2020-10 Tune of the Month - Si Bheag Si Mhor

  1. HonketyHank
    HonketyHank
    The tune of the month of October, 2020, is "Si Bheag Si Mhor", probably Turlough O'Carolan's best known tune. It was his first composition. The tune is also known as "Si Beag Si Mor", "Shebeg Shemoor" and various other spellings. O'Carolan (b. 1670, d. 1738) is considered by many to be the poet laureate and national composer of Ireland. He was a blind itinerant harper who was patronized by multiple wealthy families who took him in and provided food and shelter in return for lessons and entertainment.

    Like a previous O'Carolan tune of the month, "Lord Inchiquin", I had to warm up to this tune. It's not bluegrass, not old-timey, not Vivaldi, not jiggety or hornpipy. It is not a waltz, even though it is in 3/4 time in most transcriptions. It is an air for the harp. And it really is a beautiful melody. To think that my initial reaction to the tune was a great big "huh??": maybe I need sensitivity training.

    The name of the tune translates literally to "Big Hill Little Hill" or "Big Fairy Hill Little Fairy Hill", according to folks who speak Gaelic. Specifically, O'Carolan was referring to two adjacent burial mounds or hills in County Leitrim which were said to be the homes of competing fairy tribes who perpetually battled each other. O'Carolan also wrote words to the tune converting the legend into a patriotic call for unity against an unnamed common foe.

    The first part of the tune appears to be borrowed from an older tune called "The Bonny Cuckoo". The second part elaborates on the first, but is apparently by O'Carolan.

    The Song A Week thread for this tune, here [https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/g...ussionid=1545], is a testiment to its popularity. It might well be the longest thread of all the SAW tunes. There are some very nice renditions to be found in that thread.

    Here is a beautiful version featuring Pete Huttlinger on guitar, recorded not long before he died.


    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lx5PGzr3i_c

    And here is David Hansen with his submission to the SAW thread.


    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJATHzYj6eI

    Baron Collins-Hill has a great video lesson on the tune, here: https://www.mandolessons.com/lessons...-beag-si-mhor/
  2. Spragster
    Spragster
    gotta say I'm pretty excited this month. I love playin O'carolan tunes.
  3. HonketyHank
    HonketyHank
    Well here it is:


    https://youtu.be/g6ZhlZqaUhQ

    I tried to do the mix without using a metronome track because I wanted this to sound like an air - kinda flowing meter. Thus I was listening to the mandola track and attempting to play the mandolin part to the flow of the mandola melody. As you can hear, that did not work all that well. Maybe it was because I didn't practice playing while listening enough. I would welcome suggestions on how to do better.
  4. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    That's a very pretty duet version of this piece, and I like the different accompaniment parts layered over the tune. Nice sound from that mandola, Henry! Both parts are played well individually. There are a few things you might try to get them synchronized better next time, although I haven't the cloudiest idea how you go about layering tracks.

    First, the guy in the red shirt was almost always a hair behind the guy in the blue. Even though Red Shirt is playing the higher-pitched instrument, Blue has the tune and Red is accompanying. A conductor I played under for many years insists that if you are playing the accompaniment you should feel like you are pushing the melody. If you hold back and try to play right with them you will always be behind. I think he's right about this.

    Second, you refer twice to Red listening to the guy in blue. Listening is a wonderful thing while playing with others, and it is essential, but watching is often a better guide to what's about to happen. By the time Red hears Blue starting up the moving line of eighth notes, or hears him hit a long note, it has already happened and Red is eating Blue's dust. If these two guys play together much, Red will learn to pick up visual clues that Blue is about to do something. If Blue wants to be a good sport and a good duet player he can use his body language and his breath—like a singer or wind player would—to communicate what he is about to do. (I don't know if it was possible for Red to watch Blue while recording layers.) Coordinating the eighth-note runs or knowing when Blue is going to give up that leading note and hit the resolution is easier to judge visually.

    Finally, while Blue has the melody and has the right to push and pull the tempo, he might want to think in terms of rubato, where time is borrowed but ultimately paid back. While a ritard or ritenuto (or a bunch of other terms) are a noticeable slowing of the tempo, often at the end of a piece, rubato is more of a give-and-take, often found in the melody line while the accompaniment holds steadier and the overall tempo doesn't slow. Love a certain note or two a little, but then fall in with the ranks again.

    Even if Red had spent more time listening to Blue's recording, the next time they go to play together Blue might have had an extra cup of coffee or he may be in a more somber mood. Just because he did it one way one time doesn't mean it will be the exact same way next week. Maybe when the pandemic is over these two can get together and play in person. Or something like that . . .
  5. HonketyHank
    HonketyHank
    Thanks, Louise. And thanks for the observations and suggestions. Red me was definitely listening to blue me and trying to sync up on that basis. So yes, it makes a lot of sense that that has to make red me late for dinner every time. It is just a matter of how late. I think red me should have been watching blue me's right hand instead of listening. Also, red me had not practiced his part as much as blue me. The red me was not very sure of himself and thus was tending to wait "to be sure" before starting those little runs or each tremolo.

