My experience composing my first tune

My experience composing my first tune

I just got done composing my first tune and I have to say that it was a curious experience. The tune is a reel in Adorian that I have entitled Ophelia’s Ghost. I just put up the ABCs in the tunes section: https://thesession.org/tunes/5280

Here is a recording of me playing it rather slowly on whistle: http://brendanjanis.com/misc/ophelias-ghost.mp3

I don’t really consider myself a tune composer. There are so many great tunes out there already; always an exciting new one to discover lurking just around the corner. No need for me to add my own.

Well, something happened with this tune…it sort of wrote itself. As I explain in the tune notes, I wrote it during the course of a few days after watching Michael’s Almereyda’s modern re-make of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I didn’t plan on writing the tune either, but I found myself thinking about the scene where we find poor Ophelia floating face up in the swimming pool. I happened to have a whistle on hand as usual and this tune eventually came out over the course of a couple of days. It started out as some strange air, then was a jig for a day, and finally it seemed to exist best as a reel. I don’t think of the tune as a great tune or a bad tune—just a tune a tune that makes me think of the plight of poor old Ophelia.

Well, I thought this might be an opportunity to ruminate over tune composition stories. I always found the story of how ‘Dusty Windowsill” came to be intriguing (If you haven’t already check it out: https://thesession.org/tunes/29). And if I remember correctly Will Harmon has a story about how ‘Bag Your Frog on the Sofa’ cam to be.

Anybody care to share their tune composition exploits? I’d be curious if anyone has had the experience of the tune composing itself. And how do you know it’s done? Inquiring minds want to know.

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So "Bag Your Frog on the Sofa" must be the version for those folks practicing safe sets….

:-D

All of my tunes pen themselves. I don’t know how. So they’re not really "my" tunes. More that I am their initial player.

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Ha ha ha. Will, am I not correct in saying that you also composed the tune "Bag your women on the sofa"? Care to elaborate? ;)

yeah, its funny how they pen themselves.

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Sorry, but it’s too much like bobby casey’s hornpipe

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This is a lovely tune and fits so well into the trad idiom - an essential requirement for any newly composed tune! I wasn’t going to relate my experience with composition some 20 or more years ago until I noticed comments on similarities between this and other tunes. In my case I put together a reel in "G" which I liked and one of the younger musicians used as her flute tune for the Fleadh (she even qualified for the All-Ireland probably "despite" and not "because" of my tune). You can imagine my disillusionment some months later when I found this new tune to be almost identical to Farrel O’Gara - a tune I didn’t know - apart from the key (Farrel is normally played in "D") so that ended any ambitions of mine in composing music. This probably is one of the pitfalls in trying to compose in that maybe we all hold tunes in our heads that we don’t know are there!

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This indeed very similar to Bobby Casey’s (Humours of Tullycrine?).
I wouldn’t like trying to play them together in a set(!)

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its strange cause i can’t say that i "know" bobby casey’s. the only tune that i consciously had in the backdrop was Rainy Day. but bobby casey’s don’t have no shriekie high c natural in the second part, eh. anyway, i suppose it’s pretty hard to be truly original given all the tune soup in our head.

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I came up with a few about 7 years ago when stuck on an oil rig off the Congo for weeks on end.

They just came to me.

"This is it" I thought, an endless flow of tunes.

But that was the end of it.

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Don’t worry Brendan - it’s like Beethoven always used to say: "We’ve only got 11 notes to work with, there’s bound to be duplication somewhere along the line… and besides, I can’t hear anything anyway! Let’s all ‘down the pub for a pint of the black stuff!"

or something like that…

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Q, that cracks me up. You know, i would really be in despair if i lost my hearing. Don’t know know old beethoven did it. And I would be doubly in despair if i lost my hearing while working out on an oil rig off the Congo!

But i find it truly curious how tunes just play themselves in my head—it’s like i am a spectator or, er, audience. It’s also weird that when i hear tunes in my head i hear them as a fiddle, not in the voice of my own instrument, which is whistle and flute. It’s as if….i’m a fiddle in whistle disquise (I am now picturing Michael Gill puking).

Hey Bren, why don’t you work up onna them tunes from the oil rig off the congo. I’d like to hear it. This whole creative impulse is fascinating. Why we write a tune, when and of course how.

