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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: a five-string in an Irish session


Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link: http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/66198

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bugtussle - Posted - 11/06/2006:  12:41:54


i've either heard or read that this is not necessarily a welcome addition. I play 5-string in sort of a combination Scruggs and fiddle style. Started working on some Irish tunes like Merrily Kiss The Quaker Temperance Reel and so forth. Although I'm aware of the close connection between Bluegrass-Old Thymey and Irish folk music there seem to be real differences as well. I was just wondering how tenor players out there would feel if a 5-string guy showed up, with the okay of course, at an established Irish session. I really love the music and am not interested in playing Foggy Mountain Breakdown with a girl on button accordian. I also wouldn't like to feel like a fart at a High Mass. I'd be there to take a crack at whatever the button accordian player likes. Anyway, I'd just like to get the prevailing opinion. thanks

mikeyes - Posted - 11/06/2006:  13:13:45


It all depends on the session. You would be welcome in our session, but there are plenty out there who would look at you as an intruder unless you can play the music. IF you do a search, you will find that there are a number of threads on this subject and some very good five string players who can play the music and would be willing to help.

My bottom line is that it is very hard to play ITM on the five string unless you have very good chops to begin with because playing ITM with the pulse and ornaments is not easy using a three finger style. Those who can do it and make it sound Irish are few and far between.

Nonetheless, give it a try. The worst thing that will happen is that you will sit silent during the whole session because you don't know any of the tunes. I have done that many times.

Mike Keyes
http://www.banjosessions.com

frailin - Posted - 11/06/2006:  21:37:32


bugtussle:

I've been on the lookout for more Irish jams here in MPLS! Having sat in on a few wonderful sessions on trips to see my mom down in Iowa City (wonderful OT and Irish community down there!), I can see where a clawhammered 5-string is a welcome addition. Where 2/4 or 4/4/ reels are easy (i.e. St. Anne's, McLeod's), what I like most is learning a 6/8 throw so I can play along with jigs.

I'd love to travel the pub route through Ireland someday!

"Gospel. The most powerful music in this world... and the next."
www.frailin.com
www.myspace.com/frailin
www.myspace.com/singletonstreet

Tom Hanway - Posted - 11/07/2006:  07:03:47


quote:
Originally posted by bugtussle

i've either heard or read that this is not necessarily a welcome addition. I play 5-string in sort of a combination Scruggs and fiddle style.... I'd be there to take a crack at whatever the button accordian player likes. Anyway, I'd just like to get the prevailing opinion. thanks



Bugtussle: That's a fair question. And you are sensitive to these issues, which means that you have the right attitude about playing and getting along at sessions. Don't worry about it. The "prevailing opinion" is a red herring, in my opinion, and is not consensus anyway. If you can play, and are sensitive to others around you, then you can play any session, anywhere, anytime. The prevailing opinion about you will be that you can play. Playing is the goal, not being trapped by opinion polls.

Here's my "desiderata" to you - and you can do this, my friend: The music belongs to everybody, especially you - whether you play 3, 4 or 5-string banjo, nylon-string guitar or didgeridoo. Don't fall into the trap of being defined (or in any way demeaned) by tenor banjo players or vociferous adherents of the tenor.

The 5-string banjo can go anywhere, and there are many great Irish 5-string banjo players and singers, though few have recorded jigs and reels on a 5-string banjo. You are about to learn a new language of music, with a new vocabulary, grammar, syntax, parallel structure, and body of work to digest. You cannot impose old banjo lingo and phrases on this diverse musical language - really a set of languages with dialects and sub-dialects. It just won't translate. It'll be virtually unintelligible and frustrating to the culture.

It wasn't all that long ago when the jazzy "tango" or tenor banjo was a stranger to Irish music, and it, too, had to assimilate a new language, and it did, first through the Céilí bands, who brought the tenor back home to Ireland. The five-string was doing something else at the time - having different "conversations" and developing in various ways. It's taken longer, but the five-string is making inroads, and it is not confined to Irish music or proscribed by Irish tenor banjo music - there's also Scottish and Shetland music, Welsh music, and all the Celtic musics. The five-string banjo can speak in many tongues.

So, respect the tenor banjo, hang out and play with tenor players, but don't compare the five-string to it anymore than you would compare it to the mandolin or bouzouki, all of which are relative newcomers - previously strangers - to Irish traditional music. It's not the instrument - it's the player. But wait:

When in doubt, lay out.

Work up your material beforehand, and know what you can play before you walk into the room. Get in tune with the players, who might not be at concert pitch. Maybe have sets of your own tunes, grouped by jigs, reels, hornpipes, slides, polkas, etc. A word to the wise: Ask if a seat is taken before you sit just anywhere - it's only polite - and observe the players, introduce yourself and, if you are unsure, ask if it's okay to "just tip along" - that's a very Irish expression. Gently insinuate yourself into a session, don't come barreling in like an overgrown puppy at a toddler's birthday party - ruining the birthday cake.

Smile and be friendly. Are the players open and friendly? Who is leading the session? Is there more than one leader? Is anyone looking at you funny or slagging you? Slag 'em back (nicely). Tell a new joke. Put on your fingerpicks, ready-up your capo (just in case). Don't always be the first to play, but be patient. Try not to use the capo and learn the neck.

Having said that, I would be very careful about playing in a bluegrass, newgrass, rock or jazz style at a session. In my Complete Book of Irish and Celtic 5-String Banjo, I have a chapter on "Session Etiquette," which I think would help you. You don't have to play on every tune. The worst thing you can do is play "hot licks" or a countermelody over the tune, e.g., a descending chromatic lick. Ouch! But you already know that and want to play with the button accordion player. So....

Know the tunes - or don't play them - is the safest approach - until you learn how to play subtle back-up, locking in with other backing musicians - I have a chapter on that. You may bring a tape recorder, but ask first before setting it up. Learn the tunes at your local session, one at a time.

It's far better to have a few tunes played precisely and evenly, and sit out others, than to make a b*ll*cks of tune after tune.

At first, the best thing to do is: Be ready to play your own tunes, steadily, not too fast (or faster than you can execute them cleanly). If someone wants to hear FMB or Dueling Banjos, be gracious and play it for them (or something else that'll get a clap); sometimes that's the best way to mix when you're an "outsider" to a session scene, adding to the craic, being a "character" and a good sport. Take a request (not too many), and don't insult your company (by refusing or belittling their genuine requests), especially if they are Irish and want to hear an American tune. Never hog the session or a consensus will be reached about you.

More importantly, don't be defined by others - but spread your musical gifts freely and learn from everybody.

A word to the wise: Save the Scruggs licks for bluegrass, where they work, but use all the available techniques you can muster to play melodies (not Scruggsy approximations of them).

I have played Irish (and other Celtic) sessions in America, Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland, Shetland, around the Continent some and in Australia. It's all good!

It's all context, and sessions are different in the States, and different from session to session. Every social context has its own unwritten rules and people that you need to get to know and relate to; prevailing opinion, again, is nothing to worry about. Usually the most vocal person at a session, has a reputation for being just that. Avoid those who seek strife or ridicule at a session.

If you are lucky enough to find them, get tunes from clawhammer players, who tend to re-tune a lot, so be careful of that if you want to keep up in the heat of the moment. Tunes move quickly from one key to the next at an Irish session, so there is no time to re-tune, unless you're Ken Perlman. By the time you've re-tuned, the players have moved onto another tune in a new key. (I work mainly out of G tuning - no capo, with some exceptions.)

Get the feel for crisp triplets that tenor players use, but don't try to copy everything the tenor does; that's impossible anyway, so play your own instrument and get the most out of it. It can go places that the tenor wouldn't dream of, except in the hands of a few highly imaginative players like Gerry O'Connor, Dave Harper or Cathal Hayden et al.

Learn from every instrument, especially the fiddle. Learn ornamentation (not licks) from all the musical instruments, some of which can only be approximated on a five-string. Jerry O'Sullivan, the uilleann piper, used to play tin whistle over the phone for me, and I would play something back on the banjo until I got it right. He was teaching me rhythmic and melismatic variations (ornamentation) from the whistle, simplifying (fudging) complex cranning techniques used in piping. You have to peel back the layers of the onion to get inside tunes and improvise, without resorting to jazz or altered scales, Scruggs, melodic licks, or five-string clichés.

Btw, one of the first trad players I jammed with in Ireland was button accordionist Mick McAuley (now with Solas), who taught me some popular (at the time) session reels and hornpipes in a VW bus, driving from Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare, to Kilkenny. Learn from button accordion players - their notes are very precise and unambiguous (easy to hear).

Get to Ireland, try Willie Clancy Week (Miltown Malbay, Clare) or the Fleadh Ceoil. Immerse yourself in it - live it, breathe it, drink it, and break the bread with the locals.

I think you would enjoy my tutor (101 tunes) and CD (68 tunes), which anticipates a lot of newbie questions and has a cross-referenced glossary. I learned the hard way i.e., late sessions, sleeping in fields, not sleeping at all - living on Guinness, tea and stale sandwiches, getting lost on country roads, in the dark, on foot, in the rain - school of hard knocks, but I still love it, which is why I moved here and married a lovely Irish girl, Denise. I'm in Longford, in the midlands, so it's central and handy.

You asked a very good question, but *don't worry* about it - it's only pickin': Just enjoy yourself and be sensitive to others, even if others are insensitive to their own insensitivity.

Be daring and write your own tunes. Don't stereotype yourself or your instrument. You create and contribute to the music.

Learn tunes well, one at a time. Be a player, not a gossip. There are plenty of those types at sessions. Maintain a knowing silence, "take all in" (as they say here in Ireland), and listen to others patiently. They will listen to you. I’m here to help, as we all are. Sorry for the length.

