Tunes from Brandi Berry

Brandi Berry – Friday, November 18, 7:30pm
Please note the correct date for the next meeting is Friday, November 18.
(An earlier post had the date as the 19th, which is not a Friday.)

Brandi Berry is a master of both baroque violin and bluegrass fiddle. Her recent musical obsession is with Scottish and English tunes from the 17th and 18th centuries, tunes that have a foot in both baroque and bluegrass music. Here are some examples

John Come Kiss Me Now

Stingo Twice

At Fiddle Club, Brandi will be joined by Brandon Acker on Baroque guitar.

Professional headshot © 2012 Shin Photography www.shinfoto.combrandon_acker









To learn more about Brandi’s rich and varied music career with the Bach & Beethoven Ensemble, click on the fun picture below.

Reels, Rants and Polkas

The next fiddle club meeting will be
Sunday, November 20 at 6:30p
Atlantic Bar & Grill (5062 Lincoln)

We’ll play a few English ceilidh (pronounced ‘kaylee’) tunes, which will be posted soon. And we’ll try them out with a couple of easy dances. Invite your friends and family to come along and dance. No admission fee. No registration required.

The story thus far. Long ago in a galaxy far away I started playing the fiddle and calling square dances, because I thought that was the most fun a group of people could have.

Al Smitley & Paul Tyler
Al Smitley & Paul Tyler re-enacting frontier life in 1836 Conner Prairie Pioneer Settlement, Noblesville, Indiana – 1981

Way back then, I had the glimmer of notion that the American square dance was just one type of set dance among many. Even then I knew the fiddle was the universal instrument. But over the next thirty years, I concentrated on playing for and calling American square dances, in part, because they were easy for folks to learn, and required only a walking step. No aspiring dancer had to learn to do anything special with his or her feet.

But in the meantime, in merry old England, a set dance revival was growing that attracted thousands of people young and old, and several dozen high energy dance bands to a scene called Barn Dancing. In the last ten years it’s also become known as Ceilidh dancing, borrowing a term for similar explosion of old time dancing in Scotland. The dances are for sets of 4 to 6 couples, or for lines for “as many as will,” or for circles made up of couples or groups of 3. The dances are all easy to learn and great fun to do.

And part of what makes English Ceilidhs such big fun, is that the dancers use a few special steps that bring them to a closer connection with the music. These steps are the setting step (for reels), the rant step, and the polka. We’re going to try them out at the next meeting.

Here’s some tunes. My current favorite reel is Beatrice Hill’s 3-Hand Reel. Click the title for a slow version I posted on the Old Town School’s Flog, and click this link for the notes. If you want to get inspired, listen to this live version from the Old Swan Band, the top-of-the-heap band for English ceilidh.


Another great, and easy, English reel that has been played in Old Town fiddle classes is Albert Farmer’s Bonfire Tune. And for the right feel for an English reel, take a look at this video of the Old Swan Band playing “Speed the Plough”. For the last figure each time through, the dancers do a simple polka step (and-a|1 & 2 and-a|1 & 2).

Another step from the old-time polka (also known as a schottische), is the step-hop, step
-hop (1 & 2 &|1 & 2 &). At an English Ceilidh, reels and polkas dance alike, as seen in this video of the Old Swan Band playing a couple of well-known polkas learned from Walter Bulwer of East Anglia.

Check back in a day or two for part 2 of this post. I’ll provide some sounds and video for the reel setting step and the rant step.

Paul Tyler, convener

Notes and Tunes from Our European Correspondent

Maria McCullough, a charter member of the Chicago chapter of the Fiddle Club of the World, represented the Fiddle Department on an exchange program that sent five Old Town School teachers and two administrators to Newcastle, England and Helsinki, Finland this past spring. Armed with a video camera and sound recorder, Maria digitally captured some fabulous folk music moments.

You can visit the Old Town School Connect blog to read Maria’s comments and peruse some of the footage. I highly recommend the videos of the Rapper Sword Dance, performed in a pub in Newcastle, and the demonstration of the Jouhikko, an archaic bowed lyre now being taught to students at the in the Folk Music Department of the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki.

The Sibelius Academy parallels the Old Town School in many ways, including offering ensemble classes dedicated to traditional folk music. Maria got to participate in one such class taught by Olli Varis. A mandolinist and guitarist, Olli is a veteran of some of Finland’s best known professional folk music groups, including Koinurit, Värttinä and the Helsinki Mandoliners.

Olli Varis
Olli Varis

Here’s a three-part tune taught by Olli.

Suden Rita

And here’s the ensemble class wailing away at the tune. The Old Town School’s Steve Levitt joins in on guitar on the right. What is the one major difference between this class in Helsinki and Old Time Ensemble at the Old Town School (I mean besides the fact that the students are reading music off the stands in front of them)? These Finnish students are receiving college credit for learning their old time music!

Sibelius Ensemble Class

For more of the flavor of folk music in Finland and England, peruse Maria’s comments on the On the Road blog. For a taste of fiddling in northern England, try her recording of a lesson with fiddler Ruth Ball. The tune is the “Dunstanburgh Rant.” Here’s a shorter clip of the full tune at a moderate tempo. (Rants are like reels. They should played pretty fast.)

Dunstanburgh Rant

Keep fiddling.

Paul Tyler