2019-05 Tune of the Month "Niel Gow's Lament"

  1. HonketyHank
    The tune of the month for May, 2019, is "Niel Gow's Lament For The Death Of His Second Wife". Gow had a lot of friends and family and he outlived many of them, so there are plenty of Niel Gow's Laments for ___________ (fill in the blank). There is an evil myth floating around the internet that "his second wife" is a reference to his fiddle. Total myth.

    Niel Gow was a Scottish fiddler in the late 18th century. He was quite well known -- even given a salute in poetry by Robert Burns. Gow composed many tunes, of which approximately 90 survive today thanks to the fact that his son, Nathaniel, transcribed and published them. This tune is usually notated in 3/4 time, sometimes in 6/8, but it is a slow air in which the time signature is less important than the tune's melodic line and the performer's interpretation.

    There are four very similar settings at thesession.org (https://thesession.org/tunes/1892), here is one of them:

    X: 1
    T: Niel Gow's Lament For His Second Wife
    R: waltz
    M: 3/4
    L: 1/8
    K: Dmaj
    D/B,/|A,>B,D {DC}D>ED|EFA B2d|A>FD {EF}E>DE|{DE}FDB, B,2D/B,/|
    A,>B,D {DE}D>ED|EFA d2c/B/|A>FD {=C}B,2 A,|B,D>D D2:|
    (3A/B/c/|\d>fd {cd}ecA|{Bc}B/A/B/c/{Bc}d B/A/G/F/E/D/|{EF}E>DE {DE}F>ED|{D}FDB, B,2 (3A/B/c/|
    d>fd {cd}ecA|B/A/B/c/{Bc}d B/A/G/F/E/D/|{EF}E>DE {DE}FDB,|A,<DD [D2A,2] (3A/B/c/|
    {e}d>fd ecA|B/A/B/c/{Bc}d B/A/G/F/E/D/|F/D/A/F/d/A/ B/A/G/F/E/D/|{DE}FEE E2D/B,/|
    A,B,D D>ED|EFA d2c/B/|A>FD {=C}B,2A,|B,<DD [D2A,2]|]

    If you want to download the abc file or see the music notation, go to the thesession link.

    If you download the abc file, you can open it in TablEdit to get tablature.

    There are some beautiful renditions of this tune in the Song A Week social group thread for this tune (https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/g...cussionid=1176).

    To get the true flavor of this tune, one really must hear it as played by an authentic Scottish fiddler. I recommend this rendition by Peter Clark, played on a fiddle once owned by Niel Gow, as a starter:


    This tune is so open to the feeling and interpretation of the performer that we should get some interesting versions.
  2. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    That’s a wonderful rendition by Peter Clark!
  3. Sleet
    Another tune that will sound beautiful on that mandola.
  4. HonketyHank
    Is anyone working on this one? In a way, it is like last month's TOM -- it has really grown on me. My first thoughts were that this tune should not even be attempted on a plucked instrument -- it is so obviously a violin piece (I can't even think of it as a fiddle piece). But obviously others disagree with me and some even have proved they can make their mandolins sing this tune quite effectively. So, in the spirit of "that which does not kill me makes me stronger", I have been working on it.

    First of all, it is a simple tune but it is not simple to play. Every note has to be dead on. Secondly, if you read music and look at the score you go "whaaaaat?". It took me a long time just to convince myself that each measure did indeed contain 3 beats (as promised by the time signature). If you do figure out the rhythm just from the written score, don't try to execute it -- it'll end up sounding like some kind of Scottish slow march. It helps me to think of this as a personal conversation about a departed loved one (which I guess it is).

    Here is a tab file of what I plan to play. https://drive.google.com/open?id=1GA...0DbpMGEaiogzuI Actually, I plan to play it on the mandola using mandolin fingering, so the tabs are correct for what I plan, but the notes come out in the key of G instead of D as written.
  5. bbcee
    I am working on it & almost posted my last night's version, but want to see if I can do it a bit better. After getting confused & depressed about the timing on the B section, I started playing it like I heard it, then, confidence restored, returned to the B's with a better attitude. I'm also approaching it as you are, @Hank. Now that I've got the melody internalized, I can play it freer (sp?). It definitely won't be traditional Scottish rhythm!

