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PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2012 7:46 am 
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OK, I’ll admit it. I’ve been working on this Irish flute thing pretty hard for about 10 years, and I’m still wishing for a magic bullet. I keep waiting to pick up the flute and have some key turn, or a ray of sunshine and celestial choir suddenly blast out to illuminate that elusive “something” my playing’s been missing.

Oh, I’ve had clues. I’ve taken workshops, I’ve taken lessons when I could, and I’ve listened, listened, listened. I’ve gotten great advice from amazing players, plus hundreds of great tunes. Through all this I’ve at least learned enough to know something still hasn't been right. I’ve even basically narrowed it down to rhythm and phrasing, but no matter what I've tried I still haven’t quite been able to put a tune across the way I want to. Adding insult to injury is the fact I played the Boehm flute to a pretty high level for about 30 years before taking up the wooden flute. So I kind of know my way around the instrument. (And I should DEFINITELY know better than to wish for a magic bullet.)

But still. Never in my life have I opened a tutor, played the first couple of exercises, and said “Holy Pratten, I sound more like one of my flute idols right out of the box!”

No kidding. Maybe it’s not quite a magic bullet because I still have to do the work and get it through my thick head, but Conal O’Grada’s “An Fheadog Mhor: Irish Traditional Flute Technique” tutor, for whatever reason, totally makes sense to me. It demystifies a bunch of things, and it’s already making a mighty difference in my playing.

Again, let me say I’ve played the flute all my life. But the big thing I got in Figure 1.2 is that, while yeah, I know how to breathe, and I know that breathing’s a big part of phrasing an Irish tune, I never completely sorted out how to breathe like a great Irish flute player does (or at least this man, who’s one of my favorite great Irish flute players). I guess I needed to see it or something but Conal’s first breathing example, on the tune “Castlebar Races,” pretty much explained it all for me in 8 bars.

To Conal, breathing is fundamental. If you don’t do ANYTHING else with a tune – no cuts, no rolls, no glottals – how you lay out your breathing will be sufficient to get the tune across in a clear, rhythmic and energetic way. As he points out, if you’re even getting a little low on breath there’s a good chance your playing will suffer as you worry about when you’re going to keel over. So a big key to Conal’s mightiness is that he’s never running out of breath.

(And yes, I’ve heard this before. I’ve even played it before to some degree; Conal cites Mike Rafferty as a prime example of great breath-phrasing, and Lesl Harker’s tunebooks faithfully illustrate Mike’s breathing patterns. But I guess I’ve just never PLAYED the breathing quite this way before, or at least not the way Conal does it.)

The book and CD progress in a very neat, orderly fashion from here. Conal pretty much talks in a “from flute player to flute player” fashion – not so much as a teacher, but as a person who’s thought a LOT about the flute for decades and is still thinking about it. He lays most sections out in a methodical “What it is … how to do it … when to use it” structure that makes perfect sense.

He also uses terrific tunes to illustrate his points; tunes that sit well on the flute and are fun to introduce to your session.

The CD that accompanies the books is just as logically laid out. The book progresses from “Breathing” to “Cuts” to “Scrapes” to “Rolls” to … yes, the Holy Grail, “Glottals.” If you want to know about glottals, Conal’s your guy. His definition of a glottal being the hyphen in “uh-oh” is the best I’ve come across, and his audio examples (playing entire phrases of tunes with the flute head turned away so you can hear only the glottals) give me more insight into internal rhythm than anything I recall hearing.

If this wasn’t enough, Chapter 8, “Critical Listening,” makes this tutor an essential in my book. Conal focuses on the players he considers notable for various reasons – Harry Bradley, Aoife Granville, Mike Rafferty, Catherine McEvoy, Patsy Hanly, Tara Diamond, John Wynne, Eamonn Cotter – and describes, in very detailed fashion, the nuances of how they sound like they do. The accompanying CD has tracks from each player, and Conal proves to be an outstanding critical listener. He’s able to break down the subtle differences in style and approach, and explain them very simply and precisely. It’s like sitting at the Willie Clancy Summer School Flute Recital with Conal giving you the play-by-play. (Only better, because you can revisit or “rewind” as much as necessary!)

Illustrated appendices at the back of the tutor cover the basics like holding the flute, embouchure, and producing a basic sound. Again, they’re clear, concise, and overall very effective. Another appendix contains very accurate transcriptions of the tutor tunes with all the bells and whistles that make them so wonderfully “Conal.”

The one ironic thing I found in the book is that, for someone so amazingly good at figuring out musical phrasing and punctuation, Conal’s writing tends to be a little “free-form.” It’s not disorganized by any means, just a bit forward-leaning. He finishes one thought and then he’s ready to move on to the next point; why bother with things like commas? Nonetheless, the information he imparts makes it well worth a few long sentences – so copy editors, put away your pens and pick up your flutes and play. Overall, he’s a straightforward, clear, and insightful writer so I don’t think there’ll be too much confusion on anyone’s part. In fact, I’m guessing the somewhat bulleted style might in fact be useful for players for whom English isn’t a first language.

