Monday, June 27, 2016

Si Bheag Si Mohr -- a tune by Turlough O'Carolan for our jam session at Clayville, Saturday, July __

Our "Clayville Pioneer Academy of Music" tune learning session is from 10 a.m. to noon at Clayville Historic Site, State Rte. 125, Pleasant Plains. If you're in Springfield afterward, or any time from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, check out the celebration of the (re-)opening of the Illinois State Museum on Edwards Street in the Capitol complex.

æire irlandés - Si Bheag Si Mhor (Turlough O'Carolan)

Dulcimer tab, with backup chords for guitar and other rhythm instruments, on the Three Rivers Dulcimer Society's website eastern Washington state at:

(But see below for what one trad Irish player says about chordal arrangements of this tune.)

The group æire irlandés is from Colombia. "Si Bheag Si Mohr" is one of the earliest, and most beloved, of 18th-century Irish composer Turlough O'Carolan's harp tunes. The Irish title means something the big hill and the little hill, and it refers to a legendary battle between faeries. Writes Eddie (no last name given) of

... As a young man Carolan first found favor at the house of his first patron, Squire George Reynolds of Lough Scur at Letterfain, Co. Leitrim (himself a harper and poet). It is said that Carolan was at this time only moderately skilled at the harp and the Squire advised him to direct his talents to composing, as he “might make a better fist of his tongue than his fingers.” It is likely this tune was Carolan’s first attempt at composition. His inspiration for this tune was a story told to him by Reyonolds about Si Bheag and Si Mhor, two ranges of hills near Lough Scur, that according to local lore were the seats of two groups of fairies of opposing disposition.

The groups engaged in a great battle, in which Finn McCool and his Fianna were defeated. Some versions of the legend claim the mounds were topped by ancient ruins, with fairy castles underneath where the heroes were entombed after the battle between the rivals.

Chords? There's a school of thought among some old-time southern Appalachian and trad Irish musicians that playing rhythm behind the melody, i.e. playing the chords, didn't come in till the bands that played for the radio in the 1920s and 30s. Eddie of, who plays guitar, tenor banjo, mandolin, mandola and Irish bouzouki, says:

While I provide chords for this tune, I almost always think it’s better for slow tunes like this to be played without accompaniment. ... IMHO, the melody alone is usually sufficient. Playing chords usually seems to take something away from the tune, rather than add to it. Perhaps this is due to my narrow experience, though perhaps not.

Click on this link for some especially lovely arrangements of other Carolan tunes by Derek Bell, who plays the metal-stringed harp for the Chieftans and has a distinguished solo career as well, on his CD Carolan's Favourite:

... among the tunes are "Squire Wood's Lamentation on the Refusal of His Halfpence," one of the Brighid Crúis (Bridget Cruise) melodies and Carolan's variations of "Cock Up Your Beaver." OK, OK, I know what you're thinking. Stop that! It's an ancient Scottish folk melody that Robert Burns later wrote words for. A beaver was a kind of hat.

And here, to speed us on our way, is a brief clip of more Irish music. I don't think it's Carolan, though:

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