Celticsprite’s Blog


Lyricism of tunes: "The Shapes of Things" by Danny Carnahan
July 20, 2009, 5:11 pm
Filed under: Reviews, Reviews on Celtic Tunes by Danny Carnahan
“The Shapes of Things” by Danny Carnahan This article was previously issued on The Mandolin Magazine. All rights reserved by the author and published under his kind permission.

[Click here for printable notation for “Cliffs of Mostar” and click here for “Tobin’s Jig.”] A nice recording of the tune is featured on the “Wake the Dead” first album.

When I trot out a new Celtic tune for a student, I try to get them to listen through the tune a few times before ever trying to play along. What I want the student to hear is the shape of the tune, which is a very different idea from the melody. In fact, there are some Celtic tunes that I’d swear have no melody at all, though they surely have a shape. Here’s what I mean by shape and why I find it such a useful learning device.

A Celtic tune’s shape is a combination of the key the tune is in, the mode or scale the tune occupies, the chord progression the tune implies, the underlying rhythm, and finally the notes used to sew all the other elements together. If you try to read a transcribed tune as simply a succession of notes, you will certainly miss the lyricism of the tune and, if it’s a particular “notey” or complicated tune, you will probably find the work both difficult and unsatisfying.

So back to the idea of absorbing a tune’s shape first. While there are thousands of tunes in the Celtic tradition, there are major constraints holding all these tunes’s possibilities in check, allowing you to get a jump on learning them easily.

First and simplest is the key a tune is in. Celtic dance tunes are almost all written in only six keys: Am, A, Bm, D, Em and G. When you listen to a new tune, first identify where the tonic is and start physically fingering the scale of that key. The next thing you’ll notice is the scale or mode of tune. Again, you have a mercifully short list of options to choose from: major (or ionian mode), minor (or aeolian mode), dorian mode, or mixolydian mode. Listen first for where the third scale step falls. If the interval between the first and third scale steps is a major third, then your mode is either major or mixolydian, your two happy-sounding scales. If the interval is a minor third, you choose between minor and dorian mode.

So now that you know the scale, run up and down the scale in first position. Now listen through the tune again and this time listen for implied chord changes. Again, you’ll have a short list of likely options. We’ll leave alternate and jazzy chord opportunities for a future column and stick to the simplest and historically most common choices. In major- or happy-sounding tunes, chances are you can start with nothing more exotic than 1, 4 and 5 chords. In minor- or darker-sounding tunes, you can add a flatted 7 to the 1, 4 and 5 as your best options. There are some popular session tunes that are played with the chordal instruments toggling exclusively between 1 and 7.

Once you’ve got a good little chord progression going that tracks the tune well, you’ve got a huge amount of information about that tune. Celtic tunes tend to be assembled out of bits of ascending and descending scales and arpeggios running up, down, or every which way. A perfect example is “Tobin’s Jig.” Click here for printable notation for the first half to show you how obviously the tune’s arpeggiated shape telegraphs the chords.

The underlying rhythmic logic is the next thing to focus on consciously. If you’ve puzzled out plausible chords for a tune, you’ve already noticed something about the rhythm. The chords tend to shift on strong pulses. This usually means the 1 beat, whether you’re in 6/8 jig time or 4/4 reel time. Busier chord changes will probably happen at the halfway points in bars; the 4 beat in jigs or the 3 beat in reels. While this might sound obvious, consciously noting how often the implied chords change will speed up your learning the tune accurately, because the chords will almost certainly be touched on by one or more melody notes. And more often than not, whole phrases will be built around nothing more complex than the arpeggios of the chords.

So now you’ve listened through the tune two or three times and noted different parts of its shape. Now it should be considerably easier to fill in the notes. You now have an idea what register the tune occupies, whether it starts high and runs down, starts low and runs up, or sports one or more repetitive melodic elements.

I encourage students to play their way into a new tune at a comfortable, slow pace, but maintaining the beat and the rhythm. While I play the tune, the students start by comping on the tonic until they can maintain the rhythmic pulse while running through the simple chord changes. Then we keep playing while phrases and notes start to make enough sense to pick out. Often, the ends of phrases are the first to come clear, especially how they resolve to the tonic. Then, the way the end of a phrase ratchets back into the beginning of the next phrase will become apparent.

