The road ends, but the journey continues...

Category: From the Practice Stool (Page 1 of 2)

Carolan’s Concerto

Background

Turlough O’Carolan.

Most Celtic music enthusiasts and instrumentalists are familiar with this man’s body of work and prominence of place within the Irish folk tradition.

Turlough O'Carolan on Irish 50 pound note

Long credited as being Ireland’s national composer, Turlough was born in 1670 and lived during the Baroque Era* of Western musical history. That Baroque reference is important to note. While traveling the lands of the Emerald Isle as an itinerant harper, he was in fact a contemporary of Scarlatti, Geminiani and Corelli – all composers of varying prominence of the day.

Put another way: Turlough O’Carolan could be called the Baroque Bard of Ireland.

My off-the-cuff quip notwithstanding, a rich mingling of musical traditions is indeed the basis of Carolan’s Concerto.

“In Carolan’s time, there were three musical traditions in Ireland – art music, folk music, and the harper tradition. The harper tradition served as a link between art and folk music and was the main conduit for the oral tradition. Carolan created a unique style by combining these art forms, and then adding elements inspired by Italian music which was then fashionable in Ireland. He was a great admirer of Vivaldi and Corelli, whose modern music he would have heard in the homes of his noble Irish patrons, and this admiration is reflected in the melodic construction and forms of many of his pieces. In fact, it’s said that his Carolan’s Concerto was a winning response to a compositional challenge from Geminiani, an acquaintance, colleague, and contemporary.”

Bridget Haggerty, Tribute to Turlough

My Take

Shortly before the beginning of the infamous New Year of 2020, I earnestly tackled composing an arrangement of this piece.

I wanted to adapt it for solo classical guitar in like forever and was pleasantly amazed at how it came together so quickly. I even produced two possible endings and put them up for a vote with my son and son-in-law – both musicians.

Consensus: First ending.

My take on Carolan’s Concerto was proving to be a breath of fresh air and loads of fun.


Carolan's Concerto excerpt
score excerpt ©2020 LBL/Purple Tulip Music

Within weeks of that previously mentioned infamous New Year of 2020, I started serious practice of my new arrangement.

General impression: It is good. It is a completed piece.


Carolan’s Concerto – arr. for solo classical guitar by Laura Bruno Lilly ©2020
(NOTION score computer playback)

My take on the Celtic tune Carolan’s Concerto, written by the blind Irish Bard – harpist, troubadour and composer – Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738).


It was also too fast for me to play a tempo.

Discouraged, I set it aside.

Until a few weeks ago. That’s when I pulled it out for a re-look and when the ‘obvious’ hit me.

Why not play it anyway? Who says it has to be performed at such a scathing tempo?

Besides, the traditional tempo set for that piece is also traditionally variable.

A lively rendition of Carolan’s Concerto played ‘a tempo’

Here’s the thing:

Not every guitarist is a shredder, lightening fast player. Plus, my arrangement is not a single line ‘solo’ that can be easily ‘shredded’!

Even after properly practicing certain passages of the piece at slower tempos and then speeding them up incrementally I may never get it up to the tempo as played in the above video.

So what?

Play it. Just. Play it.

“Some players are simply faster than others, the way some athletes are faster, bigger, stronger, etc. Still, none of that means ‘better.’ So, find your own performance tempo, and then bring more of yourself to the piece. Remember, you possess your own sound, tone, phrasing, attack, texture, etc. If you highlight those qualities, I promise you, no one will ever complain about the tempo.”

Shawn Persinger, Wood & Steel magazine, vol 99, Issue 1, 2021

*period or style of Western art music composed from ~1600-1750. A good synopsis of the times, characteristics and elements of the music can be found here.

The ‘3 Measure Fix’

Sometimes all it takes is a 3 measure fix.

This vaguely simplistic concept was brought to light a few days ago while staring down an old (as in a piece I put aside years ago to work on ‘later’) arrangement I began, but never finished, for solo classical guitar. Something about it wasn’t quite right back then and something about it still wasn’t quite right, right now.

There were these 3 measures that, well, just didn’t measure up.

In seeing what I’d done previously with fresh eyes, I couldn’t dismiss it as a throw-away. I’d already invested much time and effort into crafting an original arrangement of a traditional Tarantella. It was, in truth, almost finished.

Stylistically, there are many songs in Italy that qualify as a Tarantella – basically a rowdy, raucous dance tune with moves inspired by – you guessed it – the Tarantula. More specifically, ridding one’s self of one and/or what happens after one gets bitten by one (frenzied madness)!

As is typical in folk music, each town, province, heck – family – has their own version of this. I mention family because coming from a musical family, these things get passed down along with the traditional family recipes. But not necessarily in tangible, written down form.

I knew how to play it in ensemble. That’s just a fancy way of saying I could rock out those rhythmic chords on my 12-string acoustic and/or classical guitar to my Dad’s clarinet/saxophone or my former duo partner’s violin/mandolin melody instruments.

But I really wanted it in my personal arsenal of songs to play for fun in a solo classical guitar context.

That said, I knew how my arrangement needed to sound.

