Think of this before you attack the next Bodhran player

Think of this before you attack the next Bodhran player

I went to a session recently where there was a bodhran player in attendance by the name of Rick. And you know what? He was really good. He was the only bodhran player among us seven or so musicians and I gather from chatting with him that he has been playing bodhran for upward of ten years and is a welcomed regular at the session I attended. Plus it appeared that the bodhran was his only instrument—it wasn’t his second-string instrument that he busted out when he was bored or couldn’t play the melody.

The session really benefited from having him there too. The beat was very steady throughout, and the rhythmic interest Rick brought to the music really lifted the overall musical excitement of the tunes. I enjoyed listening to him, and I played a set where he backed me on some rocking reels and it was a blast. The guy was relaxed too, and didn’t feel a need to play all the time or make the bodhran the center of attention when he was playing.

So that got me a-thinking. What if at any given moment while I’m playing I suddenly was to turn into a bodhran player. What kind would I be? Would I be one of the despised ones who can’t maintain a steady rhythm and am overall a drag on the session? Or would I be more like Rick?

I think sometimes in the struggle that we melody players go through to master the tunes we forget how important the rhythm is. And I’m definitely speaking for myself on this point. I mean, aside from airs and other slow tunes, this is dance music after all and good dance music thrives on the steady beat and rhythmic interest such as what Rick and other accomplished bodhran players can provide. If a dancer couldn’t dance to my jigs and reels or only with difficulty, what good am I?

So I just wanted to throw this question out there for general reflection and consternation: What kind of bodhran player are YOU?

Or look at it this way: if an irish dancer had to choose between you or Rick, who do you think he/she would choose?

Re: Think of this before you attack the next Bodhran player

There are two questions there.

1: What kind of bodhran player are you?
The answer to this is absolutely magnificent, totally brilliant.

2: Would a dancer prefer Rick or me?
From what you say it wouldn’t matter.

Re: Think of this before you attack the next Bodhran player

I’m the kind of bodhran player who listens carefully to the melody. I usually only play on those tunes that I can sing along to, but haven’t been able to translate to my fingers on whistle yet…and sometimes I play to the ones I DO know on whistle because it’s a nice change of pace. Rhythm has always been my strong suit — I can keep a steady beat without thinking about it. I follow the melody, and I like some good variety in the tones coming out of my instrument. I like to stay underneath the melody. I think that pretty much sums up my playing.

Re: Think of this before you attack the next Bodhran player

Likely, Crysania, the irish dancer would pick you over me. So please don’t come to any of my sessions! ;-)

Re: Think of this before you attack the next Bodhran player

The whistle is my main squeeze as far as sessions go but almost alway’s I bring either a banjo, guitar or bodhran, depending on the session or what I feel like. I love the bodhran. When hearing a new or unfamilier tune I alway’s listen to the melody one time through and I count out in my head a rhythm that fits the tune, (something like say 1-34, 1-3-,1234, 1-3-) for each part of the tune. I try to leave as many beats out as possible to create space while doubling the dowstroke within that basic rhythm to create interest. Sometimes the basic rhythm directly follows the melody other times it supports it depending on how the groove feels. Alway’s I try to play at a proper volume for the size of the session. When in doubt less volume is my chosen route. That’s my intent anyway, I probably play more rolls than I should, but I avoid the rim like the plague. I try to play in way that I would want to be accompanied if I was playing whistle or banjo.

Re: Think of this before you attack the next Bodhran player

Nah…I think an Irish dancer would be happy with someone who can keep a steady rhythm. That’s ultimately THE most important thing!

Re: Think of this before you attack the next Bodhran player

Brendan- You must be talking about Rick Ryder. If so, I couldn’t agree more with all that you say about him.
As to what kind of bodhran player am I?
Well, I play one of those new-fangled bodhrans with a neck and strings attached and goes bunka-bunka instead of thumpa-thumpa. Just about as unpopular, to tell the truth. *sigh*

Re: Think of this before you attack the next Bodhran player

you know, patrick, i din’t catch his last name. but how many ricks play so skillfully on the bodhran around these parts? can’t imagine too many…