Pick on,

Tom
http://www.tomhanway.com



Edited by - Tom Hanway on 11/07/2006 14:22:02

mikeyes - Posted - 11/07/2006:  10:22:59


Tom is absolutley correct, the music comes first so you need to learn the music. I have played in a session (in Ireland) with a clarinet and it was terrific. And this was as traditional a setting as you could get. The musician was a well known whistle player who had just played clarinet on a traditional album so all the chops were there. The Irish are not as rigid about the instruments, etc. as, say, the Americans can be. (Witness the so-called "traditional" Bluegrassers who will not allow electric bass, accordions, tenor banjos, drums, harmoniums, electric guitars, string sections, and new age bird sounds into the music because WSM would not approve - even though he used all of those instruments in his recordings.)

Tom's formula of politeness, taste, and common sense prevails in sessions. If you don't know the tunes, listen. If you have the tune, play along. Learn the tunes for the next session. It not only makes you a better musician, the other members will appreciate you for it. If you are snubbed or mocked for bringing in a five-string, you are not in a friendly session, find another or start one.

As an aside, the tenor banjo and the five string have nothing in common. They are tuned differently, they are played differently, and they sound different. All they share is a common rim/body setup and some technical details. I play both and I admire any five stringer who can play ITM, it is a lot harder than the tenor banjo.

And get Tom's book.

Mike Keyes
http://www.banjosessions.com

John D - Posted - 11/07/2006:  13:05:02


Hi Tom,
Thanks for another very informative, detailed post about playing Irish music on the 5-string banjo. I've enjoyed your posts a lot. My dream would be for you to post (on the BHO sound off forum) a tune like "Temperance Reel" played through once Irishy, once Scruggsy, and then once Keithy. Don't you think if folks heard a sample of your diverse playing they would be more inclined to buy your book? Also, is the Guinness on tap any different in Ireland than it is here in the States?

John D

imac50 - Posted - 11/07/2006:  13:27:44


Hi all and especially my ole friend Tom.
I play in a ceilidh band with my 5 string, playing all the tunes with the fiddle player. We are the front line and it is all possible on the 5. I don't do as many ornamentations as Tom but then I'm not trying to play it like a tenor. It's a melodic style created out of Scruggs/Keith/Trischka et al. Go with it and enjoy the music. No when to listen and when to play. But that goes for everybody!



Iain
www.iainmaclachlan.com

Tom Hanway - Posted - 11/08/2006:  04:57:38


quote:
Originally posted by John D

Hi Tom,
Thanks for another very informative, detailed post about playing Irish music on the 5-string banjo. I've enjoyed your posts a lot. My dream would be for you to post (on the BHO sound off forum) a tune like "Temperance Reel" played through once Irishy, once Scruggsy, and then once Keithy. Don't you think if folks heard a sample of your diverse playing they would be more inclined to buy your book? Also, is the Guinness on tap any different in Ireland than it is here in the States?

I John D



Thank you John, for the suggestion, and I can tell you, the Guinness over here is the real stuff, and hasn't gone through heating and cooling that alters its taste. Come visit and I'll treat you to a pint....

Thanks for writing. "Temperance Reel" is one of the best-loved melodies of the old dance instructors in Ireland, who used to ask the fiddlers to play this particular melody over and over in order to teach Irish dancing (step dancing). My version is faithful to Irish versions, with ornamental variations based on the fiddle.

Your suggestion, as thoughtful as it is, misses the point of my specifically Celtic fingerstyle approach, which I cannot tab out here. First, I have already recorded "Temperance Reel" under the very old title, "Teetotaller's Fancy" for the Mel Bay CD, and they own the recording, so I am not at liberty to pirate it or tab it elsewhere as is.

It is recorded and tabbed in a contemporary Celtic fingerstyle, faithful to the melody, which is not reducible to Scruggs, and is neither all-Keith nor all-single-string, but a combination of newer fretting-hand and picking-hand Celtic ornamental techniques.

Though I appreciate your suggestion (of doing it yet again) and can see where you are coming from, I wouldn't be much interested in tabbing or recording the tune in the various ways you describe because these tend to make the tune serve the technique, in this case three separate approaches - as if the Celtic melody needs to be filtered through bluegrass technique in order to be appreciated, or for me to sell product - not a bad idea.

I am here to teach and educate folks who want to learn a modern approach to playing this music.

The message of my book (and of Iain MacLachlan's tutors) is the opposite of the make-the-tune-serve-the-style approach. Our approach is: Be faithful to the melody and bring to bear all the available techniques, i.e., combinations of techniques, and avoid an assumed dependence on either-or techniques: either Scruggs licks, or strictly melodic (Keith), or strictly single-string techniques (using four strings).

Since you mentioned doing it "Keith" style, let me point out that Bill helped in my early research, suggesting O'Carolan tunes, and has read through the chapters and waded through the tabs, and gotten out his banjo....

Keith wrote in his review, for which I am eternally grateful: "... Far from being a simple collection of tablatures, this book is the fruit of years of Tom's research, and reveals his in-depth knowledge of and love for Irish music. And this feeling is contagious; as I read through the pieces in the book, I found myself wanting to play them."

For the full Bill Keith review, for folks who are interested, please go here:

http://www.tomhanway.com/billkeith.htm

So many tunes, so little time....



Pick on,

Tom Hanway
http://www.tomhanway.com/


Edited by - Tom Hanway on 11/08/2006 05:39:06

Tom Hanway - Posted - 11/08/2006:  05:20:37


quote:
Originally posted by imac50

Hi all and especially my ole friend Tom.
I play in a ceilidh band with my 5 string, playing all the tunes with the fiddle player. We are the front line and it is all possible on the 5. I don't do as many ornamentations as Tom but then I'm not trying to play it like a tenor. It's a melodic style created out of Scruggs/Keith/Trischka et al. Go with it and enjoy the music. No when to listen and when to play. But that goes for everybody!



Iain
www.iainmaclachlan.com




Hi Iain, I should take the ferry over and we should pick in Edinburgh? What do you say? Flying (and RyanAir) is too difficult, especially without a flight case....

Folks, Iain is the main guy for Scottish tunes, using a combination of techniques, similar to my own, though Iain uses more Scottish phrasing, where I would tend towards Irish ornaments. His version of "Temperance Reel" is fantastic, combining melodic, single-string, and personal phrasing. His earlier tab setting is closer to mine, relying more on single-string for the second part. The main difference in our styles, which are very close, is that I use Irish ornaments, where Iain sticks to the bare-bones melody. Iain actually plays for dancers, with the Thunderdogs Ceilidh Band, so his tunes are streamlined, meant to be played at brisk tempos. This is the genuine article from Scotland, folks.

I have two of Iain's books, Ceilidh Tunes for the 5 String Banjo, and Scottish Tunes for the 5 String Banjo. "Temperance Reel" ("Teetotaller's Reel") is in both!

He writes, all too sensibly, "Obviously you need to be sober to play this tune." Iain, in Ireland, you know we think just the opposite....

Iain, have you copies still available? I give these books a five-star ***** rating. Iain loves to play tunes without a capo - a manly man - and his settings are immaculate, being the Scot that he is, descended from Highlanders. Iain is a wonderful Scottish traditional banjo player, and an inspiration. He also picks great bluegrass.

Iain, we need to climb "Arthur's Seat" again - a big hill in Edinburgh. I visited "Arthur's Seat" in Wales, but that's no day-walk.

Pick on,

Tom Hanway
http://www.tomhanway.com/


Edited by - Tom Hanway on 11/08/2006 05:59:29

Tom Hanway - Posted - 11/08/2006:  06:07:14


quote:
Originally posted by mikeyes

Tom is absolutley correct, the music comes first so you need to learn the music. I have played in a session (in Ireland) with a clarinet and it was terrific. And this was as traditional a setting as you could get. The musician was a well known whistle player who had just played clarinet on a traditional album so all the chops were there. The Irish are not as rigid about the instruments, etc. as, say, the Americans can be. (Witness the so-called "traditional" Bluegrassers who will not allow electric bass, accordions, tenor banjos, drums, harmoniums, electric guitars, string sections, and new age bird sounds into the music because WSM would not approve - even though he used all of those instruments in his recordings.)

Tom's formula of politeness, taste, and common sense prevails in sessions. If you don't know the tunes, listen. If you have the tune, play along. Learn the tunes for the next session. It not only makes you a better musician, the other members will appreciate you for it. If you are snubbed or mocked for bringing in a five-string, you are not in a friendly session, find another or start one.

As an aside, the tenor banjo and the five string have nothing in common. They are tuned differently, they are played differently, and they sound different. All they share is a common rim/body setup and some technical details. I play both and I admire any five stringer who can play ITM, it is a lot harder than the tenor banjo.

And get Tom's book.

Mike Keyes
http://www.banjosessions.com



Thanks John, for the kind words. You are right to point out that the tenor and five string have virtually nothing in common that would bear on technique. Cheers. I admire anyone who can play tenor banjo. I have my grandfather's Van Eps (circa 1920), recently restored, and I'm just getting into it, but I spend most of my time on the five-driver.

Pick on,

Tom Hanway
http://www.tomhanway.com/

bugtussle - Posted - 11/08/2006:  12:29:07


thank you so much for the response. It was kind of overwhelming. A lot to think about and I will definitely get your book Mr. Hanway. I guess I'm "going in". thanks again bugtussle

j2buttonsw - Posted - 11/08/2006:  14:15:30


Just to say I have used Iain's (Ceilidh Tunes for the 5 String Banjo) and Tom's (Complete Book of Irish and Celtic 5-String Banjo) books to learn Irish tunes on the 5 string which has allowed me to sit in on local sessions. They are excellent and I can't recommend them highly enough ! Many thanks from a happy customer !

