Whenever I need to whip up a musical example to use in one of my accordion student’s lessons, or a string arrangement for my wife’s quartet, or the free accordion music I post here now and then, I sit down at the computer and knock it out using notation software. I started out with Finale, then switched to Sibelius, and eventually became a huge fan of MuseScore, which has been my current go-to for the past several years.
But long ago, when I first learned to write notation back at Berklee, none of the above programs existed yet, so we did it by hand, with a pencil or pen, a straight-edge, and a pad of pre-lined notation paper.
I thought that was pretty old-school until I watched the video below. I always knew that notating music was sometimes called “engraving” (The notation options screen in Sibelius is called “engraving rules”, for example), but I never gave much thought as to how it got that name. Behold:
And while Burns himself was reportedly not too fond of that first version, I think it’s by far the superior of the two. Some traditional folk singers, such as Mairi Campbell and Jim Malcolm, have recorded wonderful versions of the original melody. Give them a listen and see what you think…
And if you want to play it yourself, here’s the sheet music for an accordion arrangement of it I put together (inspired largely by the Jim Malcolm version):
(I’m using a lot of left-hand minor-seventh chords in it. If you’re not used to playing them, it may take a bit of practice. The basic idea is that you play the root of the chord on the counterbass row, then add a major chord button from one row higher–that is, closer to your chin. So a Bm7 chord would be the counterbass of G, which is a B bass note, played along with the D major chord button.)
This week, after 32 long years, there’s finally a new Star Wars movie coming out! (“Prequels? What prequels?” is my official stance.)
And yes, I Fandangoed my tickets two months ago and will be going Thursday night! I might even dress up as one of my favorite characters. Anyone know where I can get a Max Rebo costume on short notice?
Anyway, I also thought this might be a good opportunity to post a couple of videos for the occasion. We’ll start with the first “teaser” trailer for the original movie (what’s now called Episode IV: A New Hope, but was just plain-old “Star Wars” to us back then). Even casual fans will notice a few differences from the finished film:
The trailer was released in December, 1976–five months before the movie came out. So the logo is all wrong, and the special effects aren’t quite finished. Check out the plain white energy blades on the lightsabers and those blasters that don’t shoot bolts of light yet!
But most glaringly, it’s missing John Williams’ iconic, Oscar-winning score, which wouldn’t even be recorded until several months later, in March of 1977. Instead, we hear a “temp track” of generic classical music (apparently based on Vivaldi’s Winter).
If you knew nothing about Star Wars except that trailer, would you want to go see it? Without that classic, triumphant dun-dah-duntada-duuuun-daaaah, would you expect this weird little space movie to become the enormous worldwide success that it did? I don’t think I would.
And if you need more proof of the huge impact John Williams has on the world of Star Wars, check out this hilariously awkward look at what the final Throne Room scene would be like if the music stopped waaaay too early:
Yup. Music sure can make a difference.
EDITED TO ADD: But hey, don’t take my word for it! I just found this great audio clip from a recent ClassicFM interview , where Harrison Ford himself talks about that wonderful music…
This Thursday, 12/10, I’ll be bringing my accordion and sitting in with the Nashville Jazz Workshop Trio, backing up the students of Christina Watson’s “French Chansons” class. This is sort of the “final exam” part of the class, where the students get to perform what they’ve learned in front of a real, live audience.
If last week’s rehearsal is any indication, it’s going to be a very cool show. The set list is full of classic French jazz standards such as La Vie en Rose, La Mer (“Under the Sea”), and Sous la Ciel de Paris (“Under Paris Skies”). And they’ll all be sung in French!
Details are at NJW’s website. It’s open to the public, completely free, and BYOB. So grab a bottle of Bordeaux or Burgundy and come on down. J’espère te voir là-bas!
If you haven’t heard of something called a “house concert”, well, it’s pretty much just what it sounds like: A small-scale musical performance in someone’s home or apartment, with maybe a few dozen or so audience members sitting on sofas and chairs or just plopped down on the floor. Usually a hat is passed around at the end to collect money. A pretty cool idea in this age of giant festivals and Enormodome arena shows!
Over the past few years, GroupMuse has brought people together to put on over a thousand classical music house concerts around the world. They havea Kickstarter campaignto help support and expand their mission. It’s in the last few weeks, and I encourage you to consider backing it if you can (I have!)
Anyway, as a tie-in to the Kickstarter, the founder of GroupMuse did an insightful “Ask Me Anything” interview recently. A few highlights…
The truth is, when classical music institutions are only beholden to the patronage class, the experience and atmosphere is invariably a reflection of that class. We want the experience to be an active reflection of the component members–listeners and performers [...] so that it doesn’t just reflect the priorities of benefactors who can’t be alienated, for fear that un-diversified support would dry up.
“Classical music needs saving!” is actually the opposite of what we should rally around, because if you say “classical music needs saving” to someone who doesn’t yet care about or identify with classical music, it’s kind of like saying “blacksmithing needs saving!” The response is often, “I don’t care; why not just let it die?”
The rallying cry needs to be “Our world needs saving, and classical music can do that!”
