Sunday, June 28, 2020

Ruby and Gold

Ruby and Gold (mp3) (pdf)

Several months ago, before the plague, I received a commission from my good mandolin friend, Barbara Conrad. She was looking for a waltz to help celebrate two special anniversaries in her life, one a 40th and one a 50th. Today's tune was the eventual result.

I finished the tune in late March and sent Barbara a recording and the sheet music. Something about the original recording (I still can't put my finger on it) bothered me so I finally got around to re-recording it yesterday.

The "pdf" link above takes you to a package of three pages; one for the melody with chord symbols, one with a harmony part and the third with an "accompaniment" part that is meant to be a second part when played by two mandolins when no chordal instrument is involved. Of course you can feel free to use any part in any way you choose. In fact I chose to play the harmony part down an octave last night because I decided to play the melody on guitar the first time through, instead of on mandolin.

In any event I hope you enjoy listening and/or playing the tune. You don't need to wait for an anniversary.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Fine Times on Fess

Fine Times on Fess (mp3) (pdf)

In January of 1972 I moved for the first time to Bloomington, Indiana and took up residence in an apartment in a house in the 500 block of N. Fess Avenue, just a couple of blocks north of the IU student union and Dunn Meadow. I shared the space with Tony and Malcolm, one old friend and one more recent. We have remained great friends over the decades despite often being out of touch with each other for years at a time. Father's Day last weekend reminded me how strange it is that each of us have now become fathers ourselves.

Recently a couple of photos emerged from that time and place and I was delighted when those photos gave me the idea for the title for this tune. "Fine Times at Our House" is a classic old-time fiddle tune and this tune bears no resemblance to it but I love the title.

The photo above was taken a few days ago while walking in Decorah's Palisades Park. Just a painted rock and a stick on a picnic table but a beautiful reminder that it's never too late to be kind.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Saturday Social

Saturday Social (mp3) (pdf) (pdf harmony)

The enormous tragedy surrounding the COVID19 pandemic puts something like this blog into a new perspective. I haven't been sharing music online as often since March but I've been playing and writing quite of bit. Today's tune is one example.

I played my last public gig, with Erik Sessions, on March 11 at Toppling Goliath Brewery here in Decorah. We knew we were pushing the envelope and that we might not get to play in public again for a long time. We had a great turnout and, as far as we know, no one passed any virus on to anyone that night.

Exactly two months later, on May 11, Erik and I played in our local bookstore (Dragonfly Books, a first rate shop) to an audience of two who were recording us for Bookstock 2020, a fund raising event to benefit small, local bookstores, and musicians, around the country. This time Erik and I stood 6 feet apart and wore masks. Playing six feet apart from someone who normally stands right next to you was harder than you might think. Further complicating that gig was the fact that I was suffering from a hearing issue that had only recently cropped up, I had been to local ENT that afternoon.

The Bookstock event  was streamed/broadcast the weekend of  May 15-17. You can view our set (warts and all), broadcast on Sunday morning, here. We had the unexpected honor of being grouped in the same "Act" with the phenomenal Rushad Eggleston. His one minute performance is not to be missed.

"Saturday Social" is the result of another online gig. Tapestry Folkdance Center is an amazing place for dancing in Minneapolis and I have played there regularly (most often with our band Contratopia) over the last 20 years. Dancing at Tapestry temporarily came to a halt in March but the resilient contra dance regulars at Tapestry have instituted a Saturday Social Hour using Zoom as a tool to allow people to get together and socialize on Saturday nights when they would normally be dancing together.

Each Saturday one (or more) of the many musicians who play for dances at Tapestry are invited to play a 15 minute live set as part of the fun. I was honored to be invited to add some music to the May 9th social and I wrote this tune to play in my set.

The vast majority of time I write a tune and then spend a long time trying to think of a title that fits. This was a rare case of me having the title first and writing the tune to fit the occasion. I finally got around to writing a harmony part and recording the tune yesterday. I hope you enjoy it.

The photo was taken near the end of May during a walk along the Upper Iowa River.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Birthday Bagatelle

Birthday Bagatelle (mp3) (pdf) (pdf harmony)

It's been several weeks and while Lord knows I've been at home most of the time I've been doing lots of other stuff. Plus I had an equipment failure in my little toy studio and things take longer to get through the post these days.

In any event here's what is intended to be a pleasant piece titled after some recent birthdays.

Rather than write a long essay about my musical life in time of plague (which has been surprisingly active) I'll just keep it short this time.