I've got a girl and she lives in the rich folk's yard,
she brings me meat and she brings me lard

Tom Hanway - Posted - 11/08/2006:  14:20:48


quote:
Originally posted by bugtussle

thank you so much for the response. It was kind of overwhelming. A lot to think about and I will definitely get your book Mr. Hanway. I guess I'm "going in". thanks again bugtussle



Hey, bro, you remind me of myself and I was just like you - eager, excited and really into Scruggs, and I badly embarrassed myself at the first few Irish sessions I went to - I wanted to play "Little Maggie" and they all looked at me as if I had two heads and said, "You mean "'Drowsy Maggie'!" I didn't get it. Neither did they. It took me about five years to really get into it, with four or five false-starts.

You are learning a whole new musical language and culture connected to Old World cultures and subcultures; even foreign languages are involved if you go in deep enough. Many players make the mistake of imposing American musical values on Celtic styles. Remember that many Celtic tunes (and styles) are much older than American styles.

Bluegrass is a relatively modern musical idiom, closer to Southern rock'n'roll, rhythm'n'blues or jazz than to the modal Celtic idioms from the old country. Does that help put things in perspective?

Have fun. Sorry if I overwhelmed you - I just wanted to warn you before you went in unprepared....

Pick on,

Tom Hanway
http://www.tomhanway.com/


Edited by - Tom Hanway on 11/08/2006 14:34:37

bobbyk - Posted - 11/08/2006:  23:09:23


As a relatively new banjo player who also loves Irsih music - I feel like I owe Mike and Tom tuition. thanks for all your comments. If you had to pick the first five or so songs to focus on to likely be able ot play in a jam session any ideas?

BobK

imac50 - Posted - 11/09/2006:  03:01:42


Hi Tom
Thanks for the kind words. You are always welcome back in Edinburgh. The books - well the Ceilidh Tunes for the 5 String Banjo is still available and Scottish Tunes for the 5 String Banjo has been picked up by Mel Bay and will eventually come out as Celtic Tune Encyclopedia for 5-String Banjo. Can I also plug the band's new CD which we launch on December 2nd? For anyone who is interested, I strongly recommend that you learn the tunes without a capo or retuning because the session will switch from one tune to another leaving you no time to retune or reposition the capo.

Iain

Iain
www.iainmaclachlan.com

Tom Hanway - Posted - 11/09/2006:  04:31:10


quote:
Originally posted by imac50

Hi Tom
Thanks for the kind words. You are always welcome back in Edinburgh. The books - well the Ceilidh Tunes for the 5 String Banjo is still available and Scottish Tunes for the 5 String Banjo has been picked up by Mel Bay and will eventually come out as Celtic Tune Encyclopedia for 5-String Banjo. Can I also plug the band's new CD which we launch on December 2nd? For anyone who is interested, I strongly recommend that you learn the tunes without a capo or retuning because the session will switch from one tune to another leaving you no time to retune or reposition the capo.

Iain

Iain
www.iainmaclachlan.com




Hi, Iain,

Well done Iain. It was only a matter of time before Mel Bay picked up your work. Congratulations ole friend. I look forward to getting the first copy of your new book. I'm looking at a lovely setting for Chief O'Neill's Favourite, which is almost identical to my own. Lovely tune.

Iain is correct. It really is a sound idea to learn the neck and not rely upon mutliple tunings and the capo at sessions. This pays off by a player being able to switch keys without fumbling around.

Pick on,

Tom Hanway
http://www.tomhanway.com/

banjo cal - Posted - 11/09/2006:  07:03:28


if any of you guys are about glasgow and looking for an awesome irish session, you should check out the auldhouse arms on a sunday night. tis the best session around 'fer sure

theres only a few irish tunes i can play but the five strings always welcome at the session.
not only do the five strings play along with the irish stuff, the four strings play along with the bluegrass stuff

cheers
cal

c'est plus 'je pense' mais 'j'ai donc' je suis
- jean jacques goldman

Ronnie Ramin - Posted - 11/09/2006:  11:34:54


Tom,
that was an amazing post thanks for sharing.
Ronnie

Tom Hanway - Posted - 11/09/2006:  14:53:06


quote:
Originally posted by banjo cal

if any of you guys are about glasgow and looking for an awesome irish session, you should check out the auldhouse arms on a sunday night. tis the best session around 'fer sure

theres only a few irish tunes i can play but the five strings always welcome at the session.
not only do the five strings play along with the irish stuff, the four strings play along with the bluegrass stuff

cheers
cal

c'est plus 'je pense' mais 'j'ai donc' je suis
- jean jacques goldman



I take it that Scottish tunes are played as well, being that it's Glasgow, or is it more of an Irish scene? Many Irish and Scottish tunes are common in both traditions, so it can get confusing. One of the most common Irish tunes, Miss McLeod's Reel, is originally Scottish (MacLeod's) - think of Highlander with the broadsword. I hope he's not at the session.

Pick on,

Tom Hanway
http://www.tomhanway.com/

banjofanatico - Posted - 11/09/2006:  18:21:49


Many players make the mistake of imposing American musical values on Celtic styles.

Yes, bugtussle, quit imposing your musical predjudices on the ancient country-folk of Ireland. This has got to stop!

David

Tom Hanway - Posted - 11/10/2006:  12:34:00


quote:
Originally posted by banjofanatico

Many players make the mistake of imposing American musical values on Celtic styles.

Yes, bugtussle, quit imposing your musical predjudices on the ancient country-folk of Ireland. This has got to stop!

David



Very good, but you missed a sensitive area here in your witty reply. I don't mind being quoted out of context, so here's the context.

It's not about American musical values/styles over Irish music values, which is quite common, with mixed results. Celtic music and culture goes beyond Irish music. Don't leave out yer "ancient country-folk" of Wales, Cornwall, Brittany, Scotland, Shetland, the Isle of Man, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and the Celtic diaspora, from Appalachia to Australia.

We must be careful not to conflate Irish culture and music with other Celtic cultures and traditions. To do so is a subtle form of stereotyping, and many Irish Americans know what I'm talking about.... Others think it's all about leprechauns and shamrocks. It ain't.

See articles in next post about this and all-too-common mistakes of the punter.

Pick on,

Tom Hanway
http://www.tomhanway.com/


Edited by - Tom Hanway on 11/10/2006 13:22:24

Tom Hanway - Posted - 11/10/2006:  13:27:04


Here's an excerpt of a germane article I wrote for Mel Bay on backing tunes, "Listening to and Backing Celtic Music." For the full article go here: http://www.tomhanway.com/melbay.htm For more about this, see "Perspective and Meaning in Celtic Music": http://www.tomhanway.com/celtmusc.htm

Excerpt from "Listening to and Backing Celtic Music":

In the early sixties, progressive banjoist Roger Sprung and New York City friends from the Greenwich Village scene drove down to Marshall, North Carolina (near Asheville) to a bluegrass gathering - where moonshine was even made available behind a tree - to meet and jam with traditional players. A local singer was giving his rendition of a song when he was interrupted by a New York City autoharp player who had brought along his personal song book. "Stop! That verse doesn't go there. Let me show you how it goes." He then read from his sacred printed version of the song. The out-of-towner embarrassed his friends and the North Carolinians by attempting to tell the latter group how to sing and play their local music.

This incident made some distinct impressions on Bill about jamming etiquette: (1.) There is no accounting for taste - good or bad. Playing in context is key. (2.) It is a bad idea to interrupt the flow of the music; such things as chords, lyrics and melody lines may differ from context to context. Unless such things are agreed upon beforehand, one should not assume that one's version of a tune is the only way to play it. (3.) It is unwise to correct one's hosts and mentors. When local traditional customs are ignored, second-guessed or trampled, someone always notices - but not always the transgressing innovator.

TH

Pick on,

Tom Hanway
http://www.tomhanway.com/

Tom Banjo - Posted - 11/10/2006:  14:15:09


Tom, your insight has made this thread a delight to read! I don't even play 3-finger style of any type, but I do play clawhammer and the tin whistle, so I've become fascinated by all the similarities and differences between old-time and Irish traditional.
This thread almost makes me want to dig out some finger-picks and buy your book!

_________________________
www.myspace.com/thomaston

Paddy - Posted - 11/11/2006:  05:55:36


Tom, my man, remember me? We gotta jam some! You still have to show me Crazy Creek!

Anywho's...I play a few Irish tunes, quite a few out of Toms book. I lean more heavily on single string, (possibly as a result of a dislike of learning all those tricky right hand fingerings in melodic) and so on a lot of bluegrass fiddle tunes, I'd be more inclined to play without a capo, using single string techniques, such as triplets.

I would venture to say both muscial idioms inform one another to an extent. But of course, calling FMB at a trad session probably wouldn't be the most tasteful thing to do.

Tom Hanway - Posted - 11/11/2006:  15:48:36


quote:
Originally posted by Paddy

Tom, my man, remember me? We gotta jam some! You still have to show me Crazy Creek!

Anywho's...I play a few Irish tunes, quite a few out of Toms book. I lean more heavily on single string, (possibly as a result of a dislike of learning all those tricky right hand fingerings in melodic) and so on a lot of bluegrass fiddle tunes, I'd be more inclined to play without a capo, using single string techniques, such as triplets.

I would venture to say both muscial idioms inform one another to an extent. But of course, calling FMB at a trad session probably wouldn't be the most tasteful thing to do.



Hey Buddy! Is Dublin swingin' this weekend?

Do you ever go to the Cobblestone for the Saturday Old-time/Bluegrass meltdown? Maybe we can meet there and find a table somewhere and I can show you "Crazy Creek."

Funny you should mention it: I just recorded it today in Kinvara, (in Co. Galway) for fiddler Ivor Ottley's new project, coupling it with "Sally Gooden." I do it without a capo, and it's one of the trickiest fiddle tunes I know in A (sometimes A modal - e.g., the Dillard's classic version with Byron Berline on fiddle). We got it down, so my chops are pretty together on it (at least for today). It's melodic, and works out of chord positions, with some single-string triplets that are right up your alley.

