When I lived in Boston, I never once drove a vehicle. Since moving back to Cape Breton, I’ve been doing a lot more driving – it’s a must in Cape Breton to have a car – and I’ve realized how much I’ve missed cruising to the tunes- and how much practice time I’ve been missing out on. I always tell my students that listening time is just as valuable as hands on practice time. But without driving, I wasn’t making much time myself for listening. I’m not much for walking while listening to an iPod, or working in the house while listening to music unless I’m by myself, but these days, I’ve been doing a lot of solo driving and accomplishing a lot!
I’ve had one particular album in the car for over three months – just that one album because I love it that much- and one day last week I finally decided to take a crack at the new tunes I’ve been hearing on it. I pretty much had them exactly upon the first try. When you drive you probably do a combination of subconscious and conscious listening. Have you ever had a song or tune that you’ve been listening to a lot randomly pop into your head without trying to recall it? This is the first step to learning by ear- having the tunes firmly in your head so they just flow out of you.
So the next time you feel you don’t have time to practice, pop some of your favourite tunes in the car. Perhaps try and find some good recordings of the tunes you are learning if you don’t have any already. You don’t have to keep listening to the same recordings for 3 months (!)- but let them seep in for a good while. You’ll be surprised at how much you can’t get them out of your head!
I must be still basking in the glow of having been to Ireland for the first time! Here is another common tune shared both in the Irish and Cape Breton repertoire that I personally just discovered and I get very excited at those discoveries!
The West Mabou Reel:
I had always known the West Mabou Reel to be a Cape Breton tune. Like Miss Lyall’s Strathspey and Reel, it is a staple of the repertoire and often played for dancing. I didn’t realize that it had its origins in the Irish repertoire until just after returning home from Ireland when I had a listen to the fabulous recording, Jig Away the Donkey; Music and Song of South Ulsterby Gerry O’Connor (fiddle) Martin Quinn (button accordion) and Gabriel McArdile, (vocal and concertina). I heard a tune that sounded exactly like the West Mabou Reel. The parts are in reverse and the melody has a few slight differences but it is the same tune.
After hearing this version of the tune, I referred to Kate Dunlay and David Greenburg’s The Dungreen Collection: Traditional Celtic Violin Music of Cape Breton which is a fabulous collection of not only Cape Breton repertoire but source information about the tunes. For the West Mabou Reel, the Dungreen lists ‘The Mayo Lasses’, Johnny When You Die’, and ‘The Old Maids of Galway’ as Irish sources for the Cape Breton version of the tune. On the album I cited above, the tune is listed as ‘Traynor’s Rambles’.
Here is a youtube video of the West Mabou Reel played by the Cape Breton fiddler Donald Angus Beaton (1912-1981) of the Mabou Coal Mines:
To compare, here is a youtube clip of ‘Johnny Will You Die’ from Jackie Daly and Seamus Creagh:
Again the parts are reversed compared to ‘West Mabou’, but you can certainly tell it’s the same tune.
I think it’s amazing how tunes cross into another repertoire and evolve into a new version which then becomes a new standard. According to the Dungreen, in Cape Breton, the composition of this tune is sometimes attributed to a Dan (Domhnull Iain an Taillear- Donald the Taylor) Beaton (1856-1919) of the Mabou Coal Mines. However, as I wrote in another blog post, Cape Breton fiddle music was significantly influenced by Irish music. As the Dungreen speculates, perhaps Dan Beaton heard it from an Irish-style fiddler in Cape Breton or he learned it from one of the tune books in his collection that may have contained Irish tunes. Whatever the case, the West Mabou reel is a great example of tune evolution.