Monday, 18 March 2013

Builders In!

Sincere apologies for not posting for so long. I can sum up the reason in two words...Builders In
So to keep you amused, and to settle the fact that I did indeed once have hair here's a link to two YouTube clips that prove beyond all reasonable doubt that I did have some at least.
The first one is from the intro of a  "Come West Along the Road" programme, and about 25 secs in you'll see myself and Seamus Creagh playing.
I only found the second one by accident, and I'm delighted to have come across it, as it illustrates the folly of playing certain tunes with a combination of flutes and box. The first tune has a very prominent C#, beginning in the first bar, and as you can hear this clashes badly with the C# of the box.
This issue concerning the C and C# on the simple system cone bore flute has bugged makers and players for hundreds of years.
Basically what is going on is the the top hole on the flute, that closest to the embouchure, is the one that controls the pitch of the C#, the note achieved by opening all the holes. On a keyless flute or on any flute made before the introduction of the long C key at the end of the 18th C, the C is played as a cross fingered note normally by leaving the top hole open and closing the second and third. The problem is that this is a compromise. The C# is too flat, and the C is too sharp when played with this fingering, an unfortunate consequence which means that correcting one makes the other worse.
The introduction of the long C key ( see Bate for a good account of this) meant that the C note at least had its own hole, but for traditional Irish players, trying to use it in fast paced dance music can be next to impossible, and I'd think the majority of players still use the old cross fingering.
It should also be noted that, and as Michael Caine would say, not many people know this, that the long C when opened also corrects the flat C#.
Looking hard at the video, I can't make out what flute I was playing. I remember that we were playing in Eb, and from the look of it, it looks like a patched together job for the occasion....note large lumps of plasticene replacing some missing keys. The last tunes aren't bad though...
That was all a very long time ago. Vince is still playing amazing fiddle in his own inimitable way.
Eibhlín died two years ago. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam


  1. Hi, Hammy,

    Note that in "Boil The Breakfast Early" you have five C-naturals in fairly quick succession before you break into the second octave, and all of them are more easily and quickly played (IMO) using the long C key. If I had to limit myself to four keys, I'd choose long C, long F, G# and D#. On slow tunes, the clarity and intonation are markedly improved over the cross-fingering.


  2. I think it largely depends on the tune. In standard western musical parlance a tune is either in D or G, and has a C# and F# or just an F#. In many Irish tunes, you'll find what's called inflection, where a note occurs in both it's flattened and sharpened forms, in the same tune. This is not random, and you'll find that the note is sharp or flat depending on whether the passage in which it occurs is ascending or descending.
    [you'll find a very good account of this, among other things in Tomás Ó Canainn's book "Traditional Music in Ireland" (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1978)
    The seventh of the scale is the commonest note to be inflected, so in D this would be C, and in G, F. On a flute (played as a basically keyless instrument, or pipes chanter it's easy enough to do in D but not in G. I sometimes wonder if this says anything about the instrument that certain tunes were composed for?