Category Archives: new music

Greg Bacon and John Ciaglia Collaborating on Music Book for 2016


Back in nineteen-eighty-seven I went to the Westbrook Fife & Drum Muster where I bought my first fife and drum recording. It was a white cassette of the first Ancient Mariner album, which had been released seven years prior. It was one of the few Westbrook Musters where I couldn’t wait for the weekend to end. I desperately wanted to hear what was on that tape, and to do so required making the trek back home where my boom box sat waiting for me in my Massachusetts living room.

The tunes started to roll, White Cockade, Adams and York, and Sailors Hornpipe. I was immediately drawn in. I was then seduced by the singing of Ruben Ranzo and the seamless transition to Clapboard Hill. All of it great and exuberant, but also fully within the boundaries of what I had expected. I had, after all, been watching those barefooted bastions of sea music from the time I was a little boy and attending Sudbury Musters in the mid seventies. Just as side one was coming to a close, however, the boundaries of fifing as I understood them were breached.

Suddenly, from my crappy little speakers, came classical music fused with a complex matrix of fifes spinning around tunes that felt traditional, but not structured like other tunes I had learned. There were too many fifes for me to track and I went into a dizzy trance as the music moved from one tune to the next; a beautiful melodic waltz; a single fife sliding into a slip jig with the others soon in tow; tempo changes; jigs; reels; breaks; ornaments; teases; and something wild on the end that didn’t make any logical sense but seemed like the only way to end. I clawed for the liner notes, praying to God it wasn’t going to have some lame title like Sonata in D. It was… The Sea of Ale and the Dock Street Mermaid. Miraculous!

Hearing The Sea of Ale completely changed my relationship to music. After that I joined the Ancient Mariners. I started writing melodies. I signed up for a music theory class in my high school, even though I had never played in any school band, and the music teacher had no idea who I was. I would also sit for hours in front of a double cassette deck in my home, recording a melody onto one tape, then playing along to that recording while re-record both the playback and my playing onto the other tape. It was a poor mans way of overdubbing and multi-track recording. It sounded like shit. But I learned the basics of writing harmony and developed a lot critical listening skills.

I also discovered, through much of my own trial and error, that those beautiful harmonies on the Sea of Ale must have been created by someone with immense knowledge of classical music theory, and by someone that must have spent years honing the art of penning these beautiful contrapuntal settings. Writing harmony is freaking hard. You may be able to accidentally work your way into a single line harmony of passable merit, but writing something with four voices is akin to a tight rope walk over a canyon while juggling fire and whistling Dixie. The results would be disastrous for mere mortals.

I later learned the juggler and harmonic arranger of Sea of Ale is John Ciaglia. Through the years I got to know ‘Ciaglia’, as his friends call him. I marched in the Mariners with him, played in an occasional quartet, drank wine in the Kasbah, discussed music, and developed a true appreciation for his evolving art. Also, through all these years, I’ve continued to write new melodies.

Then, one day in early 2015, I got an email from Ciaglia out of the thin blue air. He had found a few tunes I had published years ago and wrote arrangements for them. Coincidentally I had just finished writing a new tune, so I sent that along and asked if he’d be interested in writing some parts for it as well. A few days later I received another email with a gorgeous arrangement of my plain little tune. From there a collaboration has ensued that has resulted in a hundred pages of quartets. A hundred pages!!! Me writing the melody, he writing the harmony.

For me it’s been a magical journey that started with first hearing the Sea of Ale, and now consumes me in a sea of writing. In the summer of 2016 we plan to publish these works. Until then, the writing continues and I offer to you this example that I received in my email today; a four voice arrangement of a melody that I wrote a few weeks ago called Cleopatra’s Needles.

I hope you can hear the enjoyment in what we are doing, and in turn find enjoyment in listening.

Bird Song

I was sitting on the porch on a beautiful summer day, exploring the Collings guitar that recently entered into my life when I stumbled upon a new melody. I asked my brown eyed boy to give this new melody a name, and without hesitation he said, ‘Bird Song’.
So, I took this…

…and played it into this…

…and ended up with this…

Video of the Week: The Autumn Leaf

I’m gonna make a concerted effort to post at least one video a week of something musical. The only rule is that the video will be one that I took. I will not be reposting video’s of my new favorite band, The Avett Brothers, who have a very deep repertoire of some of the best songwriting I’ve heard in years, or versions of Phish’s brilliant Split Open and Melt, which some have called the “best sounding chaos you will ever hear”, or even gems from the Transatlantic Sessions. Nope, none of the above. Instead, I will post just videos of people I know that make great music…and maybe a few from me.

Here is the first from my buddy Mustachio. He is playing a tune that he recently wrote. He didn’t have a name for it…so, in the interest of getting this video posted, I named it for him. The video is from April 12th, 2011 at John Stone’s Public House in Ashland. He played this after everyone had pretty much gone home, which is always the way it works. Musicians know that the best stuff is always played when no one is around to hear it.

Star Spangled Banner

A few months back I was asked if I could put together a recording of our national anthem to be used in a theater production. Cool, I can do that. But then came the challenge. They wanted it to be loose…and dark. Hmmm, how do you make the Star Spangled Banner, which is really a tune called To Anacreon in Heaven, dark? And, if it is to be loose, maybe I should imbibe a few frosty ones before laying tracks? After all, To Anacreon in Heaven is often referred to as a drinking song. Anywho, I let this go until the last minute, and was forced to improvise during the recording. But, in the end, it is loose (that part wasn’t hard) and I guess it is a little dark. You be the judge.
Star Spangled Banner by baconworks

Tracks from the Electric Seisiun

It is probably not fair for me to do a review of last nights show at John Stone’s. What I can say is that those of us that played had a lot of fun. Much of that fun was due to the fact that we had lots of friends and family that came out to listen. So, thank you! I hope we get to do it again!

