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Mark Evans

In Praise of tunesmiths...

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For the last year in a quasi-casual fashion and within the last few months like a maddened beaver I have been consuming new tunes by two fellers at our local session: Greg Bacon and Brian Hebert. I wouldn't insult them by afixing the term "composer" for they seem to see what they do in a much simpler light. Tunesmith seems right to me.

 

Both have turned out beautiful tunes that are within traditional veins. Greg tends towards an historical and nautical bent while Brian's tunes take on whimiscal names. Both are grounded in the finest Celtic tradition. It just blows my mind that these lads come up with tunes that on one hearing capture the imagination and make people put down their pints and listen. I took the theory and composition classes and everything I turned in for a grade was pure unfiltered sh#*t! Couldn't write a decent tune to save my sorry backside.

 

They both have taken the time to transcribe their works to dots so a dodger like me can quickly get my digits around them.

It certainly convinces me that Celtic traditional music is a living tradition. I've learned not to be a pain in the arse and inflict my discovered treasures on the early evening session, but late night part II is a time to let the good times roll and some very interesting music making happens.

 

The session is blessed in that those two are not the only fine tunesmiths we have. Graham Patten, his mother Connie, Jim Buchanan and George Arata all have some fine tunes. Brian transcribed one of Connie's tunes and I sprung it on her unawares last week. She was cocking her head from side to side and son Graham came right in. It just profoundly impresses me, as it is a labor of love, not a comercial interprise or some outlandish need to become immortal through one's compositions. It's simple and good. Very little left of that around these days.

Edited by Mark Evans

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For the last year in a quasi-casual fashion and within the last few months like a maddened beaver I have been consuming new tunes by two fellers at our local session: Greg Bacon and Brian Hebert. I wouldn't insult them by afixing the term "composer" for they seem to see what they do in a much simpler light. Tunesmith seems right to me.

 

Both have turned out beautiful tunes that are within traditional veins. Greg tends towards an historical and nautical bent while Brian's tunes take on whimiscal names. Both are grounded in the finest Celtic tradition. It just blows my mind that these lads come up with tunes that on one hearing capture the imagination and make people put down their pints and listen. I took the theory and composition classes and everything I turned in for a grade was pure unfiltered sh#*t! Couldn't write a decent tune to save my sorry backside.

 

They both have taken the time to transcribe their works to dots so a dodger like me can quickly get my digits around them.

It certainly convinces me that Celtic traditional music is a living tradition. I've learned not to be a pain in the arse and inflict my discovered treasures on the early evening session, but late night part II is a time to let the good times roll and some very interesting music making happens.

 

The session is blessed in that those two are not the only fine tunesmiths we have. Graham Patten, his mother Connie, Jim Buchanan and George Arata all have some fine tunes. Brian transcribed one of Connie's tunes and I sprung it on her unawares last week. She was cocking her head from side to side and son Graham came right in. It just profoundly impresses me, as it is a labor of love, not a comercial interprise or some outlandish need to become immortal through one's compositions. It's simple and good. Very little left of that around these days.

 

Hi Mark, sounds good! It would be great to have a chance to listen or play..... I checked out your web site, are any of those tunes you have mentioned above posted there?

 

Dave

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For the last year in a quasi-casual fashion and within the last few months like a maddened beaver I have been consuming new tunes by two fellers at our local session: Greg Bacon and Brian Hebert. I wouldn't insult them by afixing the term "composer" for they seem to see what they do in a much simpler light. Tunesmith seems right to me.

 

Both have turned out beautiful tunes that are within traditional veins. Greg tends towards an historical and nautical bent while Brian's tunes take on whimiscal names. Both are grounded in the finest Celtic tradition. It just blows my mind that these lads come up with tunes that on one hearing capture the imagination and make people put down their pints and listen. I took the theory and composition classes and everything I turned in for a grade was pure unfiltered sh#*t! Couldn't write a decent tune to save my sorry backside.

 

They both have taken the time to transcribe their works to dots so a dodger like me can quickly get my digits around them.

It certainly convinces me that Celtic traditional music is a living tradition. I've learned not to be a pain in the arse and inflict my discovered treasures on the early evening session, but late night part II is a time to let the good times roll and some very interesting music making happens.

 

The session is blessed in that those two are not the only fine tunesmiths we have. Graham Patten, his mother Connie, Jim Buchanan and George Arata all have some fine tunes. Brian transcribed one of Connie's tunes and I sprung it on her unawares last week. She was cocking her head from side to side and son Graham came right in. It just profoundly impresses me, as it is a labor of love, not a comercial interprise or some outlandish need to become immortal through one's compositions. It's simple and good. Very little left of that around these days.

 

Hi Mark, sounds good! It would be great to have a chance to listen or play..... I checked out your web site, are any of those tunes you have mentioned above posted there?