    I'm playing it on mandola, but by a happy coincidence (looking for something less ugly than the transposed mandola tab), I capoed at the second fret, and all the overtones came alive. So I'm playing mandolin fingering, but in A.

    I'd say for anyone working on this - avail yourself of all the great versions on the song-a-week thread, and use the versions you're drawn to for ideas & inspiration.
  6. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Spent some time this morning listening to the SAW renditions and thoroughly enjoyed it.
  7. HonketyHank
    Wow, its monochromatic Mark! Nice shot.
  8. bbcee
    Here's my go at it, far from perfect, to get the ball rolling this month. As I noted above, it's played in A on the mandola by capoing at the second fret. I segued it into one of the first tunes I learned on mandolin, Coleman's March. Hope you enjoy!

  9. Sleet
    Nice segue way, bbcee. Neil How's Lament is very popular among traditional musicians in these parts, but Coleman's March is new to me. Another tunes that fits the mandola very well. Very enjoyable.
  10. HonketyHank
    Very nice, bbcee. I like the ornamentation and the drones/doublestops. And that mandola does sing.

    I have a question about the musical notation. I see this most often written in 3/4, as is the version I took from thesession.org . But I also have seen it in 6/8. In fact in the comments at thesession.org on this tune, it looks like the tune was first submitted in 6/8 but various members objected, as in "6/8? this ain't no jig, its a slow air" and the site guru changed it to 3/4.

    But as I read the notes, 6/8 seems to fit the flow of the tune much better than 3/4. In 3/4 you have a lot of syncopation that just disappears if you see it as 6/8. I know, it is how the performer makes it sound that is important, not the little dots on the page. And the tune is certainly not a jig and if it is a waltz, it is an unusual one.

    You folks who know this tune, how do you feel it? Waltz? Scottish march? superslow jig? It's probably got to have some kind of steady rhythm if you play it in sessions or jams, but so far I just feel it as an impromptu kind of air. Or maybe that is just my excuse for not practicing with a metronome.

    Thanks, bbcee, for that fine set.
  11. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    The version I am using is one I downloaded from The Session several months ago. It's written in 6/8, but the fine print on the page says that it is a waltz, in 3/4. I have been puzzled by this—glad you raised the question, Henry.

    Bottom line: it ain't no stinking' dance.

    It's not a waltz, not a jig, not a foxtrot, schottische, or the Watusi. It's a lament, a "crying in your beer" tune. The rhythm makes perfect sense in 6/8, two big beats per bar. I just looked a bunch of versions on line—all are in 6/8 except one in 6/4 (with the note values doubled) except for some on The Session which are marked 3/4. This doesn't make any sense at all, as each measure is clearly two groups of three eighth notes—or their equivalent in sixteenths, dotted notes, etc—where 3/4 time has three beats per measure.
  12. Sleet
    I think Louise states it well. It isn't a dance tune and trying to shovel it into some dance genre doesn't do it any favors. Lament is the key word. 6/8 seems to fit as well as anything, as long as it's weepy.
  13. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    I think the guys at thesession.org had it right: This is intended as a "slow air"

    That would indicate that it's intended to be played very slowly, and in tempo rubato, if I understand it correctly. I have played some of the slow airs in SAW group, but haven't gotten the hang of them. John Kelly is a master of it.
  14. HonketyHank
    Here is my take, played on the Gibson H1, with a Gilchrist pick. I bought the pick more or less as a joke, thinking it to be the only Gilchrist I could afford. It turned out to be a darned nice pick. It is mellower than a Blue Chip yet produces really clean tones. It really tames the jangly Gibson sound. And the picking feel is similar to a Blue Chip or a Primetone Smoothie.

    Video deleted.

    I seem to be having some trouble with my audio setup in this video. I may have to do some digging around in my computer setup.

    I just now listened again and the sound is so bad, I hope to re-record it.

    A new version of the same video with much more better sound is posted below, about 6 posts down.
  15. HonketyHank
    Well, I was going to blame YouTube for the sound quality, or maybe my mic placement. But it is just me not knowing exactly what I am doing with the video software. Here is a link to the raw audio that was used in the video. Somewhere between this file and the finished video, the sound got really messed up.