Stay safe and help others when possible. Find joy and hope where you can.

The photo above was taken about an hour ago on Ice Cave Road in Decorah. There are some pretty flowers up there.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Riverside Gardens

Riverside Gardens (mp3) (pdf) (pdf harmony)

The Riverside International Friendship Gardens are a small collection of beautiful and lovingly tended gardens located at the point where the La Crosse River empties into the Mississippi in La Crosse, Wisconsin. It doesn't take all day to see them all and it always adds a little beauty to my day when I visit. They are well worth a few minutes of your time.

This tune is another one expanded from a fragment in an old notebook and recently finished. A pretty melody with a simple accompaniment part seems to fit with the title.

This marks the first appearance in So Many Tunes of a recently acquired, century-old Gibson mandolin. It began life around 1912 or 1913 but has see many alterations since then. Often that makes an old Gibson less desirable but I like the sound of this one. Many thanks to Greg and the folks at Greg Boyd's House of Fine Instruments for working with me on this acquisition.

Try to stay safe, stay home if you can, wear your mask if you have one. I would especially appreciate it (if you are under 60 with no medical issues) if you can try and avoid picking up a piece of the virus and passing it on to someone else who might eventually pass it on to an old guy like me. (Insert your favorite John Prine quote here ...)

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Road to Gnaw Bone and video experiments

Road to Gnaw Bone (mp3) (pdf)

Today's tune started back around 2004 but wasn't finished until a few weeks ago. The title is a nostalgic one for me. All through the 1970s and most of the 80s I drove back and forth between my home town, Clarksville, Indiana and Bloomington, Indiana hundreds of times. Sometimes I would drive north through Salem and sometimes through Paoli but most of the time I would take the slightly faster route up I65 to Columbus. At Columbus I'd take highway 46 west into Brown County, turn left at the "T" in Nashville and head on into Bloomington.

Gnaw Bone lies between Columbus and Nashville. I rarely, if ever, stopped there but I always smiled at the name. For me the town is best immortalized in a Bill Schwarz (now Willy Schwarz) song titled "Purdy Hoosier Girl." This charming number appears on the first Eclectricity (what a great band with Bob Lucas, Schwarz and Miriam Sturm) album. To hear Bob pronounce "Gnaw Bone" (where the purdy Hoosier girl is found) is worth the price of the record.

In my mind there is also a strong Bill Monroe connection to the town. I haven't done a thorough search but I believe that there are several Monroe instrumental tunes that have titles related to the area. I imagine Bill, on his own or with the Blue Grass Boys, driving up from Nashville, TN to his music park in Beanblossom, just north of Nashville, IN. He would have made this journey hundreds of times also.

Before I65 was built he could take US Highway 31 (which passes right through Clarksville) north, but either route is the "Road to Columbus" Indiana. Heading west on 46 he would pass through the town of Stony Lonesome (sometimes spelled "Stoney Lonesome"). A little further west he would pass through Gnaw Bone and, in the process, he would cross "Salt Creek." I imagine there are more Monroe titles from this area, not to mention tunes relating to Beanblossom itself.

While hunkering down here in Iowa this last couple of weeks I have messed around some with making short tune videos. I used "Road to Gnaw Bone" as my first experiment and I've done a few more since then. There's even a youtube channel now ( where you can see a few more tunes.

I hope you enjoy the tune, in either version. Stay safe, wash your hands. If you have the means please consider supporting one or more of your now unemployed local musicians or artists.

Monday, March 23, 2020

South Bend

South Bend (mp3) (pdf)

Well, it's been a month since my last posting here, and what a month it's been.

A few days after my previous posting I boarded the Amtrak Empire Builder (two days out of Seattle (!), headed for Chicago) in order the catch the Capitol Limited into Union Station, Washington D.C. I met up there with my Contratopia friends and proceeded to have a wonderful, nearly carefree, weekend playing for dances at Glen Echo Park and the smaller Ballroom Blum in Adelphi, MD.

We all knew that COVID-19 was on it's way but we figured, correctly it turned out, that we were ahead of the curve. We had good crowds at Glen Echo for both the Friday Night Contra dance and the Sunday Waltz Time couples dance. We didn't, however, know how close we were cutting it and how rapidly things would change. Luckily none of us picked up any virus symptoms on our flights and train rides and, so far, all of our group have remained healthy here in Iowa and Minnesota.

Being an older guy I have been pretty darn careful these last few weeks and, again, so far, I am in excellent health. However, keeping up my self-imposed once a week tune schedule has taken a back seat to adapting to the new reality. Finally today I got around to recording a new tune for this blog.

