Cello in a session

Cello in a session

Went to a session and there was a cello player in attendance. The playing made for a very unpleasant experience It sounded, well just loud did not seem to fit in. I don’t know if it was the instrument or the Player. I mean where do you draw the line? I think everyone at the session was to polite to say anything. I’m hoping this is a one time visit, or maybe the person could take up the fiddle?

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I think cello players are not that exotic in Scottish music. And absolutely true: It’s primarily the player, not the instrument that makes the sound. Of course some instrument might feel odd to many session members. But if you have enough understanding of the music and your instrument, you can add something positive to the music.

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My mother used to say, ‘Don’t come running to me,’ whenever I had a whinge. Not that my brother played the cello, mind.

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i’ve played with cello players a couple of times, and they were good, and i loved it.

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Its always the musician and never the instrument. Any musician with an understanding of the music and dynamics of a session could add rhythm, groove and nice sounds to the tunes on the cello. Havn’t come across this too much in Irish music although Caroline Lavelle and Adele ? have contributed to some nice recordings.

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The cello is certainly an integral part of Scottish music. But then session playing isn’t. I love the cello playing contunuo in cosort, where the music is arranged and rehearsed, but I think I to play it in a session takes a very talented player. Having someone just chopping chords on it all night gets very tiresome.

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I played with a few cello players too, and loved it! Then again.. they were all competent players! If Natalie Haas walked into a session I wouldnt be complaining! :)

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I don’t really enjoy cello in a session, myself, Scottish or Irish. I love the sound of the instrument, but the instrument doesn’t suit the tunes and the tunes don’t suit the instrument.

I’ve listened to Haas and Frasier (duo recording, I forget the name of it) and, honestly, it doesn’t really do much for me. If that’s the top of the game, I guess I just don’t like cello in trad music.

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One of my friends plays cello and I jam with her everyday and it sounds great! We all love it when she shows up to jam every week.

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What I want to know is how is it pronounced - shellow or tchellow?
And I think nah they don’t fit in in sessions, but that’s probably me being biased. But I know what I like and what I don’t like.

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KatKat isn’t really a regular member here, but she plays very good cello. She plays in a couple of sessions and totally fits in. Its never the instrument, its always the player. Anyone who says otherwise is a monkey.

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Rudall the time — if you’re a footballer it’s pronounced ‘sellow’, otherwise it’s ‘kellow’.

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I guess I’m a monkey. I think it’s the instrument in this case.

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Monkeys are alright… Jon? You alright?

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I laugh out loud every time I hear Natalie Haas playing with Kelsey Grammer.

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Kelsey Grammer? Any relation to Tracy?

a.k.a. Frasier

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You mean Alistair Frasier’s real name is Kelsey Grammer? I guess it does sound a bit more Scottish. Who knew?

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You’re just doing that on purpose. :-P

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I don’t know WHAT you’re talking about….

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Gam, you’re not suggesting in a round about way that we should in fact pronounce the football team Tcheltic, and the ancient ethnic group to which many here aspire to belong to, The Shelts, are you?

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Would you prefer the Shelt-Nots?

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The kinds of cello lines you see in Scottish tunebooks from 250 years ago (i.e. what Niel Gow’s brother did) are pretty much the same as what any competent musician could improvise at a session (and what they do in fact play now). There is nothing particularly "arranged" or "rehearsed" about it.

Fraser with co-star:
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_ipeSnHEXtn0/SOg5Vngb2oI/AAAAAAAAAXk/GCfzGG_S_1U/s1600-h/fraiser+fur.JPG

Frasier with co-star:
http://www.arcelts.com/acms1/images/alasdair_fraser_and_natalie_haas.jpg

I realize it’s easy to confuse them.

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Jack, doesn’t that fact that the continuo part is written in the tune books tell you something about whether it is ‘arranged and rehearsed’ as opposed to someone just noodling in a session?

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Wow, she looks really different in the second shot…

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so does the monkey….

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Played with the Double Bass player and Guitar player here at our session last year… Great Musicians, I enjoyed there Company a lot… They can very have the ITM too.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3d4mJu9eQfw


But Cello, now there’s something I must do !
jim,,,

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Rudall - That’s not a very nice thing to say about Mr. Frasier, is it?