Hey, folks, Paddy is a dazzling banjo player, and one of the cleanest and tastiest single-string players on the scene. He holds down the banjo chair with Fair City Grass, Dublin's only regularly performing traditional bluegrass band, which features Paddy Kiernan, five-string banjo; Enda Donnelly, mandolin, guitar, vocals; Eddie Walsh, guitar, vocals; and Martin Hamm, double bass.

Fair City Grass play every other Wednesday at Mother Reilly's, Uppercross House Hotel, Rathmines, Dublin, where they have held down a residency for over five years now. Highly recommended when you visit Dublin for a pint of porter.

Paddy - you're awesome! Let's play soon.

Pick on,

Tom Hanway
http://www.tomhanway.com/

Tom Hanway - Posted - 11/11/2006:  16:27:37


quote:
Originally posted by Tom Banjo

Tom, your insight has made this thread a delight to read! I don't even play 3-finger style of any type, but I do play clawhammer and the tin whistle, so I've become fascinated by all the similarities and differences between old-time and Irish traditional.
This thread almost makes me want to dig out some finger-picks and buy your book!

_________________________
www.myspace.com/thomaston



Casey, thank you for the compliment. If you want to read more on Celtic cultures, languages, and the six Celtic Nations, check out the Celtic League, American Branch site, here:

http://www.celticleague.org/

If you scroll down to "Celtic Music," and click underneath on "Overview" - an early screed on Celtic music (and how it is manipulated for marketing purposes) is found here, with some comments in the footnotes about Riverdance.

Check out Alexei Kondratiev's article/s on this site. He is a Celtic historian, multi-linguist and thoroughly fascinating Celticist. He advised and edited my book and helped me collect Celtic tunes from all six nations and the Celtic diaspora, a term I was previously unfamiliar with. Good stuff cheap.



Pick on,

Tom Hanway
http://www.tomhanway.com/

jojo2525 - Posted - 11/17/2006:  11:32:09


I have a different perspective on playing the 5 string with Irish tunes...like many of you mentioned, I do some tunes were I am playing the melody pretty much note for note with the fiddle (though not as ornamented!!)

but there is another way...not Scruggs style, not melodic style, not old-time but...for lack of a better term...what I will call here rolling style...I use this esp. on jigs and slip jigs...pretty much a staight forward run of forward rolls (123/123, etc) that follows the chord progression...this allows me to drive the beat with my thumb...thus I play more like a rythm player than a melody player...in bluegrass you might call this back-up...this is very simple to do once you know the chord progression and it can be a lot of fun...I recommend it

in 2/4, 4/4 type tunes I use clawhammer in a similar fashion with Irish tunes...but after I have the chord progression down I work towards incorporating more and more of the melody...also seeking bass runs (as much as one can get a bass run on a 5 string!!)...and using alternate forms of the chords

all of the above is predicated on using standard G tuning (though I do some of the same in double D)...and knowing your chord forms...once I was even asked if I played tenor banjo...cause I use so many chords...if you know those chord forms it opens a lot of possibilities for playing along with many, many different musical forms...and on a 5 string the chord forms are MUCH easier than they are on a guitar

finally...I have heard some folks say that you can't have a band that does both old-time and Irish...and I'm here to tell ya that it ain't true...I know this from personal experience...fitting smoothly into an Irish jam with the 5 string might be a challange...I recommend bringing a good bottle of single malt Scotch!

Banjonically yours

Joe McNally

mikey5string - Posted - 11/21/2006:  14:34:45


toms book is great. check out tony furtados playing on irish tunes as well. i bought oneils tunebook in ireland and try to pick a few out of that here and there, it is in standard notation though.
i wrote a jig a while ago its on my hangout page.

mike
http://www.banjoaddiction.com/cgi-b...tors.pl?Mike

Tom Hanway - Posted - 11/23/2006:  02:41:14


quote:
Originally posted by jojo2525

I have a different perspective on playing the 5 string with Irish tunes...like many of you mentioned, I do some tunes were I am playing the melody pretty much note for note with the fiddle (though not as ornamented!!)

but there is another way...not Scruggs style, not melodic style, not old-time but...for lack of a better term...what I will call here rolling style...I use this esp. on jigs and slip jigs...pretty much a staight forward run of forward rolls (123/123, etc) that follows the chord progression...this allows me to drive the beat with my thumb...thus I play more like a rythm player than a melody player...in bluegrass you might call this back-up...this is very simple to do once you know the chord progression and it can be a lot of fun...I recommend it

in 2/4, 4/4 type tunes I use clawhammer in a similar fashion with Irish tunes...but after I have the chord progression down I work towards incorporating more and more of the melody...also seeking bass runs (as much as one can get a bass run on a 5 string!!)...and using alternate forms of the chords

all of the above is predicated on using standard G tuning (though I do some of the same in double D)...and knowing your chord forms...once I was even asked if I played tenor banjo...cause I use so many chords...if you know those chord forms it opens a lot of possibilities for playing along with many, many different musical forms...and on a 5 string the chord forms are MUCH easier than they are on a guitar

finally...I have heard some folks say that you can't have a band that does both old-time and Irish...and I'm here to tell ya that it ain't true...I know this from personal experience...fitting smoothly into an Irish jam with the 5 string might be a challange...I recommend bringing a good bottle of single malt Scotch!

Banjonically yours

Joe McNally

_______________________________________________________


toms book is great. check out tony furtados playing on irish tunes as well. i bought oneils tunebook in ireland and try to pick a few out of that here and there, it is in standard notation though.
i wrote a jig a while ago its on my hangout page.

mike
http://www.banjoaddiction.com/cgi-b...tors.pl?Mike




Thanks Mike. I agree: Furtado is a force of nature. He has great energy and is very strong and gifted player (both hands). Scott Vestal is another monster and an old after-hours-picking buddy. He is so fluid.

*******************************

Hey Joe - you are not alone in your thinking....

For Irish session tunes I think your Celtic backing technique is grand and quite natural, and the forward roll is quite effective, for jigs especially. Your approach is not unlike my own, and I know what you're saying works at sessions. Other rolls work as well, and I won't outline them all here, but for reels, there's T I M I, T I M I, which is effective and lifts tunes, especially if this pattern is in synch with a steady bodhrán or bouzouki player.

I have outlined easy roll and rhythm patterns in Mel Bay's Complete Book of Irish & Celtic 5-String Banjo, also covering slides and polkas. For reels and hornpipes, when I'm not playing the tune melody, I tend to emphasize roots and fifths within the roll patterns, sometimes (but not always) omitting major and minor thirds and fifths.

I agree that old-time and Irish tunes can be combined or mixed together in a band's set and also at sessions. This happens all the time at sessions here. Old-time players in Ireland tend to know a lot of Irish tunes (go figure) and sessions can change emphasis without anyone noticing that we're jumping back and forth over the Atlantic ocean. Many tunes are common to both traditons, with many variants of the same old tune. We know what they are. I personally like "Pig Town Fling" or ("Wild Horses (at)/Stoney Point"), also "Kitty's Wedding," a standard hornpipe, which I think is an old-time tune called "Lexington Belles." Everybody here knows "Miss McLeod's," "Temperance Reel" ("Teetotaler") and "Saint Anne's Reel." And on and on. There are many common American tunes which are old (sometimes obscure) Irish tunes, and vice versa. Tim O'Brien makes regular pilgrimages and we've jammed at old-time/Irish session in Dublin (at the Cobblestone) and on stage in Lerwick (Shetland Folk Festival).

I think if one knows the melodies and appropriate chords, as you point out, then it is no problem to back tunes and give a certain amount of drive or lift to them. My experience is that more appreciation is given to tune players, especially creative tune players who improvise freely, using ornamentation, than to backing players who never play the melody. Still, good backing is important, and an essential part of the tradition nowadays. Backing is fun and can be very effective, even if one knows and can play the real melodies. Sometimes I back tunes just for the fun of it. I like to go way up the neck and play freely, but not until the session is really flying.... Passing tones are allowed if used with subtlety and taste. (Chromatics licks are generally not a good idea because they step on the melody.)

It's all context, but I like your style. It's good to mix it up and go for it.

I hope we get to jam someday - you should come to Ireland and we can have that bottle of single malt, maybe after we sample some of the fine Irish whiskies, or a good strong Irish coffee (with Powers).


Pick on,

Tom Hanway
http://www.tomhanway.com/


Edited by - Tom Hanway on 11/23/2006 02:45:14

Bill Rogers - Posted - 11/23/2006:  23:06:17


John D, who posted above ( page 1 of the thread) , plays clawhammer Irish tunes better than anyone I've heard. Check out his music page.

Bill

Tom Hanway - Posted - 11/24/2006:  14:24:05


quote:
Originally posted by Bill Rogers

John D, who posted above ( page 1 of the thread) , plays clawhammer Irish tunes better than anyone I've heard. Check out his music page.

Bill



You betcha! On my way ... thanks.......

Pick on,

Tom Hanway
http://www.tomhanway.com/

Banjowen - Posted - 11/25/2006:  05:39:32


I used to go and listen to Irish sessions in Liverpool (UK) with a friend who has since moved over to Ireland,he was a very good tenor banjo player as well as an uillean piper,I've seen the odd one or two 5 string players at the sessions but they always seem to struggle with keeping up to speed,and nearing the end of the night when the fiddlers and flute players are going at it a mile a minute,even the experienced tenor banjo players find it hard to keep up and tend to put down their instruments and pick up a whistle or bohdran etc...I would say 5 strings are ok in certain sessions where perhaps the other musicians are not too experienced traditionalists and haven't got the speed themselves........and I hate to say it but in my opinion a tenor banjo lends it self better to Irish traditional music anyway.

