Oct 122008
 

Roger Treat, bow maker.Many know him as a Cape Breton-style fiddler who plays regularly at the Monday night contra dance in Nelson, as well as many other dance halls throughout the region. It’s not hard to notice, between tunes, his friendly manner and engaging laughter. But less well-known is that Roger Treat is a master violin, viola, and cello bow maker, trained by Lynn Hannings and George Rubino at UNH, and Rodney Mohr and Jerry Pasewicz at Oberlin College.

On a sunny September day recently I met with Roger in his new workshop, which he built himself. He also makes many of his own bow-making tools. Roger was a carpenter and builder of houses and barns. “I like to create with my hands,” he says. Then he discovered bow making, which “gave me a chance to make something not only beautiful but functional–a bow that plays beautifully.” A Roger Treat bow is truly beautiful: a highly-polished round stick with rich color, delicate yet sturdy turnings in silver and ebony, gracefully hand-carved tip and frog ends, and a wide ribbon of top-grade horsehair which Roger embeds himself. Continue reading »

Sep 122008
 

Five fiddlers, 2 guitarists, an accordionist, and a flute player gathered at J.D. McCliment’s Pub in Putney, Vermont, on a cool September evening recently. In addition to all of us being resident in the Connecticut River valley, we shared a love of Irish traditional music. We were attending the weekly Wednesday night Irish session to play jigs and reels, reacquaint as friends, meet new musicians, and share stories.

The Morning Star/Lady Ann Montgomery
The Long Drop/The Earl’s Chair

Leading our group this night were Lissa Schneckenburger on fiddle and Corey DiMario on tenor guitar. Lissa set the tone with a choice selection of tunes played at a relaxed pace. Irish reels can be very exciting when played at break-neck or dance-tempo speed, but the lovely soul of a tune is best revealed at more moderate tempos when the lift of a phrase and the ornamentation of melody can easily be heard. A pleasure for listener and player alike. Corey’s chording on the 4-string guitar followed the melody very closely, a hallmark of good Irish accompaniment, and each tune was given its due with numerous repetitions. Continue reading »

Aug 112008
 

[Note: clicking on hyperlinked tune titles will activate pdf download of the music]

You Married My Daughter But Yet You Didn’t.” The title of this old New England reel is an enigma. Is it a mis-print? Or is it a deliberate play on words, meant to be instructive or simply playfully puzzling? Andrew Kuntz, in his The Fiddler’s Companion website, includes the rather ominous interpretation that “you had relations with my daughter, but never married her.” On a lighter note, if the “you” is either a minister or priest then the riddle is solved.

Other tune titles evoke the actual sound of the tune. There is “The Growling Old Man and Grumbling Old Woman” with the first half of this French-Canadian tune (played on the fiddle in the low register) sounding the man’s part and the second half (high register) bidding the part of the lady. A haunting Irish jig goes by the curious name, “I Buried My Wife and Danced on Her Grave.” Whether this is a caustic comment related to a doomed marriage or a way for the fellow to fondly recall his departed dancing partner will be left to the reader to decide. The title, when spoken in the cadence of a jig, does perfectly fit the opening two bars of the tune. Continue reading »

Jun 092008
 

Many fiddle tunes played at dances and sessions go by the title “Don’t know the name of that one” or simply “Unknown.” The Irish-language equivalent is the familiar “Gan Ainm,” meaning “without name.” But many tunes do have names that are known and recognized wherever musicians gather to play. In Part I, let’s look at some familiar tune titles that conjure up visions of past events and historic figures.

The USS Constitution sailed from Boston, Massachusetts, on August 2, 1812, bound for a raiding cruise off Nova Scotia, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and Newfoundland. Commanding Officer Isaac Hull’s mission was to find and engage any active Royal Navy frigates. On the afternoon of August 18, some 400 miles southeast of the British base at Halifax, a sail was sighted that turned out to be HMS Guerriere and a battle commenced the next day.

“Guerriere’s captain, James R. Dacres, was also spoiling for a fight. Despite his ship’s disadvantages in number and size of guns, and number of crewmen, the long British tradition of victory in ship-to-ship combat against European enemies provided reasonable grounds for Dacres’ aggressive optimism,” according to an article published online by the Naval Historical Center. The weather was windy and cloudy and the initial exchange of fire produced few hits and little damage, but as the two ships drew alongside, the battle intensified. “A quarter-hour of intense gunnery by Constitution, delivered with much superior accuracy, battered Guerriere in the hull and masts. The British frigate’s mizzenmast fell over the side, crippling her ability to maneuver. Constitution then moved ahead to rake Guerriere, whose bowsprit caught in the American’s mizzen rigging. Continue reading »

May 132008
 

Harvey Tolman’s influence on local musicians, his recordings and compositions, and his regular appearances at the Monday night Nelson contra dance have all magically combined to help spread the compelling dance music of Cape Breton throughout the region and well beyond, across the country. It was indeed an occasion for great rejoicing when Harvey was honored by being selected to receive the Governors Arts Awards “New Hampshire Folk Heritage Award” in 2007. The Folk Heritage Award was presented to Harvey by the N.H. State Council on the Arts on April 24, 2008, before an enthusiastic audience at the Colonial Theater in Keene.

The Council on the Arts had contacted me in the fall of 2007, asking if I’d be interested in creating a work of art that could be presented to Harvey at the awards ceremony in the spring of 2008. I was deeply honored and thrilled to be given this opportunity to help honor Harvey, who I’ve known for many years. I’ve enjoyed dancing to Harvey’s music, and visiting him to listen to and play tunes. (click on the image to see a larger rendering) Continue reading »