From a social perspective, classical music works so well just because it’s so scalable. No equipment, no amplifiers. All you need is four chairs and a floor!
Last weekend I was invited to bring my accordion and join The Celts for their marvelous Celtic Roots of Great American Music show at the Missouri Theater in St. Joseph, MO. It was a great opportunity to play all sorts of fun Irish, Scottish, bluegrass, country, and pop music.
And while the party there runs until October 4th, here in the states the various Oktoberfest celebrations might not even get started until then–maybe even later. All of which means plenty of chances for we accordion players to bust out a few good beer-drinking songs.
Note that there are two versions in the PDF file: A basic one on the first page and a fancy one on the second. The basic one should be easily playable by anyone who has gotten through most of Palmer-Hughes Book Two. The fancy version is, well, fancier. You’ll need some experience playing two and three-note chords in the right hand as well as counterbasses in the left hand.
As a follow-up to my previous post, here’s a great 1947 short film of Ramblin’ Tommy Scott and his Merry Mountaineers, featuring bluegrass/old-time accordion pioneer Sally Ann Forrester:
Forrester got her professional start in 1939, singing and playing guitar on a radio “barn dance” program in Oklahoma. She married one of her bandmates, fiddler Howdy Forrester, and the two of them went anywhere available gigs would take them. After stints at radio stations all over Texas and Illinois, they wound up in Nashville, finding work with a traveling “tent show” of various Grand Ole Opry stars that eventually included Bill Monroe.
The outrageous financial success of [the show] inspired Bill Monroe to take out his own tent show in the spring of 1943. [...] Monroe knew that Sally Ann was a seasoned performer who could pull her own weight with the show. And having a woman on the show was considered an asset.
At some point–and it’s a mystery exactly when this happened, or why–Sally Ann began playing accordion rather than guitar with the Monroe’s (now inaccurately-named) Bluegrass Boys. If you listen closely, her accordion playing can be heard on the handful of tunes the group recorded for Columbia in 1945, including one of my favorites…
After Monroe’s band, Forrester and her husband (along with their newborn son) found their way back to Oklahoma, then to Texas, and finally back to Tennessee. In 1951, Howdy began playing fiddle for Roy Acuff and would continue to do so for most of the rest of Acuff’s career. But Sally Ann had apparently had enough of the music business by then and took a “day job” with the government. She died in 1999 from Alzheimer’s disease, with few today remembering her role as arguably the first woman in bluegrass.
Henry wraps up her chapter on Forrester with this:
For many years Sally Ann’s playing and her accomplishments were generally disregarded. After all, it was only an accordion. And she was only a woman. But the fact is, she was there at the beginning, showing us that women have always been a part of bluegrass. Others would follow.
One of the most “Nashville” things you can do in Nashville–the Full Moon Pickin’ Party–is celebrating its 15-year anniversary this summer. The event series, held on weekends in the summertime whenever there’s a full moon (or close enough to it), features:
Three top-notch bluegrass acts entertaining on the main stage all evening. Bring a blanket, plop down on the grass, and enjoy!
Up to four beers included in the $25 price of adult admission! Plenty of water and soft drinks for designated drivers and other non-imbibers.
Food trucks galore for when you get hungry.
You can bring an instrument and join in on the many impromptu bluegrass/roots jam circles that wind up forming under trees and near the barn.
Plus you’re raising funds for the Warner Parks system and all the educational programs and projects held there.
But the really great thing about the Pickin’ Parties? If you do show up to jam with a bluegrass instrument, admission is sharply discounted to only $10. (And yes, that sill comes with four beers!)
Note that the discount specifically applies to bluegrass instruments. Obviously they want to keep things bluegrass-focused and are trying to discourage djembes and didgeridoos. Nor do they want people brining in their old plastic recorder from grade school just to get a beer discount. Makes sense.
But it does raise the potentially sticky question: What is a “bluegrass instrument” anyway? Turns out they actually provide a list:
Fiddles & Bass Fiddles
Harmonica Sets (minimum 5 piece)
Wait a minute… did I just see accordion on that list? Bluegrass accordion! Is that even a thing?
Well it is. Mostly due to this woman: Wilene “Sally Ann” Forrester:
She was the first “non-boy” member of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys, and she played accordion with them on tour and on several records in the ’40s.
Bluegrass purists might argue the point, but as far as I’m concerned, if Bill Monroe let an accordion in the band, then it by-golly counts!
I’m thankful that the folks behind the Full Moon Pickin’ Parties dug into their bluegrass history and have made their event accordion-friendly!
Wedding season rolls on! This past weekend I had the pleasure of playing accordion during an Italian-themed reception dinner.
Never mind the fact that my accordions are all German and that I myself am about as Italian as a haggis… When you’re strolling among tables of pasta and red wine while playing classic Italian songs like “That’s Amore“, “Volare“, “O Sole Mio“, and “Funiculì, Funiculà“, you can’t help but get caught up in the spirit of it all!
“Black Beauty” (a full-sized accordion that I usually play sitting down) and “Red Baron” (a smaller and lighter one I use for strolling) await their turn to be played.