Certain Instruments for Certain Tunes

Certain Instruments for Certain Tunes

Lately it’s annoyed me to hear piping tunes played by instruments other than a wind instrument. Certain tunes fit certain instruments because of tone progressions, ornamentations commonly used, rhythms, etc., whatever. As for wind instruments…the wind instruments, including voice, have the ability to “cut air” or “release air” (I’m not talking about farting) that give the instruments part of their distinct sound which are key to piping tunes. Stringed instruments especially cannot replicate this cutting of air sound.

There are tons of tunes out there that I would consider piping tunes that are commonly played by instruments other than the pipes or other traditional Irish wind instruments. But one that really pisses me off is The Walls of Liscarroll. I heard this tune played on guitar (or similar instrument) by a member of Danu. What a mess! The musician, although highly talented I’m sure, managed to take all of the piping magic out of the tune. The musician turned it from a bouncy, elusive, mythical (in my mind) and epic piece to a bunch of notes strung together with a weak rhythm. I feel this to be common when instruments other than ITM winds play piping pieces.

I know, I know…there need to be innovation within ITM. I agree, but not everybody can be an innovator. As a matter of fact, very, very few of us (the world, this site, whatever) are successful innovators. I would venture to say much of the innovation is contributed by musicians who at the time do not realize exactly what they are doing. I also appreciate that somebody, other than a piper, can appreciate a piping tune and want to replicate it…but…

Without writing a whole essay here, I’m just gonna say, as a purist would, piping tunes should be played on wind instruments only, preferably in solo format.

So-
1-Do you guys know of any other tunes that you strongly feel should be ‘restricted’ (dangerous word, I know) to a certain instrument?
2-Is it the instrument or the musician…because if it’s the musician, there are a lot of really crappy musicians out there.

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It’s the musician mainly, but it really has to do with the hierarchy thread I got so slagged off about. Pipes, flute, fiddle. All other instruments are simply not capable.

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Two issues here, I think :

1…If you’d never heard the tune (or any of its relations before) played on e.g. fiddle, you might get to like it and accept that as a standard. Now listen to it on pipes, and you might not like the result. I think it’s really by and large a matter of personal taste.
I heard the reel "Linen Cap" many times before, played on fiddle, and thought nothing special of it. When I heard it played on banjo (actually by Jim Willams from this site), to me it really seemed to spring to life, and now I always think of it as a banjo tune. So where are we now? Is it the tune or the player (or the instrument)? Or any or all?

2….Michael, I had a bit of trouble fiding that heirarchy thread of yours, but from what I can remember the hierarchy of instruments as you mentioned seemed to be borne out (statistically, anyway). I think your last sentence "All other instruments are simply not capable." just means you haven’t heard a musician good enough yet to make it sound the way you want. There are no limitations for talent. There are a limited number of highly talented people.

General : I personally find that fiddle tunes in particular sometimes lose their punch when played on guitar or mandola - but then again these players are more likely to be primarily rhythm guys. I’m not saying these can not be melody instruments (talking outside of Irish now, Tommy Emmanulle, Django etc), nor am I knocking the talent of any Irish players.

Jim

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"…because if it’s the musician, there are a lot of really crappy musicians out there. "

Why yes, yes there are.

KFG

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Ok…

MG: They’re called piping tunes for a reason. This is absolutely not a question of instrument hierarchy, although, I would love to address that thread at a future time. I don’t feel any instrument to be more elite than another. For example, as far as this thread is concerned, if a mandolin player says “such and such” a tune should only be played on mandolin…I’d be interested to know this tune and why only on mandolin. I don’t expect to hear that response from a mandolin player, but I do expect…I HOPE to hear it from a fiddle player.

Jim said…”’all other instruments are simply not capable.’ [from MG] just means you haven’t heard a musician good enough yet to make it sound the way you want.” Well this is part of my contention…you can’t exactly replicate one instrument with another. In particular, one cannot create the effect of cutting wind an instrument other than with a wind instrument. CAN’T BE DONE. It has to do with physics, not quality of a musician. That’s partially why a particular piece may be known as a piping piece. It has nothing to do with the quality of the musician.

