We’ve continued building up a lovely archive of recordings in 2016 here’s some of the latest videos:
More to follow….
We’ve continued building up a lovely archive of recordings in 2016 here’s some of the latest videos:
More to follow….
Over Easter 2016, 10 distance learning music students came from across Europe, North Africa and the USA came to The University of Sheffield Music Department to take part in a residential for the M.A.’s in World Music and Music of the British Isles. Participants come from a variety of backgrounds but with a shared interest in what FRoots Magazine so aptly describes as ‘local music from around the world’. It’s an opportunity for students to meet each other, have face to face contact with lecturers and get hands on experience in playing music or an instrument that maybe somewhat different from their own specialism.
I was asked to provide a workshop on Traditional Irish Music on the Tin Whistle. Apart from one Irish musician, the musicians had little or no experience of playing Irish music and all were more or less starting learning from scratch. It was a great advantage that they were talented musicians in their own field. A big focus was learning by ear, that is learning without the use of written notation. For most Traditional Irish musicians this is a skill developed early on in the learning process but for others used to staff notation in particularly classically trained musicians, this is quite a challenge. The students took the task with gusto, covering the basic scales of D and G, cultural and geographical contexts, ornamentation (Cuts, taps, rolls and crans) and the importance of posture and relaxation when playing. We covered several lessons’ worth of information in 2 hours, learned the first part of the Mountains of Pomeroy March played on very challenging Clarke’s Whistle’s and by request, I played a couple of tunes on my flute form Asturias and Ireland. The students were a great group of people to work with and a good bit of laughter was had as well as a couple of beers in the bar afterwards. I want to thank them for tackling the task with such great spirit and at the end of the session they made a lovely sound.
I was inspired to teach a march by two things recently. Firstly discussing the flute band tradition in Dingle, Ireland with Dr Aoife Granville and the recent use of marshal music as part of the Centenary Celebrations of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland. The Mountain’s of Pomeroy was part of the first March set I learned from Marian Flannery (Egan) at St Wilfrid’s Comhaltas Branch in Hulme, Manchester during the 1970’s. I still love playing a March when I’m playing with The Leeds Céilí Band.
Here’s the March we were learning and below is a list of references I mentioned during the presentation. There’s also further information on Sligo style music in some of my previous blogs.
Dr Aoife Granville’s work on Marching Traditions in Kerry.
Relaxing whilst playing: ‘The Inner Game of Music’ by Barry Green. London: Pan 1987.
Delighted to be asked to write a guest blog on the Whitby Folk Week Website. Please take a look. Lots of interesting info on a great family folk festival.
I was delighted to be asked to deliver a workshop on Traditional Irish Music with the University of Sheffield Folk Group. They were specifically interested in me sharing some of my knowledge and perspective on Sligo style flute playing, the style that I was I taught by Marian Flannery (Egan) in 1970’s Manchester. I had an hour to work with a group of very talented musicians, but musicians not too familiar with the technicalities of Traditional Irish Music. To explain Sligo style (if there is an exact defined style?) is a big task and our session could only ever be a drop in a large ocean.
The Folk Group meet at the Bath Hotel in Sheffield every week and play a variety of styles of folk music on a number of different instruments. They are mixture of undergraduate, postgraduate and staff. All were welcoming and keen for some hands on learning rather than a lecture. I gave a little outline of my learning and influences including my flute hero Roger Sherlock:
I talked about some different perspectives on style ranging from Séamus Tansey and his highly ornate music through to players such as Sherlock, who had a little more space in their playing. We talked about rhythm and the concept of a pulse in the music (there’s a PhD in there for someone). The video below demonstrates, in a humorous and perhaps extreme way, the differing schools of thought on what is ‘authentic’.
I handed out a Clarke’s Tin Whistle to each of the participants. They’re easy to get the hang of, six finger holes and blow in the end. We did a quick run through of the scale of D and focused the rest of the session on basic techniques (cuts, taps, rolls, breath control) and learning a tune by ear. I won’t go into detail here about technique. There are some great on-line resources on technique. I would also recommend Hammy Hamilton’s ‘The Irish Flute Players Handbook’. If you are a University of Sheffield library member, I’ve ordered the book and it should be available in the next couple of weeks. You can also order a copy direct from Hammy. It has a wealth of historical context, an accompanying CD and tunes for you to learn.