Owen.




www.banjohollow.ic24.net

Feo - Posted - 12/13/2006:  15:32:54


I just back from Boston , playing my 5-string banjo with Irish fiddlers for 3 days straight .... and with a Mel Bay author to boot :-)
We were playing Irish music about as fast as can be comfortably listened to I reckon .... I play a rather rolling style also for the 5 string banjo ... my biggest problem was trying to get the fiddlers to play tunes that my 5-string was in ...usually I ended up having to be the world's fastest 5-string banjo re-tuner though :-)
Here's a rather low-quality mp3 to hear something of what I am playing behind the Irish fiddlers....it's a slip-jig
This is solo , but when Im playing with a fiddler I try to add more chords,rythm effects,and less note-for-note
http://media.putfile.com/Welcome-to...o-backup-mp3

Tom Hanway - Posted - 12/21/2006:  08:45:54


quote:
Originally posted by Feo

I just back from Boston , playing my 5-string banjo with Irish fiddlers for 3 days straight .... and with a Mel Bay author to boot :-)
We were playing Irish music about as fast as can be comfortably listened to I reckon .... I play a rather rolling style also for the 5 string banjo ... my biggest problem was trying to get the fiddlers to play tunes that my 5-string was in ...usually I ended up having to be the world's fastest 5-string banjo re-tuner though :-)
Here's a rather low-quality mp3 to hear something of what I am playing behind the Irish fiddlers....it's a slip-jig
This is solo , but when Im playing with a fiddler I try to add more chords,rythm effects,and less note-for-note
http://media.putfile.com/Welcome-to...o-backup-mp3


Cool stuff Feo. Keep going bro! You are an inspiration, a pioneer. I agree that rolling goes a long way; in fact, some non-banjo-playing string players try to emulate the sound of rolling by crosspicking, usually on bouzouki or guitar, so it has been known to work as effective back-up for many types of tunes.

The five-string banjo player does not have to limit himself to copying the tenor banjo player. You are proving that.

I must listen closely to what you are doing. I'll get back to you privately....

Pardon the length here. I have a lot of ideas I want to get across, in the hope of clearing up stereotypes and stereotypical thinking about the 5-string. I'm on holiday tomorrow, so I won't have to time respond for a while.... Bluegrass Unlimited called my first Irish & Celtic 5-String book, "the bible" -- so I'm used to expounding at length, and I sincerely hope this sheds more light than garden-variety opinion....

The five-string is always compared to the tenor banjo, though it could also be compared to and informed by the pipes, fiddle, and harp, and so on.... So, I want to examine some of this in greater detail. It's an all-too-common practice to judge (compartmentalize) the five-string banjo by comparing it only to the tenor banjo, a different instrument altogether.

The five-string is dismissed quite often by people who pass on other people's "received wisdom" (akin to "rumour") or "consensus" (which could be an objectionable, uninformed mass-opinion masquerading as "authority"). Then there are the talkers (like arm-chair quarterbacks) who pretend that they know the game but probably don't practice any Celtic style (or play the tenor banjo). It's easier to bandy about a few terms than it is to pick up the instrument and play it at a session - maybe learn something....

I've met so many of these know-all types at sessions, who tell others that they should learn this or that tune, take up this or that instrument, or the tenor banjo (which I have, but for my own reasons).

Learning to play any instrument is like learning a language - it takes practice and effort. I'm here for the five-string banjo -- not to besmirch it or devalue it for any style of music.

Living and playing full-time in Ireland (and in Europe), I'm working on several educational projects at present, all related to expanding the repertoire and techniques of the 5-string in Irish and Celtic traditional styles - staying in G tuning for the most part, though there are more options. Having played at sessions across Ireland, in the States, in the UK, Scotland, Shetland, etc., I would like to offer a few personal observations based on barroom and backroom experiences.

First of all, it's not easy for everybody to play Irish (or bluegrass) music on the five-string. But it's being done more and more, and I've met lots of great players who are expanding the Irish and Celtic repertoire. But what is the repertoire? Is it jigs and reels? Not exactly.

Not all Celtic music is Irish, or jigs and reels, and the 5-string can go places where the tenor banjo would be uniquely challenged, for example: old harp tunes, either from the Irish or Welsh traditions.

There is one important (and generally overlooked) advantage to playing the five-string banjo over the tenor. Because competent 5-string players are comfortable with playing-positions all the way up the neck and can execute wider interval leaps than tenor players -- either through chord arpeggios, or jumping from chord to chord while rolling through arpeggios and the like -- it's easier for five-string players to pull off tunes that use wide leaps, series of interval leaps, and a wider range of notes, including some ornamentation styles, e.g., triplet figures using two or three different notes on several strings (not confined to one or two notes on one string).

Tenor players generally have an easier time with jigs and reels that stay down the neck (in one position), or with tunes that climb up the first string at most, and they use the same fingerings as fiddlers, because their instrument is typically tuned in fifths, exactly like the fiddle. The tenor banjo is the natural instrument for fiddlers and mandolin players to pick up, because they already know where all the notes are and can bang out simple melodies. It's a no-brainer for them. That's why the tenor found its way into the Céilí bands (in the States) and was brought back to the old sod. Anybody could play it who could play fiddle or mandolin. It's a natural, especially for bare-bones melodies.

The tenor banjo is the norm at sessions and has become highly regarded, especially in Ireland and the States. Interestingly, it is not used universally in Irish bands. Most notably, the Chieftains do not use it. The tenor banjo is not found on the seminal recordings by such renowned traditional Irish groups as the Bothy Band, Planxty or Altan. Imagine seminal "bluegrass" bands having no 5-string banjo. We wouldn't call it bluegrass. In Grisman's case, it's Dawg music. So the tenor's place is still a bit precarious; it is not used universally for Irish trad in the same way that the 5-string is used universally in bluegrass.

I wrote almost ten years ago in Mel Bay's Complete Book of Irish & Celtic 5-String Banjo: "...the real home of the tenor banjo in traditional Celtic music is at the Irish session, where it is a popular and compelling instrument. Regional and national competitions in Ireland have a banjo category and many extraordinary tenor banjo players turn up for these events." Well, now that I have lived here while, I've had the chance to jam with lots of tenor players, from young boys to old men, and they're all awesome musicians with a great passion for the banjo - no two the same. I still learn from tenor players -- I'll learn from anybody -- and I reckon I always will. Having said that...

Jigs and reels certainly are not the whole repertoire, and if we expand the repertoire to includes such things as airs, hornpipes, traditional harp tunes (Irish or Welsh), strathspeys, Schottiches, rants, country dances, and so on, the 5-string (in the right hands) has many unique advantages over the raucous tenor banjo. The 5-string has a great range of sounds and techniques to explore, especially once we get beyond the bare-bones melodies. But even for simple tunes using only few notes, the five-driver has many things going for it.

It need not sound like a tenor, though the temptation is great because that's what it is always compared to (because it's a type of "banjo"), and if that's the sound somebody wants, he might consider taking up that instrument. I sometimes go for the tenor sound, but not always, because I have more choices. Five-string players are spoiled for choice, unless they let someone take that choice away from them -- and they will, believe me, they'll try. Even here, where folks should have more common sense.

Polkas I think are easier on the five-string because they are so much like bluegrass breakdowns, or "Jingle Bells" (ho ho ho) and a good bluegrass picker can play at Kerry-polka tempo without breaking a sweat.

You'll notice the 5-string banjo (among other stringed instruments) on Pogues recordings, rolling in the background, lifting the music. It works!

Some of the more complex O'Carolan tunes and highly ornamentated hornpipes that I tabbed and recorded for the Mel Bay Irish & Celtic book (and still play at sessions) are exceedingly difficult and "notey" for tenor players, and many wouldn't touch them or consider them at all. In fact, very few can execute these certain types of trad tunes smoothly or get either (a) a legato, rolling sound ("Planxty Irwin" or "Sí Bheag Agus Sí Mhor") or (b) the full range of notes and ornaments ("O'Carolan's Concerto") that a competent 5-string player can easily perform, based on other traditional plucking styles, e.g., the harp itself, or ornamentation coming from the fiddle or pipes. My first book explores some of the ornamentation (beyond tenor banjo) that can be borrowed from these instruments and used for the five-string.

Some of us here, like Feo, are building the repertoire, playing and backing techniques, and we have more work to do ... so many tunes ... so little time.

Thank you Feo for sharing your musical outpourings. It's a breath of fresh air and your optimism is contagious. Too many pessimists and naysayers out there who would succeed only in stifling thought and creativity. Fair play to you.

Merry Christmas and good tidings to all in the New Year.


Cheers,
Tom

http://www.tomhanway.com/


Edited by - Tom Hanway on 12/21/2006 09:18:40

mikeyes - Posted - 12/21/2006:  09:42:33


Tom,

I agree with you, the two types of banjos have very little in common although I have to disagree with you about the problems tenor banjo players have with the legato movements. Although we are probably thinking the same thing in the end as the only players who I see playing slow tunes or even hornpipes of the kind you are mentioning on the tenro banjo are the John Cartys of the world, the true experts.

I recently saw JC play some amazing stuff including using the entire tonal set of possibilities (by moving his pick up and down the scale to achieve mellower or sharper tones, the use of harmonics, and moving his left hand to third and fourth position), and by his wonderful use of variation. Gerry O'Connor does the same types of things (only faster) as do a few other elite level players. One of the reasons you don't see that done on the tenor as much as you do on the five string is that it is not easy to do (other reasons include the fact that there are fewer tenor players overall compared to five string players and in the Irish world, you have to be an accomplished five string player to shine whereas a tenor player can be good but does not have to be superman.)