I challenge you all…perhaps there is some effect of fiddle (or some other instrument) that that the pipes are incapable of recreating and therefore a certain tune befits the fiddle, and more strongly stated should never be played on pipes (for example)…all of course with regards to ITM.

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Only a fiddle player would come up with that nonsense about heirarchy, Michael. A good accompanist can make any sh*te player sound good. I happen to think a competent saxaphone player or guitarist could play fiddle or pipe tunes. its nothing to do with the instrument, it’s about soul and balls and stuff like that.

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Pete, I would never suggest that certain tunes should only be played on the mandolin. However, there are certain tunes (and types of tunes) which I feel are particularly suited to this instrument whereas many others aren’t. Examples of such on this site would include "The Point Road" written by a mandolin player and "Off to Puck fair" which I learned from a mandolin player(well, off his album)-Mick Moloney. Generally, I find that jigs, hornpipes, and the like suit the instrument very well. However, they can sound good on many other instruments.

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Did Bach write any tunes for the not yet invented guitar? Is John Williams any good?

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Any tune played on the mandolin becomes a mandolin tune.
For better or for worse.

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I agree with Backer that a good accompanist can make any sh*te player sound _better_, if not good, and can make a decent player sound better as well. This is because the accompanist can provide a rhythmic framework for a shaky player—i’ve heard a good piano accompanist act as a sort sheep dog for a flock of bad melody players. Just as importantly, an accompanist helps to _cover up_ poor excecution, tone, phrasing, intonation, etc. while _filling in_ the interstices of the notes.

But (to my personal aesthetic sensibilities) a good accompanist almost always _detracts_ from a great melody player, for precisely the same reason. Who wants to have a great solo player _covered up_? & why would you want to "fill in", where the phrasing is perfect, the lengths of the notes are subtly varied in the individual styles of the player, etc. The great melody player certainly doesn’t need rhythmical "help". I want to hear the spaces between the notes of a great player, I want to hear the flute player take his breaths, I want to hear the drones on the fiddle, I don’t want anything in the way. I’ve heard fantastic fiddlers solo and been delighted and heard the same fiddler play with an accompanist and seem constrained, like a bird in a cage instead of a bird in a bush. I think some otherwise quite good players actually _play worse_ when accompanied, because they are hearing the f-ing accompanist and not the tune in their head. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard a solo player with an accompanist & just wished the accompanist had hopped a plane to Tierra del Fuego the day before. Tommy Peoples was utterly ruined for me, because, years ago, I got a copy of The High Part of the Road, and the horrible clacking guitar on it completely turned me off, not only from Peoples, but from Irish music in general. (I wasn’t that familiar with dance music at the time, I remembered really enjoying the lively Dubliners instrumentals as a little kid (I especially liked the banjo), and wanted to check out a truly "great" fiddler—then heard this horribly naff accompaniment. Ugh. I still associate Tommy Peoples with that horrible clacking.) I remember my horror upon discovering that Brady had also accompanied Vesey, McGann, and Peoples/Molloy. If I could zap my CDs and get Paul Brady to utterly disappear, I’d do so faster than Peoples can bow a triplet. I’m not saying that Brady is all bad, he had a solo track on one of those recordings that I didn’t mind at all—because he wasn’t in the way of anything that I wanted to hear more.

That said, there are many soloists who I am quite happy to hear with accompanists. For example, I don’t think Reg Hall detracts from the London swagger of a Mairtin Byrnes or a Jimmy Power by plunking away in his lively manner; he contributes to the intensity. And a lot of the New York Sligo tunes, brought in off the mountain road and tamed for the front parlor, sound quite lively with a piano bouncing along, though the New York stuff sometimes sounds a bit canned. And to my ears, the effect that Martin Hayes is aiming at is not detracted from by Cahill’s guitar. And a bodhran ;-) can really punctuate a flute or whistle solo at times. Backers are always welcome in "bands" or "groups", they are what _make_ bands or groups bands or groups, by analogy with rock. Where there are three or more melody players the total sound, not the individual instrument, is important, and the accompaniment itself is in part covered over or hidden by the melody players, so that it provides a foundation and not an obstrusive distraction. Take the classic Canny/Hayes/O’Loughlin/Lafferty recording—In my ears, Lafferty really adds to some of the tunes, though it helps that the balance is low. But for duets? No thanks. What could be better than Pipes/fiddle, or fiddle/flute? Who wants Willie Clancy plus Bobby Casey, or Michael Gorman plus Mick Flynn, with a clacking guitar?

