Tag Archives: gestures

Standard Variations in Pibroch

We have democracy in Dundee! As a break from the hardcore work on gestures we have been doing recently, I had prepared handouts for a new tune that I was planning to give my harp class this afternoon.

However at the beginning of the class, some of them who had been here last week were chatting to those who had missed it, about the pibroch figures we had been looking at. So in the interests of fairness I put it to a democratic vote, new tune or more slogging though the complex ornaments? No-one voted for the tune, and with one or two abstentions everyone else from the youngest to the oldest wanted the standard variations! I was very impressed at their ambition and dedication to this difficult music!

So we returned to the standard variations class handout, and worked through crunluath, crunluath a-mach and crunluath fosgailte; we scrutinised the pipe notation and sang the cannteraichd, before discussing strategies for translating this onto the harp. I was pleased to see everyone managing by the end to play though an octave scale for each one.

Next week I think we’ll leave the pibroch for a bit and try the new song air.

Gestures book

Today I sent out an announcement of the availability of my new book, “Gestures”. You can find out more here: www.earlygaelicharp.info/gestures

I considered many different options for publishing this book, including approaching another publisher, though I prefer to publish in house through earlygaelicharp.info. Normally, one would use a commercial printing company to make and bind the books, but a conventional printers needs a run of 1000 to make economic sense – the setup costs are high in relation to the cost per unit. I was not sure this made sense for such a niche specialist publication.

I also considered using a print-on-demand company. These will print and bind one copy at a time for you – Lulu is perhaps the best known, though there are others who focus more on the needs of small publishers. However a big problem with these is the cost of shipping the printed books from the company; what you gain in flexibility of being able to order small numbers, you lose in the economy of scale for delivery.

In the end I have decided to keep this book entirely in-house, and it is being published as a hand-made book. Below you will see a photo of the first batch being assembled in my workshop. The big advantage of this method is that it gives me complete control over the design of the binding – in this case it is traditionally hand-sewn to make sure that the book will easily open completely flat – an important consideration for a music book, that will be placed on a music stand.

Anyway, I enjoy bookbinding as much as book design and writing!

Video demonstrations of Indian Classical music

http://itunes.open.ac.uk/r/nu8D5

The music of North India is mesmerising, and shrouded in tradition and culture. There, raga is the art of life – it is the music of the mind. The tracks in this album focus on three instruments – the tabla, the alap and the voice – all central to the existence of Raga. Each instrument is broken down into the individual sounds that make up the intricate compositions. Performances on all three complete this introduction to the fascinating sound of Raga. This material is drawn from the Open University course AA317, Words and music.

Thanks to Stuart at footstompin for this link. If you really want to know what alap means, try http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alap – needless to say it is not an instrument, despite the confusion of the OU caption writer.

I was most fascinated by the vocables used to describe the different tabla gestures, and also the connection explained by the player of the guitar-shaped instrument between string music and vocal music.

Grace notes and ornaments

One question that regularly comes up is how one deals with grace notes and ornaments. In the Gaelic harp tradition we have the system of left hand gestures published by Edward Bunting in 1840 (online edition), and in the Welsh harp tradition we have the ‘alphabet to learn the pricking’ on p.35 of the Robert ap Huw manuscript (online facsimile). These describe series of notes that are played as a single fluid connected motion, and which are often treated as ‘grace notes’ preceeding a ‘principal note’.

Two questions immediately arise; how quickly to play them, and whether the accent and stress should lie at the start of the sequence, with the principal note displaced, or whether the ‘grace notes’ should be played before the beat.

Arnold Dolmetsch, in his book The Interpretation of Music of the 17th and 18th centuries, gives copious quotations and discussion from historical treatises, on different kinds of ornamentation. Here is an extract from page 96:
And this from p.98-99:

In his book piobaireachd, Seamus MacNeill explains the piping grace notes:

The time taken in playing gracenotes is not counted when reckoning note values in a bar. They are supposed to take time from the note immediately following.

To my mind and ear, these clusters of notes have a consonantal, rhetorical function, creating a crunch of dissonance on the beat or pulse which resolves a moment later into the sustaining melody note. Playing these auxiliary notes before the beat completely removes this dissonant, consonantal sound, and replaces it with an effectively un-ornamented music filled with dance-like upbeats.