    Didn't know that rubato is a zero-sum kind of thing.

    ps: red me says he is going to change his shirt before he shows his face here again, so you never know ...
  6. bbcee
    bbcee
    I like what you're going for, Hank, but I agree with what Louise said, the second part can't be listening, as that's the same as waiting. Really tricky in a free tempo. I'll sometimes watch the waveform of the first part in a difficult passage, but try to jump on it, if that makes sense, or do the overdub immediately after doing the first, while the time/mood are still fresh.

    You might want to check the second part that comes in at 2:08, it has a strange type of distortion on it. It may be that the mic cable came partly disconnected. Other than that, nice mood, and nice mandola! Man, does that Weber ever rule.
  7. Sleet
    Sleet
    Beautiful tone from the mandola, Henry, and I enjoyed the lyricism. I'll avoid the rest of the discussion as it's way beyond my newbie insights. I think red guy and blue guy have the makings of a good team.
  8. HonketyHank
    HonketyHank
    Sleet and bbcee - thanks for the comments. I do like that Weber mandola.

    To all - Is anyone else hearing distortion? bbcee, I listened to the video this morning, both as embedded from YouTube and in the file I uploaded to YouTube. I can maybe hear a little bit of a hiss on some of the volume peaks. Is that what you are hearing? My hearing is poor to terrible at high frequencies, even with my hearing aids in.

    I extracted the audio from my copy of the file and passed it through a low-pass filter set at 12000 hz to see if that does anything and it seems to my poor ears like it might have helped a little. You can download the filtered audio from my google drive here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ky9...ew?usp=sharing . There should be a download button on the screen you get when you click on the link. Is that any better (or worse)?
  9. Spragster
    Spragster
    I thought it was great Hank. Kinda funny this went strayed a little into one of my own problems. The order to record separate tracks, and for all the same reasons listed. Super helpful tips on doing the rhythm first! Id like to add you seemed to be really amusing yourself during those tremolos. I love it
  10. HonketyHank
    HonketyHank
    Thanks, Spragster. bbcee and I did a duet on St Anne's Reel about a year ago that worked out pretty well. But we both recorded with a metronome track, just matched the two tracks up and discarded the metronome track. So, yeah, we did the rhythm first. Tick tock tick tock ...

    edit: I just remembered we didn't actually do a duet. I played the tune and he strummed chords. Then he played the tune and I did chords (or maybe it was vice versa). Then we both played an ending with harmony. I remember doing some sound engineer doctoring to make my ending sync with his ending.
  11. Spragster
    Spragster
    This isn quite the version I planned for but maybe in another day or 2 ill pop another one up. I picked up a new oval hole from McCarten up in Massachusetts yesterday. and recorded all 3 parts on it, just because I can't put it down lol.

    new strings to a lil outta tune but I couldn't tell till after I was done and tuning it again...
  12. HonketyHank
    HonketyHank
    Very nice, Spragster. I am not familiar with the name McCarten. It sounds good.

    Is that your shop in the background? It looks roomy and well organized.

    ps: Good job syncing up.
  13. Spragster
    Spragster
    Thanks Hank 8), and yeah thats the wood shop out behind the house, its become the "studio" too while im working on the basement.

    I had emailed a luthier about getting an oval made or to see if he had anything already made, turns out he had retired and posted what i wanted in whatever luthier forum he still deals with, McCarten followed up and had what i wanted. Super nice guy, one man show and makes some pretty cool stuff. Mostly archtop strings, lots of older style things, baroque guitars he had were beautiful.

    I think this one caught my eye because its all almost wood or bone, even the binding is curly maple. Should fit in nice at renn fairs if they ever reopen. Semi primitive but sounds so much sweeter than my 305
  14. maudlin mandolin
    maudlin mandolin

    Great stuff from Henry and Spragster you are certainly doing the business on your new McCarten there.
    I have used a harmony line by Christine Martin from her Traditional Tunes for Two Fiddles.
    Unfortunately one of the C strings on the mandola was out of tune - my apologies.
  15. HonketyHank
    HonketyHank
    Thanks for posting that, maudlin. It is an interesting arrangement. Good job on a good tune.
  16. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    Nice work, Spragster and Maudlin.

    Interesting that all three of you have added harmony parts to this tune—it's a welcome improvement.

    Spragster, that McCarten oval-hole is one good-looking, good-sounding mandolin. Like Honkety, I am not familiar with his work. Too bad he has retired!
  17. HonketyHank
    HonketyHank
    Spragster - is this the luthier? http://www.mccartenltd.com/ ... He isn't in the MC mandolin builders' database. Probably ought to be. It looks like he is experimenting with a larger bodied mandolin (his model designation AO#) that looks interesting for Irish trad music and more.

