Tag Archives: 6/8

Fox in the Bramble

The Fox and the Bramble
 

A fox, closely pursued by a pack of dogs, took shelter under the covert of a Bramble. He rejoiced in this asylum; and for a while, was very happy; but soon found that if he attempted to stir, he was wounded by thorns and prickles on every side. However, making a virtue of necessity, he forbore to complain, and comforted himself with reflecting, that no bliss is perfect; that good and evil are mixed, and flow from the same fountain. These Briars, indeed, said he, will tear my skin a little, yet they keep off the Dogs. For the sake of the good, then, let me bear the evil with patience: each bitter has its sweet; and these Brambles, though they wound my flesh, preserve my life from danger.

I was digging through some old recordings and found this track. I recall that as I was practicing one evening this tune just sort of fell out of the mandolin. So, I slipped into my studio, if you can call it that, and put it down for posterity. I never really did much else with it.

Before posting it today I had to give it a name: Fox in the Bramble

What does a fox, a bramble, and the above fable have to do with this tune? Nothing really. I just like the word bramble and I thought the fable was a nice reminder that problems, viewed from another angle, aren’t really problems at all. Instead, they are the things that add dimension to our lives, build character, afford us opportunities, and at the end of the day, give us a good story to tell.

Good lessons for crazy times.
 
Fox in the Bramble by baconworks

The Nobel Train

A classic corporate metaphor for teamwork is the crew team. In college I rowed in the two seat of an eight man scull and I can attest to that fact that if you are not pulling the oars in perfect unity, the boat moves like a duck.
 
teamwork
 
The visual simplicity of the crew is one reason it lends itself nicely to the teamwork metaphor. However, the stakes are low if the team fails and in the best case scenario, the winning crew goes home with a medal and a warm happy feeling. Nice, but not the most griping example of teamwork.

Recently I was reading David McCullough’s 1776 and I was reminded of an example of teamwork that I would prefer to see on those motivational posters.
 
The Nobel Train of Artillery
 

As winter approached, in 1775, George Washington and his untrained, ill equipped rabble in arms were trying to figure out how to dislodge the kings mighty army from Boston. By all accounts, including that of General Washington, the situation was untenable and the obstacles look insurmountable.

It was during this dire period, with Washington’s army perilously close to destruction and the hopes of liberty for the new Americans in jeopardy, that a young man named Henry Knox approached General Washington with a bold idea.

Henry wanted to take three hundred men and march them to upstate New York where they were to appropriate sixty tons of artillery from Fort Ticonderoga. He and his men would then drag the cannons back to Cambridge, MA during the dead of winter using wooden sleds and oxen in what Henry described as a ‘noble train of artillery’.

Henry left for Fort Ti in early December and for the next two months lugged artillery over Lake Champlain, through mud and snow and ultimately arrived in Cambridge on January 24th, 1776. Washington then set all fifty-nine of Knox’s cannons on Dorchester Heights during the course of one night and pointed them down upon the British army. When the British awoke to see the deadly line of artillery pointing at them they thought better of retaliating and within a few days were boarding their ships in Boston harbor and preparing to evacuate. A major victory for the American’s and not a shot had been fired.

History is a great place, of course, to find good tune titles. This tune’s title is a nod to the teamwork and perseverance of Knox and his men during the most trying of times. I was really intending on recording a quick demo of the newly written tune…and then I got carried away with the instrumentation. It was one of those rare evenings where the recording session went smoothly (i.e. my furnace didn’t click on during the perfect takes!). As a demo, unfortunately, the recording is rather short. Consequently, I expect to rework it into a longer set at some point.

 
The Nobel Train / Franklin’s Harem by baconworks

LP: On the Mend

drive
 
For quite some time now I’ve wanted to record and album. The problem used to be that the cost for studio time was so high that I could only afford it in small doses. With the advent of low cost, high quality digital recording equipment, however, that problem has been virtually nullified. In addition, the distribution of music once required the pressing of an album. However, as we are well aware, the internet has also change that paradigm. So, here is the question I wrestle with; Is there any value in recording an album? Is the concept of an LP dead? After all, the lag time between recording a track and publishing is now trivial. Why stamp out any CD’s at all? The record industry, of course, is feeling the affects of this seismic shift first hand.

On one hand the album, a product of commercialism, feels out of place in todays vast digital world. On the other hand, I am compelled by the idea of sequencing a set of tunes in a way that carries the listener along as if on a meandering summertime ride on a wooded country road. I am well aware, however, that once the tunes make their way onto your iPod and in shuffle mode, the concept behind the sequencing is lost.

While I don’t have a good answer to my own questions, and while there are plenty of good reasons to move past the traditional album format, I am not willing to entirely abandon the notion just yet.

I guess that is a long winded way of saying that I’m gonna give it a go. I don’t know what the end result will look like but I have made one important decision already. As my ideas take shape and the music evolves I am going to blog about my creative and technical process of creating the album. The thing that I find both exciting and a bit daunting is the notion that the public critiquing process can happen as the recording takes shape instead of after it is complete. I am hoping that your critical feedback will help shape a better result. I am, therefore, urging you to offer your thoughts on what you hear or would like to hear.