I sight-read the unfinished score on my music stand with its errant 3 measures standing out as ugly as ever. Searching for a solution, I reviewed the source materials referenced in the initial creation of the arrangement and noticed something tucked in between the pages of my notes. All those years ago, I had hand-written a 3 measure idea to insert as a possible replacement for the trouble spot.

Sometimes all it takes is a 3 measure fix.

My ‘fix’.

Hmm, why hadn’t I just gone with that in the first place?


This video offers a good example of a player working through various ideas for an arrangement of the most recognizable of all Tarantellas.

SwS project status & my basic music score editing process

4/6 'Final Finals' music scores 100% finished!

4/6 ‘Final Finals’ music scores 100% finished!


First off, I’m thrilled to announce that 4 of the 6 ‘Final Finals’ music scores mentioned in the previous post are 100% finished. Nestled in their respective PDFs, each are ready to be distributed in multiple media formats when the time comes. Their timing is intertwined with the release of both the vignette and recorded music parts of related content from the overall SwS project.
That said, the Goat Suite (Saga) scores are not even ‘Final Finals’ yet even though the music has been recorded and ready for mastering since 2017 and the related vignettes are now nearing the formatting stage for publication. The original scores are still scruffy with scribbles from the recording sessions.
Given that Swimming with Swans: Goat Suite (Saga) will be the first section of the project to be released, those scores are now top priority for beginning the Final editing process. For a sense of what’s involved, my Goat Suite (Saga) is written for 2 classical guitars, mandolin, 12-string acoustic guitar and rain stick. I have the Master Score pretty much done, but the details specific to each individual part need to be entered onto each of the extracted part scores.
Here then, is an overview of my basic music score editing process, as promised.

  1. Enter original hand scored piece in NOTION – just the notes, no dynamics, interpretive suggestions, fingerings, etc.
  2. Fix weird quirks that NOTION places in score regardless of how info is entered (ie-stem direction, rests, location of text info, etc.)
  3. Print it out and play from that score to approach fingerings with a fresh eye and jot down
  4. Add fingerings, and simple dynamics in NOTION, print out for spacing/alignments and jot down by hand extra needs for score as play through it.
  5. Continue with edits (#2, #3 & #4) with an eye for keeping the score uncluttered and easy to read for the player yet filled with the needed information.
  6. Add title, composer, dedication, copyright, etc. info and arrange text nicely on score, sometimes defying NOTION conventions.
  7. If composition has more than one instrument, extract each part from Master Score for individual print out.
  8. Print Master Score and any extracted parts scores to PDF and print out to proof.
  9. Proof as needed.
  10. Repeat #5, #8 and #9 until becomes a true FINAL, then print to PDF.

Using my arrangement of Mo Giolla Mear as an example, here are photo’s of the process continuing from its mention in a previous post.

The following two score photos correspond to steps #1, #2 and #3 of the basic process overview:

My hand scored copies alongside newly entered NOTION scored parts of Mo Giolla Mear

My hand scored copies alongside (then) newly entered NOTION scored parts of Mo Giolla Mear


Mo Giolla Mear excerpt

The next score excerpt photo corresponds to steps #5 & #6 – check out measure 8 for an easy to see example of a stem direction fix in addition to the overall inclusions of fingerings, dynamics, etc.

Mo Giolla Mear edited excerpt

 This last score excerpt photo corresponds to step #10 and is from the final PDF:

3 Mo Giolla Mear Final Excerpt

 Whew! I hope this answers some of the questions you my readers have asked about what it means when I mention ‘doing score edits.’ Much like literary edits, it can be tedious but the end result is the pot of gold at the base of a very beautiful rainbow.

(He)art at its best

Just finished a fantastic time on the practice stool with the Prisloe.

Again.

(He)art at its best.

I’ve had a long string of days blissfully playing and practicing, composing and creating, with a focus on deep working through pieces yet to be recorded.
And all profoundly satisfying with more in store tomorrow and the next day and the next…

(He)art at its best.

Jude, their polydactyl cat

Jude, their polydactyl cat


Mon Ami #? (family name handed down throughout the budgies)

Mon Ami #? (family name handed down throughout the budgies)


Since settling in our daughter Michelle and son-in-law David’s home – house and pet sitting during their reunion vacation in Cote d’Ivoire* – my music has been asserting itself from deep within, taking center stage.

(He)art at its best.

Before leaving FloTown, I worked through fingerings, adding dynamics and interpretive notation to my scores for use in the Swimming with Swans Music Folio part of the total SwS project. I focused entirely on the task of getting those scores closer to publishing perfection. Often with the Prisloe in one hand and the other on the computer keyboard entering it all on the NOTION score program. Then taking that needed info and tweaking it on the page so it looks nice and uncluttered**.
This is the grunt work that occurs after the ‘fun’ part of creation. Kind of like the next-to-final, another next-to-final and yet another next-to-final edit before the truly-final edit of an author’s WIP***.

(He)art at its best.

I promised myself I’d get back into the delights of daily practice focusing on technique, exercises, etudes, sight reading, exploratory composition and learning new repertoire once we left FloTown and arrived at our destination.
I promised my music (and the Prisloe) this same reward for waiting patiently even though her cries for attention were persistent and enticing.