    Louise, I thing Spragster was saying that the luthier he initially contacted had retired. McCarten was selected next.
  18. Spragster
    Spragster
    yup thats him and yup, the original uy I emailed retired
  19. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    It's still October, isn't it? Maybe a Tuesday or a Friday or something? Who knows anymore.

  20. HonketyHank
    HonketyHank
    Nice, Louise. I like the choice of double stops. And that is a good looking mandolin. Nice classical mandolin sound, too. Do you use a lighter pick when you play it?
  21. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    You know, Honkety, I'm using pretty light picks all the time on everything. Light strings, too.

    The conventional wisdom seems to be that for mandolin you should be using 1.5 or heavier picks, but I prefer <1 mm. Pointy, too. I don't understand how anyone can get a good tone out of the really round ones—to each his own. For the bowl back (my summer Craigslist project) I have been using the Pickboy mandolin picks or some Galli mandolin picks, thin, skinny, and very pointed. What is everyone else liking in the pick department?
  22. HonketyHank
    HonketyHank


    My six current favorite picks plus two more, thickness in mm as measured with my cheapo digital Harbor Freight calipers:

    1. Wegen TF-120, 1.21
    2. Wegen TF-140(?), 1.35
    3. Blue Chip TAD 50, 1.20
    4. Dunlop Primetone, 1.41
    5. Red Bear Classic M, 1.29
    6. Red Line Acoustics (Red Bear?), 1.13
    7. & 8. Freebies, 0.66 and 0.76

    I use the last two fairly often when I play my old Vega Bowlback, they give it a more tinkly sound, sort of like the sound of Louisa NM's video. I have some thinner Dunlop Tortexes but they are too thin for me. One problem I have with really thin picks: tremolo seems a lot more difficult to control.

    My current favorite might be the Red Bear. The best one per dollar of cost is the Primetone. I am currently trending away from the large triangle shape toward the teardrop shape, but that may be a temporary thing.

    The Red Bear is galilith (casein). Wegen, Blue Chip, Primetone are secret material. The Red Line pick, I believe, is a rebranded Red Bear galilith pick. 7 and 8 are, well, uh, plastic.
  23. Louise NM
    Louise NM


    Hank, what kind of strings are you using?

    Here are my current favorites—boy that's a crappy photo, but as big a PITA as they are to upload to this site it will have to do. The three at left are for the bowl back. The Galli picks have the thickness marked, the Pickboy is about .75. The rest are all between .75 and 1.0. Another kind I like (that didn't make the picture) are the Pyramid celluloid picks.
  24. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Past year Iíve been using only three picks. They are the #1 and #2 shown above by HonkeryHank, and this one: Blue polycarbonate, large triangle JT Pix.
  25. HonketyHank
    HonketyHank
    I mostly use D'Addario EJ74's. But I actually have a big assortment. I have bought boxes of mandolin string sets from folks who appear to be exiting the mandolin world. Almost all are "medium" guage and I am hard pressed to identify a clear choice at this point -- that is probably more related to my poor high frequency hearing than anything else. I do have hearing aids and they make a huge difference in how I like the tone of various strings and mandolins. So big, it makes me question whether my hearing aids are truly representative. I mean how do THEY know what a mandolin is supposed to sound like? They are programmable, so I can (and do) fiddle with the equalizer settings. So it is all pretty confusing.

    I have very light strings on the Vega bowlback. Can't remember which brand. Maybe Ernie Ball. They look like phosphor bronze. I put them on when I got it several years ago and they still look decent and sound decent (to my poor augmented ears).

    Several that I have tried and did not like: GHS Silk and Steel, D'Add flatwound. Flatwounds sound very dead to me. S&S sounded very warm and dark to begin with and got very dead sounding as time passed.

    The only coated strings I have tried are Elixer Nanoweb. They seemed very bright sounding. I have a couple of sets of them in my "inventory" but I have used only one set. My fingers and hands don't sweat perceptibly so I don't have to swap out strings as regularly as many folks do, so I am dubious of any benefit of the coating for me.


    I'm with you guys re the procedure for posting a photo here, especially in the Social Groups. Pretty convoluted. But don't tell Scott I said that. He's pretty touchy about his website. A brief summary of what I did: I went to my profile on a new tab in my browser. Opened an "album". Uploaded the photo to the album. Opened the photo after it showed up in the album and copied its URL address from the lower right side of the page. Closed the album and came back to the social group post where I wanted to insert the picture, clicked on the image icon, and pasted the URL address into the dialog box. And there are several gotchas hidden within the foregoing instructions. There are other ways to do it, but basically this is how Scott said when I complained about it.
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