Monday, January 18, 2016

When musical magic happens

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.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Fender Picks

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I learned to play guitar with Fender picks, the original reddish-brown color. They are made of celluloid and have a warm but bright tone.

Transcribing "Goat" For Hand Bells

Sometimes I volunteer for a job not knowing the amount of work it will entail. That happened recently, after I joined the hand bell choir at church.
My first reply when my friend Joanne asked me to join the bell choir was no because I fiercely protect my spare time for my string music, but I relented the next day after being convinced that I would be good at playing bells, and I joined in October. I had to learn the different manners of playing bells — ring, strike, or damp on a cushion — and I had to read bass clef. I read treble clef like reading the English language, but bass clef takes thought — I know it but not automatically. (For you non-musicians, the treble clef is the right hand on the piano and the bass is the left. Violins and mandolins and other high instruments play treble, and cellos play bass, most of the time.)
It helped that the bell choir director marked the notes on the pages for each bell and I had only three bells to play. The lowest bell was a c an octave below middle c, and besides that I played c sharp and d. After a few weeks, though, I got comfortable and began to ask for more bells because I had long stretches with nothing to do, and I added three lower bells, the biggest a C below c that requires two hands for a normal person. (The majuscule C and minuscule c indicate their place on the staff. A staff is the collection of five parallel lines that serve as note-bearers).