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Hey bannerman, I was thinking about your story and I was wondering if that person who played your tune went on to play your tune at the All Ireland. The reason I ask is that, if she did, I would imagine that a judge would go krakatoa on her for as the conventional wisdom goes it is a massive unadulterated no-no to play a new (read: non-traditional) tune at a competition. You could be Jesus Christ yourself channeling the Irish Music of the spheres, but if you played a new tune at a competition you’d be cast out on your arse.

I guess that I am wondering how you did discover that your tune was an apparent facsimile of another tune. Did you get an unceremonious dressing down by somebody by the likes of Michael Gill? If you did, are you sure your tune didn’t contain some worthwhile little bit something that honors the creative process you went through? Heck, I’m delighted to have discovered that the likes of the great Bobby Casey had the brilliance to have created a tune that a least in the first part is very similar to mine. Great minds think alike, eh? (Now don’t get me wrong: I respect the Michael Gills out there, and I respect the tradition, but there is no need to be sycophantic about it.)

By the way: Ferral O’Grada is one of my all time favorite tunes. First time i heard it I was like: that one is a keeper. The fact that you (re)invented Ferral O’Grada or some version thereof just shows you have supremely good taste. No need to be disillusioned about it.

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[unlurk]
Just a reiteration of that unoriginal axiom:
There is only one tune. We just play different parts of it at different times.
[/unlurk]

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I had no idea that the girl was going to play this tune in the competition until she came back from Ireland and told me. I was then a bit miffed on how no comment was passed during the competition on where she got it until months later when I discovered the similarity to Farrel O’Gara. I assumed at that stage that the adjudicator just thought she had changed the key of the tune. No, Michael Gill didn’t advise me of my mistake (this was pre-session.org era) but I got a copy of the David Lyth Bowing Styles book and found the tune in it. Maybe Fyffer is right that there’s just one big tune out there - I’d like to know though how musicians like Tommy Peoples always seem to find the best part of it!

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Brendan, stop flailing. It’s Farrel O’Gara, not Ferral O’Grada, who I think did the quality control on the brass bits that attach my fishing rod together.
I once wrote/composed (actually it just came to me in the kitchen) a wonderful phrase which I’m sure was totally unique. It would have formed the basis for a stunning polka.
Then I noticed my dog-eared copy of the Johnny O’Leary book sitting in the corner.
I flicked through it. There were polkas galore I’d never even played through or heard. I doubt that my wonderful phrase appeared in any of them, but I just thought, "this is pointless." and resolved to learn a few more of the ones already there.

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well, ottery, it wasn’t pointless to me. that was the point. sorry you missed it. oh, and thanks for straightening me out on the proper name of "farrel o’gada." lovely tune. perhaps Ferral O’Grada can help you next time with the quality control on the snarkie bits in your comment.

I think fyffer hit on what might be called the monadological theory of irish music. wait, wait, fyfferguy, come back! [cue sucking sound and mysterious fyffer man fades back into the empty darkness].

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Very often, for me anyway, a tune will come to me out of the blue… or so it seems. I will work on it for days, record it on my tape machine and put it aside. Later I’ll hear a similar tune on a recording or at a session and realize it was actually that tune floating around in my subconscious. Usually I scrap it at that point.

Every once in a while, even though I uncover the tune that was trying to come out, what I came up with is unique enough to be a new tune. (It’s the case with every tune of mine in my profile that I posted on this site.)

One way I determine if they’re unique enough is to play them at a session and seeing if anyone tries to join in after the first few notes. I’ll fade out and listen to what they’re playing – and sometimes realize at that point that I’m only rewriting an existing tune. If no one tries to join in even in consecutive sessions — then I know I might have a fresh idea. If someone says, "Nice tune, what’s it called?" or something like that — then I know I might have a keeper.

Having said that, there are a couple of people that will do the same thing with any new tune I learn. They’re too hypercritical and their comparisons are too vague. I’ll give you an example. I played the Floating Crowbar for a particular fiddler and he said it was just another version of the Salamanca. That was a weak comparison, so I wouldn’t play a suspect tune of my own in front of him. Musicians with vast repertoires are best because they’re more likely to know the tune in your subconscious that’s trying to get out.

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Sorry Brendan, for the snarkie bits, . I’m not saying it’s pointless composing tunes - I regularly play a couple of tunes composed by people I know, in addition to tunes by contemporary composers. But most ‘home-made-tunes fall by the wayside. The ones that get played do so not necessarilly because they are the best ones, but because they are ‘in the right place at the right time’. My comments about ‘pointlessness’ related to me personally, and the reason I lost interest in composition.