One small caution is to make sure to match the exercise tunes with their transcriptions in the Appendix before playing tunes out. In the exercises there isn’t too much worry about things like repeats on A or B parts, but the transcriptions in the Appendix all seem pretty well buttoned up. Finally, the tunes are notated: so the ability to read music is helpful, but the CD is an accurate reproduction for "ear learners."

So from this player who, to me, sounds as mighty and spontaneous and unfettered as just about anyone out there, comes a wonderful insight into the value of structure and careful planning. We always quote the old saw “talking about music is like dancing about architecture,” but for me, this book comes dangerously close to making the Irish flute clear for this rock-hard noggin. If you’re serious about playing the Irish flute, you really ought to have this book. In fact, I think I’m going to start answering all questions on this board about breathing, rhythm, phrasing, ornamentation, glottals, tune approach and Patsy Hanly’s awesomeness with “O’Grada: Chapter X.” ;-) But seriously. In a generous, direct fashion, a truly legendary flute player is here to tell us pretty much everything he knows, and as far as the flute goes, his book covers pretty much everything I’ve wanted to know for a long time.

Now I just have to make it as natural as – well, breathing!

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2012 8:06 am 
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P.S. Please forgive the lack of fadas on my O'Gradas and other niceties.

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2012 8:07 am 
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Wow. Thanks Cathy for this wonderful and insightful review. As a novice who has a teacher and have experience a lot of what you say, I am looking forward to this tutor. I ordered last week and should be here soon.

:D

ps: My teacher got the tutor before I ordered mine. He also thinks it is good.
But, Cathy's review is much more thorough.

Rob Robison aka Skypsirit.

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2012 8:42 am 
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:lol: Cat, yer a demon. Nicely done!

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2012 8:58 am 
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Wonderful review, Cathy. The book lies open on my desk, and I see that I have a lot of work to do, although I seem to be stuck in the mode of making flutes rather than playing or reading about them. I thought that when I retired I would have plenty of time to play. Ha!

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2012 9:43 am 
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Wow Cathy, thanks for this! You've described it so seductively that I must get it sooner rather than later, money be damned. Even though we have taken Conal's classes, it sounds like a fantastic at-home tutor - especially for those like me who have no teacher at home.

Cathy Wilde wrote:
P.S. Please forgive the lack of fadas on my O'Gradas and other niceties.

If you have a Mac you can set one of your languages to Irish and then it's easy to write Conal Ó Gráda with both the fadas :D

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2012 11:10 am 
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Cathy Wilde wrote:
essential

Darn, while I've already got the Hammy Hamilton (earlier edition) and Grey Larsen books and normally take 'essential' or 'must have' as hyperbole, I'm afraid you're convincing me I need this one too!

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2012 11:20 am 
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Thanks, Cathy! That's an excellent review of an overwhelmingly excellent book. I've been working with it for about a week now, and I'm seriously wishing it was around when I started getting serious a few years ago. I could have been much more focused (and informed) in my efforts.

Also, it was said before, but.......spiral bound! (Why, why, why are not all music tutorials constructed this way?)

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2012 11:23 am 
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Great review, Cathy. Thanks! And Conal should for sure use it in his sales promotions - You'd be a damn good sales-woman for it. I was already fancying/pondering acquiring it, I must say, and now will certainly put it on my Wish List (which Hammy's and Larsen's books haven't made it to.... though Bigio's book on Rudall & Co has [gotta do some serious saving for that one!].....).

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2012 11:30 am 
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jemtheflute wrote:
You'd be a damn good sales-woman for it.

ya'd think she knew marketing... :lol:

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2012 1:34 pm 
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Great review Cathy...thanks. But now I'll be damned if I can find the book anywhere so I can buy it! :swear:

Anyone got an address, link, or vendor? Preferably USA but anywhere on this planet would be OK.

Thanks in advance,

JD


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2012 1:44 pm 
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jadphoto wrote:
Great review Cathy...thanks. But now I'll be damned if I can find the book anywhere so I can buy it! :swear:

Anyone got an address, link, or vendor? Preferably USA but anywhere on this planet would be OK.

Thanks in advance,

JD



You will have to go to his site and order. Here is the link.

viewtopic.php?f=2&t=85512

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2012 2:10 pm 
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Thanks again to Cathy and Skyspirit.

My book is on it's way.

Ain't this place grand? Thanks to Dale too as long as I'm expressing my gratitude. :love:

JD


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2012 5:37 pm 
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I ordered mine about a week ago, so now I'm REALLY ready for it to arrive. Thanks so much, Cathy, for your analysis.


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2012 5:57 pm 
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Just purchased one right now. Dollar seems a little better today. :D

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