Statistically unlikely combinations of instruments

Statistically unlikely combinations of instruments

Ok, this is excluding fiddle festivals etc, but which combos have you been surprised to find in a session? Normally it’s rakes of fiddles but in my home town we had absurd numbers of flutes. Once counted eight flutes out of twelve players on a small stage in a session. Also saw two harpists turn up at an ordinary sesh. "Them flutes are like buses; you wait ages the eight turn up at once"

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We had three harps at an eight-person session last summer! Only time I’ve seen that many outside of a big festival session.

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Four, sometimes 5 pipers at one, and three piano accordions at another. Jeebus take me now!

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That’s nothing! In the Kilkenny Tav in the days past we had the usual lot plus ten whistles, 22 ukuleles, the Dagenham Girl Pipers, a Gamelan Orchestra, Capt Beefheat and the Gregory Izzacs Band. And Peter Coughlan.

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55 flutes, one fiddle and a bodhran. Cruinniú ‘22 session at Top of Coom.

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And ya tell that to the young people today… . They won’t believe ya!

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It was at an Old Time music camp … 32 Banjo ukes and 2 hired fiddlers to provide a melody. My therapist says I’m making great strides. Yhaal sometimes there’s just not enough lubrication!

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I went to my first session with an oboe and nobody kicked me out. But I knew a lot of the tunes from contra dancing already.

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I’ll see your oboe and raise you a bassoon! There’s a Lithuanian chap makes appearances in Dublin and Wicklow sessions with a bassoon and he’s quite handy with it too. I like it

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I once went to a session with only one fiddle. Crazy, I know, but it’s true 😛

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Not a session exactly, but I was once recruited to provide melody (on mandolin-banjo – borrowed for the occasion) for a spoons workshop, with perhaps 7 or 8 students. The only other melody instrument was a harmonica.

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In Denver, CO in 2014 I was at a session with two hammer dulcimers.

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In re dulcimers:

What are your predictions on the next instrument to be fully accepted in ITM?
https://thesession.org/discussions/45968

15 years ago, someone told me that sessions in a certain area almost had no fiddlers anymore. Everyone played the flute. That’s something I could never imagine.

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"…two hammered dulcimers."

Q: "What’s trapezoid and sounds like 12 hammered dulcimers?"
A: "One hammered dulcimer."

Sorry. They’re fine when played with a sense of discretion and knowledge of the tunes.

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Yep, our own Ptarmigan has posted clips of h.d. that sound fine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8AEP0deSNRA. The sustain can be an issue in small spaces or rooms with lots of natural reverb, but as heard here, when played with some restraint, the "hammered" aspect doesn’t have to dominate. (Nicely done, Ptarmy!)


But the nature of the instrument means you never know when you’re going to get random timing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qL04TCNhqs

or the timbre of a toy piano inside an empty grain silo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-NUnmlwbCY

or just a wall of noise.

In sessions, I’d much rather hear a harp, which for all their sustain, have more clarity than the average h.d. and a genuine rootedness in this music.

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> someone told me that sessions in a certain area almost had no fiddlers anymore. Everyone played the flute.

We need to set up an exchange programme. Round here you can’t open the door without hitting three fiddle bows, will gladly swap some of them for a few flutists!

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"In sessions, I’d much rather hear a harp, which for all their sustain, have more clarity than the average h.d. and a genuine rootedness in this music."

Perhaps it is the percussive nature of the dulcimer that makes it more of a sticker-out than a blender-in. A harp can add ‘body’ to the sound of a session, in a similar way to a good backer on guitar or bouzouki*; I have yet to hear a dulcimer player do that. Regarding sustain, a harpist can selectively damp strings with the fingers or heel of the palm, since their hands are in always in direct contact with the strings; this is not so easy with a dulcimer. Some dulcimer players use a damper pedal, but not often, I think, on session-sized instruments.

As for rootedness in the music, the harp obviously wins out over guitar and bouzouki (and, in terms of historical span, any of the modern-day ‘traditional’ instruments). But Derek Bell was of the view that the word ‘Tiompán’, seen in mediaeval Irish literature referred to a hammered dulcimer. (Others believe it was a tambourine. Perhaps Derek Bell just wasn’t tambourine material…)






*Some, no doubt, still regard even the very best of them to be superfluous noise.

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Thanks for those HD clips, gimpy. Random timing was an understatement.

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I have been involved in a rendition of the London Derrière (Danny Bwoi) on nose flute, musical saw, Swanee whistle, Stylophone, glockenspiel, lap steel and theremin. We also did Over the Rainbow and What a Wonderful World.

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Creadur, yes, your notions on harp are why I enjoy playing with harpists.

"Some dulcimer players use a damper pedal…." In my experience, some hammered dulcimers *have* a damper pedal, but I’ve yet to hear a player *use* same. Perhaps h.d. players are all drummers by nature. 😉

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The damper is mostly found on the Hungarian cimbalom, which is sort of Hungary’s national instrument, often used for what I would call "art folk"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zpvtVYoc3Bg


but can play other types of thing

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNe3wo2Un8A


plus of course folk music (you can clearly see the dampers moving up & down along the sides of the instrument here)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CbTZB7Z4WA

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The Boy FCC, I’ve seen ordinary hammered dulcimers in the US—specifically New England and Appalachia—with dampers. But I’ve never heard them used. Also, nearly all of the h.d. players I’ve encountered in Irish sessions used unpadded hammers, apparently for maximum volume. The resulting proverbial ‘sea of sound’ overwhelms everyone else and any hope for nuance is lost. It’s even worse when they play "accompaniment" on tunes they don’t know.

Twice I’ve played with an h.d player who used padded hammers and who played strictly melody, with a light touch. That worked okay.

To be honest, I’m not a big fan of the sound—the brittle crack that starts each note followed by endless sustain that blurs everything together like an exuberant 3-year-old fingerpainter. It takes a rare player to make an h.d. work in an Irish session.

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It’s easy to get caught up in the sound of all the strings sounding in sympathy when playing solo (I had one for a while long ago).

But a player with some self-discipline can blend into an ensemble.

For an instrument that is part of the living folk music tradition along a continuous swath of the world from Saffron Walden to Shantung (with outliers), it’s still somewhat obscure.

The one I had, back in New York, was from China, where it’s called a yangqin. When I was bringing it home I ran into the apartment building’s custodian, who had recently emigrated from Poland. He gestured inquiringly at the instrument’s trapezoidal case, and I replied by miming playing a few bars with the hammers.
"Ah," he said. "Tsimbal!"

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I know the OP specified excluding festivals for particular types of instruments, but I do find it quite surreal going to the open late night sessions at Edinburgh International Harp Festival where the average composition includes 30+ harps, 2 melodeons, a couple of fiddles, a guitar, and maybe the odd mandolin, flute or whistle. It’s a great sound though!
Then there were the “Button boxes and moothies” weekends which happened roughly once every 4 years in Aberdeen. As you can guess, stringed instruments very much in the minority!

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This only just counts, but we had a session a few years ago where there were two fiddlers present - and we both were playing five-strings. One of the punters had to come over late in the evening to check he was correct in remembering that fiddles normally only had four!