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I just wish they’d be more dedicated. I have seen a few classical cello player come to session interested in the music and know a few tunes competently .. but most of the time for the tunes they don’t know they are just sawing and dorning trying to fit in with the piano or guitar.. and after the session they don’t come back..

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Personally, I like the way a cello can sound playing low, droney accompaniment for airs. Certainly more precedent for it in STM than ITM. My fiddle teacher back in CA used to play with a cellist. His opinion was that the cello makes sense playing O’Carolan tunes than dance tunes.

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"doesn’t that fact that the continuo part is written in the tune books tell you something about whether it is ‘arranged and rehearsed’ as opposed to someone just noodling in a session?"

*Look* at one of those books.

In the middle of the 18th century folk cello playing seems to have been a sub-genre of pit-sawing. The bass parts are *extremely* basic (except for Oswald and Schetky, who seem have had no takers for their approach).

I think the only reason those parts were committed to print was to tell harp or keyboard players what a cello player might do, so they could build an improvised continuo on top of it. It doesn’t seem very plausible that anyone would buy one of the Gows’ publications so they could just read the bass line. It would be like paying for a six-week intensive residential workshop in hod carrying.

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If that really is the case, the music must have taken a huge step backwards from the viol consorts of the 17th century, where the tab for continuo and countermelody parts is just as detailed as the treble.

And jumping forward a bit to the 19th century, it’s hard to imagine that someone as gifted as Scott Skinner would have devoted so much time to the instrument if ‘pit-sawing’ was all that was required.

But the very fact that anything is written at all tells you that the musicians have thought about - arranged and rehearsed - what they are going to do together. I don’t think it was ever a case of the fiddler playing a tune and the cellist seeing if they can come up with something that might fit as they performed. Which is what usually happens when someone takes a cello to a session.

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You wouldn’t complain if Caroline Lavelle played in your session. She came to ours for a few weeks several years ago and she was brilliant. I hope she’s reading this and will be inspired to come back!

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Once again the instrument is blamed for poor playing. Cellos don’t kill sessions, lousy musicians playing cellos (or any other instrument for that matter) kill sessions.

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The cello in Scotland in the 18th century was used both as a folk instrument and as an art music one. We know the art music writing for it was on the agricultural side (given that Oswald’s playing was regarded as virtuosic, and by modern standards it obviously wasn’t). Every written trace of folk cello playing suggests it was even more agricultural.

This is not a step backwards from the viol (which is not an ancestor of the cello anyway) any more than Robert Johnson’s guitar playing was a step backwards from Tarrega. It’s just different.

There are lots of other musical folk cultures that employ bass instruments doing fairly simple but effective things. Present-day Hungarian folk style might be quite close to that of 18th century Scotland, given that the tonality and rhythm of their tunes are quite similar.

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I think the fact that viols and violins are different families is a rerd-herring. People didn’t suddenly stop playing viols and start playing completely different music on cellos and violins, the change over took place gradually. The bass viol survived much longer than the trable and alto (and the contrabass still survives today), and in fact in the 18th century the bass part was as likely to be played on a viol as a cello, particularly in poorer communities.

I also have a lot of difficulty with the separation of ‘art music’ and ‘folk’. Certainly the ‘drawing room consort’ was an upper class thing, but he big houses employed musicians to play for dances. Those same musicians would play at dances for their friends and neighbours in the village - that was the ‘folk music’ of the time. The same music played in different surroundings.

Which brings me neatly back to my original point: that whilst the cello is a part of Scottish traditional music, sessions aren’t. To play music with a meaningful bass part requires cooperation between the various parts - the trebles need to know what the bass is going to do next just as much as the bass needs to know what the trebles will do. The musicians need to rehease and arrange what they are going to do (whether or not the write that arrangement down) before they perform. If a cellist (or any other bass instrument) just turns up at a session they don’t have that cooperation with the trebles, so all they can do is either chop chords or noodle. Which is fine, and may even add to the music for a tune or two. But it gets very monotonous if they do it all evening.

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The violin family is older than the viol family, by a few decades. They never had much music in common, and neither replaced the other.

I really can’t imagine a Scottish fiddler ever changing a tune to fit in with an idea from the backline, and the examples we see in other cultures don’t show anything like that happening. Picking one more or less at random:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ipNH60vGeQ


The accompanists aren’t doing anything very imaginative, but the music is better for them not doing so. It doesn’t take much compositional effort to fit the same kind of backing to a new tune (insofar as there are "new tunes" in that culture).

