Rediscovering a tune…and an instrument

Rediscovering a tune…and an instrument

Just recently I heard Gearóid O hAllmhuráin play the Stack of Barley and Boys of Bluehill on ClareFM. I’ve never been much of a fan of hornpipes and was especially sick of Boys of Bluehill but for some reason I was mesmerized by his version. I’m sure this isn’t new for most people but its certainly exciting to hear a tune you think of as rather commonplace and dull (this probably best describes my playing of the hornpipes) and get a totally new appreciation for it. Not only has it led me to rediscover many of the tunes I’ve purposely put in storage but Gearoid’s playing also made me wonder if I shouldn’t of taken up the concertina.

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Re: Rediscovering a tune

Some of the basic tunes are what caught my attention to begin with. I don’t let their simplicity or how often they are played spoil the tune for me. I bring to mind the first time I heard "Off to California". I was totally clueless when it came to ITM, but that really sounded Irish to me. I couldn’t wait to learn it and now, when someone asks to hear something, that is the tune I play.

The common tunes still apeal to listeners who may be yet unfamiliar with the music.

They also give almost everyone the chance to play in sessions.

There must be a reason that they endure and are played often. I conclude that they are just great tunes.

The problem with them is their familiarity. Because we think we know them, we pass them by.

Re: Rediscovering a tune…and an instrument

feardearg, your absolutely right. For some reason I just never liked the melody of Boys of Bluehill until I heard Gearoid’s version.

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Re: Rediscovering a tune…and an instrument

Supports the old adage

" There are no jaded tunes, only jaded players"

Re: Rediscovering a tune…and an instrument

Interestingly enough, in the concertina class the week before last at the Friday Harbor Irish Music Camp, Gearoid talked about how there are certain tunes he doesn’t like, but also how after some years he has come back to some of them and discovered new things in them that changed his perception of the tune. The example he gave of such a tune was The Boys of Blue Hill, and he also mentioned that when he rediscovered it he found that he liked it so much he had to record it.

Despite this, I do not support the old adage about there being no jaded tunes, only jaded players. Two cases in point of jaded tunes: The Sweets of May, and that polka (whatever it is) that gets called Dum Dum. They don’t call it Dum Dum for nothin’, IMHO anyway. (Although to be fair I used to feel this way about The High Cauld Cap too, until I heard bohola’s recording of it. So maybe there’s hope yet…)

Re: Rediscovering a tune…and an instrument

I came into the local ITM scene here in SF at a point where a lot of the common standards had already been through the mill it seems. I had been learning tunes on my own up until that point and they didn’t include a lot of common tunes simply because I didn’t know what they were. Even though my repertoire is substantial at this point there are still a good few common tunes I have never learned for this reason. For example — the tune ‘Blarney Pilgrim’ is one such tune that had been run through the mill before I arrived and it had already fallen out of favor with the local players. When it came up later, after many years had gone by, I thought it was really interesting and I learned it. Then I would hear people making comments about "that old tune" when it would start up.

I think there are "new cool tunes" people get excited about that are no more interesting than a lot of the old worn out ones, and if they were played back when people were learning the music would be just as likely to be worn out by now. It comes down to association really. I guess any tune is capable of gaining a bad association. The trick is to avoid negative associations with tunes you enjoy playing. Maybe one way would be to visualize the old tunes sometimes as if you’re hearing them for the first time.

Re: Rediscovering a tune…and an instrument

Gearoid´s version of The Boys of Bluehill is certainly something special and gives the tune a new life.
I agree with everything that has been said about re-visiting hackneyed old tunes like Kesh, Out on the Ocean, etc. and playing around with them - rhythm, ornamentation, chords, keys, whatever - to give them a new lease of life.
Of course, if you want to try out your new version at a session, you need to warn your fellow musicians first, otherwise, as soon as they recognise the first few bars of the tune, everyone will join in and play it the old way.

Re: Rediscovering a tune…and an instrument

Murf… I’m not talking about changing the tunes, but rather one’s perspective. You wouldn’t need to warn anyone that you’ve rediscovered the beauty of an old worn out tune — you just play it with a new heart.

Re: Rediscovering a tune…and an instrument

Yes, I know what you mean, Phantom, but I suspect we might be talking about two different things here.
I learned Gearoid´s version of The Boys of Bluehill and played it at our local session. It´s still the same tune but considerably embellished and with a completely different feel to it.
As soon as the others recognised it they went into the standard version of the tune and I couldn´t make myself heard over the rest of the instruments. I don´t think there was any particular musical insensitivity on their part, it´s just that people tend to go on "automatic pilot" as soon as some tunes are recognised.
If I´d briefly announced it beforehand, they would have heard my version.
I take the point that you make, but to play a tune with "a new heart" sometimes involves the addition or omission of notes and/or alteration of the rhythm. Does that constitute "change" ?

Re: Rediscovering a tune…and an instrument

Ah, the poor maligned Boys of Bluehill. I still like the version I learned thirty years ago and I still hate the version that most people play. And the main difference is only a couple of notes in a phrase that occurs in both parts. I’ve started it in sessions a couple of times, only to be covered up by that “other” version. As murfbox said, nobody seemed to notice the difference.

Brian Conway played it in a concert a few months ago and it was pretty close to the version I play, which is added in the comments for the tune here.

Re: Rediscovering a tune…and an instrument

After reading the above, I asked my wife (who I think is sick of my practicing the whistle all the time) to listen to the Boys of Bluehill. she said it was alright, tho not as complex as other tunes she loaths, I mean hears.

I also recall a time before I knew anything about ITM and was teaching my son how to play the guitar, I came across a site called the Kitchen Musician or something. Because Boys of B was simple as far as the melody and the chords, I printed it and we played it (I on the recorder). We both thought that was pretty darn cool. So the tune has a special place in my heart.

Paul McArtney problably hates playing Yesterday after all these years, but that’s a great tune and people love it.

Long live the old tunes. May they be played for another 400 years!

On another note

Is there an over enchantment with recordings? I like them, don’t get me wrong. but with all the mixing and effects and nature sounds and perfections….should we try to imitate those at sessions? Are those recordings session music at their best or are they something else. I not so much prefer the imperfections of pub sessions, but I hold the recordings as something a little bit different from live, tho humble, music.

I read something a while ago that made me think. The theory was that those who played our music in the past sounded nothing like we do. They were hardworking and poor people. hard work would prevent them from practicing much and poverty would prevent them from owning the fine instruments we play on. But they must have loved the music anyway to have passed it on to us.

Let me remember my point….oh yeah. Can we become so polished that we change the nature of the experience?

Re: Rediscovering a tune…and an instrument

murfbox,
Say what you will about other tunes, but do not call "Out on the Ocean" old and hackneyed. It has been, is, and will always be, a wonderful tune.

Re: Rediscovering a tune…and an instrument

They are all wonderful tunes, otherwise we wouldn´t be playing them.
But in the case of Out on the Ocean, it´s certainly old and , in many sessions, has been flogged to death which is a reflection on the musicians and the way they play it rather than the tune itself.
We had this discussion some time ago on another thread and the general feeling was that there´s no such thing as a bad tune, just boring and uninspiring ways of playing them.
My point is that it´s good for the music in general to take an old tune and play it in a different way to what it´s normally played in, thus giving pleasure to yourself and others.

Re: Rediscovering a tune…and an instrument

Thanks murfbox,
Out in the Ocean is my personal favorite, and myself I never tire of it. But I understand how tunes can be overplayed, and become tedious.