A couple of Saturdays ago, I was in my shop with some of my fife playing cohorts when the inspiration for this column took place. "It's gonna be 'Gotta put da' UUHHH in da' THAAANG!'" There was a pause of around one or two seconds, after which Paul Joseph (the fifng buddy I initially directed this comment to) queried, "What multi-colored breakfast cereal have you guys been putting in your bong?" I think my reply was, "Toasted Flakes."
I had just been talking with my friends, Mark Bachand and Paul Joseph, about how to put more feeling into playing tunes. I said that I always try to keep in mind that these are most importantly dance tunes. Ever listen to Irish hard shoe dancing? These big, heavy steps, pounding like a huge heartbeat? We, as suppliers of the music, need to bring out the heartbeat that lives in the tunes.
I find that the best way to do this is by using a breath pulse to drive the tunes.
By learning the technique of emphasizing any given note you can inject whatever kind of flow the tune can handle. I say "handle" because, as is the case with any ornament, this too can be overdone.
Traditional Irish and American fife music both heavily emphasize beats 1 and 3 while rock'n'roll typically emphasizes beats 2 and 4 in a four beat counting system. I feel the best way to emphasize a note is to give it a short yet dynamic push of air, being careful to KEEP IT IN THE SAME OCTAVE! This heavier pulse is much like the heavy step given by dancers while "flying about the place." Emphasizing ANY note at ANY time will bring more feeling to whatever tune you're playing.
Back to the old standard -- long tones. Starting on G, play a long tone (about 8-10 beats in duration) pulsing on every beat. After doing this a few times, play your 8-10 beat long tone and leave a few pulses out. Just make up a crazy, pulsating rhythm. Have some fun with it. Put Da' UUHHH In Da' THAAANG! Get to understand what it feels like to throw these pulses in wherever you want. Try it on various long tones. Get to feel just how much pulse you can put into a note and KEEP IT IN THE SAME OCTAVE! Now, start slowly working the same technique into your tunes. Don't go crazy. Just try putting it on the first beat of some measures. Then start working it into the middle of the measures, bringing out the pulsating drive contained within the tunes.
All the players and listeners around you will get drawn into this pulsating drive, turning all involved into a throbbing mass of tune-filled joy.
In conjunction with the world famous resort community of Arosa, Switzerland and their "MUSIK-KURSWOCHEN" (music course week), I will be teaching a week long series of classes on Irish flute and tin whistle music. The program will take place JULY 31 - AUGUST 4, 2017. I will be posting information and videos about the event very soon!!! Imagine, learning about traditional Irish music high in the Swiss Alps, staying in a beautiful hotel called "Hotel Hohe Promenade" a 3 star hotel with AMAZING food and service...