Mining for gems in the mustard
There have been a few large discussion threads recently, and they have included a fair amount of negativity. There is a lot of talk about the "inmates running the asylum", and talk about members who have come and gone for various reasons. While I’m one of the people that laments the loss of a lot of members, and wishes for less of the posturing and attempts to get in the last word, I also remember how much I have learned from the discussions on this site. Not just about music, but about how to treat people (and how not to treat people).
When I was first lurking on this site (when it was pretty new), I was basically a beginner with the music. I was fortunate to be surrounded by people who were more knowledgeable, encouraging, and ultimately helpful in my quest to learn to play. (Actually, I’ve pretty much never run into anything other than that in person, whether it be in the US or in Ireland. I’ve always found people to be encouraging and positive.) But there is a wider view of the music to be had than my narrow view when I started, and so I started reading the discussions on this website.
Even when I was a newbie, I knew very well that I had to separate the wheat from the chaff, and learn who to pay attention to, and who to ignore. Every person does that on this site, and as it has grown, it has turned into "factions", even though we’re all pretty much after the same thing, which is to have interesting discourse about something that we love. Early on, I used to have some knee-jerk reactions to things that appeared to be blatant negativity on this site. The most glaring example would be the gruff tone that Mr. Gill tends to use when discussing certain topics. But I quickly came to realize that he really knew what he was talking about, and ultimately, some of the best gems of knowledge I have about music have come from MG.
So that got me thinking about trying to be positive, and talking about the gems of thesession, whether it be pieces of wisdom that have stuck with you, people who have been influential to you, or experiences that you’ve had that were made possible by this website.
It would take me weeks to put my whole list together. But I’ll get it started:
Zina - the person who gave me the interest in the music in the first place, and one of the most influential people in my playing, especially early on. Zina was prolific and genuine in her posts on this site, and was very good at helping people stay civil in the discussions. It’s a testament to her that even many years after she decided it wasn’t worth it anymore, people still talk about her.
Will Harmon - Not only was he one of the most well-spoken posters, who had a knack for writing about somewhat nebulous concepts in a way that was easily understandable, he is a great player and lots of fun to play with. He has also become one of my closest friends, and I will always respect him for the help and encouragement that he gave to me. Unfortunately, this forum did occasionally bring out his negative side when arguing with people. And between that and his current physical issues that keep him from playing much, I don’t think the new people on this forum will ever get to experience his advice the way that a lot of us were. His account is permanently gone, and while the newbies may run across his posts or tune transcriptions, they’ll only know him as "#".
Michael Gill - While many people got ruffled at his persona on this site, he is easily responsible for the most gems of knowledge that I have found in these forums (a few of which are listed below). His gruffness was to make a point. And while many people apparently hated him for it, he was always no-nonsense, and full of incredible information. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a very accomplished and knowledgeable player.
Ceolachan - Always interesting for a discussion, and nothing but positive and encouraging to me.
Jusa Nutter Eejit - With a similar level of experience and background to me, he was always a compatriot. And he always approached tough topics with a note of positiveness, never seemed to get ruffled up, and injected a fun sense of humor into the discussions. I’m bummed that he’s no longer around the forum.
SWFL Fiddler - Never heard him say a negative thing to anyone. If things were getting rough and tumble, you can rely on him to throw a clown-like comment in the middle to lighten the mood.
Bodhran Bliss (RIP) - What a funny online persona. A perfect foe for the gruffness of some, even when it was in the midst of a nasty argument about goat bashing.
Dow - he is a complete tune encyclopedia! And while he comes across a bit like MG at times, it’s only when people are being eejits. He’s also a great player. He’s pretty much the only person I’ve ever heard who makes English concertina sound as Irish as he does.
The list could go on… I’m saddened by the fact that many of those folks aren’t here anymore. But there are still some people to respect in the forums (unfortunately, they’re not generally the loudest).
The idea of musical "torque". - Michael Gill
I originally heard Michael talking about this about 8-9 years ago, before I was really at a level that I could experience it firsthand. But it’s a perfect description of my favorite moments playing this music. The idea is that the player applies a certain force to provide momentum to the tune, without speeding it up. If all players are providing the same level of torque, the music is like flying, while at the same time feeling effortless.
The use of phrasing in your expression of the musical ideas… - Michael Gill (and others)
"Phrasing is what makes the tunes work. Its importance can not be overstated." There are many steps in elevating your music from the simple string of notes that you played when you first started. Adding the appropriate rhythms is a first step. Using ornamentation well is another step. But what puts it over the top is learning to phrase the music, and express it eloquently.
Ornaments are more like articulations - Will Harmon (and others)
"I started thinking of the twiddly bits more as articulations because so many of the old players kept telling me how integral to the tunes they are—not mere decorations, but essential elements of the tunes." You can throw triplets, rolls, or whatever in all sorts of places in a tune. But if they don’t support the flow and phrasing, then they’re like an decoration hung on a tree, instead of a way to articulate the music idea that you’re expressing.
I could go and on with other gems that I’ve found on this site, but I’ve gone on long enough… It’s nice to focus on the positive here for at least a bit. Feel free to share any nuggets or gems or people on this site that have been a positive influence for you.