I always write a few tunes when I have the chance to spend the night in an Amtrak sleeper car. Today's tune was written around the time we stopped in South Bend on the way to D.C. It was dark by that time but I always love looking out my little window and watching the people boarding and leaving the train at the station stops. This tune was written in D but, after returning home, it became a tune in C major. Finally, last week sometime it found its way down to G major and that's how you'll see and hear it today.

In any event, I hope you enjoy the tune. Most of the musicians I know are out of work these days. If you have any favorite musicians (or artists of any kind) and you can afford to help them out please consider purchasing something from them or sign up for an online lesson. Above all stay safe and help keep others safe by trying not to become a virus carrier.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Edwardsville Tunnel

The Edwardsville Tunnel (mp3) (pdf)

This friendly jig came to me a few weeks ago and I thought of this title while looking at online maps of the area just to the west of New Albany, Indiana.

When I was a kid and into my early driving years, before the finish of I64, if you wanted to go to Corydon, IN you would drive out Main Street in New Albany and then up the Knobs on the Corydon Pike. When you got to the top of the hill you would be at Edwardsville. From there you could turn left and take Highway 62 on to Lanesville and then to Corydon. Or you could turn right on 62 and drive a short distance to Georgetown and have some good ice cream.

As the road heads up the Knobs out of New Albany, if you know just where to look, you can spot the opening of the Edwardsville Tunnel, much as it is pictured above. It's apparently also known as the Duncan Tunnel although I have never heard anyone call it that. I never stopped the car and approached the tunnel entrance, I imagine my parents cautioned me against such foolishness, but it was always a mysterious place to me. Once or twice I happened to see a train coming out of the tunnel and that was pretty exciting.

In any event, this week's tune now has that title and I like the nostalgia it conjures up.

Speaking of trains, I'm looking forward to boarding Amtrak's Empire Builder on Thursday morning (hopefully in the morning and not mid-afternoon) and riding into Chicago. From there I will catch the Capitol Limited into Union Station D.C., arriving Friday afternoon. I'll meet up with my Contratopia bandmates and Ted and Lynn and we will have a wonderful weekend playing dances at Glen Echo park and a dance/house concert on Sat. night in Adelphi, Maryland. You can find more details about our gigs on our website. Just click here.

If anyone reading this comes to any of these events please say hello.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Winter Done Gone

Winter Done Gone (mp3) (pdf)

Of course winter is not really gone, that just happens to be the title of this week's tune. The photo was taken yesterday while walking along the Upper Iowa River near our house. You can see that some ice is breaking up and flowing towards the Mississippi after our cold snap a few days ago.

In any event, today's tune is another example of me finding an unfinished piece in an old notebook (this one from 2004) and tinkering with it until I feel like it's ready to share. I actually finished the tinkering sometime before Christmas but I didn't sketch out the harmony line until yesterday. Once again, because of the time that has passed, I have no idea what I was thinking when I applied the title to this one.

Another photo from yesterday. This time walking with Suzy our dog, trying to hold still long enough to push the button while she was tugging to keep going.

Last Thursday night Erik Sessions and I played for the first time at Impact Coffee here in town. Check their website to see some photos of the impressive work they've done re-purposing the old JC Penney's store on Water Street. It was around 5 below when we started our gig that night and around -10 when we finished but a good number of folks still turned out. We had a great time and the music sounded pretty good in the big old building. I'm hoping we'll play there again sometime when the weather won't be such a factor.

Our next gig in town will be at the world famous Toppling Goliath Brewery on March 11. Come check the place, and us, out if you are in town that night.

Between now and then Erik and I will travel out to D.C. with our Contratopia band for a fun weekend of dances at the end of the month. You can find details at the link above. Be sure to say hello if you come to one of those dances.

Sunday, February 09, 2020


Bonnycastle (mp3) (pdf)

Here's a recently composed tune named for one of my favorite streets in the Highlands neighborhood of Louisville, KY. Back in the 1970s I got to know this street pretty well but the part of the street that I knew the best was the intersection where it crosses Bardstown Road. There was a Karma Records store on one corner and, just across the street was the Doo-Wop Shop music store. A couple of blocks north, at the busy intersection of Bardstown and Eastern Parkway, was one the best of the many White Castle restaurants in the Louisville area. Almost an ideal combination; records, guitars and sliders (back when that was a word that no one would dream of putting on a menu).

The photo above was taken sometime this winter while walking around Palisades Park here in Decorah. More snow today but kind of cloudy and dull.