Within the hour the group managed to learn the first part of the Jig, ‘The Whistling Banshee’ by ‘ear’ (listening without notation) and add a couple of ornaments to the tune. Here are slow and correct tempo versions of the tune:
As I explained to the group, it’s hard to pin down an exact version of the tune and as you will see even more difficult to agreement on the name of the tune. If you do need to refer to notation, www.thesession.org is a great resource for different versions of the tune in ABC and staff notation (the dots). Here’s a link to The Whistling Banshee/ Lilting Banshee/ Paddy Macs on The Session:
The University of Sheffield Folk Group have an ambitious programme of worshops ahead with the likes of Nancy Kerr, Fay Hield (founder of the group) and Jon Boden (Bellowhead) amongst others. Keep an eye out for them gigging near you some time soon. Thank you to them all for asking me to work with them.
My next workshop is later this month with the students on the MA in Music of the British Isles at the University of Sheffield.
If you would like me to deliver a workshop for you, in English or Spanish, get in contact with me: email@example.com and check out my ‘traddad for hire’ section on here.
I am delighted to be shortlisted for the Seán Ó Riada Gold Medal Competition in Cork on Friday 5th February 2016. I’ll be competing with 14 other flute and tinwhistle players performing two pieces of Traditional Irish Music each on the night. The emphasis is on the spirit and feel of the music rather than technical excellence alone.
Photo: Diane Cusack.
The medal has been designed by Cashel goldsmith Pádraig Ó Mathúna and features an engraving of Sean Ó Riada on one side, and a representation of the poem Dán Aimhirgín (Song of Amergin) on the other. The medal consists of 2 silver plates back to back, and following the competition on Friday Pádraig will engrave the winners name and the year into the medal, and it will then be coated in gold
Peadar Ó Riada explains:
‘In their search for the gold medalist, the adjudicators will be looking for a musician who has technical proficiency on the instrument, has a musicality in their playing, and a variety in their choice of 5 pieces that illustrate the broad range of rhythms and melody in traditional Gaelic music. They will also be looking for the character found in music from musicians whose life experience and witness grows with age and which invests their music. As Irish music is an art form and requires creative input from the musician, this character is of great importance and should be real rather then faked or imitated from other great musicians. In other words, the adjudicators would rather purchase a recording of, say, Micho Russel, Packie Duignan, Willy Clancey, Denis Murphy, Lad O Beirne, Jamsie Byrne, Seamus Ennis, Joe Cooley, Johnny Leary, Mrs Elizabeth Crotty or Turlough O Caralon or any modern day super harp player say rather then listen to hundreds of imitations. The adjudicators wish the to hear the musician’s own character in their playing – without exaggeration.. This would suggest that whilst technique is important, age and experience is equally so’.
I heartily agree with this sentiment and look forward to celebrating Irish Traditional Music with the other participants in a weekend of music.
You can listen on line from 7pm at:
or watch at:
I’ll let you know how I get on.
As part of the weekend there is a Musicians’ Convention on Saturday 6 February in the Rochestown Park Hotel. The convention is ‘intended to help and advise traditional musicians on a host of subjects. It will run from 2 pm to 5 pm, with speakers from the music industry giving talks on funding opportunities, publicity, insurance, copyright, marketing and publishing, amongst other topics. Speakers will include representatives from IMRO, the Arts Council and Gael Linn, and entry is €5. Musicians interested should register by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org’.
Going away with family, partners, children or even friends can be challenging. Balancing needs, wants, energy levels and concentration spans mixed in with the first few days of unwinding coils bouncing around a rented flat could have been difficult. We had the added flavour of me wondering whether I would be allowed to get on with my field work and my wife having an international conservation ecology conference she had been heavily involved with organizing, at the other end of our time away. Suffice to say we didn’t kill each other. The children don’t make allowances for what I’ve set out to do. One example would be while trying to write and layout this post Osgur decided to roll around our lovely white sheeted bed and cover it in poo. Please excuse the layout.