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I’ve written a few. They’re not for public consumption, although in a few years time, who knows. I always let a couple of friends, who have a broad knowledge of Scottish and Irish traditional music hear them. They’re also very (constructively) critical - and if I get any positive feedback, regarding originality and whether they like them or not, I know I’m onto something and will tweak the tune as required, up to a point.

I hope that my limited experience (and consequently "qualification" to give advice to all and sundry ;-) ), is helpful to you Brendan.

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Just catching up on this thread here, and a question arose for Q: which of the 12 notes didn’t Beethoven know about?

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beethoven could count

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lol - that what was my mistake! But the bit about heading down to the pub is verbatim. Except it was in German. And he meant lager, not guinness. And he wasn’t deaf he just didn’t want to listen. This is all true, by the way.

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no worries, ottery. sorry if i misread u. there really are so many lovely tunes out there. what a surprise it was when one spontaneously composed itself in my head. i don’t know what will happen to this one, whether it is a keeper for me or it’ll fade into the good night (where Fyfferguy will surely find it!).

anyway, if i understand rightly, Bobby Casey was a fiddle player not only from west clare but also of the ‘west clare’ style, which i don’t know how exactly to characterize except to say it is a bit slower and alot more long notes. it is just seems so unrushed and satisfying. all of which is to say is i’ve come to think that i have a west clare style fiddle player lodged somewhere in my cranium, which is probably why this tune came out.

ron p, i like your idea of inconspicously floating a tune out in a session and see what happens. suppose that’s sorta what i did here. but live would be different. i’m gonin to a house session on thirsday and i’ll give it a whirl.

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"ron p, i like your idea of inconspicously floating a tune out in a session and see what happens. suppose that’s sorta what i did here. but live would be different. i’m gonin to a house session on thirsday and i’ll give it a whirl."

Wasn’t me that said that, ‘twas the Phantom..

I said I always let a couple of knowledgable friends hear the tune to check for originality, and also to see if they think it’s got any promise.

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Ron P emailed me and made me post that. What I really do when I write a tune is print it out and put it on everyone’s music stand.

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Hoi Phantom! I WANT MY $10 BACK!!!

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Aye Ron, & sometimes you float them tunes of yours past less knowledgable friends too - like us guys, last Summer!

Thar wis nowt wrong wi’ thon wee Scottish tune o’ yours, ye rattled by us in yer kitchen - have ye posted it here yet?

Course, I seem to remember you sayin something like:
"Noo, if yez dinnae like this yin, yer naw gettin’ yer soop!" - which might have had someting to do with our favourable response! :-D

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sorry - wrang

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Now Dick, I wasn’t saying you lot are less knowledgable at all! I’ll need to remember that soup trick though; but what am I supposed to do if I do as the Phantom does, and slip one of my own tunes into a session? Would I be having to carry a feckin great big cauldron of soup about with me to these sessions? ;-)

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Not a bad idea Ron - you could take a mobile kitchen to all the Fleadhs & Festivals & make a fortune!

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"Hey Bren, why don’t you work up onna them tunes from the oil rig off the congo"
Oh I did. (I think - "work up onna" …?) But it’s a bit like telling folk how well your kids are doing in school. They don’t quite see what you see or hear what you hear. I suppose that’s what a good player could do for a tune.

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oops! sorry phantom for the mis-atribution.

bren, the naming possibilities alone are reason enough to start makin yer stock! lets see: the rig jig, humours off the congo coast, congolese frolic, rig of slurs, peak oil fancy.

after servin your soup to unsuspecting mates, you could tell some riveting tale about being on the rig. I’m imagining something like the scene from Jaws were the Captain of the boat, Quint (played by Robert Shaw), tells a white knuckled silence-inducing tale about how while fighting the Japs in the second world war his buddy got eaten by sharks. And at the end of your tale you could be like "And i created a little chune about my experience on the rig off the coast of congo that i call ____". Oh it’d be a hit. wouldn’t matter what you played as long as the soup and story where good.

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my last tune, A Tune for Dave, found here at thesession, was one of those that pretty much composed itself as I was having a bit of a hard time re-writing the B-part to another tune I composed some 3 years back (not on thesession as of yet)…I went nutty on the fiddle after recording the first one, then saying "huh!..that was pretty good"…check it out at: https://thesession.org/tunes/A tune for Dave
I’d apreciate the feedback
cheers…now you can go back to wherever you were taking this thread ;-)

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well done Brendan; the force of all this is with you, so persevere and don’t really worry about what other heads say _ as long as you really know yourself …

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Thanks Brendan..still a bit rusty with the links