    Please listen to this, not the video above. Thanks.
  16. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    I just had a few minutes to listen both versions, gentlemen. It's not even the middle of the month and you both have it down. The rest of us will have to come up with a bonus tune for you two to learn.
  17. bbcee
    Nicely done, Hank. Love it on your H1.

    So did you follow the notation you posted above? Not reading music very well, mine is a lot more "fiddle tuney" than yours, since that's really what I know.
  18. MikeZito
    Very nice work bb . . . lots of feeling in your rendition.
  19. Frithjof
    Nice versions by bbcee and Hank.
    I strongly recommend listening to the mp3 of Hank’s recording. It sounds much better than in the video.
  20. HonketyHank
    Here is a remastering of the video. Same video but with audio coming from the mp3. There is a long technical reason behind why the previous version was so bad. I'm not sure I understand it all, but at least I was able to silence the sound from the video and then plunk the mp3 on top of it and line it up so it matched my pickstrokes.


    Profuse apologies. But heck, I'm at least as much of an a/v Newbie as a mando Newbie.
  21. HonketyHank
    bbcee: "So did you follow the notation you posted above? Not reading music very well, mine is a lot more "fiddle tuney" than yours, since that's really what I know."

    I followed the tabs pretty closely, which I think are very close to the ABC's I posted. But as Mark said, "tempo rubato". If I remember correctly from way back in highschool, "rubato", means the tempo varies throughout the piece and is more or less up to the performer -- and that is pretty much what I was doing.

    Thanks for the comments, folks. Despite my irreverent ending shot of the video, I have had fun with this tune (and frustration with the production).
  22. Sleet
    Great job, Henry. Lovely tone from your H1. I listened to the sound file before the new video was up, but I missed the visuals. Now dry your eyes and carry on.
  23. HonketyHank
    Thanks, Sleet.
  24. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Henry, congratulations on a nice rendition! I never saw the bad video, but I heard the audio and now the newly-released video which is even better than the audio alone. I especially like seeing how you are working on your hammer-ons, good job! The hammer-on triplets are sounding great, and you are putting in some as ornaments elsewhere, I hope you keep on practicing those techniques because I think it adds a lot to your arsenal.

    And Bruce, sorry I'm so late commenting. I have listened to your performance several times, and as usual I find it very enjoyable. You do such a nice, smooth job of adding in the harmony with those clean chords at appropriate places.

  25. HonketyHank
    Thanks, Mark. My feeling about the hammers and pulls is that there are three uses for them. One is to play a note that would be difficult to pick. Another is to make a legato transition between notes instead of the more staccato sound of a pick. And third would be as an ornament. In this tune there are many opportunities for ornamentation using a hammer-on to get a grace note or a 'scottish snap'. Easy to overdo it though. But the double hammer-on to get that triplet is pretty much a necessity. I'm still working on getting a decent double pull-off to get a decending triplet; for me that's a lot harder. The mandola gives me a fair amount of space between frets and that makes hammers easier to sound out than on a mandolin.

    Hammers and pulls were absolutely necessary when I used to play oldtimey stuff on the banjo given that I didn't play three finger style or drop thumb very well at all. But that was 50 years ago.
  26. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    Half a month late, but I did spend some time on Niel Gow. Henry, with all due respect, I do tend to think that the tune was written about his beloved fiddle. Again, not a clean recording by any means.

  27. HonketyHank
    Not one, but TWO lefty mandolins! This one has a nice ringing tone. And both have that "round" oval-holey sustain.

    I think you must play this in jams or sessions -- you have a nice steady beat going that would be good for others to follow along with chords or play harmony or even double up on melody. And I think that also suits the ringing tone from your mandolin, too.

    I'm glad you posted this video. Maybe there are others out there? No late fees, folks. Send 'em in.
  28. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    This is actually my mandola, and it's right-handed. New phone seems to shoot mirror-image video. I'm becoming convinced the phone added any and all wrong notes, too!
  29. bbcee
    I'm going to study your timing in this one, Louise - really an interesting way to approach it. And likely the right way!!
  30. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    Bruce, the timing on Niel Gow got weird when some genius decided to change the time signature from 6/8 to 3/4. I'll start a post on those time signatures when I have a bit of time.
  31. bbcee
    That would be great, Louise, I found this tune tough to understand.
  32. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Beautifully done, Louise NM!
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