I wait until the underlying shape of the tune has been internalized before going back and filling in the notes from start to finish. I find that this method increases the chance of remembering the tune later and gives a much more complete understanding of the tune, both by itself and how it might work with other tunes. Tunes in different keys and from different places and times can share underlying shapes and end up working beautifully together in medleys. You want examples? I say start thinking about the shapes of the tunes you already know and see how quickly you start making connections!

There are a couple of extremely cool things you’ll discover when you start thinking about the shapes of tunes. First, you’ll begin to play the tunes with a little more freedom, finding ways to step outside melodically and chordally, because you’ll always know where you are in relation to the tune’s basic shape. You can indulge in brief flights of fancy, inverting or extending arpeggios, or shifting octaves. It’s not unlike a jazz musician knowing the “head” of a tune and knowing that all sorts of individual inspiration is allowed if you can just manage to get back to the head in the end. That level of improvisation is rare in Celtic music, but even a few unexpected notes can spice up a tune, both for you and for your audience. And operating confidently within the shape, you can be sure that when you step out, you won’t also be stepping on others playing along in the session.

The other cool thing you’ll discover is that you can jettison one aspect of a tune’s shape entirely while the tune stays recognizable. Obviously, the most common way to do this is to throw out the obvious chords and come up with brand new ones, playing with relative majors and minors, or refusing to resolve to the tonic or a dozen other ideas.

Another aspect you can jettison is the underlying pulse, replacing it with another. Now, this is rarer and probably for good reason. It doesn’t always work. Still, reels can sometimes be turned into jigs and vice versa. The Irish flute master Cathal McConnell, for example, plays “The Gravel Walks” as a jig. Over the years I’ve gone a little further in my efforts to spice up tunes.

When I was working with mandolinist Paul Kotapish on arrangements for our first CD, “Wake the Dead“, we were noodling around on the jig, “The Cliffs of Moher.” Then, for reasons that remain unclear, we started messing around in a Balkan time signature: 7/4. “The Cliffs of Moher” just started to unwind under our fingers in 7/4. The tune felt so natural, yet brand-spanking new, making us grin like idiots as we played it about ten times in a row. When we stopped, we agreed that the shape of the tune just perfectly lent itself to what amounted to adding one beat per bar, while keeping the melody almost unchanged and leaving the pulse points also mostly intact.

Here’s “The Cliffs of Moher” (renamed “The Cliffs of Mostar”) as it appears on “Wake the Dead.” Over the years I’ve indulged in jigs in 7/4 and reels in 10/4. Whenever I do I’m reminded of how elastic some Celtic tunes can be and how, by acknowledging the shape of a tune and then stretching it carefully in one direction or another, you can breathe new life and enjoyment into it.

[Click here for printable notation for “Cliffs of Mostar”]



Faerie Lore: Fairy Gifts
July 16, 2009, 2:00 pm
Filed under: Faerie Lore, Fairy Gifts

Posted from the book “The Welsh Fairy Book” by W. Jenkyn Thomas (1908) (Obtain this full work and many more backups by clicking here!) Illustrations by Willy Pogány – New York, Stokes [1908]

The Fairy Reward

IANTO LLYWELYN lived by himself in a cottage at Llanfihangel. One night after he had gone to bed he heard a noise outside the door of the house. He opened his window and said, “Who is there? And what do you want?” He was answered by a small silvery voice, “It is room we want to dress our children.” lanto went down and opened the door: a dozen small beings entered carrying tiny babies in their arms, and began to search for an earthen pitcher with water; they remained in the cottage for some hours, washing the infants and adorning themselves. Just before the cock crew in the morning they went away, leaving some money on the hearth as a reward for the kindness they had received.

After this lanto used to keep his fire of coal balls burning all night long, leaving a vessel of water on the hearth, and bread with its accompaniments on the table, taking care, also, to remove everything made of iron before going to bed. The fairies often visited his cottage at night, and after each visit he found money left for him on the hearth. lanto gave up working, and lived very comfortably on the money which he received in return for his hospitality from the Fair Family. His income from this source was more than enough to keep himself in comfort, so lanto married a wife.