I was able to record the entire night, except, sadly, for one set of tunes. The recording was done with my pair of KM184’s. So, naturally the charm of the crowd noise has been captured as well.

The set that I’ve included with this post is a nice representation of what the evening sounded like. The set includes a couple of well known session tunes called Lark in the Morning and The Cliff of Mohr. Sandwiched in between these two tunes Joey Sullivan leathers into a bodhran solo. One thing I like about this track is that, in typical session style, the instruments trickle in. First the guitar and tenor banjo. Then the fiddle. Then flute and bouzouki. Finally the uilleann pipes and the bodhran. It’s funny, tunes like these can make your Guinness taste twice as good.

Mariner’s 50th Anniversary

My jeep is packed like a Beverly Hillbilly vehicle in preparation for the Mariners 50th Anniversary. The festivities start with the Mariner Muster this weekend, followed by a week of music with our friends from Switzerland, the Swiss Mariners, and then capped off by a performance at the Deep River Ancient Muster next weekend. It is possible that events from the week will get chronicled at Remember, I said possible, not probable.

I know I’ve posted the following track before, but it is a good example of the music we play when we get together with the Swiss. Fun, fun.

Whipple and the Gaspee by baconworks

Farewell Tim

Tim Livernois
Tim Livernois, passed away on Monday. Tim was a member of our musical community, playing fife with the Kentish Guard and Irish flute at our late night sessions. Year after year he and I kicked off the session in the Wayside Inn on Saturday of the Sudbury Muster. He had a casual style of flute playing that I always enjoyed backing.

Tim was also instrumental in bringing color to the muster scene by helping to construct the elaborate Casbah for many years. The Casbah became a well know respite during the evenings festivities and often served as the final destination for many late night wanderers.

A few years ago Tim was diagnosed with Brain Cancer and had a tumor removed. After surgery he had to learn how to function again. He came to the Sudbury Session that year knowing that he couldn’t really play any longer. But he fought his way back and relearned how to play music and, astonishingly, was back in the swing a year later.

Farewell Tim, I’ll miss your color, your playing and your friendship.

Farewell Chantey by baconworks

Banish Misfortune

With my new Neumann’s in hand, I headed on down the road to the Heineman Ecumenical and Cultural Center, otherwise known as the stone chapel at Framingham State College, for a casual evening of tunes and recording. It has been sort of a personal goal to record with as many of the Stone’s session players as possible. To date I have recorded with Sally the hammered dulcimer goddess, Eamon the accordion acrobat, and of course, my good friend Mustachio the bouzouki bad ass. To the list I wanted to add Mark, sometimes known the White Rabbit, though I don’t really know where that name came from…and am somewhat afraid to ask…but I digress. Anyhow, Mark has both an incredible voice and nice touch on the button accordion. In addition, Mark has the keys to the stone chapel, which we thought would lend itself nicely to some recording. In addition to Mark and I, we also convinced Mustachio to come along.

After a tasty dinner at a local Indian restaurant – musicians don’t play well on empty stomachs – we headed over to the chapel to set up the mics.

Like most chapels, there was lots of natural reverb, which sounds great when playing but adds additional challenges when recording. From a recording engineering perspective it is nice to have well isolated tracks that can be individual tweaked after the recording. Playing live in a reverberant room introduces a bleed of the other instruments onto each mic as well as potentially slathering the tracks in reverb.

We had no real plan and just played tunes that we thought would be fun to try. Sometimes we played them twice, sometimes we didn’t. We played all the instruments at once and there were no overdubs.

After spending a few days listening to the tracks, we decided to do an additional session. Out of this second session came the track included with this post called Banish Misfortune / Sliabh Russell.

In some cases I had two recorded versions to work with and it was possible to take the best bits from both versions and merge them together. That is the case with Banish Misfortune. The first eight measures are from our first take, while the remainder of the track was from our second take. I mixed the two because Mustachio and I were subtly more in sync on the pickup measures in the first take.

Lastly, for recording geeks only, here is an interesting mixing technique the I tried with the concertina:
1. I made two identical copies of the original concertina track.
2. I shifted the first copy 17 milliseconds to the right, thereby creating a delaying of 17 milliseconds.
3. I shifted the second copy 19 milliseconds to the right, creating a delay of 19 milliseconds.
4. I panned copy one hard left and panned copy two hard right.
5. I then brought the volume of both copies to zero.
6. I then slowly brought up the levels of both copies until the delays were barely noticeable.

This gave the concertina a slightly fuller feel and makes it sound like it is in a nice room. With enough mics and good mic placement I should have been able to get a similar effect naturally from the chapel. But I did not have extra mics to work with.

Anyhow, it was lots of fun and I think we did a nice job of capturing three friends just playing music together. Also, I’m looking forward to posting lots of other tracks from The Chapel Sessions including a killer version of Amazing Grace sung by the White Rabbit.
Banish Misfortune / Sliabh Russell by baconworks

April 19th…the real Patriot’s Day

Every year the Sudbury Militia and Sudbury Fife and Drum Corps marches from old Sudbury center to the North Bridge in Concord on April 19th. This is not a parade, it is a ten mile march starting in the wee hours of the morning. Why April 19th? Because in 1775 in the morning of April 19th the colonist “made the first forcible resistance to British aggression.” What followed was America’s war for Independence.

Here are a few shots from the march, as well as an mp3 of some of the music that was heard along the way.
Hanover / Harem Scarem by baconworks