Another reason why you don't hear the other forms of music from the tenor players is that they simply don't attempt them all that much. Going back to John Carty, the first set of tunes he taught us at the O'Flaherty Irish Retreat was barndances. He then moved on to several other forms that were not as "normal" (I could never play them in my weekly session as no one would have ever heard of these tunes and would not play them, anyway) so I know they can be played on the tenor banjo but you have to think outside of the box, just like a five string player in a session would have to.

I love to play O'Carolan tunes on the five string but have also learned to play them on the mandolin and the tenor (although it is a challenge), it is all a matter of exploring the possibilities.

Historically, the five string has been around Irish music a lot longer than the tenor, but the five string was swept up in the folk side of Irish music and the tenor was firmly implanted by Barry McKenna back in the days when the Bothy Band didn't have a tenor <G> I'm glad the five string banjo is coming into the circle as much as it has, it is traveling the same pathway as the tenor (from America) which may account for its later entry into popularity on the trad side. (Mick Moloney states that the five string was introduced in the 19th century by the Virginia Minstrels, well before the invention of the four string banjo and was known to Irish musicians even if it was not widely played by them.)

So there is not historical reason to object to the use of the five string banjo in the music. Now if only the nose flute had such a good pedigree <G>

Mike Keyes
http://www.banjosessions.com

John D - Posted - 12/21/2006:  09:57:45


Thanks for posting that nicely played slip jig, Feo. Really interesting to hear your "rolling style." And thanks to Tom Hanway for his encouragement and great advice about playing this kind of music on the 5-String.
I especially like Tom's comment:

The five-string is dismissed quite often by people who pass on other people's "received wisdom" (akin to "rumour") or "consensus" (which could be an objectionable, uninformed mass-opinion masquerading as "authority").

I need to remember that the next time someone says: "Why don't you just play the tenor banjo or fiddle if you want to play Irish music."

John D

Feo - Posted - 12/21/2006:  12:00:21


Guys,

Thanks for the encouraging words and for understanding what Im doing here ... I have to say that I approach the 5-string banjo more from an old-timey banjo background then from a bluegrass background... so , my banjo is openbacked and right now has nylon fishing line on it for strings ....so it's loud enough to back up 1 or 2 fiddles , but not a full-blown accordian-infested Irish session .... Approaching the music from an old timey point of view I see my banjo role as to be a supportive instrument , to back up one or two other instruments ( I'd need a louder banjo for a larger session ) that are playing lead ....mostly to backup a fiddler....Most Irish sessions seem to be a bunch of solo-ists all playing together at the same time,without much thought of augmenting each other's sound , and maybe even looking upon a backup musician as second-class... in my slip-jig clip I kind of played alot of note-for-note because I was playing solo , but when Im with a fiddler I see my role as to support the fiddler , so I play a slightly skimpier melody ... I try to get that nice banjo-fiddle weave of sounds that you hear in Appalachian music... I include some chords ,some filler notes, but mostly to provide a dancing BOUNCE ...I think that's what our 5-string banjo played with downstrokes can give the music that other instruments can't , a nice rolling bounce ....the bounce can be a bit easier on the 4/4 tunes but jigs and slip-jigs can work too.... In this recording I had to use alot of up-picking , but when Im playing alongide a fiddler I try to add more downstrokes for better bounce....I used to play for Irish dances and approach things with an eye as to what dancers would like to feel in their music...Wiith our old timey banjo down strokes , we can get our notes to come out more poetic-sounding, sounding like raindrops...as opposed to the rat-tat-tat of the tenor banjo ... that haunting Appalachian banjo sound has always sounded Irish to me ...so why not incorporate it into modern Irish trad reportoire ? So yes, Im still in the formulative stages of my Irish 5-string sound.... I haven't had alot of local chances to try it out with Irish musicians but so far it's working when I do meet up with an Irish fiddler ... I'm glad that therer's other folks plugging away at using the 5-string for this type of music....we'll have to change people's minds one session at a time LOL Thanks again for the encouragement..

Banjocoltrane - Posted - 12/21/2006:  12:20:39


There were a couple great irish bands that played a festival i was booked at...afterwards they had a jam in the hotel...i decided id play a few tunes with them...basically, they were all jerks...everything they played sounded very monotonous...eminor, aminor, yada yada yada...the only person they gave a lead to was a bouzoki player that was badly out of tune...mostly though, the fiddler just played the same lead part OVER AND OVER...
They never once acknowledged i was even alive...very stupid considering i wouldnt have treated them that way if they had tried to play with me in my "field."

Im sure not everyone is like this, i did play into the whee hours with a fiddler from Nova Scotia...


Feo - Posted - 12/21/2006:  13:52:38


Irish sessions take a bit of getting used to , ha,especially if you're coming from a field such as bluegrass or even jazz , where there's an expectation of players taking turns or swapping melodic phrases back and forth .... Irish sessions confound the classical folks too because of the ignoring of concepts like harmony...no one plays second fiddle in Irish trad LOL ..... so the folks you met at the festival may not have been unusually snobby , they may have just been following normal I-trad protocol ....which can be frustrating to a musician, I agree.... In American oldtime fiddle music there is a tendency for the fiddler to never stop playing lead also,which stems from it's Irish background Im sure...bascially because this was music created for dances , instead of cerebral listening music ... the thing that drove me away from local Irish sessions were the accordians...but that's a whole different topic .... there are some fun Irish musicians to play with,who take turns and stuff...I certainly fell in with a good bunch of them up in Boston.

mikeyes - Posted - 12/21/2006:  15:18:15


There are sessions and there are sessions.

Mostly a session is a social affair and the rules vary depending a lot on who runs it and who is there. You happened to run into a session that is not friendly to strangers, no matter how "open" it is supposed to be. Had you come to our session (Plymouth, WI, every Wed night) we would have welcomed you with open arms and probably played a few OT tunes with you since half of the usual crowd play OT. On the other hand I have gone to sessions in the States in which you are either not acknowledged or if you play the improper tune or the "wrong" version they shun you or even throw you out. The trick to entering a session is to not open your case until you suss out what is going on and then try to be as friendly as possible. If they fail to respond to that tactic, leave because it will not be fun.

Irish music, at least what is played in sessions, is usually dance music and they play in a unison style for the most part. Certain instruments can play counterpoint, I do it with a banjo a fair amount, but the bouzouki is more suited for it, and there is usually only one of the dreaded "killer B's" (banjo, bouzouki, bodhran, box - both guitar and accordion , bones, and bombard) tolerated at a time although if you have a wall of banjos (more than three) you can stun anyone who tries to stop you.

For the most part, sessions are very friendly as they want to spread the word far and wide. I have had a great time in Ireland attending sessions and had no problems like the ones I mentioned above. This is due to the more accepting attitude of the Irish in general and possibly related to the fact that I carry a mandolin over there and can't be heard anyway <G> In addition they want to hear at least one American tune (meaning anything, especially old time and country) from you. The five string will not be an impediment, your lack of tunes may be, however, in which case you sit and listen until something familiar comes along. In the mean time drink and talk, that's often where the fun is anyway.

Mike Keyes
http://www.banjosessions.com


Edited by - mikeyes on 12/21/2006 15:21:01

Tom Hanway - Posted - 12/21/2006:  15:19:03


quote:
Originally posted by mikeyes

Tom,

I agree with you, the two types of banjos have very little in common although I have to disagree with you about the problems tenor banjo players have with the legato movements. Although we are probably thinking the same thing in the end as the only players who I see playing slow tunes or even hornpipes of the kind you are mentioning on the tenro banjo are the John Cartys of the world, the true experts.

I recently saw JC play some amazing stuff including using the entire tonal set of possibilities (by moving his pick up and down the scale to achieve mellower or sharper tones, the use of harmonics, and moving his left hand to third and fourth position), and by his wonderful use of variation. Gerry O'Connor does the same types of things (only faster) as do a few other elite level players. One of the reasons you don't see that done on the tenor as much as you do on the five string is that it is not easy to do (other reasons include the fact that there are fewer tenor players overall compared to five string players and in the Irish world, you have to be an accomplished five string player to shine whereas a tenor player can be good but does not have to be superman.)

Another reason why you don't hear the other forms of music from the tenor players is that they simply don't attempt them all that much. Going back to John Carty, the first set of tunes he taught us at the O'Flaherty Irish Retreat was barndances. He then moved on to several other forms that were not as "normal" (I could never play them in my weekly session as no one would have ever heard of these tunes and would not play them, anyway) so I know they can be played on the tenor banjo but you have to think outside of the box, just like a five string player in a session would have to.

I love to play O'Carolan tunes on the five string but have also learned to play them on the mandolin and the tenor (although it is a challenge), it is all a matter of exploring the possibilities.

Historically, the five string has been around Irish music a lot longer than the tenor, but the five string was swept up in the folk side of Irish music and the tenor was firmly implanted by Barry McKenna back in the days when the Bothy Band didn't have a tenor <G> I'm glad the five string banjo is coming into the circle as much as it has, it is traveling the same pathway as the tenor (from America) which may account for its later entry into popularity on the trad side. (Mick Moloney states that the five string was introduced in the 19th century by the Virginia Minstrels, well before the invention of the four string banjo and was known to Irish musicians even if it was not widely played by them.)

So there is not historical reason to object to the use of the five string banjo in the music. Now if only the nose flute had such a good pedigree <G>

Mike Keyes
http://www.banjosessions.com



I agree, the history is still being made and it's well-known that the 5-string was playing Irish and Celtic music before the tenor was invented.... Sweeney's Minstrels, the Virginia Minstrels et al. are early proof.

I know what you mean about these Carty and O'Connor - they are the geniuses. There are others too, but you can almost count them on one hand. I've played with Gerry -- we did a tenor/5-string workshop together in Longford for the festival here (second year) -- and
Gerry, John and I were on the same radio programme for RTE, so I know what John Carty is capable of - he's magic. There's a young crop of tenor players coming up who are just incredible....

