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 Post subject: Playing Strathspeys
PostPosted: Fri May 08, 2020 5:02 am 
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Posted the below yesterday in the "Scotland's Last Flutemaker" thread ........ but thinking it over, perhaps it should be in a new thread. So here it is again below ...
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How to play Scottish trad on a wooden flute is something that I’ve spent a bit of time thinking on over the years, chatting to other flute players and trying to get to grips with. Personally I’m not sure that the flute itself is the biggest factor - as long as it is a responsive and agile over the full 2 octaves. Preferable (but by no means necessary) is a fully keyed - if you want to be able to play the full repertoire of Scottish trad in their original keys, including the fiddle tunes in A, F, Bb, Gm etc, then you have to get used to clattering the silver. To me the bigger factor is the human element - developing technique that will allow you as a flute player to play the music in a style that reflects the tradition. To find ways to emulate (or perhaps that should be echo) fiddle, piping and singing that give Scottish trad its unique sound and feel. For those more used to the more fluid and rolling Irish styles of music and playing, the more jagged, mountainous terrain of pipe marches and Strathspeys can be challenging. I kinda agree with Conical Bore that the attack is one thing you need to address. And that is down to articulation - by which ever method you choose and is required by the tune. For me it’s a mix of tonguing, breath control and fingered ornamentation. And after that by just letting go and getting stuck into the spirit of a tune – particularly the wilder Strathspeys which, if you choose to explore the latent energy contained within them, are to my ears, on the punk edge of trad.

There are not that many wooden flautists seriously playing trad Scottish ……… so was disappointed to hear that Calum Stewart was drawing back from flute to concentrate on the pipes. I spoke with him last year about his playing when he was here for a gig. His view was there was nothing intrinsically different to playing Scottish tunes on the flute – to him it’s all just about good technique. That and really listening to other instruments (particularly the fiddle) and trying to capture the essence of what they are doing by being creative with what the flute is able to do.

Would be really interested in hearing other people’s experiences and thoughts on playing Strathspeys. What do you find are the main challenges? How do you get round the difficulties? Any favourites?
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Was pondering on all things Strathspey again this morning whilst walking the dog, and thinking on the style of playing Strathspeys would have perhaps partly depended originally upon the style of the dancing that was done to them (though it could be one of those chicken and egg things). There are certainly different schools of thought / dancing / playing Strathspeys. The formal, mannered and more graceful approach (typically danced to by the Royal Country Dance Society) where the tunes themselves are graceful and are played slower with every second beat accentuated. And the wilder, free and more driven style where every beat is accentuated - which has survived as the Cape Breton style of dancing and playing. And a whole spectrum in between. There are no absolute right or wrongs - all are valid, have their own merits and help express different aspects of the human condition. And then there are slow Strathspeys which are not played for dancing .......... amongst which are some of the most exquisitely beautiful tunes ........

Getting to grips with the techniques required to play these different styles of Strathspey has taken me many years and no doubt will take many more (getting to the crest of the hill only reveals another bloomin' higher hill ahead of you) ..... but the journey has given me huge amounts of pleasure. Here are a few of my attempts along that road: -

The Rothiemurchas Rant - a slow (ish) Strathspey. Robert Burns was a huge fan of the tune - "Many of our Strathspeys ancient and modern give me exquisite enjoyment...For instance, I am just now making verses to Rothiemurche's Rant, an air which puts me into raptures ..." I kinda agree - there is something about it that is both wrenching and uplifting at the same time. It is a beautiful tune to play ......
https://soundcloud.com/user-396491986/r ... has-rant-1

An attempt at two old Perthshire Strathspeys: Cha cheilinn sugradh Uileam (I wouldn’t hide William’s flirting) - a lovely, simple, 5-bar (yes .......only 5 bars) Strathspey from the 1784 Patrick MacDonald Collection; and Atholl Brose (also known as Niel Gow’s favourite), thought to have been written by Abraham Mackintosh (born 1769), son of Red Rob Mackintosh of Tulliemet. The first one is probably the melody of a song, the Gaelic lyrics long forgotten; the second is a fairly well-known fiddle tune. Both tunes lend themselves to being played on the flute (as long as you have an F natural key) ....... and to straying a wee bit off the path.
https://soundcloud.com/user-396491986/c ... holl-brose

Would be really interested to hear how other players approach playing Strathspeys on the flute. It would seem to be a fertile field that might benefit from a wee bit more cultivation ........


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 Post subject: Re: Playing Strathspeys
PostPosted: Thu May 14, 2020 8:04 am 
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Playing Strathspeys on the flute present particular challenges, especially for those semi-quaver / dotted quaver combinations (some of which are occasionally called a "Scots snap" - though I almost never hear the term used here in Scotland). How do you play those short-long, "de-dah" (and the long-short "dah-de") combinations of notes? When the two notes are some distance apart on the scale (even an octave part) it is hard to make them as crisp and clean as when well played on the fiddle. When it is the same note that you are repeating, it's impossible without some form of articulation. Closely watching a good fiddler, they use a change in bow pressure and direction to give the necessary kick and drive. But it's not easy. According to Alistair Hardie in his Caledonian Companion, A Collection of Scottish Fiddle Music and Guide to its Performance, this "undoubtedly provides our music's greatest challenge to bowing technique" .

"The bow wrist should be loose enough to allow wrist and fingers to move easily for best effect. Although the first note is very short, the amount of bow used to play it is fairly long and fast and it has a strong accent! Use equal bow lengths but different speeds and play in the middle to upper part of the bow." Traditional Scottish Fiddling - A players Guide. Christine Martin

James Hunter in his Fiddle Music of Scotland details the variety of bowing techniques required for Strathspeys ... Hack-Bowing, Snap-Bowing, Cross-Bowing, Back-bowing, The Scots Snap and the Up-driven Bow ....... all of which are used in slightly different circumstances and to create different effects.

But what type of articulation can / should you use on a wooden flute to get these same effects? Finger? Breath? Tongue? Or a combination of several? Which technique works best in what circumstances?

Some people out there will no doubt have given this some thought, and will have practiced and played and explored the possibilities. It would be really good to hear your thoughts and views.

Munro


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 Post subject: Re: Playing Strathspeys
PostPosted: Thu May 14, 2020 10:42 am 
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By the way, it is "World play a Strathspey day" today ......... who knew? But what better excuse to dust off and play one ....

https://projects.handsupfortrad.scot/ha ... -day-2020/


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