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'arranging' Tunes For Concertina


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Hi Helen, "woof, woof". Skinner would indicate the D modal (Mixolydian) 'key' the same as a D major key signature except that the Sharp symbol at the C note in the staff would be replaced by a Natural symbol. (If you squinted your eyes it would still look like D maj.) He would do this for all the modal tunes. An A Mixolydian tune (A major scale with a G natural instead of a G sharp) would have only 2 sharps. But indicating 2 sharps in the key signature would lead one to think, at first glance, that the tune was in the key of D, which is wrong. So he would print the key signature of A major, but replace the sharp symbol on the G note in the staff with the Natural symbol.

 

Jim, I didn't say the O'Neill key signature was 'definitely' a mistake, only that it is 'probably' a mistake. The reason that I don't hesitate to make that statement is that I have for many years been blessed to be able to watch, listen and play with many of the best Irish musicians in the world here in Chicago (due only to geography, certainly not my musicianship:-) Fine local players and many visiting artists. In all those years I can't remember ever hearing anyone play Banish Misfortune with C sharps all the way thru. Nothing even close. Based on that observation I don't hesitate to say 'probably'.

 

Saying that it 'might' be a mistake doesn't really say anything. Every note in the book 'might' be a mistake.

 

Incidentally, when I mention Skinner, I'm referring to J. Scott Skinner, and specifically to his publication "The Scottisch Violinist (1900)". It's filled with great tunes, some of them very difficult. Some of them have settled into the traditional repetoire such as "The Laird of Dumblair", "Cameron Highlanders" and "The Mathematician". Check it out.

Edited by Sandy Winters
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Skinner would indicate the D modal (Mixolydian) 'key' the same as a D major key signature except that the Sharp symbol at the C note in the staff would be replaced by a Natural symbol.

Seems a useful convention to me, though I don't recall seeing anyone else use it. I think it serves to show that different people had different ideas of how to represent meaning by the use of details within a widely accepted general notational framework. And it seems to me that J. Scott wasn't entirely consistent in that regard, since he didn't notate the standard Em with 1 sharp and 3 naturals, but simply with the sharp... which everyone else seems to do, too. Good thing he didn't play klezmer. I wonder what he would have done with a scale that consistently has both a Bb and a C#, but no F#.

 

Jim, I didn't say the O'Neill key signature was 'definitely' a mistake, only that it is 'probably' a mistake.

I tried to emphasize that myself, by separately quoting your word "probably". Nevertheless, I think a plausible -- though not conclusive -- argument can be made against even "probably". (See below.)

 

The reason that I don't hesitate to make that statement is that I have for many years been blessed to be able to watch, listen and play with many of the best Irish musicians in the world here in Chicago (due only to geography, certainly not my musicianship:-) Fine local players and many visiting artists. In all those years I can't remember ever hearing anyone play Banish Misfortune with C sharps all the way thru. Nothing even close. Based on that observation I don't hesitate to say 'probably'.

And how many have you heard play it with C-naturals all the way through? Did they all play it with the C#'s in the same places? Did any of them play it with the F-naturals in the 3rd part, something which was drilled into me by Irish musicians in New York 35 years ago? My sources were very specific not only about the F-naturals, but as to which C's were sharp and which natural, and some of their C#'s were in places that David Brody's Fiddler's Fake Book gives C-natural. Interesting, since David knew some of these same musicians that I learned from.

 

And that leads me to speculate that perhaps the popularity of "Banish Misfortune" is actually relatively recent, and that the reason is that it has changed... for the better! (And I find that it's still evolving, with various subspecies, though my opinion is that it's now deteriorating. :() In trying to find other versions for comparison, I have been surprised at its absence. I didn't find it in Kerr's Merry Melodies, nor in Cole's 1000 Fiddle Tunes (Chicago, 1940), in Dulmer & Sharpley, nor even in the rather recent Irish Real Book.