There isn’t any very definite boundary between a long-established session and a band - the present-day session scene is on a different scale from anything seen before, but there have always been musicians in Scotland playing with each other for fun and then taking payment for it when the opportunity arose.

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I agree with what skreech said.

What I’m about to say is based on having played cello as a child from grammar school all the way through college. I played in the junior symphony and high school orchestra, as well as a local symphony in Lake County in the early 80’s.

Cellos may work well for backup in the Scottish tradition, but not well in the Irish tradition.
My comments pertain only to cellos playing in sessions and not in concerts, where parts have been arranged and rehearsed beforehand.

In an Irish session, the melody and the ornamentation played by the fiddles, pipes, flutes, whistles, boxes, etc. is all in the treble range. The rhythm and pulse of the tune played by the above melody instruments (which creates the nyah when it all comes together at a session) IMHO are destroyed by a cello playing the bass line.

The cellist plays quarter notes, half notes, or whole notes to create a bass line accompaniment while the melody instruments play eighth notes and intricate rhythmic ornamentation in the treble range. By virtue of the fact the cello is 2 and sometimes 3 octaves below the melody, the ear is unnaturally distracted and drawn to the low growling of the bass notes.

The fact that the cello is playing a bass line of longer drawn out notes (quarter, half, and whole notes) means the low notes overpower and cover over (by means of length and duration) the quick melody and ornamentation playing above it.
This doesn’t even begin to touch upon a classically trained cellist, having loads of technique but no knowledge of the tunes or melodic (modal) nature of the tunes, blindly attempting to provide continuo for the ‘ensemble’ of sessioners by using Western European music theory. Using a I-IV-V-I bass line may not necessarily be the right choice to back Irish tunes.

Based on my preferences for Irish trad over Scottish trad:

Natalie Haas is a gifted cellist.

Alasdair Fraser is a consummate performer and one of the greatest exponents of Scottish traditional fiddling alive.

What they create together is magical; however, it is not my cup of tea.

In an Irish session, a cello detracts and distracts from the very essence of the this music.

Anyway, that’s how I see it. For my money anyway.

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You can date the ‘invention’ of the violin and viol to within decades? The reallity is that they both evolved from common ancestors (there are elements of vihuela d’arco and rebec in both) but in different geographical locations. They shared much of that evolution - the bass bar and soundpost appeared in both families more or less simultaneously. But during the baroque the technically superior violin family was adopted in Britain, France, Germany in place of the native viol. Cello, viola and violin fulfil the same roles as bass, alto and treble viol. And if you think they didn’t replace the viol, you have ask yourself why there are no viols in the modern orchestra?

It’s interesting that you refer to the cello as an accompanist, because that is exactly why I don’t think a cello can work insessions. If you listen to Fraser and Hass, or Malinkie, or any band that makes the cello work, you’ll quickly realise that the cello ISN’T just playing accompaniment, they are playing multi-part music… now the fiddle is playing the melody and the cello is chopping chords, next time through the cello takes the melody and the fiddle drones, now the cello is playing counterpoint, and the fiddle is taking a variation etc. etc. And that is where even the longest running session differs from a band: you simply can’t get that level of organisation into a session. The ‘melody players’ will relentlessly play the melody line, and expect the ‘accompanists’ to relentlessly accompany them.

I was at a Fraser and Haas workshop last month. It took two days to put together three simple tunes with just fiddle and cello parts. Can you imagine trying to do that in a session?

And I’m not wholly convinced by your comparison to modern East European ‘folk music’. As far as I can see ‘peasant music’ in Scotland and this end of Europe really didn’t exist 300 years ago - it is a myth that was invented in the romantic era. In reality peasants couldn’t afford fiddles - the music they danced to (when they got the chance) was provided by the same professional and semi-professional musicians who played for the gentry. I suspect that ‘folk music’ only became a reality in the late18th/early 19th century, when ‘folk’ started earning factory wages, and mass production techniques brought the price of instruments down.

And I wouldn’t mind betting that the story in Eastern Europe is pretty much the same - that their folk music today is a result of happenstance and invention over the last couple of hundred years, not long tradition, and tells us no more about what was being played in Scotland 300 years ago than our own modern ‘folk bands’ do.