Betsi–that was the name of her whom lanto thus honoured–did not bother about the way in which he got his money before she married him, but after the knot had been tied she became very curious. lanto refused to tell her, and this of course made her more inquisitive than ever. “I don’t believe you get it honestly,” she said. lanto denied by wood, field and mountain that there was anything dishonest about his means of livelihood. She gave him no peace, however. “Nine shames on you,” she said, “for having a bad secret from your own dear wife.” “But,” remonstrated lanto, “if I tell you, Betsi bach, I’ll never get any more money.” “Ah,” she said (she had already had her doubts about lanto’s nightly preparations of fire and hot water), “then it’s the fairies.” “Drato,” said he, “yes, the fairies it is.” With that he thrust his hands down in his breeches pocket in a sullen manner and left the house. He had seven shillings in his pockets up to that minute. When he went feeling for them, thinking that a glass of beer and a pipe of tobacco at the inn would not be amiss after such a matrimonial squabble, he found they were gone. In place of them were some pieces of paper, no good even to light his pipe. From that day the fairies brought him no more money, and he had once more to eat his bread in the sweat of his face, which is a more scriptural but less pleasant method of earning a living than gathering up fairy money.



Faerie Lore: Fairy Gifts
July 16, 2009, 2:00 pm
Filed under: Faerie Lore, Fairy Gifts

Posted from the book “The Welsh Fairy Book” by W. Jenkyn Thomas (1908) (Obtain this full work and many more backups by clicking here!) Illustrations by Willy Pogány – New York, Stokes [1908]

The Fairy Reward

IANTO LLYWELYN lived by himself in a cottage at Llanfihangel. One night after he had gone to bed he heard a noise outside the door of the house. He opened his window and said, “Who is there? And what do you want?” He was answered by a small silvery voice, “It is room we want to dress our children.” lanto went down and opened the door: a dozen small beings entered carrying tiny babies in their arms, and began to search for an earthen pitcher with water; they remained in the cottage for some hours, washing the infants and adorning themselves. Just before the cock crew in the morning they went away, leaving some money on the hearth as a reward for the kindness they had received.

After this lanto used to keep his fire of coal balls burning all night long, leaving a vessel of water on the hearth, and bread with its accompaniments on the table, taking care, also, to remove everything made of iron before going to bed. The fairies often visited his cottage at night, and after each visit he found money left for him on the hearth. lanto gave up working, and lived very comfortably on the money which he received in return for his hospitality from the Fair Family. His income from this source was more than enough to keep himself in comfort, so lanto married a wife.

Betsi–that was the name of her whom lanto thus honoured–did not bother about the way in which he got his money before she married him, but after the knot had been tied she became very curious. lanto refused to tell her, and this of course made her more inquisitive than ever. “I don’t believe you get it honestly,” she said. lanto denied by wood, field and mountain that there was anything dishonest about his means of livelihood. She gave him no peace, however. “Nine shames on you,” she said, “for having a bad secret from your own dear wife.” “But,” remonstrated lanto, “if I tell you, Betsi bach, I’ll never get any more money.” “Ah,” she said (she had already had her doubts about lanto’s nightly preparations of fire and hot water), “then it’s the fairies.” “Drato,” said he, “yes, the fairies it is.” With that he thrust his hands down in his breeches pocket in a sullen manner and left the house. He had seven shillings in his pockets up to that minute. When he went feeling for them, thinking that a glass of beer and a pipe of tobacco at the inn would not be amiss after such a matrimonial squabble, he found they were gone. In place of them were some pieces of paper, no good even to light his pipe. From that day the fairies brought him no more money, and he had once more to eat his bread in the sweat of his face, which is a more scriptural but less pleasant method of earning a living than gathering up fairy money.



Memorable Data: 1987 – The CELTIC LEAGUE Annual General Meeting: text of their arbitrary resolution regarding GALICIA & ASTURIAS memberships.
July 15, 2009, 3:31 pm
Filed under: Celtic Leagues in the '80s, Memorable Data, Reviews

The Place: Buenos Aires, Argentina; the Year: 1986.

We the celts gathered in the “Royal Celtic Association of Galician Pipers”, decided to work together with our brothers form Spain, the “Lliga Celta d’Asturies” and the “Irmandade Celtiga”, in order to gain the recognition of Galicia and Asturias as Celtic Nations members of the The Celtic League. We subsequently passed forward our whole petitions with the enclosure of a large list of signatures (both Argentine and Spanish) unto their Celtic League’s International Branch Secretary, the late Alan Heusaff, on whom we always found echo of our aims.