 

But when I look at the version in the original O'Neill's (not the "newly revised and corrected" Miles Krassen rewrite), I find that it differs from contemporary versions in more than just the sharps and naturals. Though recognizably similar, its contour also differs significantly, and I think that it sounds quite nice and "right" with all C#'s, though rather "sweeter" than what I play under the same name. There are a few places where C-natural might be used to good effect, but not nearly as many as in contemporary versions, and it doesn't seem "wrong" to play them as C#'s... except by comparison with what we're used to. It's really a different, though related, tune. And I can see how the "modern" version might have grown out of it, but not simply by "correcting" the key signature. In fact playing that version with all C-naturals sounds to me distinctly un"natural".

 

Saying that it 'might' be a mistake doesn't really say anything. Every note in the book 'might' be a mistake.

Exactly! But we believe that most of them aren't mistakes, and we need to be very careful about claiming that any particular notation is a "mistake". Undoubtedly, some crept in, but Francis O'Neill was very careful. If I recall correctly (from his own description of the project), he always had someone who didn't already know the tune play it from the transcription, as a means of checking its accuracy.

 

Incidentally, when I mention Skinner, I'm referring to J. Scott Skinner, and specifically to his publication "The Scottisch Violinist (1900)". It's filled with great tunes, some of them very difficult. Some of them have settled into the traditional repetoire such as "The Laird of Dumblair", "Cameron Highlanders" and "The Mathematician". Check it out.

I have it (a modern paperback reprint). I agree that it's a great collection. It also includes a few examples of "tune with variations", something you rarely hear these days. :)

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And then there's First of May, which Cole's gives as a reel in Am, Allan's Irish Fiddler gives in A Mixolydian as a hornpipe, and O'Neill gives in A major as a reel. The three versions differ little in the notes. I rather prefer the version from Allan, but I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone else play this. Which version, if any, is current? FirstOfMay.pdf

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And then there's First of May, which Cole's gives as a reel in Am, Allan's Irish Fiddler gives in A Mixolydian as a hornpipe, and O'Neill gives in A major as a reel. The three versions differ little in the notes. I rather prefer the version from Allan, but I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone else play this. Which version, if any, is current?

The mixolydian is closest to what I'm used to hearing, though I think at least some players throw in a couple of G#'s, not always consistently. (That brings up another subject, which is that Irish music is somewhat flexible, and even the same musician will likely vary the tune slightly on different repetitions... at least when playing solo.) I don't think I've ever heard it played with no sharps, as in Cole's, but that doesn't appear to be a typesetting error, since it also has the text "A MINOR".

 

The A-major (3 sharps) key signature in O'Neill's 1850 tunes is intriguing, though. O'Neill's Irish Minstrels and Musicians (the same O'Neill) has it (p. 132) with only 2 sharps, along with the closely similar jig "Let Us Leave That As It Is", also in A mixolydian (2 sharps). Could the 3 sharps be an error? BUT... Kerr's also has it with 3 sharps.

 

As for "reel" vs. "hornpipe", there are many tunes which are classified both ways, and sound good played in either style.

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Hi Jim

 

Jim:"And it seems to me that J. Scott wasn't entirely consistent in that regard, since he didn't notate the standard Em with 1 sharp and 3 naturals, but simply with the sharp... which everyone else seems to do, too."

 

No need to alter the key signature of an Em tune if it is a standard Em tune, that is, in the Aolian mode. That is an accepted, and concise, indication of the tonal center and the mode/scale. He would only use his modified key signatures (major or minor) when the scale/mode was other than Ionian (major) or aolian (the relative minor) because that is where/when the confusion may occur.

 

I don't have the book here in front of me and I'm wondering how he indicated the dorian mode tunes (E dor. and A dor. being very common in Irish/Scots tunes). I suppose he could have indicated an E dor with 4 'sharps' (establishing the tonal center) but changing the D and G to Natural to establish the non-standard mode. I seem to remember seeing D dorian being indicated as D minor (1 flat) but with the flat changed to a Natural.

 

I'll have to check the book tonight.

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