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I doubt if anyone is suggesting that the tunes should be played on the cello for the length of the session. The problem with the two above posts is that they assume the musician being trained in the classical world has no knowledge of trad. Anyone with no knowledge of trad cannot contribute to a session. However more and more musicians born into the tradition are studying classical music and can utilise it sometimes. Proof…? If you look carefully at The Kilfenora Ceili Band when they are doing one of their bigger concerts you will see young Sharon Howley augmenting the sound beautifully on ….a cello.

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big_tab, it certainly wasn’t my intension to make any inference as to whether cellists should be classically or trad trained. Infact the point I was trying to make isn’t really about cellist themselves, but the other musicians in the session.

Assuming you have a good cellist, who knows and understands the music, it will still only work if they other musicians are prepared to make some musical space for the cello to work in. But if the ‘melody players’ are hell bent on playing the melody the whole time (which is the case in every session I’ve ever attended) then all the cello can do is accompany them, which it isn’t ideally suited to, and which can very quickly become tiresome. But if the ‘melody players’ back off and let the cello take the lead now and then, swap roles back and forth, then it can bring a great deal of variety and interest to the music. But that can only work if it has been discussed (arranged) beforehabd and every musician knows what to do when. It can’t happen spontaneously in a session.

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Thanks skreech. Personally I would think the cello dreadful for playing the tune but beautiful for tasty accompaniment in the right hands.

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Another aspect is if a cello or bassist is playing at a session, he/she must coordinate the bass lines played with any chordal accompaniment—namely guitar. The odds that two people playing different instruments playing the same base line in real time at a session borders near on the impossible. Unless maybe they’re twins and also telepathic!

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Not at all fiddlerdan.. Long drone like notes fit in lovely with stringed instruments and allow their chords and runs to be even more effective.

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An Irish band that successfully combines bass with ITM is Lunasa, but they worked out and rehearsed the bass line to match with the guitarist’s chord progression in advance:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tdZk2rzJuY


My point earlier big tab is that in a session, a cellist playing accompaniment wouldn’t necessarily sync up with what the guitarist might be playing at any particular moment. Not unless they got together beforehand and rehearsed.

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De Dannan had a celloplayer during the eighties, that worked.

Also listen to the Bowhouse Quintet. Surprising nobody mentioned Paul O Driscoll in the context of bass playing.

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fiddlerdan; ‘but they worked out and rehearsed the bass line to match with the…’
What you mean they actually did what all proper experienced informed musicians do before a gig or a recording?! Outrageous!

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I play cello in a barndance band, standing in for the bass guitarist when he’s not available. We play the music from the dots, and the sheet music (usually two tunes per dance) is handed out to the band while the caller is talking the people on the dance floor through the next dance. The music is selected by the band leader from a pot of about 700 tunes, so playing it from memory is not an option, especially with a band line-up that can be variable. The sheet music is just the melody with guitar chord indications, and my job is to translate those chord markings on the fly into a meaningful bass line on the cello that takes into account the rhythms in the melody line that I also have to be reading at the same time.
Btw, I’d never take my cello to a session because imo the cello and traditional Irish dance tunes don’t go all that well together, and the music does not require a bass line anyway. Also, the cello is an easy instrument to get damaged in a crowded pub session (and expensive to repair subsequently!) .

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"What you mean they actually did what all proper experienced informed musicians do before a gig or a recording?! Outrageous!"

Yep. And, oddly enough, what almost no musicians - cellists or otherwise - do before a session.

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Nothing says "Scottish ballroom dance music" like the cello. I could see how cello would have pride of place there. When the cellos are booming, It’s as if, at any moment, Queen Victoria herself might enter the room to dance with the gillies. In the context of Irish session music though, cello — even if well played — is something of an odd fish.

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Been to various seshes in Edinburgh with multiple celli and basses - most of the players made their own at nightschool.

I can see why they feel the need to play the thing having spent X years making it, but found it a bit too much in a sesh.
They were all trying (unsucesfully) to play fast reels on them (and failing miserably) instead of playing a bass part.

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I don’t mind the cello so much ,especially if you have been at a session with a saxophone

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Mr Kiparsky: indeed! And for backers that is the great session conundrum!