 

Dave

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Ah, the website...I've not done anything with it in months.

 

We are recording and some of them will appear before too long.

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Tunesmiths. The term 'TUNESMITH' is one of those elusive words for which I am having some difficulty in tracking down any generally accepted sort of definition. I guess it is a word that is appropriate for some of us who would not perhaps presume, and would have no wish, to call themselves, or to be labelled, 'Composers', 'Musicians' or 'Performers'. I am not happy with the only definition which I have so far found, which is that it simply describes a 'composer of popular songs' (or tunes). I would be only too happy to consider myself a 'tunesmith' but my interpretation of the word might differ substantially from the interpretation of others. Perhaps it is a mistake to look for specific definitions for everything in life ! I think I may already have my own rambling definition of the word.

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Rod, you do have your own definition, and I'd love to hear it fleshed out. My lack of religion outside of music, causes me to turn time and time again to religious terminology to discribe what I need from the act of music making. A tunesmith for me is a Shawman (sp for sure), a clarvoiant who sees past what is easily preceivable.

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Rod, you do have your own definition, and I'd love to hear it fleshed out. My lack of religion outside of music, causes me to turn time and time again to religious terminology to discribe what I need from the act of music making. A tunesmith for me is a Shawman (sp for sure), a clarvoiant who sees past what is easily preceivable.

 

Mark, Rod,

I've come across the term "songsmith" for a composer of popular music. "Tunesmith" for me is a neologism (newly-coined term), and as such it has connotations rather than a definition.

We know what a tune is - a sequence of musical intervals in a certain rhythmic structure. And we know what a smith is - a skilled tradesman or artisan who knows the properties of metals, possesses the tools necessary to work them, and has learned and practised the skills required to use these tools to make objects from these metals.

 

We don't think of a smith as a dreamy-eyed artist who realises his visions; more as a workman who will make you a quality object to order. A blacksmith will make you hinges for your garden gate; a goldsmith will make you a brooch. On the other hand, blacksmiths can also produce things of beauty and imagination, like wrought-iron gates (if you ever visit Powerscourt Gardens in Wicklow, Ireland, you'll see what I mean!), and of course beauty and imagination are foremost in our concept of goldsmiths' work.

 

Transfer this to the tunesmith's work, and you'll have a tune that functions (people will start humming it after hearing it once) and has a beauty of its own, because it is individually made, yet has a general appeal, because the songsmith knows his "material" (the typical scales, harmonies, cadences, rhythms of his genre of music) and how it can be shaped using the tools (musical instruments, voices) available.

 

A smith is not an engineer. A certain simplicity is usually associated with smithing. I would not call J.S.Bach a tunesmith, but rather, to extend the metalworking analogy, a "music engineer", his works being made up of so many "moving parts" (pun intended).

 

The smith and the engineer do not differ greatly in matters of quality; they must both know what they're doing. Whether you need a pair of hinges or a traction engine, you want ones that work properly and look good. Which brings J.S.B.'s older contemporary Carolan to mind. Was he more of a smith or an engineer? Probably a lot of original musicians, like him, will be betwixt and between!

 

Cheers,

John

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Rod, you do have your own definition, and I'd love to hear it fleshed out. My lack of religion outside of music, causes me to turn time and time again to religious terminology to discribe what I need from the act of music making. A tunesmith for me is a Shawman (sp for sure), a clarvoiant who sees past what is easily preceivable.

 

TUNESMITH. I wonder if perhaps an apt definition of a 'tunesmith' could be someone who ploughs their own entirely individual spontaneous musical furrow and has the ability to not only conceive totally original melodies in their head but to transmit those melodies directly to their instrument through their finger-tips without feeling the need to resort to any of the paraphernalia of formally accepted musical theory and practice. They may well feel no obligation or desire to commit their music to paper and as such could hardly be considered to be 'composers' in the normally accepted sense of the word. Likewise they may be playing entirely for their own pleasure and satisfaction and indifferent to the opinions of others and could therefore hardly be considered to be 'performers' in the normally accepted sense. And if a passer-by were to pay them the compliment of asking them to repeat a tune they might be offered something similar but by no means guaranteed to be precisely the same second time around. There is also the distinct possibility that I may be talking nonsense ! I wonder who originally coined the word.

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Tunesmith as a neologism? No. I remember a song by that title (and having the role of the tunesmith stated pretty clearly) by Johnny Rivers some time in the late sixties or early seventies.

Meant a person who made up songs.

 

Mark, the fact that you have so many talented (don't shoot me David) folks around you is a source of present delight. You are fortunate to have them and generous to compliment them.

They probably return the sentiment.

Rob

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I just think it's important that folks who otherwise might go unsung, should be. And yes, they are mostly very complementary, even when the should just tell the ole White Rabbit the truth.

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