Sunday, November 28, 2010

Celtic Night Project #5

Celtic Night Project 5
This week’s Celtic Jam was great. Normally we have three lovely ladies, but this week we had a whole host of beautiful women stop in to jam. All you guys who could have been here playing with us were missing out! Dana brought her sister Dee Ann who played piano, a little hammered psaltery and some guitar, and her mom and sister-in-law dropped in to listen to the music.
The Irish music was fun, but things reached even greater heights when we switched over to Christmas carols. We played a really cool version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” where we played a verse, then sang a verse. Dee Ann added a really cool harmony part between my lower and Dana’s higher voices. It was really great. My wife was upstairs putting the kids to bed at that point and when she got back to video it, we kind of fell apart on a couple spots. But I’ll post the video so you can get an idea of where we were going. We also tackled “Gabriel’s Message” made popular by Sting. The video sound quality is too poor to post, but live it sounded great. I need to figure out a better was of videotaping these jams so I can have better sound. I need a camera that I can insert directly from the mixing board.
At one point in the evening, my littlest, Gideon, played the bodhran. It wasn’t perfect, but I was surprised that for a four year old he could almost keep a steady beat. I think he has an incredible gift. I have to work with him. He can hear a song once and a week later, he’ll be singing it around the house. He has an incredible ear, and has very good pitch as well.  My daughter Etta had fun playing the psaltery. What is nice about this psaltery is that it is a pentatonic instrument, so that as long as we’re in the psaltery’s key, anything she played sounded good. Her only complaint was that she couldn’t hear herself very well.
Liam played his bass on a couple songs, and after we got the volume adjusted it sounded really good. I’m surprised at how well these songs sound with little instrumentation or a lot. Either way they turn out well. I found out this week that in traditional Irish jams, most of the lead instruments play all the melody, while the guitar, and drums tend to keep the rhythm. So instead of taking turns, the tin whistle, the pipes, the fiddle, banjo and mandolin all play the melody together. This week we had Dee Ann on piano mostly, and her and Dana alternated between the melodies more like in a traditional bluegrass fashion, then at the end of the song we repeated the verse with them playing together. It was a lot of fun.
I’m going to post some flyers at Earlham, IU East and at the music stores this week, hopefully, and maybe we’ll find some more players. I found a guy on Craigslist who might come down from Muncie. He plays a lot of instruments, and is well versed in Irish music. Hopefully, he’ll be able to make it down sometime as well.
Well, I hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving, and hopefully as we near the Christmas season, we’ll be able to post some Christmas music for you to enjoy!

God bless,


Monday, November 22, 2010

Celtic Night Project 4

It's getting to be the time of year that we turn our hearts and thoughts to the Yuletide, break out the eggnog and dust off the Christmas songbooks. This year though, we're searching the web and scouring our old hymnbooks for Irish flavored Christmas songs. I'm opting for just about any English, Irish or Scottish Christmas music, however. I'm also searching for medieval tunes that might need revamped.

Friday had some highlights that I wish we had on video for you. We found an Irish version of "Greensleeves" and combined it with a version of "What Child Is This?" that I had in an old hymnal. "Greensleeves" was in Am in believe, and "What Child..." was in Em, so we created a nice little modulation and played through them a few times. I think it came out nicely. I found some versions of other Christmas carols that I am looking forward to trying out as we progress.

I'm excited about next week. Dana's sister Dee Ann is visiting, from out of town, and we should have a fun time playing. Hopefully we'll have a packed house, and we will be able to video it and post it so you can enjoy it too.

Until next time, top o' the morning to ye, and may the road always be gree for your feet, and all those other Irish sayings that we love so well.

God bless,


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Liam with Drum

Here's Liam with his Kiernan O'Patrick drum.

Dana, Keb' Mo' and Willy

About a year ago, I met Keb' Mo' backstage at the Tarry Town Music Hall, in Tarry Town, NY. Where I worked with a great crew of guys. Kevin was a really cool guy, and hung out with the crew from about 10 am until midnight. He's very nice. He found out that it was my wife and my 10th anniversary, and so he autographed a CD for me of some unreleased recordings. I guess he only sells that CD at his shows. I saved the promo poster, and framed it along with the CD. So it's hanging on the wall in my music room, next to my poster of Blues Traveler from when I worked their show.