He summoned a subcommittee in order to line out a proposal for the 1987 Annual General Meeting.

As a result, a couple of considerations were made: the first one, lined out a proposal considering Galicia and Asturias as associated member countries only; and a second one, considering our collectives part of the International Branch Diaspora, as individual associations or leagues.

Unfortunately, London and Manx branches opposed arguing that the Celtic League only considers as “nation” those people who posses “Celtic Language”. Although Galicia has many Celtic words in their language, and even when Celtic languages are spoken by a minority within their member countries , our request was denied. The same happened with Asturias.

“Celtic Nation” is still a term used to describe some territories in northwest Europe in which their own Celtic languages and cultural traits have largely survived. The term “nation” is used in this context to mean a group of people associated with a particular territory who share a common identity, language or culture, and is not synonymous with “country” or “state”. Once again the “language” subject prevails.

The Celtic League at its Annual General Meeting of 1987 recognized that Galicia and Asturias had a Celtic heritage , but invited us to join as individual members only. Decision which we obviously rejected.

Ironically you may find hereby a front cover scan of their Carn Magazine # 25 issued on Spring 1979 where Galicia and Asturias appeared within dotted lines.According to the late Alan Heusaff, this dotted line for Galicia and Asturias was left out after 1979, after his proposal of full membership for these countries was rejected in that opportunity.

You may read below the text of their arbitrary resolution regarding GALICIA & ASTURIAS memberships. On top: scan of the print published on the Carn Magazine # 59 issued on 1987.

This A.G.M.:

(i) acknowledges that many vestiges of early Celtic influence persist throughout these parts of Europe once settled by our people.

(ii) expresses the hope that, from such areas, might come the support and understanding we need to pursue our aims more effectively.

(iii) recognises that in Galicia and the Asturias, not only do vestiges of Celtic influence remain. but that some people (still) consider themselves Celts.

(iv) and express therefore. friendship with the Galicians and Asturians and encourage them in their efforts to develop the Celtic elements in their heritage.

This A.G.M.:

(i) firmly reiterates that the Celtic League has a specific function within Celtia. i.e. to work for the reinstatement of our languages to a viable position, and the attainment of sufficient economic, cultural and political autonomy to guarantee the survival of our civilisation into the 21st century. This emphasis on the languages of our six nations marks us now as distinct cultural communities, and therefore as distinct nations. While this “special function” must remain undiluted, this A.G.M. considers that it would be condescending and inappropriate to offer a limited status to the applicant nations within the Celtic League.

(ii) We would however, consider it appropriate to allow the applicants individual membership to the International Branch.



Memorable Data: 1987 – The CELTIC LEAGUE Annual General Meeting: text of their arbitrary resolution regarding GALICIA & ASTURIAS memberships.
July 15, 2009, 3:31 pm
Filed under: Celtic Leagues in the '80s, Memorable Data, Reviews

The Place: Buenos Aires, Argentina; the Year: 1986.

We the celts gathered in the “Royal Celtic Association of Galician Pipers”, decided to work together with our brothers form Spain, the “Lliga Celta d’Asturies” and the “Irmandade Celtiga”, in order to gain the recognition of Galicia and Asturias as Celtic Nations members of the The Celtic League. We subsequently passed forward our whole petitions with the enclosure of a large list of signatures (both Argentine and Spanish) unto their Celtic League’s International Branch Secretary, the late Alan Heusaff, on whom we always found echo of our aims.

He summoned a subcommittee in order to line out a proposal for the 1987 Annual General Meeting.

As a result, a couple of considerations were made: the first one, lined out a proposal considering Galicia and Asturias as associated member countries only; and a second one, considering our collectives part of the International Branch Diaspora, as individual associations or leagues.

Unfortunately, London and Manx branches opposed arguing that the Celtic League only considers as “nation” those people who posses “Celtic Language”. Although Galicia has many Celtic words in their language, and even when Celtic languages are spoken by a minority within their member countries , our request was denied. The same happened with Asturias.