And a bouzuki accompanying a solo Junior Crehan, or a clacking guitar behind Denis Murphy, would make me want to throw up. It reminds me of the Monty Python Cheese Shop skit "shut that bloody bouzouki player up!" or of the title of that French noir film, "Shoot the Piano Player."

:-) I haven’t vented about Brady before, maybe he is not considered a good accompanist anyway, but I had to get that off my chest. The subject was on my mind because I just got a Tansey recording yesterday and was crestfallen because it has absolutely horrible accompaniment on every single track. There were some tracks where it started off with just bohran and I was about to sigh with relief, then the the other accompanist(s) came in and my hopes were dashed The weird thing is that Tansey appears to have wanted it that way :-) I guess I’ll just to to wait for my truly solo Paddy Taylor to arrive from Folktrax!

As to the original question of the thread, I think it is certainly true that there are some tunes which offer the greatest potential on a certain instrument (say, pipes, which is likely to become my favorite instrument even though I myself am in love with the fiddle and will never play anything else.) But of course truly great players can stretch the limits of their own instruments an play just about any tune well. Certainly declaring tunes "off limits" to certain instruments seems a bit extreme….

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Apparently 2nd fiddle according to "the rules" one is not allowed to play on one’s own (see show tunes thread). Don’t ask me where these "rules" came from. Must have been invented in the 1990s or round about then.

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Well, I am certainly glad I don’t have to play on my own, I don’t want to inflict torture on people :-) But I’ll always be happy to hear a good solo in a session— esp. pipes!

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The Sidhe do not seem to know these "rules" or mind my playing.

KFG

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It may not be easy for a non-piper to identify a piping tune - and so be able to avoid playing it :-), a grievous error I’m sure I must have unwittingly perpetrated on occasion.
Piping tunes don’t always come with labels in most compilations, and I have yet to hear a piper in a session say "BTW, this is a piping tune … all non-pipers please shut up". So how are piping tunes to be positively identified? Is there a list available?

Trevor

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"BTW, this is a piping tune … all non-pipers please shut up"

Not really an issue in Scotland - you can’t hear f@€kall over the Scots pipes anyway.

A lot of the time a fiddler or even -choke - mandolinist will finish a tune at a session and say "that was a pipe tune". I can’t recall anyone getting upset because it was played by the "wrong" instrument.
It just becomes another beast - a pipe tune played in another way.

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I think this question started out with basically an expression of personal taste - and that’s all right so long as he doesn’t insist tjhat there is no other opinion possible, because there will always be another opinion.
But this raises another point entirely, that there are tunes which simply sit better on one family of instruments rather than another - whether they were composed on one instrument, or use patterns of notes that will sit better on one instrument than another. Nowadays this seems to have been put aside, because there are some very fine musicians who seem to play anything without hesitation ( or maybe they choose their repertoire carefully ! ).
What I would like to hear, say, would be a piper playing a Bill Monroe tune, or a Ry Cooder number.
Any offers ?

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Sure, but you’ll have to supply me with a set of pipes and a month or two to work it up. Actually, I’ll bet Ganges Delta Blues would rock on pipes once a suitable arrangement was worked out.

KFG

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KFG, are you hooked up with the Sidhe like old Neillidh Boyle? I bet they could play Bill Monroe on the pipes :-)

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I said they didn’t seem to mind my playing, not that they liked it. :)

And don’t forget that sidhe has a double meaning. When applied to The People of Danu it is a shorthand for The People of the Sidhe. The sidhe is a place. If you wish to find me that’s one place to start.