Here's a shot of "400 Celtic People" with the Keb' Mo' poster. We're missing Liam in the shot because he was taking the picture. We're intently studying the music for "Autumn Woods." I love laptops, you can put all your music on them, and not have to print it out. It's a beautiful thing.

Dana's Calluses

Well, when the video doesn't turn out at least we can get pictures off of it. Here is Dana inspecting her newly forming calluses.

Celtic Night Project #3

Celtic Night Project #3

Well, Celtic Music Night #3 started out with a bit of difficulty, but we had fun nonetheless. Dana seemed in a really good mood, and her playing of “Autumn Woods” which we practiced the week before actually was hard for me to keep up with. She played it a lot faster than I anticipated, and it was really fun. I think it went from being a walk through the autumn woods, to a joy ride. Then the E string broke on her violin.
But we were not to be deterred. She’s learning the mandolin, so I tuned up my mandolin for her, and she switched over. We were trying to talk my wife, Trevor, into playing the Bodhran, who had showed an interest earlier in the week, but she seemed wiped out from work, so we let her off easy. Next week, I’m determined to get her in on the action.
Liam and Ligee, who were supposed to be playing had gotten in trouble at school for throwing rocks, so they had to sit out the evening. I’m hoping we’ll find some more players. I invited my cousin-in-law to come and play bass, but his job has been preventing him from coming. We’ll just keep at it and I’m sure that when the time is right we’ll have the right mix of players.
In my mind I envision a great bustling room of excitement and camaraderie, but as of late it’s only been my family and Dana, which is bustling as it is, and the boys are really doing well with their drums, and Liam also with his bass. Maybe next week we’ll try out Liam on the bass, and Trevor and Ligee can play drums. We’ll see.
Liam was going to video tape for us, but nothing seemed to come out well enough to post. Next time we’ll see what we can do. I sent around the chord chart for Sting’s “Dead Man’s Rope,” from the Sacred Love album. It’s a really cool song, but the bridge is very strange. I think I figured out how to play the bridge, but I don’t have a clue what to call the chords that are played on it. Maybe we’ll give it a shot next week. I think we should start singing some songs.
Yesterday, the day after the jam, Liam bought me a CD of traditional Irish songs at the Dollar Store, and it had a lot of the songs and tunes that we are trying to play. Now we have some sort of reference to hear how they’re supposed to be played. So hopefully soon, we’ll be able to post some of those songs. What I found odd, and maybe it was just a lazy editor, but there are songs that are called one name on the CD, but in O’Neill’s book they have a completely different name. I guess it could be that they made a mix up when processing the CD, or it could be that these old folk tunes are known by more than one name. But I think there are other songs by the same name but with different tunes in O’Neill’s book.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Celtic Music Night Project #2

