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This collection of viola duets was written around the idea of what I might have liked to play when I was learning the viola, as a teenager, from around grade 5 onwards. Instrumental students are – obviously – challenged with increasingly difficult music, in order to improve. But the thing about playing difficult music on a bowed stringed instrument is that stumbling over the notes is one thing, but on top of this, the instruments are inherently inclined towards making cat/donkey noises if you haven’t quite perfected your general technique yet. As a self-conscious teenager, I was aware that e.g. clarinettists, flautists and pianists - who were alleged to be the same standard as I was on paper - could play in public, sound like they knew what they were doing and nobody would wince, but that playing my viola in front of anyone was a risk I’d rather avoid in case of potential squeaks and scrunches and “dying cat” comments. Even the odd squeak from a clarinet or the odd wrong note on the piano don’t seem to have the same emotional effect on most listeners as an awkwardly executed violin performance – the bowed string family just seems to share some genetic material with nails-down-a-blackboard.
What was frustrating for me around this time was that my understanding of music theory, and ability to play with others in a group and listen to the other musicians far outstripped my instrumental technique. I even had a grasp of how to play expressively, but expression had to take a back seat when sixth position with double stopping in C# minor was supposed to be happening. It was not very encouraging, which was part of why I started playing folk music. Although there are obvious challenges to playing traditional fiddle music, they are an entirely different set to those on the classical grade 8 syllabus: rhythm, ensemble and feel take priority, there’s a fair bit of string-crossing, but the notes themselves are largely in first position and not as difficult to play as what I was studying in my classical lessons. I could play this music and feel like a musician – for the first time I felt I could play in front of people without cringing.
However, this is not intended to just be a set of folk tunes with harmony parts – although there’s certainly a folk influence, I don’t regard these pieces as “folk music”. They’re pieces that combine the elements that attracted me to playing folk (technical easiness, importance of tight ensemble playing and good rhythm) with a few extensions – plenty of counterpoint and interplay between the two players, use of one viola as a chordal/rhythmic accompaniment, and a variety of different time signatures. There are even some pieces that frequently change between time signatures from bar to bar.
I imagine them being played by teachers and their students as a way of letting off steam at the end of difficult lesson filled with double-stopped scales and Kreutzer studies. They’re mostly in first position with a small amount of third position in two or three pieces, and I hope will be found enjoyable and interesting - while not technically difficult - by players of grade 5 and above. I also hope they will be useful for developing skills in listening, counting and expression, all in the comfortable absence of having to work quite so hard in other more technical areas.
You can download this collection here. As well as pdf scores (full score and parts for violas 1 and 2) there are also demonstration recordings included in the download. You can listen to all the recordings online prior to purchase.
Here is a new thing – a set of ten new 48 bar jigs, composed in five sets of two tunes. They were written in response to many years of playing in ceilidh bands that didn’t have enough 48 bar jigs for the number of dances that required them. I concluded that there must be an international shortage of these tunes, so over the past little while I made an effort to write a bunch of them.
I’m hoping to eventually write enough to fill a book – but after writing ten in quick succession I developed 48 bar jig fatigue and I need to recharge and write some music that isn’t 48 bar jigs for a bit (I mean, obviously I like 48 bar jigs and everything, but there are lots of different time signatures in existence for a good reason…).
In the meantime, the first ten are available as a digital download, which includes pdf sheet music for all ten melodies with chords (plus, as a bonus, sheet music with melody and scored basslines) and demo recordings of each tune played all the way through.
The Tamarysk EP has been remixed, remastered and extended into a full-length album, which has just been released. In addition to the viola-based tracks (which are available as a sheet music collection of five pieces for viola and piano) there are five new tracks featuring Alice Burn on Northumbrian pipes.
Two of the new pipes tracks – ‘The Purplest Time of Year’ and ‘Eighteen Degrees of Indigo’ – are new compositions by me, as is the only pipes/viola joint enterprise, ‘Mersehead’ which segues into ‘St Mary’s Jig’, written by Alice. ‘Quiet River’ is a new arrangement of an old tune of mine, and ‘The Three Sided Mind’ was written by Tom Drinkwater, who also mixed and mastered the album (as well as playing electric guitars and mandolins on all of it, and generally having input into the arrangements of all the rest).
The title comes from the eighteen degrees of twilight, and the cover art is inspired by a diagram illustrating the three twilight subcategories.
You can listen online and download it here.
A little over a year ago I published the sheet music to some four part harmony arrangements of Irish folk tunes, which were originally going to be part of Tamarysk. As it turned out, Tamarysk headed off in a rather different direction, but the sheet music proved very popular anyway. So I’ve made some more, this time a collection of English tunes. The concept is the same: two harmony parts and a bass part, primarily aimed at violists and cellists but presented in lots of different clefs and transpositions so they can be played on a variety of instrumental groups. (See this post for a detailed explanation of who can play them.)
The demo recordings sound a bit different to those for the Irish tunes – I’ve just recorded them straight up on violin, violas and bass guitar, with no piano or extra chords (although chords are provided with the sheet music melodies in the download) – but the format of the sheet music is just the same. The scores come as pdfs, and you also get the recordings included, for which you can choose your format from mp3, FLAC, ALAC (Apple Lossless), AAC, Ogg Vorbis, WAV and AIFF formats.
Find out more and get the download over here, or have a listen below: