Musical Notes: Church Hill Set
Here's the third in a series of 'expanded liner notes' for our new CD, The Joyful Hour. The response to this project has been great, and we hope you continue to enjoy getting more information about what we played, how, and why!
First, the actual liner notes from the album:
‘Church Hill’ comes to us from The Goodman Collection (#275), where it is transcribed as part of a ‘descriptive piece’ commemorating the Battle of Knocknanuss in 1647. The second tune is a beloved and intricate classic, ‘The Monaghan Jig’. Kieran’s and Liz’s version combines elements from various sources, including pipers Patsy Touhey and Gay McKeon, and Cape Breton fiddlers Winston ‘Scotty’ Fitzgerald and Joe Cormier.
Expanded notes, from Kieran:
Church Hill: It has become somewhat fashionable in certain circles over the last couple of years to express fatigue over the amount of tunes from The Goodman Collection that have made their way onto recordings; the complaint is along the lines of ‘enough Goodman already’. I understand that sentiment only up to a point. On the one hand, I can see that it can seem a bit like mere novelty-hunting to extract tunes from Goodman merely for the sake of doing so, while there are so many good tunes already in circulation. This is an especial pitfall for those who (to paraphrase H. W. Fowler) would go tune-fowling with a blunderbuss: there is inarguably plenty of chaff among the good wheat in Goodman.
However, I really believe that for the discerning practitioner of Irish traditional music, there are to be found in Goodman plenty of wonderful forgotten melodies that deserve a hearing, and plenty of refreshing older versions of tunes that we still play in the aural tradition today. I hope you'll agree that this version of Church Hill is worth a re-airing. For me, it meets all the requirements of what we would call ‘a piping tune’; that is, a tune that lays out beautifully and relatively handily on the chanter, and shows the uilleann pipes at their characteristic best. The tune is a three-parter in Goodman. We have taken the liberty of playing it in the format AABB–AABBCC–AABBCC.
The Monaghan Jig: We placed this jig with Church Hill for a couple of reasons. First, it makes a good contrast with the modal melodic austerity of Church Hill. Also, Liz and I had been messing around with this intricate tune and various variations thereupon for some time, so it was very much on our minds when we came to select material for this CD. I suppose The Monaghan Jig could be referred to as one of the ‘big jigs’. It’s got four parts, and there is something meaty and substantial about it, for sure. I believe it was first printed by Nathaniel Gow in Scotland in 1809, and then it appears in the O’Neill collections. The Sligo fiddle player Michael Coleman recorded it in the early 1920s, and he has been erroneously credited with having written the fourth part. I was thrilled about ten years ago when, while sitting in his kitchen on the south side of Chicago, Kevin Henry played me the newly rediscovered cylinder recording of Patsy Touhey playing it in the very early 20th century, complete with fourth part.
We state in the liner notes that our version comes from various sources, both Irish and Cape Breton. Some of the more pyrotechnical bits of fingering and phrasing (for example, around 1:26 or 2:57), as well as the rather dramatic runs up to the high Ds (around 3:42 and 3:50) are pure thefts from Patsy Touhey. A lot has been made of Touhey’s staccato fingerings, ‘backstitching’, ornamentation, and the like. But I am equally, if not more, fascinated by how he articulated eighth notes: always with great clarity, fullness, and precision. He also played around with timing and rhythm within bars, stealing time from one note here, adding time to another there. We tried to include some of those little ‘leans’ in our rendition of the jig. (You can hear Patsy Touhey playing this tune here, thanks to the Ward Irish Music Archives in Milwaukee.)
To get a sense of how this jig gets a bit of Cape Breton flavor, here's a link to the late gentleman Joe Cormier playing it, from his (1977?) LP, 'The Dances Down Home'.
He calls it 'The Chéticamp Jig', after his hometown, an Acadian village in northern Inverness County, Cape Breton, and near where Liz and I spend time every year, for many, many years now. I have no doubt that Joe got this tune from Winston 'Scotty' Fitzgerald, who, like Joe, played it in three parts. I have an amazing 1953 reel-to-reel of Winston playing this jig at The Greenville Cafe in the Dudley Street area of Boston. The dancey, forward-propelling rhythm in both their renditions of this jig is worthy of a lifetime's study and enjoyment. Amazing jig playing…