Back to Gijón….The Spanish lessons seemed to be working, (although the Asturian accent is a challenge that I’ve still yet to get my head round) and with time on my hands and sleeping children I headed into Gijón to meet up with an old Camino de Santiago friend.
I walked along the Camino route into town following the blue and gold conch shell Camino signs. As I passed the Gijón Dock yard I was drawn in by the noise coming from behind the 20 foot high walls covered in graffiti. I knew this was called Semana Negra but thought it was just a fairground. It was much more than this, it was a real sensory overload. I discovered something different every few metres.
Central to this Fiesta is a literary festival and book fair. I didn’t spend too much time in the literary events as I found it difficult to keep up with what was being said and many of the events were packed to the exits. Everything from left wing and Asturian nationalist politics through to thriller and fantasy fiction was covered. I bought a copy of an Asturian-Castillian Dictionary and got myself a beer and started to take in the countless food stalls. Meat was big here.
An essential part of Semana Negra is political protest. Protest is a hot topic in Spain at the moment as in 2015 the PP Government introduced punitive anti-protest laws. There was a protest about protesting in the middle of the fair.
Following the protest around the site I came across a side stage surrounded by Cider bars and roasting ribs. Cider, or ‘Sidre’ is the ‘national’ drink of Asturias. Un-carbonated, it’s poured from a height to give it a bit of life. The last two centimeters, the sediment at the bottom of the glass, are thrown away.
Familiar Asturian tunes were blasting out from the P.A. system. I chatted to the soundman and the group that night were Degañan’s featuring the great piper and flute player Dani Alvarez. I was familiar with Dani’s playing (see Corquieu) and it was a great start to my Asturian flute odyssey. The male singer was particularly powerfimpressive. More music to follow up.
We returned the following night with families. More food, bouncing on trampolines for Celeste, more Sidre, meeting up with fellow PhD Asturian Folk Student Llorián García and watching in awe as the legendary Ambás and friends kept a crowd dancing for three hours with songs accompanied by panderu (Asturian hand drum) and percussion using olive oil tins.
By a circuitous route I finally had my ethics permission through and I was almost ready start work. My PhD supervisior, Simon Keegan-Phipps has written a blog post which more or less sums up the problems I had to deal with when applying for ethical clearance, differing professional backgrounds, value sets and perspectives on what maybe ethical… I’ll leave you with Simon’s thoughts…. I will have to return to this subject and the ‘informants’ I spoke to after I have had time to reflect on how my first field visit went.
Ambás with Tuenda Trio…
All written content and photographs are copyright of Michael Walsh 2015.
My heart is thudding in the 30 degree heat of the first fiercely hot summer day. My pal Angela Durcan has entered me for the exam and told me that I won’t have a problem. I’m the only candidate to turn up without a parent for comfort and support. I’m 46, it’s going to be fine. The examiner sits in front of me with his poker face. I hand him my programme of pieces and repertoire list for him to choose from later. The tiny space is unforgiving as the two of us compete for all the air the room can give. I try to remember the little techniques that keep me calm. Both feet on the floor, solid and rooted to earth. Squeeze the flute hard and let go, remembering how light and relaxed your hands need to be. Breath from your diaphragm, enjoy the moment and in the back of your mind visualising how great it will be to have finished strongly and successfully. He asks me to start playing.
Killavil Jig and Ships in Full Sail. I’ve been playing them for ever, a safe start. No response from the examiner’s face. Ok, go again. The Coulin, keep focused think sad, play just the once over and into the Kildare Fancy Hornpipe. Play without fear, a few variations. I’m at the Ceili Band Competition, on stage. Concentrate. Back in the room again and keep it nice and steady. Phew. The sweat is dripping off me now. Reels now, don’t lose the head. Roaring Mary going good. A few niggles from the back of my brain. You’ll go wrong, you’ll mess up, what’s for tea? My heart’s going even faster, I start having palpitations. That massive coffee and huge jammy biscuit was a really bad idea. My heart is going to stop. But I pull back to focus. Get my feet rooted and imagine my shoulder muscles relaxing. The flute feels like it is playing itself. Trust in what you know. How have I done? Still can’t gauge it from the man. All I can remember are the mistakes.