(He)art at its best.

And you know what? The music is rewarding me! Unleashing continuous waves of inspiration, direction and ‘living water****’ spilling forth from my (he)art through my fingers and into being.

Shelby their whippet-mutt, a WIP by Michelle

Shelby their whippet-mutt, a WIP by Michelle

~~~~~

END NOTES:

* Michelle has been gathering her last batch of data/research for her PhD thesis these past months in Cote d’Ivoire and David is joining her for a final week vacation before their return to the States.
** click here for a great article on how much notation is enough notation, if you’re a composer/musician this will be interesting for sure.

*** click here for a similar process as applied towards visual artists
**** “(S)He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his/her innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” John 7:38
Yes, He is my source…

Cleaning the Closet Reveals a Clever Classical Guitar Recording Tip

Laura Bruno Lilly with Prisloe classical guitar - practise selfie

Hello, hello from inside the mirror!


Hello, hello from inside the mirror! This is my attempt at a practice session selfie – using a dinosaur of a camera, no less. Notice the placement of the pillow, the height of the footstool and yes, indeed, those comfy tennies. This is my normal performance set up; albeit with a change of clothes and shoes.
It works.
However, in the recording studio, my beloved Dynarette pillow makes plastic-y squeaks during my playing as I tend to move a bit from time to time while I’m ‘in the moment’.
This is not a good thing.
Hardly noticeable by anyone on stage or off during a live performance, those squeaks wreak havoc to one’s ears while listening to playbacks of pieces played to perfection in the recording studio.
In my early attempts to silence those squeaks, Continue reading

Music makes fireworks in your brain!

puffin foundation logoFor some reason, not everyone on my little list or followers of this blog heard my great news so I will make a formal announcement here and now  –

The Puffin Foundation gave me an extension on my grant!

For that, fireworks are in order – so excuse me while I go and make a few in my brain while you enjoy/learn from this animated video on the merits of making and listening to music.

3rd year Blogiversary: 3 quotes, 3 categories, 3 past posts

Thank-you readers, from newest to first-to-follow, for marking this milestone with me. This year, I’m commemorating my third year blogiversary by offering the following quotes and links to past posts for you to peruse. Enjoy!

Quotes: 3 Very Different Men, All on the Same Page

original score - Goats in the Garden at Midnight by the Light of the Full Moon

my original hand-scored “Goats in the Garden at Midnight by the Light of the Full Moon”


 

I am in the world only for the purpose of composing. Franz Schubert


 

 
 
 
 

Al Bruno - promo photo circa 1940 - 1950

Dad (Al Bruno) ~circa 1945 (?)


 
 
Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out your horn. Charlie Parker

 
 
 
 
Cesar Chavez in Community Garden-photo by Cathy Murphy

Cesar Chavez in Community Garden-photo by Cathy Murphy


 
When we are really honest with ourselves we must admit our lives are all that really belong to us. So it is how we use our lives that determines the kind of [wo]men we are. Cesar Chavez
 
 

Continue reading

Marching to the Studio: Gearing Up – Strings

The first recording session for Swimming with Swans: the music is scheduled to begin Wednesday, April 27th.


Now, back to our regularly scheduled blog post:
When prepping for actual recording, timing is everything.  Not just in the realm of musical readiness, but also in gear readiness. Booking this session date gave me approximately two weeks to break in fresh strings. So of course that meant changing out strings ASAP; which I did.

The Prisloe - ready for string change

All set and ready to go!


 
Changing out strings on the Prisloe is pretty routine.  Basic procedure for me involves laying down a blanket on the living room floor, arranging all the necessary tools on it (tuner, peg turner, string pack, dust rag, jewelers’ sandpaper, string clipper) and then sitting down with the instrument to my right. All set and ready to go.
 
The body as a natural luthier's bench

The body as a natural luthier’s bench


This is how I’ve done it for decades on both the classical and the 12-string, so even if I had access to a cool luthier’s repair bench, I’m not sure I’d use it for this task.
Gently sanding out burrs in the guitar nut

gently sanding out burrs in the nut


Doing related guitar maintenance is often easier done during string changes. Unfortunately the ‘new’ dead spot on the 4th fret 4th string is way beyond my mending capabilities. It will have to wait until I find someone in the area qualified to do repairs on my custom Prisloe.
First string shortened before winding on peg

1st string shortened before winding on peg


Until then, I also trick-out the 1st string to accommodate an oddly unbalanced string winding on the peg.
odd but workable 1st string winding

odd but workable 1st string winding


 
 
 
Squashed Palmetto Bug

Interrupted by a local intruder


 
 
Last week’s string changing routine was spooked up a bit by the need to crush a curious Palmetto Bug* (he looks tiny, but he shrank after being smashed, believe me!). Ugh – how I hate anything roach related.

Now, please excuse me as I continue to dig my fingers into these fresh strings…Gotta break ’em in. My three solo selections are ready and just itching to be recorded.

*nicknamed ‘the unofficial state bird of South Carolina’, here are some funny conversations about the local critter.

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