Irish Jam November 5th, 2008
Here we are again trying our best to sound Irish. Liam got his bodhran in from Musicians Friend this week, and we decided to design a logo for our band. Liam came up with the name 400 Celtic People, kind of his way of tipping his hat to 10,000 (or as he called it 1,000) Maniacs.
The other night we took the kids out to eat at pizza hut because they won awards for a program called Book-it, where they get a free pizza if they read a certain amount each month. So as we’re eating Liam begins telling me what the logo for 400 Celtic People should look like: a leprechaun with a fiddle, dancing on a pot of gold. So I draw out a quick sketch on a napkin.
The next day at school, Liam and I (he’s in the 4th grade class that I teach) start working on the logo in earnest. We do a web search to find several examples of leprechauns. After a long search we find a few that we like. So we combined all the things that we like about the various leprechauns and I drew up a rough draft of the little mascot.  After a few tweaks, we had a decent logo. In Photoshop I designed a Celtic knot background and touched up the original hand drawing of the leprechaun. And suddenly Kiernan O’Patrick was born.
We decided to name him Kiernan after Liam’s buddy Kieran from his old school in New York. Kieran’s mom, direct from Ireland, was a lovely woman who when mad at Kieran seemed to Liam to call him “Kiernan.” So in honor of his friend we named our mascot “Kiernan O’Patrick.”
After school, we went down to Office Max and had some stickers made up of our logo. We put Kiernan O’Patrick on Liam’s Irish drums, and gave Dana a sticker as well. Now we just need some green T-shirts with the wee little fiddling leprechaun and we’ll be set. Well, that and we need to get some songs down for our repertoire.
Dana’s violin is sounding great. She’s a really good violinist. Apparently when a violin sits around for several years tuning it becomes very difficult. But after you use it for a while, it starts to become easier to tune. So where we spent a great deal of time tuning last week, this week everything seemed to stay in tune a lot longer.
I’m not so sure about my guitar playing. Something tells me that I’m not playing the rhythm right. It seems to me like I’m playing everything to sound like “Raw Hide” instead of sounding Irish. Perhaps, there’s a connection between the stereotypical cowboy music from the movies and Irish music? Anyway, I’m thinking about switching to piano.
For some reason, last week I was very successful at looping, and was able to loop the guitar, banjo and mandolin. But this week, when I tried it I was just off. I guess everyone is entitled to an off night.  
Dana and I had the same teacher. She studied under Bill Tortelono at Earlham College when she was in High School, and at the same time I was taking Music Theory off of him while I was a student at the college. She learned well, because she makes it so much easier to play the songs. Though I’ve been playing pretty much constantly for the last 10 years, some of these tunes are giving me quite a workout in sight reading. I haven’t had to read in a while, relying mainly on chord charts and fake book sheets. But it’s been fun.
I need to figure out what we are going to play. My wife Trevor suggested that we add some Waterboys songs to our jam. I know he’s not Irish, but I’ve been yearning to try some Sting. I’m thinking “I Hung My Head,” or “It’s Probably Me,” might be a couple good songs to try out. I miss singing, and Dana can sing. It would probably be fun.
I was watching the first video of Liam on the djimbe, and he was doing really well. I think we might need to switch back to that for a while, because the bodhran is really a fairly difficult drum to make sound good. It’s also incredibly loud. Liam was sitting on my right in between Dana and I banging away, and the concussive force off the back of the drum was drilling into my ear like a nail. Maybe if we tape a piece of foam to the back it might deaden it a bit.
I picked up a set of bagpipes from my dad, and am trying to figure out how we can incorporate them into the jam. We’ll see. Also, hopefully soon, a few of my friends I invited will show up to jam with us. It will be fun to have a few more instruments.
Until the next jam, I hope you all have a wonderful week, and may all your days be green!

God bless,



Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Celtic Night Project 1

Friday October 29th, 2010

I've decided to launch a new project, and track the project over the course of the next year. If everything goes well, we will post some youtube videos, and see if we actually get good at playing this type of music.

I have been a musician for a long time. I play many instruments and have played many styles of music. I have always been interested in Irish music, but have never really played any of it.

This project came about because of several threads that seemed to finally converge, and made it seem that it was finally the right time to give it a shot. Last year I played in an Irish steakhouse, and though I played mostly pop and blues music, the posters and maps hanging on the wall awoke in me an interest to find out more about the music of a country that I have always wanted to visit. Around the same time I was working the steakhouse, Sting came out with his "Winter" album, which, despite his reticence to call it a "Christmas" album, I really loved.  I enjoyed the instrumentation, and the feel, and I wanted to do something similar.

I asked several friends of mine in New York if they would be interested in playing, but we just couldn't get together to play. So after moving back to Indiana, I happened to mention to my friend Dana, who used to play violin, if she was interested in Celtic music. She was, but hadn't played violin in several years. It turned out that her violin actually needed some repair, which I was able to do, and the Celtic Night project began.

The question that we had initially was, "What are we going to play?" So I surfed around on the internet and found that there was a great songbook full of Irish tunes called "O'Neill's Music of Ireland," by Captain Francis O'Neill. The collection has over 1800 tunes that we could work through and practice.

So here we are playing and enjoying the company, the music and the dream of the Emerald Isle. Turns out that Dana's actually been there, and she said it's as green as we imagine.

My son, Liam, who is the only one of us so far that has any Irish in him, due to my wife's background, is learning to play drums and bass. He decided to use the djembe, clearly not a traditional Irish instrument, but we're making due until his bodhran comes in the mail from Musicians Friend. Should be in Monday or Tuesday, so hopefully he'll have it for the next jam night. For a 9 year old, I thought he did pretty well. I'm pretty proud of him.

My wife Trevor had the great idea of filming us on her phone, so soon we'll have some video to post of our jam.

So here's to the first week. We'll keep you updated on the journey!

God bless,