Re: Think of this before you attack the next Bodhran player

Yeah Brendan and Patrick, that was Rick Ryder drumming there at RiRa the other night. We’re lucky to have several good drummers here in the DC/Baltimore area. Besides Rick, there’s Josh Dukes (who was also there the other night, although these days he plays mainly flute, guitar and zook rather than the bodhran - but he’s a brilliant drummer) and the two drumming icons on the scene here, namely Myron Bretholz and Jesse Winch. Besides providing some great rhythm for the rest of us over the years, these four guys have also done a great job of policing the bodhran scene around here, gently but strictly enforcing the one-bodhran-at-a-time rule, no matter how big the session gets. (And we used to have some big ones back in the day when Nanny O’Brien’s was the only session in town.)

But strangely enough, we often have sessions here without any drummer at all, since Rick travels a lot for work, Josh rarely plays the drum any more, Myron’s in Baltimore and Jesse doesn’t come out too often. Usually that’s okay, because we’re also blessed with great rhythm players on guitar in the person of Rob Greenway and Josh. But you’re right Brendan that a great drummer can make all the difference in holding the session together and lifting it to a higher level. Last Sunday we had a couple of visitors to the session, a bass player(!) who may be good at whatever music he plays but doesn’t have a clue about Irish music, and a drummer whose beat was not all that steady. (His main problem was that he’d lock into a tempo and play in it very steadily. The only thing was that his tempo rarely coincided with the one the rest of us were playing, which is a recipe for disaster. With Rob having his hands full trying to keep the bass player right, there was no one to police the bodhran player and we struggled all afternoon. We could have used Rick that day!

And why is it that whenever someone approaches your session and asks "Is this an open session?" or "Mind if I sit in?" and you ask "So what do you play?", nine times out of 10 the answer is "bodhran"? (Brendan the other night with his flute fell welcomingly into the remaining 10%, even though we do have a lot of flute players here already…)

Re: Think of this before you attack the next Bodhran player

Well, I’ve been goatwhacking for upwards of two years now, and I like to think of myself as okay. I think that there are two cardinal sins among bodhran players: being overenthusiastic and being boring. The style I aim for is like that of Sean McCann of Great Big Sea: rather than being something that plays along with the music, he makes the bodhran the heartbeat, the innate core of the music. This impresses me.

However, in New York once I saw the world’s most boring bodhran player. She was inaudible, and her rhythm never varied in the slightest. I think that’s worse than being too loud. It’s not what the bodhran was made for. The drum was invented to keep the beat, to put the pulse into the music-in fact, I believe that that’s also the role of all rhythm-I’m sorry, ‘accompaniment’ instruments. But I’ll not go into a hateful diatrybe, that’s what my profile’s for.

As for who the Irish dancer would choose, I’d say me if I had yet mastered Sean McCann style bodhran. But I haven’t, so Rick.

Re: Think of this before you attack the next Bodhran player

Well, it was a very lovely session in every respect. I really had a great time and the tunes were great I felt very welcomed. thanks, john. As you know, I sat next to Rick, and it really has been a long time since I’ve been to a session where the bodhran playing was as perfectly timed and tastefull. ahhhh. we hear so many bad things about the bodhran and many stories no doubt are justified. it’s nice that there’s the likes of Rick around (and many others I"m sure) to balance things out…

On another note: I’d never seen so many olwell flutes in one room in my life. i mean, if i didn’t have one myself, i might have lost all sense of restraint and tried to run off with one or two of them myself ;)

Re: Think of this before you attack the next Bodhran player

in retrospect, this thread wasn’t meant to put the evil eye of the inquisition on bodhran players. i was an exhortation as much for melody players like myself to examine the speck in their own eye before pulling the knife out and sticking it again into the bodhran player…

Re: Think of this before you attack the next Bodhran player

Already there is too much fuss here for a bodhran player, come on brendan pull your tongue out of rick’s "gary" :-)

hee hee


Seriously they do contribute to the sound and take the emptiness out of the bare naked music

Re: Think of this before you attack the next Bodhran player

Bodhran players that are actually musicians are far and few between.

Re: Think of this before you attack the next Bodhran player

Stop it Geoff, you will make me big headed.

Re: Think of this before you attack the next Bodhran player

If you’re a bodhran player, you HAVE to be a Rick.

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