He picks the March into the Reel. The Lilac always makes me want to go fast but I take it steady and keep it lively. Think Hup! Think NYAH! ‘That worked well as a march but it’s actually an O’Carolan air’. He liked it! It’s whizzing by now. ‘Two five minute presentations on particular musicians and their styles please’. Seamus Tansey…Sligo…. ornate… controversial.. wide cuts…. Kevin Crawford… Birmingham… Clare……thank you. ‘I’ll play you four bars of a tune twice, play it back to me’. Done. Name the type of tunes, slip jig, hornpipe, yes, yes. Barndance? No, mazurka. Hello, is there anyone home? What was I thinking, it’s a disaster but at least it’s over. ‘Play me a cut, tap and roll’. How did I do? We’ll let you know. When can I resit? LCM Grade 8 Trad music performance flute exam done. I walk out into a sticky Manchester afternoon, exhausted but relieved. My results come a few months later and I pass Grade 8 with Distinction.
It gets me thinking about the point or value of exams in traditional music. I took it to demonstrate that I had a high standard of musical skill when applying for my Ethnomusicology PhD. How can you measure a folk tradition and if anyone is any good? I’m still not sure and what the balance is between performance and skill. You can be a great player but a terrible performer. What it did give to me was a structure on which to hang my skills, review them and ultimately develop them. I’ve often been in sessions and couldn’t think of more than a few sets of tunes. Pulling my repertoire together for this made me realise how much I actually knew. It made me consider technique, reminded of all the things I talk about when teaching or coaching. Relaxing, visualisation, setting targets, regular practice. I am definitely an improved musician after going through the experience.
If you want to know more about LCM Grades for Trad Music or would like help and guidance with preparing and entering for them get in touch with me via the traddad for hire page.
Tinkling in the Street.
One of the highlights of a very damp week in Sheffield was stumbling across the Street Piano on Argyle Street. I always like to take a different route home, perhaps like members of the Piano Liberation Army in days gone by (more of that in a moment). But for me it’s not a security measure more a matter of my nosey nature and terrible sense of direction. As I pushed baby Celeste up the hill a piano chained to lamppost came into my sight. ‘Play Me’ daubed on the facia made it impossible to resist. Some keys worked, some just made a ‘plonk, some in tune, some not. Celeste was mesmerised as was I.
I am partial to the sound of a piano sensitively vamped in a good Irish celli band. It’s a sound that transports me back to childhood fleadhs. Band uniforms of stiff white shirts, blue nylon trousers, and shiny black shoes. Sweaty hands clenching instruments tightly with the sound of clumsy reels bouncing round the gym hall of some drab secondary school. The heavens opened once more and we dashed home. But I was intrigued about the idea of a street piano.
Searching around on the net gave some clues. The piano was placed on the street by Val Regan, a local choir leader and musician for a limited period during September and locked over night to prevent lubricated revellers presenting their world premiers of the piano masterworks.
The Street Piano concept was turned into a worldwide phenomenon by artist Luke Jerram, placing his first piano in Birmingham in 2008 and inviting passers to ‘Play Me I’m Yours’. There are now over 500 pianos placed in public spaces worldwide. Sheffield though can perhaps claim to be the origin of the Street Piano. In the early noughties a piano was placed on Sharrow Vale Road and people were invited to play. The piano become a landmark but was eventually stolen. A replacement was donated after a public appeal. Shortly afterwards the Local Council stepped into have the piano removed. A campaign to save it ensued, including the formation of the Piano Liberation Army, a shadowy bunch of well meaning piano enthusiasts. The threat of removal was withdrawn and the Liberation Army dissolved without a single veggie burger being thrown in anger. The final victor was mother-nature, as the ravages of the Sheffield seasons finally resulted in the piano falling apart.
The Argyle Street piano well be disappearing soon so go and have a public tinkle.