As a first offering, I am including a recording of a jig I wrote last week. This is a test track that I intend on re-recording for a variety of reasons, the first being that I really did not know how to play it cleanly at the time of the recording since it was authored only minutes before. Also, I have been having trouble with some buzzing on my guitar, which affected the bass notes. Going forward, I am considering coupling the banjo with a mandolin in addition to centering the banjo, which is currently off to one side. I would also like to write another tune to go along with it but am finding that I just can’t force it.

The tune is entitled ‘On the Mend’ and was named for my friend Eddie Marshall, who was recently under the weather and unable to play music for a good month or so. I was happy to finally hear him say that he was ‘On the Mend’.

Leaf in a Stream

Leaf in a Stream
 
In every endeavor there are pivotal moments. These are the moments where we decide to either proceed or halt, push forward or go back. Sometimes it is obvious, as the moment unfolds, that they are important and that there is a decision to be made. Other times those pivotal moments slip by, like a leaf in a stream, quietly and unnoticed. No course correction is made and you quietly slip into the next moment traveling the same path you started on. It is only on future reflection that you can look back and realize the value of that moment.

I was thinking about this as I was recording a great little tune called the Concord Police the other evening.
The Concord Police
 
The tune and words were written by my good friend and former fife instructor Dan Moylan.
Dan Moylan

Dan, the only true music instructor I ever had, is a man of great energy and passion and truly has a love for fife and drum music. Such a passion that, as his grown son once told me, he would play a form of Reveille on his snare drum in the mornings to wake his children for school. Apparently, this was a regular occurrence in the Moylan household.

When I was first learning the fife I would make a weekly trip to Dan’s house in Sudbury, which, incidentally, was walking distance from the Wayside Inn, and hack through the ten tunes I needed to have under my belt before marching with the Sudbury Ancient Fife and Drum Companie. Not long after learning the required ten tunes I had an opportunity to play with an auxiliary group to Sudbury called the 85ème Régiment de Saintonge.
 
Saintonge

The Saintonge was a sharp looking French unit and I was excited to play with them for a parade in Boston on Bastille day. However, when I arrived it quickly became apparent that I was the only fifer and Dan the only drummer. Given my total lack of experience, I was, to say the least, petrified. To make matters worse, as we marched down the street a man and a woman were shouting obscenities and throwing bottles at us. I assumed they didn’t like the French and to get them to stop I wanted to yell out, “No, Bacon…that’s not French!”. It is the first time, in all my fife and drum/reenacting experience, where our militia unit actually had to protect us (there was an incident in Ireland years later but that is a different story). I recall that several of the guys from the unit flanked out with their bayonet-affixed muskets and kept the antagonizers at bay. All awhile, I was bludgeoning the tunes I was supposed to be playing while Dan did his best to follow my cacophonic improvisations. Then, as we turned the corner, the TV cameras showed up. I was mortified into playing worse.

That evening, Dan drove me home. I sat sullenly in the passenger seat gazing out the window hoping he would not bring up my wretched performance. When we reached my driveway, I got out, quietly thanked Dan for the ride, and made my way to the house door where my mother had affixed a note that said “You’re famous! You made the evening news on TV! Hope you had fun! Love Mom.” Now I was certain that I was going to crawl into a dark hovel and never come out. I seriously contemplated quitting this whole fife thing. Why should I continue doing something, where, apparently, I am risking life and limb, I suck, and I get the opportunity to be humiliated on TV?

Now, you might be questioning, “where is the pivotal moment here?” Was it the jackass launching bottles at you? Was it the pitiful performance? Was it your face on the evening news as you were wrecking everything that is good and joyful about fife and drum music? No. Instead, the moment was as the leaf on a stream. It was that long quiet car ride home.

I was embarrassed and figured he thought I was a horrible student. Had he said something as simple as, “well, we have some things to work on”, I am quite sure I would have been too ashamed to show my face at his home for practice that next week. Hang up my britches and call it quits. But he didn’t. And the moment passed. And I moved forward. And I showed up for practice. And now I look back and think about all the wonderful things I would have missed had I naively decided I wasn’t good enough. And, funny enough, that is one of those lessons that I’ve found useful again and again as life keeps rolling. The idea that moving forward, in spite of your fear, is the thing that will pay dividends.

So Dan, thanks for being passionate, for being my instructor, and for driving me home.

Skip Healy Concert Review

Skip Healy
 
Over a few pints in the local establishment Skip, Mark and I watched as the Red Sox failed to deliver the go ahead run in a critical playoff game. As frustrating as that was, the evening of Celtic music that preceded it gave me plenty of positive energy to make the late night drive back from Connecticut where the three of us played together for a very appreciative crowd.

This was our second time playing together and it felt like a reasonable improvement over the last time. Instead of amplifying our show we opted to rely on the natural acoustics of the hall for the Company of Fifers and Drummers, which is in Ivoryton. Skip Healy, a true entertainer, played not only a beautiful variety of traditional and original jigs, reels, marches, aires and hornpipes, but also mixed in his own unique form of humorous storytelling, sprinkled with insightful commentary on the music he plays.

As we were reflecting on our performance over that aforementioned pint, Skip shared with me his thoughts on performing by reminding me of a quote by John Ringling: “The public would rather be entertained than enlightened.” Well I certainly felt, as I was playing next to Skip, that he gives you a bunch of both.

Here is one set from our show. This is a brand new set of tunes that Skip authored. The first tune is called the Gotha Swale and the second is The Taxes are Late and the King is Still Dead. You’ll just have to go to his next show to hear the story behind those names. It will be worth your while.