Everybody has a piece of it, and no one has it all -- except for maybe these two gentlemen.

Maybe the word "legato" is the wrong word: I meant the rolling sound of two separate strings bleeding into one another, with ringing notes, which is not easily accomplished on a tenor banjo unless you fingerpick or crosspick it. The tenor tends to have a punchier staccato sound.

I agree with you about the history, and Moloney is correct. I predict that tenor players and five-string players will develop very different repertoires, though I am all for learning as many tenor standards as I can.

Good stuff Mike. Happy Christmas from the old sod!


Cheers,
Tom

http://www.tomhanway.com/

Tom Hanway - Posted - 12/28/2006:  06:04:25


quote:
Originally posted by mikeyes

There are sessions and there are sessions.

Mostly a session is a social affair and the rules vary depending a lot on who runs it and who is there. You happened to run into a session that is not friendly to strangers, no matter how "open" it is supposed to be. Mike Keyes
http://www.banjosessions.com



quote:
Originally posted by John D

Thanks for posting that nicely played slip jig, Feo. Really interesting to hear your "rolling style." And thanks to Tom Hanway for his encouragement and great advice about playing this kind of music on the 5-String.
I especially like Tom's comment:

The five-string is dismissed quite often by people who pass on other people's "received wisdom" (akin to "rumour") or "consensus" (which could be an objectionable, uninformed mass-opinion masquerading as "authority").

I need to remember that the next time someone says: "Why don't you just play the tenor banjo or fiddle if you want to play Irish music."

John D


Hey, brothers and sisters in this wacky and wonderful gladiator pit known as the Banjo Hangout,

First, I hope everybody had a happy Christmas and is in good health and spirits. I just drove five hours from the "sunny southeast" to the boggy, foggy midlands of Ireland, and I'm toast. But I had to check-in here.... Then a nice Jameson to sip (slowly).

Mike is spot-on about sessions: It's all situational and sh.t happens sometimes.... Pick yer sessions wisely, just as you would pick yer watering holes. I hope to get out to Wisconsin some day and jam with Mike and crew. Good stuff.

I've got to share with folks what happened to me over the past few days, in a magical corner of Ireland called Carrig-on-Bannow, Co. Wexford, a coastal town where the Normans invaded many moons ago....

John Murphy, an All-Ireland Champion and recording artist, whom I was interviewing and taping this morning (in his pub), said about the 5-string: "It's still the same twelve notes." He's heard all the small-minded talk before and two generations of his family have been slagged for playing "mouth organ" -- not fiddle or button accordion, etc.

Nowadays, the best-loved and most influential trad musicians in Ireland, e.g., Altan, are recording his family's tunes, and giving them credit. These are tunes that were composed on the harmonica.

So, here I am playing 5-string banjo, and John and his brother Pip (another harmonica wizard) think it's gas. Today John played Wexford tunes, in A, and they were all local favourites (with local titles).

These guys would not presume to call themselves experts, yet they are All-Ireland Champiions and are revered among traditional players. They live to play. And they'll play with anybody who wants to play -- no artifice, no hierarchy, no b.llsh.t.

Too many unfortunate people get possessive about the music -- think they own it or can define people in or out of it (or their in-group). Many are culturally opinionated (read: biased), perhaps ruled by provincial or ethnic-based stereotypes -- usually ones that they've picked up unconsciously, which they somehow embrace as immutable truth.

Truth is (in my opinion): Nobody can presume to know the whole deal about any form of traditional Celtic music, whether it be Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Cape Breton, Breton, Shetland, Prince Edward Island, Galician, etc. Everybody who plays in a Celtic style, or speaks a Celtic language, has a piece of it, and no one has it all. The music belongs to everybody.

Over the past two days, I was taping John and Pip, and local teenagers (great girls) who were playing button accordion, piano accordion, tenor banjo, and fiddle, picking up regional tunes and Murphy family compositions. I even taught the girls a jig that I picked up in New York years ago, one I knew they would love the moment they heard it ("Calliope House").

The Murphys have a renowned family tradition of Irish traditional music. Their father Phil, for whom they have started Phil Murphy Weekend (four-day festival) in Carrig-on-Bannow, Co. Wexford, made it cool to play and compose tunes on mouth organ for Irish trad. The tradition is still being invented and reinvented. It's a living tradition, a family tradition -- not unusual for Ireland.

These folks, like many who love good musicianship, love seeing the 5-string banjo in the mix, accept it on its own terms and would not make it play second fiddle to the tenor banjo tradition. Having experimented themselves (since they were lads) with various mouth organs and harmonicas, they understand a universal truth: it's still the same twelve notes.

How simple is that theory? (how many teeth)



Cheers,
Tom

http://www.tomhanway.com/

Tom Hanway - Posted - 12/28/2006:  06:24:16


quote:
Originally posted by mikeyes

There are sessions and there are sessions.

Mostly a session is a social affair and the rules vary depending a lot on who runs it and who is there. You happened to run into a session that is not friendly to strangers, no matter how "open" it is supposed to be. Mike Keyes
http://www.banjosessions.com



quote:
Originally posted by John D

Thanks for posting that nicely played slip jig, Feo. Really interesting to hear your "rolling style." And thanks to Tom Hanway for his encouragement and great advice about playing this kind of music on the 5-String.
I especially like Tom's comment:

The five-string is dismissed quite often by people who pass on other people's "received wisdom" (akin to "rumour") or "consensus" (which could be an objectionable, uninformed mass-opinion masquerading as "authority").

I need to remember that the next time someone says: "Why don't you just play the tenor banjo or fiddle if you want to play Irish music."

John D


Hey, brothers and sisters in this wacky and wonderful gladiator pit known as the Banjo Hangout,

First, I hope everybody had a happy Christmas and is in good health and spirits. I just drove five hours from the "sunny southeast" to the boggy, foggy midlands of Ireland, and I'm toast. But I had to check in here.... Then a nice Jameson to sip (slowly).

Mike is spot-on about sessions: It's all situational and sh.t happens sometimes.... Pick yer sessions wisely, just as you would pick yer friends and watering holes. I hope to get out to Wisconsin some day to jam with Mike and crew. Sounds like great stuff.

I've got to share with folks what happened to me over the past few days, in a magical corner of Ireland called Carrig-on-Bannow, Co. Wexford, a coastal town on the Irish Sea where the Normans invaded many moons ago....

John Murphy, an All-Ireland Champion and recording artist, whom I was interviewing and taping this morning in his pub, Colfer's, said about the 5-string: "It's still the same twelve notes." He's heard all the ludicrous, petty talk before. Two generations of his family have been slagged on occasion (by know-all types) for playing "mouth organ" -- not fiddle, flute or button accordion, etc. It's like water off a duck's back for John and Pip. Phil no longer walks this earth but his memory is alive and so is his music. The music is spreading far and wide.

Nowadays, the best-loved and most influential trad musicians in Ireland, e.g., Altan, are recording his family's tunes, and giving them credit. These are tunes that were composed on the harmonica, by John's father Phil, John himself and his brother Pip.. Btw, John and I will appear this April in an Irish TV documentary on the Harmonica in Ireland -- me with the Badbelly Project (blues); John will represent the mouth organ tradition in Irish traditional music.

So, here I am playing all kinds of tunes on a 5-string banjo, and John and his brother Pip think it's gas. Today John played Wexford tunes, in A, and they were all local favourites (with local titles).

These guys would not presume to call themselves experts, yet they are All-Ireland Champiions and are revered among traditional players. They live to play. And they'll play with anybody who wants to play -- no artifice, no hierarchy, no b.llsh.t.

Too many unfortunate people get possessive about the music -- think they own it or can define people in or out of it (or their in-group). Many are culturally opinionated (read: biased), perhaps ruled by provincial or ethnic-based stereotypes -- usually ones that they've picked up unconsciously, which they somehow embrace as immutable truth.

Truth is (in my opinion): Nobody can presume to know the whole deal about any form of traditional Celtic music, whether it be Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Cape Breton, Breton, Shetland, Prince Edward Island, Galician, etc. Everybody who plays in a Celtic style, or speaks a Celtic language, has a piece of it, and no one has it all. The music belongs to everybody.

Over the past two days, I was taping John and Pip, and local teenagers (great girls) who were playing button accordion, piano accordion, tenor banjo, and fiddle, picking up regional tunes and Murphy family compositions. I even taught the girls a jig that I picked up in New York years ago, one I knew they would love the moment they heard it ("Calliope House").

The Murphys have a renowned family tradition of Irish traditional music. Their father Phil, a harmonica wizard, for whom they have started Phil Murphy Weekend (four-day festival) in Carrig-on-Bannow, Co. Wexford, made it cool to play and compose tunes on mouth organ for Irish trad. The tradition is still being invented and reinvented. It's a living tradition, a family tradition -- not unusual for Ireland.

These folks, like many who love good music and good musicianship, enjoy seeing and hearing the 5-string banjo in the mix, accept it on its own terms and would not make it play second fiddle to the tenor banjo tradition. Having experimented themselves (since they were lads) with various mouth organs and harmonicas, the Murphy's of Carrig-on-Bannow understand a universal truth: It's still the same twelve notes.

How simple is that theory? (how many teeth)

Check out Phil Murphy -- a three-time All-Ireland Champion -- and the festival here: http://www.philmurphyweekend.com/philmurphy.html

Cheers,
Tom

http://www.tomhanway.com/


Edited by - Tom Hanway on 12/28/2006 06:30:26

g-banjo - Posted - 12/28/2006:  06:46:56


I started playing the 5-string in sessions here in Edinburgh in the mid-seventies and got nothing but patience and encouragement from other musicians. Some of the other guys in the pub were another matter - there was one Irishman who used to give me a very hard time indeed, the instrument was "not traditional", "not proper". But seeing that he couldn't play a note himself I managed to ignore him, most of the time.
However, never having seen the instrument played at all myself, I didn't use it at all for playing melody - instead I developed a very personal accompanying style which enables me to jam along with just about any musician I come across, but nae tunes. Some day I'm going to have to bite the bullet and learn some.
I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Leon Hunt yet - he has a delightfully sensitive melodic style of playing Celtic tunes.