I'm looking forward to playing some tunes with Erik Sessions this Thursday evening (7:00-8:30) at Impact Coffee on Water St. Stop by if you are in Decorah, no cover charge.

Friday, January 31, 2020

The Old Clark Cabin

The Old Clark Cabin (mp3) (pdf)

The photo above is of an old 1830s cabin that was moved a few years ago to what was likely the site of a cabin inhabited by the Revolutionary War hero George Rogers Clark in the early 1800s. The cabin sits on what is known as "Clark's Point", a bluff overlooking the Falls of the Ohio in Clarksville, Indiana (named after General Clark), just across the river from Louisville, Kentucky.

Here is where Meriwether Lewis met William Clark (George's younger brother) in 1803 to begin their partnership and start the journey of the Corps of Discovery, or the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

When I was growing up in Clarksville this spot, and the memory of George Rogers Clark, was neglected but in recent years much has been done to remedy that situation. In his later years my father used to enjoy visiting this cabin. He especially liked to sit on the front porch and enjoy the view of the Ohio River far below.

This week's actual tune is not particularly suited to the title but maybe it will be a better fit over time. It's a four part tune and was composed in the last few weeks. I hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Low and Outside (2020)

Low and Outside (2020) (mp3) (pdf)

This week's tune started in the 20th century but I just recently completed it. The A section of Low and Outside has had more than a couple of B sections added to it over the years. I think the one presented here is a keeper. I've chosen to record it at a comfortable tempo rather than try to force it into a higher speed dance tune, although I know that it works pretty well that way too. Play it as fast as you want.

The title is clearly a baseball reference. I was a decent pitcher in my early teens (before the Beatles led me astray) but I was not one to overpower a batter with my blazing speed. On my good days, though, I could put the ball where I wanted it and low and outside was often a good place to start with a batter who was eager to hit it out of the park.

The photo above was taken just after Christmas in the vicinity of Decorah's famous Ice Cave. Things are a little more snow covered and much colder here today.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Ordaining Trees

Ordaining Trees (mp3) (pdf)

This week's tune mostly precedes our move to Iowa back in 1994. It was played a few times in a slightly different form way back when but I think I finally settled on the final notes a few months ago. It had always been an E minor tune but I realized that it really wanted to be in D minor and that sealed the deal. Don't ask about the title, I haven't a clue but I'm sure that it seemed right at the time.

We are off in a few minutes to hear a house concert featuring our friends Beth Rotto and Ann Streufert playing Scandinavian tunes on twin fiddles and other instruments up in Lanesboro, MN. It'll be great.

Last night in Adelaide, Australia my early mandolin orchestra piece "The Louisville Suite" (actually my first mandolin orchestra piece from back in the 80s) was performed in concert by the orchestra formed at the FAME (Federation of Australasian Mandolin Ensembles) 2020 Festival. I've seen the video and I'm very honored and pleased by their performance. The Mandolin World is a very friendly place.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Wilson Switch

Wilson Switch (mp3) (pdf)

I created this little blog at the start of 2007. If I am counting accurately that makes this post the beginning of my 14th year of So Many Tunes. In that time I have posted over 300 of my tunes and compositions, almost always with both a sound recording and a pdf of the music in standard notation. Once in a while there's a video.

I have gathered together some of these tunes and issued them as "official" CD collections under the titles Mandolin Tunes 1 and Mandolin Tunes 2. The main rationale for those releases was that the recordings presented here on the blog are mp3s (usually 320 kbps). This is fine for casual listening but mp3s aren't really what the music sounds like. Most of the tunes I share here are originally recorded at CD quality as wave files and the two CDs compiled from the blog are taken from those original, lossless, recordings.

In 2017 I managed to write and record a new tune every week. I'm thinking of something similar this year with the change that I might not write a wholly new tune every week. For instance, today's tune was mostly written a few years ago and has gone through several revisions since then. I decided that this version is a good place to stop tinkering with it and let it go. (There might even be an earlier, different version of the tune here on this blog, under a different title. I can't remember for certain.)

I like this version because I let myself improvise a bit, both in the actual notes played and in some spur of the moment arrangement ideas. It's sloppier than usual but also more fun for me to hear. I hope you enjoy it too.

Yes, the sign in corner of the photo says dead end but there's no hidden, cosmic meaning intended. I didn't even see it when I took the shot, the setting sun was in my eyes. I just liked the way the Upper Iowa river looked that afternoon.

Happy New Year and Decade!
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