“Celtic Nation” is still a term used to describe some territories in northwest Europe in which their own Celtic languages and cultural traits have largely survived. The term “nation” is used in this context to mean a group of people associated with a particular territory who share a common identity, language or culture, and is not synonymous with “country” or “state”. Once again the “language” subject prevails.

The Celtic League at its Annual General Meeting of 1987 recognized that Galicia and Asturias had a Celtic heritage , but invited us to join as individual members only. Decision which we obviously rejected.

Ironically you may find hereby a front cover scan of their Carn Magazine # 25 issued on Spring 1979 where Galicia and Asturias appeared within dotted lines.According to the late Alan Heusaff, this dotted line for Galicia and Asturias was left out after 1979, after his proposal of full membership for these countries was rejected in that opportunity.

You may read below the text of their arbitrary resolution regarding GALICIA & ASTURIAS memberships. On top: scan of the print published on the Carn Magazine # 59 issued on 1987.

This A.G.M.:

(i) acknowledges that many vestiges of early Celtic influence persist throughout these parts of Europe once settled by our people.

(ii) expresses the hope that, from such areas, might come the support and understanding we need to pursue our aims more effectively.

(iii) recognises that in Galicia and the Asturias, not only do vestiges of Celtic influence remain. but that some people (still) consider themselves Celts.

(iv) and express therefore. friendship with the Galicians and Asturians and encourage them in their efforts to develop the Celtic elements in their heritage.

This A.G.M.:

(i) firmly reiterates that the Celtic League has a specific function within Celtia. i.e. to work for the reinstatement of our languages to a viable position, and the attainment of sufficient economic, cultural and political autonomy to guarantee the survival of our civilisation into the 21st century. This emphasis on the languages of our six nations marks us now as distinct cultural communities, and therefore as distinct nations. While this “special function” must remain undiluted, this A.G.M. considers that it would be condescending and inappropriate to offer a limited status to the applicant nations within the Celtic League.

(ii) We would however, consider it appropriate to allow the applicants individual membership to the International Branch.



Memorable Data: 1980/1990 – “ASTOR” – the official magazine of the “Lliga Celta d’Asturies” from Asturias, Spain
July 14, 2009, 4:56 pm
Filed under: Celtic Culture, Celtic Leagues in the '80s, Memorable Data, Reviews
Hi to all, I would like to share with you this scan of the front cover of a couple of issues of “ASTOR”, the official magazine of the “Lliga Celta d’Asturies” from Asturias, Spain. These are their 4th and 8th issues featuring the two different formats that the publication had. On this magazine the “Lliga Celta d’Asturies” (Celtic League from Asturias) spread their work, as well as other research collaborations, contributed by people outside of the C.L.A. and even from other countries, related of course to Asturias and Celtic culture in general.
Issued quarterly. It was distributed in the Asturian territory and elsewhere in Spain or outside the country, other countries of the so-called Celtic and with whom they maintained a cultural exchange.

On their ASTOR #17th in coincidence with the C.L.A.’s anniversary, it was announced that only monographs with no reviews would be published. Subsequently three issues dedicated to researches on “Celtic Laws” were published as last numbers of this memorable magazine.



Memorable Data: 1980/1990 – “ASTOR” – the official magazine of the “Lliga Celta d’Asturies” from Asturias, Spain
July 14, 2009, 4:56 pm
Filed under: Celtic Culture, Celtic Leagues in the '80s, Memorable Data, Reviews
Hi to all, I would like to share with you this scan of the front cover of a couple of issues of “ASTOR”, the official magazine of the “Lliga Celta d’Asturies” from Asturias, Spain. These are their 4th and 8th issues featuring the two different formats that the publication had. On this magazine the “Lliga Celta d’Asturies” (Celtic League from Asturias) spread their work, as well as other research collaborations, contributed by people outside of the C.L.A. and even from other countries, related of course to Asturias and Celtic culture in general.
Issued quarterly. It was distributed in the Asturian territory and elsewhere in Spain or outside the country, other countries of the so-called Celtic and with whom they maintained a cultural exchange.

On their ASTOR #17th in coincidence with the C.L.A.’s anniversary, it was announced that only monographs with no reviews would be published. Subsequently three issues dedicated to researches on “Celtic Laws” were published as last numbers of this memorable magazine.