I play a variety of musical instruments - guitar, piano, banjo, bodhran - with varying levels of dexterity, but the one I am most proficient on, and most enamored of, is the mandolin. This little diversion is most highly recommended to any of you with any sort of musical bent at all. (I can imagine the mandolin players all nodding their heads in agreement.)
On the mandolin I play mostly traditional music and ethnic music: old American fiddle and dance tunes, Irish reels and jigs (hornpipes, strathspeys, waltzes, slides and polkas) and other Celtic music, Eastern and Northern European, Latin, and Klezmer music, gypsy, bluegrass and swing. I've uploaded some sound files (see disclaimer below) and pictures, along with some tunes I've transcribed.
Disclaimer: The recording quality is pretty lousy - I recorded these on a Mac using SoundHandle and a Mac mike someone gave me for free. These files sound good on my Mac, but sound terrible on my Unix machine. Maybe they lost something when I changed them to aiff files. I hope they sound alright on your machine.
Disclaimer #2: I recorded these files in 1998, when I'd been playing for three years. One of these days I will update them, and put up some of the many more cool tunes I've learned in the meantime, and some original compositions. It will be interesting to see if there is any noticeable improvement in the six years since!
As I noted on the main page, I play in several different bands, each of which performs a few times a year, and we sometimes get paid. Mostly we play for the love of the music. here are some photos of performances from the mid 1990's. One day very soon I'll scan some more recent pictures and put them up.
The 1997 Pumpkin Festival in Dewey, Arizona. There were probably 15,000 people there that day, but only about ten of them were actually listening to us. That's Ken Ralston playing guitar and singing, Paul Snider on banjo, and Stan Young playing the (aluminum) cello.
The recent FFOTM fundraiser at the Coconino Center for the Arts, February 15, 2002. That's Joan Wyatt playing guitar and singing, Bob Schacht on bass and harmony vocals.(Photo courtesy of Marlene Stein.)
The same event from February, 2001. I was part of "Julie Sullivan and Friends," Bill Vernieu on guitar, Keith Gomorra on bass, and Julie on guitar and lead vocals. I also played some duets with Bill in the same show. (Photo courtesy of Marlene Stein.)
The old-time country band contest at the Wickenburg Bluegrass Festival in November 1999. This band is called "Salt Lick," Bill Vernieu again, and Joanna Joseph. We took third I think. We're still together, performing a few times a year as "Faint Praise." (Photo courtesy of Ken Clemmer.)
As you can probably tell, I'll play with just about anyone who'll have me. I met most of these guys, and lots of other great players and dancers, through the Flagstaff Friends of Traditional Music . I have sometimes played with the community band, "Just Desserts," that provides live music on alternate months for the monthly FFOTM Contra Dance. My band, "Stompin' Mountain Shoats," used to play for the dances once or twice a year - now it seems we're defunct, or at least dormant. A few years ago I found myself gracing the cover of our local weekly entertainment rag, Flagstaff Live, playing with my friends at a little contra dance ("Dancin' in the Arizona Dust") at our 1997 Spring Campout. Here's the cover - I'm smack dab in the middle, playing the A-style mandolin.
I am fortunate to own two charming mandolins. "The Ancient One" is a 1905 Gibson A model mandolin (serial number 5221), that apparently suffered an abused childhood. It's had some additional inlay-work done on the peghead, making it one-of-a-kind, but with no vintage value. That's fine with me. I had some additional top-bracing done when she started to collapse two years ago. If you have a used shaped hard-shell case that would fit, let me know - I'm looking for one. Here's a picture (isn't modern technology marvelous?), and here's what it sounds like:
Bill Cheatum on the old Gibson.
My other mandolin is a Summit A100S Custom, with a radiused fretboard and "fat frets", built by Paul Schneider, completed in March 1997. Here's a picture, and here's
Bill Cheatum on the Summit.
I replaced the buzzy Gibson-style tailpiece with a cast brass tailpiece made by Gary Price . So what I did was, I recorded a tune before I made the change, and the same tune after, just so you comandos could hear the difference. For the record, these recordings were made about five months apart. I was using Euphonon Phosphor Bronze strings in medium gauge, and they were quite dead (about two months worth of steady playing) for both recordings. I used a Fender heavy pick. So here they are:
Liberty, as played on a Summit A100 with Gibson-style tailpiece.
As opposed to Liberty, as played on a Summit A100 with a Price tailpiece.
Just for grins, I recorded the same tune with a Golden Gate "Grisman pick".
Liberty, as played with a Grisman-style pick. Everything else is the same as the previous recording. (On this one, I apparently decided about four bars in that I was playing it too slow, so I speeded up. In spite of appearances I do got rhythm.)
I enjoy the transcribing tunes, as a form of ear-training, and as an ear-to-brain-to-hand exercise. I don't use any sound-management devices to slow the tunes down - they interfere with the gestalt. I just listen in real time and try to play what I hear. Mostly these tunes come from Celtic bands for some reason (Patrick Street, Altan, Kevin Burke's Open House), and also usually the source tune is played on something other than mandolin - mostly fiddle and accordion. Here are some of the tunes, transcribed using the "abc" musical notation. This is somewhat unpleasant to read "in the raw" - you'll want to download a free translation program that will translate it to standard notation. Check the abc home page for more information. For some of these tunes I've recorded myself picking them so you'd get a rough idea what they're supposed to sound like. (Not to say that I played them the way they're supposed to be played.) I also may not have played them exactly as written (but then, neither should you).
The White Cockade, the second tune I learned to play on mandolin. (Guess which was first.)
Drumnagarrie, a strathspey from the Altan recording, "Island Angel."
The Newmarket Polkas, three Irish polkas, Walshe's, Dan Mac's, and Terry Teahan's, from the accordion playing of Jackie Daly on the Patrick Street recording "Irish Times." I got the idea to play these on mandolin when I heard Kevin Burke play them on fiddle with his great band Open House. These are great fun on the mandolin, though the middle one is sort of tough. Here's what they sound like:
Dan Mac's Polka, followed by Terry Teahan's Polka (Sounds like I only played one A part of Terry Teahan's to make to recording under 1 minute - of course there should be two. I think I'll fix this too, and separate this into two files.)
Here's Dan Mac's Polka all by itself.
Still to come: Paul Kotapish's tunes "Okarina" and "The Blue Tattoo", the traditional Brazilian waltz "La Partida," a jig from Altan called "Andy de Jarlis," Tish Hinojosa's song "Las Marias" (I can't sing it, so I pick it), a French tune from Open House called "Tour de Taille", Mike Marshall's mandolin break from "True Life Blues," Joe Craven's "Hot Turkey" (a gypsy swing version of Turkey in the Straw), a tune by The House Band called "The Flat Cap," my friend Bill Vernieu's simple little fiddle tune "Potash," and lots more! More sound files too, and real soon (ya sure yabetcha). If you see something on the list you're anxious to see, you can e-mail me and I'll get right on it!
NAU Home Page Department of Mathematics Michael Falk's Home Page