"it’s better to play the wrong note at the right time than the right note at the wrong time!"

Tom Hanway - Posted - 12/28/2006:  08:52:12


Hi G-banjo,

The Irishman who sat on his barstool and gave out to you is typical of so many barflies who think they know it all, but show their provincialism and woodenheadedness (read: "thick" -- or even worse -- "tick") by prattling on, raising buzzwords like little flags to wave around, words such as "traditional", "proper" and "authentic". These types usually cannot play a single note or sing a single song in its entirety, unless it's a nursery rhyme. Some folks never grow up and delude themselves.

Good for you for managing to put up with ignorant remarks. Barflies who try to belittle people for experimenting and creating music are like so much pond scum. They never really get below the surface and foul the waters....

Funny you should mention Leon ... I was thinking about him and his wonderful style just the other day. Leon is in the same class as Béla, and has his own music and a wonderful approach to Celtic tunes -- a wonderful approach to everything. He does a truly inspiring rendition of "The Silver Spire" and is one of my personal heroes on the banjo. He is the ultimate clean and sensitive player, capable of playing any type of music that he chooses, in the moment. Leon is one of the kings of the banjo, by any standard.

I'll be visiting Edinburgh at some stage, and maybe they'll be some sessions on. Is the Oak still going? What about the place where Russell and Betty Cooper used to play?


Cheers,
Tom

http://www.tomhanway.com/

g-banjo - Posted - 12/28/2006:  21:01:00


Sorry Tom, I'm a bit out of touch with the session scene here now I have two wee boys (4 and 2). But my bandmates still have their fingers on the city pulse so drop me an email when you're coming.
My approach to using the 5-string in Scottish and Irish sessions comes to its peak (in my mind) when you have the tenor and the 5-string playing together. For an example of this in contemporary celtic may I humbly suggest listening to "McConnell's Rant" at
http://myspace.com/shooglenifty

"it’s better to play the wrong note at the right time than the right note at the wrong time!"


Edited by - g-banjo on 12/28/2006 22:53:25

salmoncove - Posted - 12/29/2006:  01:05:36


I'm with Mike on this one....
I'm new to an Irish tenor Banjo and reading through this thread it's all about trying to justify playing a 5 string in an ITM setting. Which I don't believe its the optimal but if you can do it then that's great! Sure anything is do'able. If your confident with a 5 string then by all means have at it. If not, then a 17-19 fret tenor may be more suitable, especially for a beginner. Why go through the aggravation of something you don't need to know.


Ken





Edited by - salmoncove on 12/29/2006 23:11:57

g-banjo - Posted - 12/29/2006:  04:16:35


I'm afraid you've missed the point here, Ken. We need no justification for what we do.
The two instruments do very different jobs. Together they can sound great. I've had wonderful sessions with the likes of Gerry O'Connor, Davy Arthur, even Barney McKena back awhile - there was no suggestion from them that it would've been better with two tenors.
Your Tiger Woods analogy.........well I'm afraid I've written and rewritten this sentence and just can't find a way of not being rude.
I hope some day you'll experience something to open your eyes a little.

Oh, and check out Leon Hunt here:
http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?f...ID=696126770

"it’s better to play the wrong note at the right time than the right note at the wrong time!"


Edited by - g-banjo on 12/29/2006 07:19:35

Feo - Posted - 12/29/2006:  16:03:53


A large part of my idea for using the 5-string banjo in Irish music is to try and form a meshing with the Irish fiddle ...because the combination of fiddle and banjo in Old timey music is a rather magical mixture IMHO .... the 5-string can fill in around the fiddle and add things that the fiddler leaves out ...the tenor banjo can do some accompanyment too but alittle differently ,doesn't get the same effects...the tenor banjo perhaps being another soloist-lead instrument ... a great instrument for Irish music but I think the 5-string can be used in it's own special way and make sounds that other intruments cannot quite copy ...

Now,talking about harmonicas.... that's another instrument I sometimes use for Irish music .... it is underused in I-trad for sure.. II'd like to applaud and wish to say hello to the Murphy family for breaking ground on the Irish harmonica front ... Personally I do not really care for the accordian sound in Irish/Scottish music ...the introduction of these loud boxes downgraded the music IMHO ,especially when the instrument uprooted and replaced the Scottish cello ... I quite like the sound of the concertinas though...and harmonicas are really cool in Irish music ....I have experimented with the use of diatonic harmonicas for Irish music...mainly because of the fact that you can bend some notes .... I also dabble in the uilleann bagpipes and what is nice about that instrument is that you can bend the notes ....that's a trait that the harmonica and uilleann bagpipes share....what the bending of the reeds in these instruments allow you to do is create "expresion " and emotion .... something that the accordians are not quite capable of ... so yes ...good on your Irish harmonca playing friends...please let them know they have support and understanding with fellow musicians across the pond :-)

Tom Hanway - Posted - 12/30/2006:  10:25:46


quote:
Originally posted by g-banjo

I'm afraid you've missed the point here, Ken. We need no justification for what we do.
The two instruments do very different jobs. Together they can sound great. I've had wonderful sessions with the likes of Gerry O'Connor, Davy Arthur, even Barney McKena back awhile - there was no suggestion from them that it would've been better with two tenors.
Your Tiger Woods analogy.........well I'm afraid I've written and rewritten this sentence and just can't find a way of not being rude.
I hope some day you'll experience something to open your eyes a little.

Oh, and check out Leon Hunt here:
http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?f...ID=696126770

"it’s better to play the wrong note at the right time than the right note at the wrong time!"



Thanks for the link to Leon.

What folks forget is that many people play instruments of their own choosing -- that is, if they are not forced into playing instruments of other people's choosing.

Beginners can begin on any instrument that they like, and don't need permission or disuassion, though many probably get too much of the latter from people who don't share their personal muse. Many banjo players (tenor and five-string alike) are ridiculed for playing ... the banjo ... when they first start out, and for the rest of their lives. It never ends, but we don't have to do it to each other.

Gerry O'Connor wanted to played tenor banjo and take it to new heights -- same with Béla Fleck. Gerry, who is one of the most respected Irish tenor banjo players on the planet cites Béla as an influence and there is mutual respect and musical partnership going on there.

Both of these gentlemen listen to other instruments besides the banjo, and thats's the really important point here. They're musicians using the same twelve notes and expanding their musical horizons. Gerry works very hard to sound like Béla (at times). I know because I have worked with him and given a workshop with him. He is big into Béla, and Gerry is not afraid to re-tune his banjo and take it into unexplored territory, just like Béla. The two banjo traditions can even overlap, to a degree, in terms of material and "sounds", but one cannot be substituted for another, and one need not be subservient to the other, except for people who are blinded by stereotypes and popular misconceptions.

So, it's not about a choice between the tenor and the five-string any more than it's a choice between the fiddle and the uilleann pipes, or the button accordion and the piano accordion, or the harmonica and the flute.

It's a facile attitude to dismiss an instrument because one chooses not to play it. It takes effort, dedication and lots of practice to master an instrument -- any instrument.

Interestingly, the five-string came into Irish traditional music long before the tenor banjo was used (or even invented). It was probably first brought over to Ireland by Joel Sweeney (before the American Civil War), when the Virginia Minstrels toured in England, Ireland and France in 1843, 1844 and 1845. The leader of the Virginia Minstrels was Joel Walker Sweeney who was born in Buckingham County, Virginia, in 1810. Sweeney had roots in Co. Mayo.

There is a famous drawing from Francis O'Neill's "Irish Minstrels and Musicians" - Chicago 1913) showing John Dunne on five-string banjo.

History and photo here: http://www.standingstones.com/banjo.html -- courtesy of Mick Moloney, whose students at NYU used to come to me for interviews about the five-string for their projects and term papers. Mick told me a long time ago that it was just a matter of time before the five-string came (back) into the Irish tradition, adding: "You'll need to develop your own repertoire for it."

The five-string has been championed by many tremendous Irish singers, especially in the ballad tradition, including: Luke Kelly (Dubliners), Margaret Barry (the first-lady of Irish ballad singing), Tommy Makem (partner of the Clancy Brothers), Pecker Dunne (who uses a thimble - God bless him), and most recently, Colin Beggan (who is a fine singer and eclectic picker who has a rip-roaring Friday-night session at Cryan's Pub, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim). Colin is pure gentleman, originally from Dublin, and a champion of the five-string banjo.

Today some recording artists and authors in the field include Chris Grotewohl, Iain MacLachlan, Leon Hunt and yours truly. I have several more projects in the works, seeking to expand the repertoire and make it easier for people to get into the music, without bias or fear.

It's always one tune at a time, friends. If there's a will, there's a way. And there are many avenues.

Alas, on these pages, over and over in so many voices, I often hear words to the effect: If there's a will, there's a won't.

There will always be people who say it has never been done (wrong), cannot be done (wrong again), should not be done (says who?), doesn't sound as good (no accounting for taste), or why bother with it at all (why bother doing anything at all?). We can do better than that.

Then there are the "young" folks who are beginning to take up instruments (or new instruments) because they like the way they sound. They have not become jaded or stifled by the ubiquitous know-alls and lazy types who preach the dead doctrines of would-a, could-a and should-a.

So many tunes, so little time....


Cheers,
Tom

http://www.tomhanway.com/


Edited by - Tom Hanway on 12/30/2006 10:39:39

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