Either that or a New England coffeehouse.

KFG

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Pete said … I think this question started out with basically an expression of personal taste - and that’s all right so long as he doesn’t insist tjhat there is no other opinion possible, because there will always be another opinion …

The difficulty with this site is that people confuse matters of personal taste with matters of right and wrong and end up making statements which come across as being gospel.

I wish some of the posters here would take the time to preface some of their ill-informed and prejudiced guff with a statement such as "in my humble (ill-informed and decidely prejudiced) opinion".

Frankly in humble, ill-informed and decidedly prejudiced opinion, I’m staggered that someone who - by their own admission - has been involved in traditional music for a few years, having previously been interested in crud (my humble, ill-informed, etc.) has the gall to criticise a player of the (in my humble, etc.) sensitivity and taste of Donal Clancy.

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David, I’ve even known bodhran players who have said the same thing about their chosen instrument.
;-)

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I think most Carolan pieces always sound well played on plucked/ strummed instruments as opposed to other. I suppose they were composed on the harp. There are some really nice guitar versions.

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It’s the musician. A good musician can make anything sound good; a crap musician can make something good sound vile.

Nobody can dictate what tune should be played by which instrument, but sometimes the tune itself can restrict itself to certain instruments. But I’ve still heard tunes I thought ‘impossible’ played on an apparently restrictive instrument by somebody who knows what they are doing.

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Boo freaking hoo.

To be more precise, if ya don;t like someone playing a "pipe" tune on something else, grab a beer or leave. Or open yer mind a bit.

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Wormdiet: My mind is plenty open…that’s how I stumbled upon such a stupid concept as this thread.

Concerning this thread I don’t know if we got where I wanted to be, but I appreciate your thoughts on the matter.

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Yes I was a bit harsh - my apologies.

TO be more constructive,
The way I see it… there’s no "right" or "wrong" in music (assuming it’s competently played). You like it or you don’t. That doesn;t change the intrinsic value of the music (because music has no intrinsic value-it’s in the ear of the listener).

I think often the decision of liking or disliking is rendered when something challenges our expectations. For instance, a guitarist playing a "pipe" tune makes us say "something isn’t quite right here." THe choice is to embrace the novelty or reject it. Normally I personally prefer to embrace it, all things being equal.

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I’ve heard a piper playing "Scotland" by Bill Monroe.

No Bluegrass Assassins attacked him.

It is completely redundant to say "in my humble (ill-informed and decidely prejudiced) opinion" before I post my humble (ill-informed and decidely prejudiced) opinion.
I mean, who else’s humble (ill-informed and decidely prejudiced) opinion is it going to be?

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BB, although the guitar wasn’t around as such in Bach’s time, he is believed to have composed for the lute on occasion. In particular, there are good reasons for thinking that the 5th cello suite (in Cmin with CGDG tuning instead of the normal CGDA) was originally intended for the lute, and perhaps even the famous violin Chaconne in Dmin.
The cello suites and the chaconne are very much in the modern classical guitarist’s repertoire and all superb on the instrument, especially in the hands of a master such as Segovia, Julian Bream or John Williams (the guitarist, not the film composer).


Trevor

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Hee hee, Bren … point taken.

However … I think that those who make definitive statements here (and there are many of them and I’m probably as guilty as anyone) ought to just stop and think for a moment that in Irish Traditional Music there is rarely a right or a wrong or, possibly, that there are myriad rights and myriad wrongs. Therefore it ill-behoves people to start presenting their thoughts as some sort of law when in actual fact they are merely voicing their own personal taste.

So therefore - prefacing posts with "in my humble opinion" might remind us that a) it IS only our opinion and b) that opinion undoubtedly doesn’t count for very much except to ourselves.

