts of this suite can be repeated as often as you like. I recorded them each once through (partly to minimize the potential for mistakes) but I will certainly play the Reel and the Jig more than once when I play the piece in public. In addition feel free to throw in open strings for drones and added harmonies as you play.

I hope you enjoy the music.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Clark's Delight / The Blue Basket

Clark's Delight (mp3) (pdf) (pdf w/tab)
The Blue Basket (mp3) (pdf) (pdf w/tab)

We've had some pretty challenging winter weather for the last couple of weeks and I finally got around to recording a couple of recent tunes. These were both done in bare bones fashion, no harmony parts, no extra instruments. Just guitar chords and mandolin melody, three times through each tune.

I've also added mandolin tab versions of these tunes because a couple of folks have expressed some interest in that.

The photo is from just outside our back door this morning. Here at 9:30 it's -6 degrees. They say it will be -13 tonight. With luck this will be the last of the serious cold for this winter but we have a good deal of snow forecast over the next few days.

Clark's Delight was written on or around January 11 and, I believe, came after a pleasant hour playing tunes from the great John of the Green book compiled by John Offord in England. I think of it as a potential English Country Dance tune. The Clark in question here is George Rogers, founder of my hometown, Clarksville, Indiana.

The Blue Basket was made after returning from Contratopia's recent visit to the Wintergreen dance weekend in Bozeman. (Read a little about that here.) I was partly trying to capture a little of the feeling that Adam and Johanna from Sassafras Stomp brought to their playing at the weekend.

Both of these tunes are pretty straightforward and I hope that you enjoy listening to and playing them.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Ten Easy Duos no. 6 - Deer Track, April 21, 2018

Ten Easy Duos, no. 6 (mp3) (pdf)
Deer Track, April 21, 2018 (mp3) (pdf)

This post begins the 13th year of this blog. Overall it has been a very satisfying and useful project that has motivated me and made it possible for me to create and share a great deal of music.

I just did a quick (and sloppy) count of the entries in my alphabetical list of titles from this blog. There are several titles not yet listed but I am confident that there are nearly 300 entries, if not more.
Not every tune is a gem but I'm pleased on the whole with the quality of these tunes and I intend to add quite a few more this year.

I foolishly titled a piece "Ten Easy Duos, no. 1" back in 2017 thinking that I would quickly write 9 more. Number 6 was written not long after attending the CMSA convention in Santa Rosa back in November of 2018. Maybe I'll get the others written this year.

In April of 2018 I wandered onto another Deer Track and I have played this one numerous times at my semi-regular solo mandolin gigs in Decorah since then. I really enjoy the feel of it and people often make positive comments about it after I play it. See what you think.

Happy New Year to all visitors, thanks for listening.
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