Most of my music practice time involves what musicians call woodshedding: practicing instrumental technique and tunes over and over, working on fine points of, in my case, picking, bowing and fingering and learning the details of melodic passages. Occasionally, though, a greater force takes control, and that happened on Wednesday.
I was on my fourth instrument of the evening. I started with mandola, an alto mandolin, and practiced a piece by Irish harper Turlough O’Carolan. It’s a long piece patterned after the Baroque music of O’Carolan’s time — he lived from 1670 to 1738, a contemporary of J.S. Bach, Antonio Vivaldi and G.F. Handel — and my woodshedding on this piece involved working out fingerings to create a smooth sound (the term is legato in music), developing an interesting arrangement and making it musical, which I do by deciding on other notes to play with melody notes and dynamics (loud and soft). I also worked on a few dance tunes from my favorite tunebook, “Ryan’s Mammoth Collection,” a compendium of Celtic tunes and 19th-century Celtic-style American tunes first published in 1883.
Next I practiced movements from two mandolin concerti, one by Vivaldi and one by Domenico Caudioso. Those pushed me to practice points of technique that are easy to neglect when I play Celtic music. It’s not that Celtic music is easy to play, but classical music has fingerings and picking patterns that are not found in traditional music and force me to expand my playing. I ended my mandolin session with a tune from “Ryan’s” that exceeds the normal range of traditional music and requires a great deal of practice in the left hand.