In my humble opinion, of course …

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There’s nothing wrong with "IMHO", though I agree with Bren. I don’t there’s there’s anything wrong with a person expressing an opinion, even if they’re not a musician of Session member Harry Bradley. What harm does it do? THere has to be room for all sorts in a tradition. My own posts would be asinine if presented in an authoritative or prescriptive manner, but as a matter of personal sensibility there are what they are—merely my particular feeling about the music. From a more objective point of view, the accompaniment on the Tansey CD was very very good; my problem was that I found it distracting, because I am still learning the basics and need to listen closely to soloists. To me, stringed accompaniment often seems to partly bridge the distance between the old 19th-century melodies and modern rock and jazz, and I find hearing chordings I am more familiar with distracting when listening to something which I still need to learn. A more experienced musician would obviously not have that problem. I had hoped for a mostly solo album, and didn’t get what I need as a beginner—to listen to good melody players playing solo and really learn the music. There’s a built-in "caveat emptor" in all things, I’ll just have to do a better job of finding truly solo albums. I’m sure I’ll enjoy the album more once I’ve got past the basics.

-

Perhaps "IMHO" is actually misleading, because in many cases in which people use it, they are not actually expressing an "opinion" in the sense of a belief or a judgment, but rather a mere _feeling_, no matter how strongly felt.

Someone might get the impression from my post that I don’t like bouzouki music, and that I don’t deeply respect musicians like Donal Lunny or Alec Finn. THat simply isn’t the case, and I don’t think Pete D meant that Donal Clancy was a bad musician, Pete was just expressing Pete’s personal aesthetic sense of that tune. He thinks some tunes sound better on the pipes. Some people think some tunes sound better on the alto sax. Who cares :-) The main thing is to have a sense of humor & not to take offense.

Plus the whole thing is probably a wind-up anyway ;-)

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um, "a musician of Session member Harry Bradley’s caliber"

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"The ability of the player" has been mentioned earlier, so just to show what is possible on musical instruments, have a listen to this little clip. Bit of a diversion really, as it’s most certainly not ITM. It’s a clip from the track "Ciocirlia" by Roumanian gypsy genius Nico Pourvu and his band. There’s a wooden whistle, pan pipes, and block flute playing. I’ve got an album somewhere with the same track, played on solo fiddle, but I can’t locate it at the moment.

No prizes for guessing the type of animal they are tooting for :-)

http://www.worldfiddlemusic.co.uk/mp3/ciocirlia-sample.mp3

Jim

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that’s a lot of fun Jim

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so, if you’re in a session, and a piper plays a piper tune, are you no allowed to play?

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FYI as far as traditional backers goes then In my humblest of all humble opinions - Paul Brady does not rate. He is a fine musician and nobody does the Lakes or Arthur McBride like him, but tune wise as a backer…IMHO nothing special.

But if we were going to do what is suggested, ie fiddle players play fiddle tunes, pipers play pipe tunes. Then a session would turn into a mini concert, and it’d be like okay- ‘Your turn to play a tune for *your* instrument’. And then you’d be going round the session and taking turns and it’d turn into a nightmare session from hell.

I learn tunes from Flook, Michael McGolderick etc - yes - they are deffo not fiddle tunes and they are hard to play. So what? I do realise that there are tunes that are way better suited to certain instruments, doesnt mean you cant try tho - its good practise to get out of the comfort zone.

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That sounded quite harsh about Paul Brady - But I suspect that he himself is not passionate about tunes, as he hasnt been involved in the non singing trad music for ages. And believe me when I say his Arthur McBride brings tears to my eyes.

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When Paul Brady did some of those early recordings as a tune accompanist, it was "early days" at least as far as the evolvement of guitar accompaniment. Those that came after brought it to a "higher" level but I suspect it was never something that greatly interested him. Nevertheless he did help to break some ground because he had at the time more credibility than many others.
There is absolutley no doubt about PB’s fantastic abilities on the guitar and keyboard, nor about his songwriting abilities.

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Oh yeah, of course -but as you said and I said before, he seems to not have much interest in being a backer …

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A quote from Brady himself in the March ‘05 edition of Irish Music Magazine… "I knew I wasn’t ever destined to be a virtuoso instrumentalist. I didn’t want to devote my musical life to just one thing. I guess I was losing interest in singing songs about the Napoleonic wars and playing reels badly on the guitar and wanted to get back to what was happening in contemporary music."

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He has been playing quite a bit with Ciaran Tourish in the last
couple of years, and has been spotted backing in pubs
recently in Sligo… I wouldn’t say he doen’t have much interest
in being a backer, but rather his professional life has moved away from traditional songs.

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On Friday night I heard the Uzbek musicians touring with Battlefield Band play Hector the Hero (a pipe tune written on the fiddle :-) ) on the Nay, the Gijak, the Dutar, the kushkar rubab and the Doyra ( a sort of bodhran like drum. He juggled and played three at once at one point. Don’t be getting ideas now).

Of course I told them how wrong they were and walked out in disgust.

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I’m surprised you left the show in disgust Bren. I would never leave in disgust if I paid for the show…especially if it was all you can drink. And I’d never leave if it was free because it’s free. Although, I MAY be disgusted after leaving the show and paying $15 for the CD.

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Just a thought on the topic - I basically agree with you, Pete D. Although as far as ITM goes I’m a bodhrán player, I’ve scratched a fiddle and blown a whistle and squeezed an occassional box. And I’d agree that some tunes seem to suit some instruments particularly well. Probably made-up (written) on that very instrument. These are tunes that play up to the peculliarities/strengths of the instrument - the bowing or the overblowing or whatever. Doesn’t mean that another instrument can’t play them well, but just that they’re stronger on thei instrument they were composed on.

There’s also been some discussion here on whether one instrument can "emulate" the peculiar sounds of another. Stepping outside ITM, Steve Vai’s a rock guitar player who did a tour a few years ago where he wrote and recorded a tune for every country he was touring with his band. They learned each new piece at the soundchecks. Anyway, when he was playing in Ireland he recorded a tune called Whispering A Prayer. He’d obviously been listening to irish pipe music, and managed to reproduce some of the pipe’s sounds in his melody

http://www.vai.com/audio/clip-whispering.mp3

But he’s a clever bastard!

\())

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Jaysus Jim, I’ve never heard anyone play so well on a Jaws harp.

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Steve Vai also played in the TV broadcast "A Musical Soiree" along with a whole range of diverse musicians (including Paddy Moloney & 2 other Chieftains) at Frank Zappa’a home shortly before Frank died. Steve was *amazing*. (Also one-time member of Frank Zaapa’s band).

Jim

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Certainly some tunes were written for certain instruments, and have a certain je ne sais quoi on those original instruments. But in the right hands, as folks above have been pointing out, an excellent musician can get that tune to play well on a very different instrument. But of course, not all of us have to like that.
I play a few of the Irish tunes on the harmonica, one of the first instruments I learned. It is interesting seeing how it polarizes people’s opinions to hear a non-traditional instrument play the Irish tunes—some enjoy it, others dislike it. So generally, I leave the harmonica out of things unless I am with a group who finds it enjoyable to hear.

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Dateline 1826….Trad Alert!! Rumour has it that Ludwig is working a a symphony with…gasp….singers. Quick, somebody slap his hand. Why is it that the great ones so seldom listen to the rules of the sorta great? If Moses had played Irish Music we’d have about 365 commandments.

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You haven’t actually read Exodus and Leviticus, have you?

(And by the way, it was the choral that was the traditional element of Ludwig’s work and the rest of it that was progressive :) )

On the other hand I really, really like the way your question was formed.

KFG

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A lot of the not so great ones also refuse to listen to "the rules."

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Dear KFG, Since you really can’t be wrong about what you like, that means you are correct in one of the three statements in your last post.

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If you want a different perspective on how pipe tunes sound on other instruments, listen to Bonnie Rideout play them on fiddle. She does a brilliant job, and IMO preserves the original spirit and lilt of the tunes.

I think there are some tunes that are better suited to specific instruments simply because of the tonal qualities, etc, of the instrument doing a better job of bringing out the heart of the tune. But I wouldn’t state it as an absolute; there’s always the unusually talented musician who will show up to fling down and dance upon the rules. ;)